Plutarch and Greekness of Macedonians


Plutarch in Alexander’s ‘Bios’ signifies the Greekness of Alexander and Macedonians. In reality even the few references to the gradual consolidation of Macedonian hegemony in Greek worl where Macedonians are distinguished from the rest of Greeks for clearly practical reasons since they were warring, but wthout an ethnological difference (see Alex 9.2, 13, ch 11, 12.5). Similarly Plutarch in his ‘lives’ uses the same method distinguishing the warring Spartans from the rest of Greeks.


Agesilaos was accused… that he exposed the city <Sparta>
as an accomplice in the crimes against the Hellenes.

<Plutarchos, Agesilaos 26>


Thus, the Hellenes were wondering what the state of the
Lakedaimonian army would be had it been commanded by Age
silaos or… the old Leonidas.

<Plutarchos, Agis 14>


Since the Lakedaimonians made peace with all the Hellenes,
they were in war only with the Thebans…

<Plutarchos, Pelopidas 20>

and the Atheneans from the rest of Greeks.


He soothed the Athenians’ pride by promising them… that the Hellenes would accept their leadership…

<Plutarchos, Themistokles 7>

In reality Plutarch reveals the Greekness of the expeditionary force of Alexander eventhough the main army consists of Macedonians.

– From the side of his father, Alexander is shown clearly as descendant of Heracles and from his mother side a descendant of Aeacos. (Alex 2.1).

– He is educated by Aristotle, uses as his permanent favourite book the Iliad of Homer (see 8,2, 26.2-3) but wishes also other Greek books to be sent to him.

– The inscription of Alexander with the first booty is clear and Macedonians are included as Greeks.


Alexander, son of Philip and the Greeks, except Lakedaimonians – from the barbarians living in Asia

Plutarchos, ‘Alexander’ 16.18

– After conquering Egypt Alexander wishes to found “a great Greek city with many people” (26.4 and Moralia 328B). The Priest of Ammon adresses Alexander in Greek (27.9).

– In Alexanders Live Macedonians are included in the general Greek race and those who are opposed to Persians and the rest of Barbarian tribes of Asia are called greeks and not Macedonians (33.1-4)

– Alexander campaigns in Asia in the name of Greeks in order to revenge the campaign of Xerxes against Greece (see 37.5, 38.4)

– Before Gaugamela, Alexander encourages mainly Greks and from Greeks he is being encouraged too (see 33.1)

– After the final defeat of Darius he chooses 30,00 young Persians and orders those to be educated in Greek (see 47.6)

– In the meantime he wishes to please all the Greeks by abolishing tyrranies, giving autonomy, urging Plateans to rebuild their city, sending booty even to Krotoniates in order to honour the participation of their ancestor Faylos in Medika (34.2-3)

-Finally Alexander’s behaviour to Greeks is entirel different from his behaviour to Barbarians. (see Alex 28.1)

 Plutarch considered Macedonians as Greeks by distinguishing them always from Barbarians.


During his absence Barbarians had been overrunning and devastating Macedonia, and at this particular time a large army of Illyrians from the interior had burst in, and in consequence of their ravages the Macedonians summoned Antigonus home.

[Plut. Cleomenes 27.3]


Antigonus marched up and took the city without resistance. He treated the Lacedaemonians humanely, and did not insult or mock the dignity of Sparta, but restored her laws and constitution,21 sacrificed to the gods, and went away on the third day. For he learned that there was a great war in Macedonia and that the Barbarians were ravaging the country. Moreover, his disease was already in full possession of him, having developed into a quick consumption and an acute catarrh. 2 He did not, however, give up, but had strength left for his conflicts at home, so that he won a very great victory, slew a prodigious number of the Barbarians, and died gloriously, having broken a blood-vessel (as it is likely, and as Phylarchus says) by the very shout that he raised on the field of battle. And in the schools of philosophy one used to hear the story that after his victory he shouted for joy, “O happy day!” and then brought up a quantity of blood, fell into a high fever, and so died. So much concerning Antigonus.

