Evaluating Herodotus’ testimony on the ancient Macedonians

Australian Macedonian Advisory Council
November 21, 2008

In the following text I shall present the whole Herodotean testimony on the ancient Macedonian history. But before proceeding with the presentation I must clarify the four separate components of the ancient Macedonian history. These components can be seen as distinctions between the Macedonian Royal House and the Macedonian population and between Macedonia proper and the land over which the Macedonian king’s authority extended in various periods. Not all the king’s subjects were Macedonians and not all the king’s dominion was Macedonia.

Let’s start with the Macedonian Royal House. From antiquity it is known and well accepted as the Temenid Royal house because it’s founder Perdikkas I claimed Argive descent from Temenos, the Dorian conquer of the Peloponnesian Argos. Herodotus informs us in many passages about that.

In [V.22] he states: “And that these descendants of Perdikkas are Hellenes, as they themselves say, I happen to know myself, and not only so, but I will prove in the succeeding history that they are Hellenes. Moreover the Hellanodicai, who manage the games at Olympia, decided that they were so: for when Alexander wished to contend in the games and had descended for this purpose into the arena, the Hellenes who were to run against him tried to exclude him, saying that the contest was not for Barbarians to contend in but for Hellenes: since however Alexander proved that he was of Argos, he was judged to be a Hellene, and when he entered the contest of the foot-race his lot came out with that of the first.”

Also in [VIII.137] he writes about the Macedonian tradition about the arrival of Perdikkas I and his brothers from the Peloponnesian Argos to Western Pieria, and this is a text that we shall analyse later. Finally, the other important passage is the one in [IX.45] here he quotes the words of Alexander I saying:

“…for I should not utter them if I did not care greatly for the general safety of Hellas, seeing that I AM A HELLENE MYSELF BY ANCIENT DESCENT and I should not wish to see Hellas enslaved instead of free.”

So Herodotus, who almost certainly has visited the Macedonian palace and met in person Alexander I, states that he personally knows and the Macedonian kings themselves admit that they are of Hellenic Argive descent, and that although some Greeks have questioned their Hellenism the Hellanodicai finally have recognized them as Greeks, after Alexander I proved his Hellenism. Herodotus´s statement – “I happen to know myself” – has a particular meaning here because Herodotus was himself from Halicarnassus, an Argive-Doric colony and so was familiar with the specific Doric dialect of Argos. NGL Hammond is considered “the patriarch of Macedonian history” and has always considered the Temenid-Argive descent as true. In “History of Macedonia” (volume II, “the language of the Macedonians”) he states that while the general Macedonian population spoke the distinctive and conservative Macedonian dialect of Greek, the Royal family inside the palace spoke Argive Doric. So Herodotus could easily identify by first hand a speaker of Argive Doric – the dialect of his city’s metropolis – and that is why he “happens to know himself” that the Macedonian kings were Temenids from Argos.

Now let’s consider the most specific event, that is Alexander’s I participation in the Olympics. When did this happen? Why Alexander I was the first KNOWN Macedonian to do that? Why did some Greeks question his Hellenism? To understand all that we must consider the Macedonian history under the first Temenids. Perdikkas I became king of Macedonia around 700 BC. He found the Macedonians as transhumant pastoralists in mountainous west Pieria. With the Temenids starts the Macedonian expansion. In their first expansionary phase, they drove away the Thracians from coastal Pieria and the Bottians from south Bottia and founded the capital of their new kingdom in Aegai. In a second expansionary phase later they drove away the remaining Bottians from northern Bottia – conquering the whole central Macedonian plain – and continued by eliminating the Almopians and the Eordeans and adding the territories of Almopia and Eordea into their kingdom. In that way, they formed the so-called Old Macedonian Kingdom, who’s borders were the river Axius in the east, Mt Barnous in the north, Mt Vitsi in the West and the Penius river in the south. If to all this we add Polyaenus’ testimony (a Macedonian himself) in his “Stratagems” (IV.1) where he informs us about a Macedonian-Illyrian conflict during the times of the second Temenid king (Argaeus, around 650 BC), during which Argaeus, due to a lack of male warriors, was compelled to resort in his famous stratagem to a force consisting of young women “dressed as male warriors” (Mimallones and the cult of Dionysus Pseudanor), and we also consider that the neighbouring Paeonians were at the summit of their strength during the period 550-511 BC, when they stretched their military operations from Northern Bottia (which they took from the Macedonians) to Propontis (they sieged the city of Perinthus), then we can make a solid conclusion: From 700 BC till 511 BC the Macedonians were in constant warfare in order to expand or defend their kingdom and the male manpower for these operations was at the limits of sufficiency.

