Τετάρτη, 24 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Ancient Macedonia "A bird's eye view"

Macedonia has revolved within the sphere of Greek history for more than four millennia.  Around 2300 BC groups of people who spoke a very early form of the Greek language entered Macedonia, Epirus and the north-west corner of Thessaly.  Some groups from Epirus and Macedonia moved further south around 1900 BC and later.  On the borders of these two areas the Greek tribe of the Macedonians took shape.  Part then became a founding element of the Dorians and the other part spread over southern Macedonia.  From the eighth century Chalkidiki and the coast of the rest of Macedonia saw the establishment of colonies sent out by cities of Euboia and the Cyclades.The Macedonians, like the peoples beyond the Pindos and on its southern fringes, were less culturally advanced than other Greeks, especially the Athenians.  But they were never cut off from the mainstream of Greek life or from its history.  From 490 BC rulers of the Macedonians were successful in narrowing the gap, and from time to time even played an important role in events in the Greek world.  Within a very short space of time Macedonia became the leading Greek power; in 337 BCE its king, Philip II, was recognized as the head of a Greek confederation.  Alexander set out on his Asian campaign to revenge the Greeks for the damage they had suffered from the Persians.  The successors of Alexander established multinational states, through which Hellenism could be disseminated to non-Greeks.

After the death of Alexander, the old kingdom of the Macedonians was reborn and, because of its geographical position, it had much greater contact with the Greek states of the south.  This position, together with its interests in the direction of the Adriatic Sea, made Macedonia the first Greek state to clash with the rising power of Rome.From the end of the sixth century A.D. the earliest migrations of the Slavs into the Balkan Peninsula began, affecting some parts of Macedonia.

 Situation and characteristics

Macedonia forms the connecting link between the Balkans and the Greek peninsula.  Three important routes converge on the Macedonian plain: from the Danube via the Moravia and Axios (Vardar) valleys, from the Adriatic via Lake Ochris, and from Thrace via Mygdonia.  Contact with the south is made by sea or by the narrow Vale of Tempe into Thessaly.  On smaller scale, looking at the landscape in detail, Macedonia does not appear to be favored.  The route along the Moravia and the Axios valleys is frequently no more than a narrow corridor, and not a brad river valley, but a succession of basins and gorges.The jugged relief of the countryside of the Moravia and the Axios valleys is typical of all Macedonia, divided into very fragmentary relief in which certain characteristics constantly repeat, the characteristics being the mountains and basins.  The mountains are not very high, never reaching 3000 m. though the summits are always almost consistently above 2000 m.  The basins are at altitudes ranging from sea level to close on 1000 m.  Always surrounded by mountains, these basins have never easily served as lines of communication.There are only two littoral plains not so enclosed: that of Katerini, the more southerly, is also the smaller, while the larger, that of central Macedonia, borders the western coast of the Thermaic Gulf.

 Were the Macedonians Greeks?

There has been much discussion on the question of the nationality of the Macedonians.  Three main views have emerged: First, the Macedonians were Greeks; second, the Macedonians were not Greeks; and third, the Macedonians were neither Greeks nor Macedonians: they were Illyrians or Thracians.  These differences of opinion are due to the contradictory nature of evidence handed down from antiquity.  Let us examine some of the available evidence:

 1)      A Persian inscription dating from 513 BC records the European peoples who were, at that date, subject to the Great King.  One of these people is described as Yauna Takabara, meaning ‘Ionians whose head-dress is like a shield’.  The Persians, like other eastern peoples of antiquity, are known to have applied the term ‘Ionians’ to all Greeks; on the other hand the head-dress resembling a shield has been rightly recognized as that of depicted on Macedonian coins.

2)      In a fragment of Hellanikos (fifth century BC), Makedon, the mythical founder of the Macedonians, appears as the son of Aiolos.  This genealogical relationship reflects the idea the Macedonians were a section of the Aeolians, a sub-division of the Greek race.

3)      After the battle of Issos, Alexander the Great sent a letter to Darius that read as follows: “Your ancestors came to Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us much harm though we had done them no prior injury; I have been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks and invaded Asia in the desire to take vengeance on Persia for your aggressions.”  From this extract it emerges clearly that Alexander regarded Macedonia as a Greek country, identified the sufferings of Macedonia at the hands of the Persians with the destruction they had wrought in southern Greece, and represented himself as the avenger of all these wrongs.

4)      The formulation ‘Macedonia and the rest of Greece’ also occurs in the treaty of alliance between Philip V of Macedonia and Hannibal.  In the same text the phrase ‘the Macedonians and the rest of the Greeks’ occurs twice.

5)      Other passages demonstrate that non-Macedonian Greeks also thought of the Macedonians as their kindred, and of Macedonia as a Greek country.  In 217 BC Agelaos of Naupactos, speaking to a gathering at which Philip V and representatives of his allies were present, prayed that internecine wars between the Greeks would cease.  In 211 BC, Lykiscos, representative of the Acarnanians, described the Macedonians as kinsfolk of the Achaeans.  Macedonia is accounted part of Greece by various authors.

