Ancient Macedonia

Alexander’s mother was Olympias, daughter of Neoptolemus, King of Molossoi (Epeirotans) who were also Dorians. As Plutarch tells us, she met Philip in Samothrace, the religious centre of the Northern Greeks. Tradition has it that her family were descendants of the most brilliant hero of the Trojan war, Achilles. It is due to his mother that Alexanderworshiped this outstanding hero and used to sleep with Homer’s Iliad under his pillow. The marriage between Philip and Olympias took place in 357 BC. Olympias was a woman of strong character and had a close relationship with her son. She influenced him very much until his death and is said to have been the reason for Alexander’s chivalrous behaviour towards foreign queens, mothers, wives and daughters of his enemies, behaviour completely different from the customs of that time. Sometimes Alexander would feel pressured from the demanding love of his mother. “Very heavy is the rent I pay for the nine months my mother had me in her belly,” he used to say. Some implicate her in the murder of Philip II because he deserted her to marry another woman. After the death of Alexander it is said that she took steps to murder her son’s half brother, Arridaeus, in order for her grandson Alexander IIII, son of Alexander and Roxane, to become King. In 316 BC she was arrested by Cassander, later king and husband of Alexander’s half sister Thessaloniki, and put to death.

Alexander III was born in Pella on July 22, 356 BC, the year of the 106th Olympiad. Ancient historians say that on the same day that Alexander saw the daylight, the Temple of Artemis at the Ionian Ephesus (Asia Minor), one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was set on fire by Herostratus just so his name would stay in history. The legend says that Artemis could not save her home because she was standing by the birth of the man who would free Ionia. After his death, the Arabs sought an explanation for the birth of Alexander from the stars. The night of July 22, the night that he was born, Earth was coming out of the constellation of Cancer and was entering the constellation of Leo. The joining of these two constellations marked the fate of this insuperable in bravery, and at the same time, spiritual king. It is alleged that the Jews heard about him in a prophecy by Daniel (200 years before his birth).

Alexander from a very young age showed that he was fearless and daring. One day Philip, who adored horses as his name implies (OÅNEÅLEÅNEÅL<ETH><ETH>IÅNOÅL from the Greek words ÖÉËÏÓ (friend) + EÅL<ETH><ETH>IÅNOÅL (horse) = he who adores horses), bought a young black Thessalian horse, but none of Philip’s experienced horse riders could tame. Alexander, who was only 14 at the time, noticed that the young horse was afraid of its shadow. He then turned it towards the sun and quickly mounted him.

Then his proud father told him: “O my son, seek out a kingdom worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee” and gave him the horse. Alexander named it Boucephalas (ÂÏÕÊÅÖÁËÁÓ from the Greek words ÂÏÕÓ (ox) + ÊÅÖÁËÇ (head) = ox head) because of its small head. This horse took him in to the depths of India where it died from old age. Alexander founded a city there and named it after his beloved horse (Boucephaleia). However, Alexander’s character had another side. According to Plutarch, when his father decided to leave Olympias and marry another
woman, Cleopatra, niece of General Attalus, Alexander showed his temperamental character. On the wedding day, the bride’s uncle made a toast that offended Alexander. He wished Philip to have a “genuine” heir. Alexander who was 18 years old, shouted: “And what am I, you rascal? Do you think I am a bastard?” and threw his full cup on the General’s head. Philip rushed towards Alexander, but as he was drunk, he fell. His Generals tried to pick him up, but Alexander did not hesitate to insult his father yelling sarcastically: “Look! This man wants to conquer Asia and can’t move from one settee to the other without falling down”.

This episode caused Alexander to leave Macedonia and return after a long time with the mediation of his father’s Corinthian friend, Demaratus. Apart from his mother, his teachers also played an important role in shaping his character. First was the Epeirotan Leonidas, a relative of Olympias. He was strict in manners and taught Alexander self-discipline. He took him away from the habits of the Macedonian court of noisy banquets and taught him self-control. Leonidas drove him to superior interests and actions and taught him reading, writing, music, arithmetic, horse ridding, archery and javelin.

Another teacher, from Western Greece, Lysimachus, had created a kind of educational “game” that charmed young Alexander. According to this “game” Alexander was Achilles, his father Philip was Peleas (Achilles’ father) and Lysimachus himself was Phoenix (Achilles’ wise advisor). This “game” demanded Alexander to become like Achilles. He had to be just as brave and glorious as him. And eventually, Alexander identified himself with the great hero. Apart from Homer’s Iliad he also read lyrical poetry and drama. A music teacher from Lemnos, Leukippus, also taught him how to play the lyre and sing so well that when his father heard him play and sing he became concerned. At a formal dinner after a victory, the King, wanting to thank his Generals, called the prince and asked him to play the lyre. Alexander played and sang so well that his Generals were so charmed by the power of his skills even though he was still a child. Philip, almost upset (as he never imagined his heir to become an artist) told him: “Aren’t you ashamed to play so well?”. Alexander, very serious and calm replied: “No. I am proud of excellence, just as I am proud of your great achievements my King”. And indeed he was proud of Philip’s victories but often complained to his young friends saying: “My father will go ahead of me in everything, and will leave nothing great for me to do”.

