article about ancient Macedonia

A couple of days ago i read an article in the website related to the history of ancient Macedonia.  The article is written by Jona Lendering, the owner of the website and admittedly he tries to give a neutral perspective, mainly due to the connection of the issue with modern politics. However his apparent neutrality is seriously hindered by some blatant inconsistencies the author commits. The purpose of this article is to contest Jona Lendering’s questionable claims about the ancient Macedonian language.


However, there is some room for doubt. To start with, there are also Macedonian names that have no Greek parallel (Arridaeus or Sabattaras).

 Arridaeus (Gr: Αρριδαίος)

According to the account of the linguist Sakalis (source: ‘He Hellenike Tautotita ton arhaion Makedonon”

1. A citizen of the Greek island Kos (ii BC BCH 86 (1962) P. 275 no4,5)

2. Greek oikonomos of Laodike, ex-wife of Antiochus B’, king of the Seleukid kingdom.

Etymology: Derives from the greek word ‘Ari’ (An. Gr:άρι, Tr: much) + the adject. ‘Daios’ (An. Gr: Δάιος, Tr: frightening)

Therefore the claim “Arridaeus has no Greek paralel” is false.

Sabattaras (Gr: Σαβαττάρας)

The name appears in Inscription 269 (Second edition of  Sylloge dated to 300 BCE) referring to the the ‘proxenia‘ of Machatas, son of Sabattaras, originating from the Macedonian city Europos.

For starters, Machatas is a Greek name and most particularly its the Doric form of “Machetes” (Gr: Μαχητής, Tr: ‘Fighter‘)

Sabattaras appears to be an obscure case, in relation to the name’s origins but most likely it may be Thracian.

Points of interest:

-The root “Sabat” may be related to that of Sabazios, a Thraco- Phrygian god.

– The suffix “taras” may be appears to be Thracian, in the form of “Kotyotaras“.

– We should not forget that the Macedonians expanded from Makedonia (Pieria, Emathia) to regions populated by Thracians, after all and in essence Thrace has been incoporated into Macedonian kingdom much earlier than the date given. 

– The fact that Sabattaras is a SINGLE case, contrary to Arridaeus which appears to be somewhat common name in ancient Macedon, points out its the tiny EXCEPTION of the general rule which explicitely proves ancient Macedonians had Greek names. Rare cases of foreign names in Ancient Greek world were always found, even in Athens.  Thucydides‘ father bore the name Olorus, which is a Thracian one. It doesnt mean anyway we should start doubting the Greekness of Atheneans.


In the second place, in many semi-literate societies, there is a difference between the spoken and the written language. It would not be without parallel if a Macedonian, when he wanted to make an official statement, preferred decent Greek instead of his native tongue. (Cf. the altars of the goddess Nehalennia, which were all written in Latin, a language that was almost certainly not spoken by the people who erected them.)

True to a certain point. However the crux of the matter is in these semi-illiterate societies used their native tongue in:1. their own names
2. in their toponymies.

Ancient Macedonians used in both of these options Greek names so the assumption is at least clumsy. Moreover from a rational point of view, a migrating people dont go around renaming existing toponymies in someone else’s language. They obviously rename them into their own. The original Ancient Macedonians renamed Phrygian toponymies into Greek during their migration. This alone proves they already were Greek-Speaking so the “Hellenization theory” unfortunately  falls apart. During 8th Century BC It would be quite absurb, Macedonians to rename toponymies into:

(i) Not their own language
(ii) A language they didnt…understand.



Thirdly, many historical sources are written in Greek, and it was a common practice among Greek historians to hellenize foreign names. For example, the name of the powerful first king of the Persian empire, Kuruš, ought to be transcribed as Kourous or Kouroux in Greek, but became Kyros, because this looks like a Greek word (“Mr. Almighty”). The name that is rendered as Alexandros, which has a perfect Greek etymology, may in fact represent something like Alaxandus, which is not Greek.

Greeks indeed had a tedency to regularize foreign names to sound better in Greek. Examples are:

– The name Artaxerxes is the regularization of the original Persian name Artakhshathra.

– The name Xerxes is the regularization of the original Persian name Khshayarsha.

РThe name Darius from the regularization of the old Persian name D̢rayawu̡.

Or even the name of the famous Indian founder of the Mauryan empire Chandragupta was regularised from Greeks into Sandracottus.

The vast majority of these foreign names have no meaning in Greek. From the other hand All Macedonian names like Alexandros and Phillipos are completely meaningful in greek in their original forms therefore there was no need anyone to regularize them. In relation to the name’s “Alexandros” usage, the first evidenced use of the name in history, comes from the Mycenean Greeks, in the female form “Alexandra“.  In reality the name Alexadros was COMMON in the Greek world prior to the establishment of Macedonian kingdom. Furthermore this claim is easily refuted alone by the fact that NONE of the Persian names who were regularized to sound better in Greek, is found in the Greek world. You wont find any Greek of classical ages called….Xerxes, or Darius, or any female called Sisygambis. On the contrary, the vast majority of ancient Macedonian names is COMMON in the Greek world. Philippos, Alexandros, Pausanias, etc are extensively used among Greeks. In reality the argument of Jona Lendering proves the exact opposite of his claim.

For example, there is evidence that Greeks were unable to understand people who were makedonizein, “speaking Macedonian”. The Macedonian king Alexander the Great was not understood by the Greeks when he shouted an order in his native tongue and the Greek commander Eumenes needed a translator to address the soldiers of the Macedonian phalanx.

Firstly Makedonizein could be a i) a dialect/language, ii) simply a mode of speech.

There isnt any clear reference from ancient sources that we could claim safely Greeks couldnt understand the ancient Macedonian native tongue. On the contrary there are references which proves the opposite.

If we follow this logic then by reading the following quote by [Thucydides (3-112)]

At dawn he fell upon the Ambraciots while they were still abed, ignorant of what had passed, and fully thinking that it was their own countrymen—Demosthenes having purposely put the Messenians in front with orders to address them in the Doric dialect, and thus to inspire confidence in the sentinels, who would not be able to see them as it was still night.
we should conclude Doric was not understood by Atheneans.
There is nowhere in ancient sources found that Eumenes needed a translator to communicate with Macedonians. Eumenes sent a Macedonian to speak to them in the Macedonian dialect, in order to win their confidence. In (Plut. Eumenes XVII.2-VIII.1) Eumenes has absolutely no problem to communicate with Makedones.  Or in (Eum. XIV.5) Makedones greeted Eumenes μακεδονιστι τη φωνή. Therefore there was no problem of communication between Eumenes and Makedones.
If the use of Xennias is, according to the argumentation, a sign that he was a translator then by reading (Diodorus XIX 39.5) we should assume the Macedonian commancer of Argyraspids Antigenes could not communicate in his native tongue and needed…a translator.
By Jason Addison

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