6)      The general sense of a passage in Thucydides gives the impression that the historian considered the Macedonians barbarians.  Various ancient geographers and historians of the classical and post-classical periods, such as Ephoros, Pseudo-Scylax, Dionysios son of Calliphon and Dionysius Periegetes, put the northern borders of Greece at the line from Ambracian Gulf to the Peneios.  Isocrates places Macedonia outside the boundaries of Greece and describes the Macedonians as ούχ ομόφυλον γένος (‘an unrelated race’).  Medeios of Larisa, who accompanied Alexander on his campaign in Asia, calls the Thessalians ‘the most northerly of the Greeks’.

7)      When Alexander I, king of the Macedonians, wanted to compete at Olympia (possibly in 496 BC), his prospective opponents attempted to exclude him by arguing that only Greeks, and not barbarians, could take part in the Olympic Games.  Alexander proved that he was a Greek and was therefore allowed to compete.

 An evaluation of the evidence suggests the following:

1)      One ancient tradition connects the Macedonians with the Dorians and another traces the family to Argos in the Peloponnese.  From this it can be deduced that the Macedonians, like the Dorians, were Greeks.

2)      In official documents of Alexander the Great and Philip V, Macedonia is described as a Greek country; in the first of them, Alexander represents himself as the avenger of the evils wrought by the Persians both in Macedonia and in the rest of Greece; and an ambassador of Philip V classifies the Macedonians with the Greeks in contradistinction with ‘foreigners’ (αλλοεθνείς) and ‘barbarians’ (βάρβαροι).  The Macedonian kings, although they believed that they had a different ancestry from their subjects, did not consider themselves to be ruling outside Greece, or over a people foreign to the Greeks.

3)      In conclusion, the hypothesis that the Macedonians were Greeks is supported by all the reliable evidence: the ancient tradition that the Dorians were descended from a section of the Macedonians; the view the Macedonian kings held about themselves; and the testimony of Hellanicos, who lived at the Macedonian court.  All the testimony that contradict this view are external and derive either from observers who might have been mistaken, or from enemies of the Macedonians.      

 The chryselephantine shield from “Philip’s Tomb”. The outer side is dominated by the rich decoration of gold and ivory. In the centre a young woman kneels, exhausted (possibly an Amazon) and a young man holds out his hand to her (possibly Achilles). The young woman’s feet which are well preserved are perfectly shaped. The circular decoration of the outer edge is made up of two bands of spirals separated by another broad band with meanders. The inside of the shield was distinguished for the glitter of the gold sheets; four of these, which formed a cross which ended in a palmette, were embellished with relief winged victories. Relief lions decorated the two trapezoidal sheets at the centre.


 From the data at our disposal at present, we know that the Macedonians worshipped the twelve Olympian gods, both collectively and individually, and also Pluto, Persephone, Dionysos, Pan, Hestia, Heracles, Asklepios, Okeanos, Amphitrite, the Nereids, Thetys, Orpheus, the Diocouroi, Amphilochos, the Nymphs, the Graces, the Fates, Hygieia, Lethe, Nemesis and Eros.  They also gave them the familiar Greek epithets, such as Agoraios, Basileus, Olympios, Hypsistos of Zeus, Basileia of Hera, Soter of Apollo, Hagemona and Soteira of Artemis, Boulaia of Hestia, etc.Some to the evidence for the worship of Ge, Helios, Dionysos, Pan, Asklepios and Heracles is earlier than the period of Philip, while the earliest evidence for the twelve gods from this period.  The large number of these god’s names and the early date of the evidence militates against the false argument advanced by those opposed to the idea that the Macedonians were Greeks.The Macedonians were particularly devoted to Zeus, father of Makedon (Μακεδών), their eponymous ancestor, and to Heracles, held to be the progenitor (Ηρακλής προπάτωρ) of the Argead clan as well as of the later Antigonid dynasty.  Notable are the cults of Zeus Hetairides (Εταιρίδης), who presided over the relationship of the Argead kings with their aristocratic Companions (εταίροι) and who gave his name to the festival of the Hetairideia. Heracles Kynagidas (Κυναγίδας) was worshipped as the patron of hunting, a sport to which the Macedonians were passionately attached.  Heracles Kynagidas was also presiding over the Royal Huntsmen (βασιλικοί κυνηγοί) as well as over the kings’ game preserves.

Established custom required the king personally to conduct many rites and sacrifices.  Among these two of the most important were: (a) the formal purification of the army performed each at the festival of the Xandica (Ξανδικά) held in the early spring, at the beginning of the campaigning season, though this purification could be performed at other times as well; and (b) the overseeing of the ceremonial interment of the Macedonian dead post-combat.Cult figures, largely Thracian and indigenous to the regions occupied by the Argead Macedonians, continued to be worshipped along side the Macedonian religion.  We have, for instance, the water-air spirit that gave its name to Edessa, an old town famous for its springs and situated near Aigai, the earliest residence of the Macedonian kings.  Meanwhile, the reverence accorded to Sileni (σαυάδαι) and Bacchae (Κλώδωνες and Μιμαλλόνες) indicates a prevalence of Dionysus-Sabazius worship.