Philip, entrusted his 14 year old son’s education to his friend and great philosopher Aristotle. Alexander, together with other sons of distinguished families of Macedonia, who later become his Hetaeroi, (his Generals during the great expedition in the East), heard the teachings of Aristotle at majestic Mieza, near present day Naoussa. Aristotle, apart from oratory, ethics and science initiated the young student in poetry. He also taught him moderation, bravery, virtue and the value of true friendship. It is obvious that the Aristotelian teachings, made a deep impact on Alexander. However, despite Aristotle’s teachings, he was prone to violence. For example, during an explosion of anger he penetrated and killed with his sword Cleitus, his saviour in the battle of Granicus. Immediately, realizing his mistake, he tried to kill himself. So there was a continuous battle inside him to prevail over his passions and be a model of virtue, as Aristotle’s teachings demanded.

Finally, Plutarch in order to explain Alexander’s charisma to stand out from the others due to his bravery, wisdom and sharp mind, said that his whole body seemed to radiate a strange light. It seems that, this mystical light that gave him this shine was nothing else but the sparkling spirit and his internal strength being reflected on his face. Naturally, legend has connected all this with his divine descent.

The retrospective enterprise of the Slavs of Scopje (beginning in 1944) to falsify the history of Macedonia which stretches back to antiquity by disputing the Greekness of the ancient Macedonians.

The historical Macedonia, however after the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.) and short before the Roman domination (168 B.C), was stretched in the area of today’s Greek Macedonia plus a zone to the north up to the line Monastir, Vladovo, Stromnitsa, the already hellenized by then Paeonia (less than a third of today’s Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that is) and a zone of the same depth of today’s Bulgaria. More than 83% and up to 90% of the Macedonia of Philip II and Alexander III (the Great) belongs to Greece today and less than12 % of it belongs to FYROM (Nystazopoulou-Pelekidou, M., “The Macedonian Problem”, Athens, 1988).

The Scopians claim that the greater Macedonia was divided in 1912 (1st Balkan War) between Greece (52%), Serbia (38%) and Bulgaria (10%). The truth is that this large area was what the Ottomans called Macedonia and in other words the three ‘vilayets’(districts) of Thessaloniki, Monastiri and Kossovo (Scopje). The district of today’s Scopje for example (vilayet of Kossovo), never belonged to Macedonia. It was the dominion of the Dardanians, enemies of Macedons.

According to the most profound contemporary researcher of ancient Macedonia, the historian N.G.L. Hammond:

“The earliest surviving statement about the Macedonians and their habitat was made  by the Greek poet Hesiod, writing c.700 B.C. He cast the traditions about the peoples of this time into the form of genealogies, in which the eponymous ancestors of ethnic groups were related to one another. Thus Deucalion, living in Thessaly, had a son, Hellen (Έλλην) and a daughter Thyia (Θυϊα). The sons of Hellen, the eponymous ancestor of the Hellenes, were Dorus, Xouthus and Aeolus, these being the ancestors of the three dialect groups into which the Hellenes as speakers of the Greek language were divided – namely Doric, Ionic (Ion being a son of Xouthus) and Aeolic. Of  Deucalion’s daughter Thyia, Hesiod wrote:

         She conceived and bore to Zeus, whose joy is the thunderbolt,

         Two sons, Magnes and Macedon who goes to war in a chariot,

         And they had their dwelling around Pieria and Mount Olympus.

Thus the Magnetes and the Macedonians in Hesiod’s opinion, were very closely related to the Hellenes and it follows that they also were speakers of the Greek language… Then late in the fifth century a Greek historian, Hellanicus, who visited the court of Macedonia, made the father of Macedon not Zeus but Aeolus, a think which he could not have done unless he knew that the Macedonians were speaking an Aeolic dialect of Greek. A remarkable confirmation of their Greek speech comes from Persia, who occupied Macedonia as part of their conquests in Europe c.510-480 B.C.; in the list of their subjects ‘in lands beyond the sea’ they mention ‘the Greeks wearing  the shield-like hat’ (yaouna tacabara), who are unlikely to be any people other than the Macedonians well known for their wearing of (broad-brimmed) sun-hats. Moreover, the place-names of Olympus and Pieria are predominantly Greek. They are likely to have been attributed to the mountains, rivers and springs of the ‘rich land’ (Pieria) by Greek-speaking inhabitants in very early times(‘The miracle that was Macedonia’, London, 1991).