[Plut. Cleomenes 30.1-3]


Here Leonnatus the Macedonian, observing that an Italian was intent upon Pyrrhus, and was riding out against him and following him in every movement from place to place, said: “Seest thou, O King, that Barbarian yonder, riding the black horse with white feet? He looks like a man who has some great and terrible design in mind. 9 For he keeps his eyes fixed upon thee, and is intent to reach thee with all his might and main, and pays no heed to anybody else. So be on thy guard against the man.” To him Pyrrhus made reply: “What is fated, O Leonnatus, it is impossible to escape; but with impunity neither he nor any other Italian shall come to close quarters with me.” While they were still conversing thus, the Italian levelled his spear, wheeled his horse, and p399charged upon Pyrrhus. 10 Then at the same instant the Barbarian’s spear smote the king’s horse, and his own horse was smitten by the spear of Leonnatus. Both horses fell, but while Pyrrhus was seized and rescued by his friends, the Italian, fighting to the last, was killed. He was a Frentanian, by race, captain of a troop of horse, Oplax by name

[Plut. Pyrrhus 16.8]


While Philip was making an expedition against Byzantium,13 Alexander, though only sixteen years of age, was left behind as regent in Macedonia and keeper of the royal seal, and during this time he subdued the rebellious Maedi, and after taking their city, drove out the Barbarians, settled there a mixed population, and named the city Alexandropolis

[Plut. Alexander 9.1]


Thus it was that at the age of twenty years Alexander received the kingdom, which was exposed to great jealousies, dire hatreds, and dangers on every hand. 2 For the neighbouring tribes of Barbarians would not tolerate their servitude, and longed for their hereditary kingdoms

[Plut. Alexander 11.3]


The Macedonian counsellors of Alexander had fears of the crisis, and thought he should give up the Greek states altogether and use no more compulsion there, and that he should call the revolting Barbarians back to their allegiance by mild measures and try to arrest the first symptoms of their revolutions

[Plut. Alexander 11.5]


Then, while he was thus engaged with Rhoesaces, Spithridates rode up from one side, raised himself up on his horse, and with all his might came down with a barbarian battle-axe upon Alexander’s head

[Plut. Alexander 16.]


Of the Barbarians, we are told, twenty thousand footmen fell, and twenty-five hundred horsemen.30 But on Alexander’s side, Aristobulus says there were thirty-four dead in all, of whom nine were footmen.

[Plut. Alexander 16.15]


he sent to the Athenians in particular three hundred of the captured shields, and upon the rest of the spoils in general he ordered a most ambitious inscription to be wrought: 18 “Alexander the son of Philip and all the Greeks except the Lacedaemonians from the Barbarians who dwell in Asia.”

[Plut. Alexander 16.18]


He found his Macedonians carrying off the wealth from the camp of the Barbarians, and the wealth was of surpassing abundance, although its owners had come to the battle in light marching order and had left most of their baggage in Damascus

[Plut. Alexander 20.11]


Then for the first time the Macedonians got a taste of gold and silver and women and barbaric luxury of life, and now that they had struck the trail, they were like dogs in their eagerness to pursue and track down the wealth of the Persians.

[Plut. Alexander 24.3]


Two Barbarians who were sitting at the fire he [Alexander] despatched with his dagger, and snatching up a fire-brand, brought it to his own party.

[Plut. Alexander 24.13]


In general, he bore himself haughtily towards the Barbarians, and like one fully persuaded of his divine birth and parentage, but with the Greeks it was within limits and somewhat rarely that he assumed his own divinity.