 In addition the names of the twelve Macedonian synodic lunar months depict Greek names used in various parts of Greece:

Dios (moon of October)

Apellaios (moon of November)

Audnaios (moon of December)

Peritios (moon of January)

Dystros (moon of February)

Xandikos or Xanthikos (moon of March)

Artemisios or Artamitios (moon of April), also a Spartan, Rodian and Epidaurian month)

Daisios (moon of May)

Panēmos or Panamos (moon of June), also an Epidaurian, Miletian, Samian and Corinthian month

Loios (moon of July), also an Aetolian, Beotian and Thessalian month

Gorpiaios (moon of August)

Hyperberetaios (moon of September), Hyperberetos was a Cretan month.

The Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods show few developments peculiar to Macedonia.  By the end of the third century BC the Egyptian gods had been widely received, and the cult of the Syrian Goddess was established at Beroia.  Documented evidence does not as yet attest to the worship of Zeus Hypsistos (‘Ύψιστος) before the second century, but the cult may well have arisen earlier.  In the Roman period and above all at Thessaloniki, the cult of Dioscuroi-Cabiroi, which derives from Samothrace, was most successful.  In addition, the cult of Ma of Cappadocia was known to be found at Edessa in the third century AD; and from the late Hellenistic period down to the triumph of Christianity the Thracian Rider (‘Ήρως or Ήρων) was the object of widespread devotion, particularly in connexion with the burial of the dead.By way of conclusion, elements that are unquestionably Greek are much more numerous than those which are not Greek.  The great majority of the Greek elements is earlier in date than the non-Greek.  These observations show that the Macedonians were not Thracians or Illyrians or any other race that became Hellenised, but Greeks whose culture was slightly influenced by non-Greek features.

Intellectual life

The Macedonian kings attracted leading writers to their court.  In the first decade of the fifth century BC, Pindar composed an ode in honour of Alexander I, who competed at Olympia.  There is no doubt that Pindar’s ode was performed with music and dance at the Macedonian court and that Pindar himself was present as the guest of the king.  The relations of guest-friendship between Pindar and Alexander I led Alexander the Great to make an exception of the house and the descendants of Pindar during the destruction of Thebes in 335 BC.Alexander’s successor, Perdikkas II, entertained at his court Melanippides, a dithyrambic poet, and Hippocrates of Kos, the originator of scientific medicine.  Archelaos, famous in Greece for his victories in the chariot-race at the Pythian Games and the Olympic Games, secured the services of the outstanding painter Zeuxis, the leading musician Timotheos, and the fine epic poet Choirilos.  It is apparent that the royal court (the term comprises not only the royal family but also the families of the king’s Companions – the εταίροι) was imbued with Greek ideas and showed a lively interest in literature and the arts.  Consequently it is not surprising that two of the most distinguished Attic tragedians lived and worked in Macedonia over a period of years: Agathon (c. 407-01 BC) and Euripides (408-06 BC), because they found there not only a more acceptable centre than wartime Athens but also, although archaeological evidence is lacking, some tradition of theatrical performance.  During his stay in Macedonia Euripides became a Companion of the king and composed two tragedies, Archelaos, in the course of which he endowed the royal line with a new ancestor, the mythical Archelaos, and Bacchae, a play which was inspired by his own experience of Dionysian worship as he found it in Macedonia.

We do not know whether Macedonia had developed any native forms of literature in an oral rather than written form, but there were certainly native traditions of music and local forms of dance.  The earliest Orphic hymn was found during the excavation of a tomb of the fourth century BC at Derveni in central Macedonia.  When Philip II rose to power, he attracted a large number of southern Greeks into his service.  At this time Philip and his court were fully integrated into the main body of Greek cultural development.  It was characteristic of the respect in which Philip held the Greek spirit that he entrusted the education of his own heir and of the circle which was to provide the leaders of the future to Aristotle. Native literature developed with Antipater’s History of the Wars of Perdikkas with the Illyrians, while two young contemporaries of Alexander called Marsyas and Ptolemy were acquiring the education which enabled them later to write works of exceptional value on the history of Macedonia and the achievements of Alexander.

One of the grave stellae from the Great Tumulus with the names of the dead: Ξενοκρατης Πιεριωνος (Xenokratis Pierionos) Δρυκαλος Πιεριωνος (Drykalos Pierionos), they must have been brothers. The names Drykalos and Pierion are typical Macedonian name

The most beautiful of the painted stellar found in the Great Tumulus. On the left is an armed man standing; on the right a man seated on a backed chair. In the background, between the two, was a standing female figure; below, to the right, a young child. The inscription gives four names and the patronyms (Κλεωνυμος Ακυλου – Αδυμος Χλεωνυμου – Πευκολαος Αδυμου - _ρινω Αδυμου)

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