On the other hand, the most valid source of information about the classical world, the Oxford Classical Dictionary informs us:

Nowadays historians generally agree that the Macedonians form part of the Greek ethnos; hence they also shared in the common religious and cultural features of the Hellenic world (Olympic Games, Amphictionies ect)…Macedonian (language) may be seen as a Greek dialect, characterised by its marginal position and by local pronunciations.  Those who favour a purely Greek nature of Macedonian as a northern Greek dialect are numerous and include early scholars like A. Fick (1874), O. Hoffmann (1906)… N. Hatzidakis (1897), and more recent like N. Andriotis(1960), J. Kalleris (1964), N. Hammond (1991) and G. Babiniotis (1992). Yet in contrast with earlier views which made of it an Aeolic dialect (O. Hoffmann compared it with Thessalian) we must by now think of a link with North-West Greek (Locrian, Aetolian, Phocidian, Epirote). This view is supported by the recent discovery at Pella of a curse tablet (4th cent. BC) which may well be the first ‘Macedonian’ text attested (E. Voutyras; cf. the Bulletin Epigrafique in Rev. Et. Grec. 1994, no 413). We must wait for new discoveries, but we may tentatively conclude that Macedonian is a dialect related to North-West Greek… 

  From king Philip II onwards the Macedonian court was a leading centre of Greek culture, and the policies of Alexander and his successors (Diadochoi) spread the Greek based  ‘Hellenistic’ culture  (the Greek language as well) in the east, which continue to flourish for centuries after the collapse of Macedonian power” (Oxford University Press, 1996:905).

Scopian historians though allege today that the ancient Macedonians were not Greeks and that only the Macedonian court was hellenized. We read again in the Oxford Classical Dictionary:

“For a long while Macedonian onomastics, which we know relatively well thanks to history, literary authors, and epigraphy, has played a considerable role in the discussion (about the nationality of Macedonians). In our view the Greek 

character of most names is obvious and it is difficult to think of a Hellenisation due to wholesale borrowing”.

Moreover, in “The Cambridge Ancient History, The Forth Century B.C.” (vol. VI

Ed. By D. M. Lewis, J. Boardman, 1994: 130) we read:

       “The increasing volume of surviving public and private inscriptions makes it clear that there was no written language but Greek. There may be room for argument over the spoken forms, or at least over survivals of earlier occupancy, but it is hard to imagine what kind of authority might sustain that. There is no evidence for a different ‘Macedonian’ language that cannot be easily explained in terms of dialect or accent”

It would be then unnecessary to remind here that the Macedonians participated in the Olympic Games (9 Macedonians won in Olympics in the 4th and 3rd centuries B. C., ‘O Athlitismos stin Ellada’ Ekdotiki Athinon p. 289) where only Greeks were allowed and the declarations of certain Macedonian kings, in unsuspicious time, that they were Greeks:

Alexander I (498-452 B.C.) sending a message to the Persian king:

“Tell your king who send you how this Greek viceroy of Macedonia has received you hospitably…”, Herodotus V, 20, 4 (Loeb, A. D. Godley).

The same king sent a message to the Spartan king Pausanias, leader of Greeks, before the battle of Plataea, between  Greeks and Persians (479 B.C.), warning him about the Persian plans:

“…for I myself am by ancient decent a Greek and I would not willingly see Hellas change her freedom for slavery”, Herodotus IX, 45,2 (Loeb, W.R. Paton). Alexander III, the Great, on the other hand, sent to Athens 300 panoplies, after his first victorious battle against Persians at Granicus river (336 B.C.), to be dedicated  to goddess Athena in the Acropolis with the inscription:

“Alexander son of Philip and the Greeks except the Lacedaemonians, set up these spoils from the barbarians dwelling in Asia”, Arrian I, 16, 7 (Loeb, P. A. Brunt). Alexander does not distinguish among Macedonians, Athenians, Corinthians ect., but mentions “Greeks except the Lacedaemonians” (the only Greeks who refused to participate in his expedition). The same great Macedonian king, after the battle of Issus (333 B.C.), sent a letter to Darius, king of Persia, which said:

“… your ancestors after they arrived in Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us great harm, though we had done no prior injury;… and I after I have been appointed hegemon of the Greeks…”, Arrian, ‘Anabasis of Alexander’ II, 14, 4 (Loeb, P. A. Jones).