[Plut. Alexander 28.1]


On this occasion, he made a very long speech to the Thessalians and the other Greeks,63 and when he saw that they encouraged him with shouts to lead them against the Barbarians, he shifted his lance into his left hand, and with his right appealed to the gods, as Callisthenes tells us, praying them, if he was really sprung from Zeus, to defend and strengthen the Greeks

[Plut. Alexander 33.1]


But before the foremost ranks were engaged the Barbarians gave way, and were hotly pursued, Alexander driving the conquered foe towards the centre of their array, where Dareius was

[Plut. Alexander 33.4]


To show its nature and power, the Barbarians sprinkled the street leading to Alexander’s quarters with small quantities of the liquid; then, standing at the farther end of the street, they applied their torches to the moistened spots; for it was now getting dark.

[Plut. Alexander 35.2]


company followed with shouts and revelry and surrounded the palace, while the rest of the Macedonians who learned about it ran thither with torches and were full of joy. 7 For they hoped that the burning and destruction of the palace was the act of one who had fixed his thoughts on home, and did not intend to dwell among Barbarians.

[Plut. Alexander 38.7]

Want more of this? See these Posts:

  1. Euripides and Macedonians
  2. The Greekness of ancient Macedonians in the Old and New Testament
  3. Stratonicus verifies greekness of ancient Macedonians
  4. Ancient writers about Macedonia – Plutarch
  5. 1903- Macedonians verify their Greekness and appeal to European powers
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Spirit of Truth says:

De Fortuna Alexandri by Plutarch
Loeb Classical Library, 1936:

“But after Philip’s end, when Alexander was eager to cross over and, already
absorbed in his hopes and preparations, was hastening to gain a hold upon
Asia, Fortune, seizing upon him, blocked his way, turned him about, dragged
him back, and surrounded him with countless distractions and delays. First
she threw into the utmost commotion the barbarian elements among his
neighbours, and contrived wars with the Illyrians and Triballians. By these
wars he was drawn from his Asiatic projects as far away as the portion of
Scythia that lies along the Danube; when, by sundry manoeuvres, he had
subjugated all this territory with much danger and great struggles, he was
again eager and in haste for the crossing. Again, however, Fortune stirred
up Thebes against him, and thrust in his pathway a war with Greeks, and the
dread necessity of punishing, by means of slaughter and fire and sword, men
that were his kith and kin, a necessity which had a most unpleasant ending.”


De Fortuna Alexandri by Plutarch
Loeb Classical Library, 1936:

“But Virtue was by his side and in him she engendered daring, and in his
companions strength and zeal. For men like Limnaeus and Ptolemy and
Leonnatus and all those who had surmounted the wall or had broken through it
took their stand before him and were a bulwark of Virtue, exposing their
bodies in the face of the foe and even their lives for the goodwill and love
they bore their king. Surely it is not due to Fortune that the companions of
good kings risk their lives and willingly die for them; but this they do
through a passion for Virtue, even as bees, as if under the spell of
love-charms, approach and closely surround their sovereign.
What spectator, then, who might without danger to himself have been present
at that scene, would not exclaim that he was witnessing the mighty contest
of Fortune and Virtue; that through Fortune the foreign host was prevailing
beyond its deserts, but through Virtue the Greeks were holding out beyond
their ability? And if the enemy gains the upper hand, this will be the work
of Fortune or of some jealous deity or of divine retribution; but if the
Greeks prevail, it will be Virtue and daring, friendship and fidelity, that
will win the guerdon of victory? These were, in fact, the only support that
Alexander had with him at this time, since Fortune had put a barrier between
him and the rest of his forces and equipment, fleets, horse, and camp.
Finally, the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and, when they had fallen,
pulled down their city on their heads.”


For fair use only

” On the following day Antony feasted her in his turn, and was ambitious to
surpass her splendour and elegance, but in both regards he was left behind,
and vanquished in these very points, and was first to rail at the meagreness
and rusticity of his own arrangements. Cleopatra observed in the jests of
Antony much of the soldier and the common man, and adopted this manner also
towards him, without restraint now, and boldly. For her beauty, as we are
told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those
who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her
presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the
character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had
something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her
voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily
turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with
Barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies
to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians,
Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. Nay, it is said
that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of
Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language,
and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.”