The Rosetta Stone written in Hieroglyphic,Demotic Egyptian and Koine Greek

What does all this have to do with Alexander’s I participation in the Olympics? Well we know that the Olympics were held each summer every four years from 776 BC onwards. In a Olympian summer all the Greeks observed the Olympic ceasefire (the so called Olympiake Ekekheiria) in order to permit the most physically qualified men from every Greek state to participate in the Olympics. Now the problem with the Macedonians was that from 700 BC till 511 BC their major threats weren’t other Greek tribes, but non-Greeks such as Paeonians, Illyrians and Thracians. This means that these non-Greek tribes had no reason to observe the ceasefire relating to the Olympics, and so the Macedonians needed every physically qualified male in order to defend and expand their kingdom through military operations that generally occurred during summer. This explains why no Macedonian may have participated in the Olympics during the period 700-511 BC (though we do not know for sure whether Macedonians participated in the Olympics prior to this time, as the extant records only list Olympic victors, not participants).

What happened immediately after? In 511 BC the Persians managed to subdue the Paeonians ending in this way their period of strength. The Macedonians capitalising on the Paeonian impotence regained northern Bottia and brought again their eastern borders to the river Axius. This is definitely the time frame of the destruction of the Paeonian city Amydon on the eastern bank of the Axius by the Argeads that Stabo refers to in [VII.20] (“Amydon a city of Paeonians. The place was destroyed by the Argeads”). After that the Macedonians offered “earth and water” to the Persians – that is, voluntarily subdued themselves to the Persian king. By doing so they solidified their new re-acquisitions and further more the Persians rewarded them by appointing Amyntas I and his son Alexander later as general supervisors of a region – for the first time – much wider than the Old Macedonian Kingdom. So for the first time, the Macedonian kings expanded their control over non-Macedonian populations, that is, Paeonians, Thracians, Pelasgian Krestonians and the Greek Epeirotan tribes (or “Molossian” tribes as Hecataeus names them back in ca. 515 BC) of the later Upper Macedonia, that is, Elimeians, Tymphaeans, Orestae, Lynkestae and Pelagonians. This new situation explains perfectly the known Herodotean testimony of Alexander I´s speech to the Persians [V.20]: “report to the king who sent you that a Hellene, ruler under him of the Macedonians”. Many use this phrase in order to prove that while the Royal family was of Greek descent the Macedonians weren’t. Note that Alexander I was hereditary king of the original Macedonians and “ruler under the Persian king” of the new dominion that the Persian king rewarded him with. That means that the “Macedonians” in the above phrase are not the original Macedonians of the Old Kingdom – who considered Alexander king (βασιλεύς) and not “ruler under a king” (ὕπαρχος) – but the whole new heterogeneous population posted under Alexander’s authority by the Persians.

So after the Macedonian vassalisation to the Persians, the two centuries long warfare of the Macedonians finally ended and FOR THE FIRST TIME the physically qualified Macedonian men could afford to participate in the Olympics. That is why Alexander I chose to compete to the Olympics immediately after the Macedonian annexation to the Persians in 511 BC. Herodotus informs us in [V.20] that in 511 BC when the Persians arrived in Macedonia and king Amyntas I offered them a welcome-meal, and when Amyntas retired from the table “Alexander took his place” as a host. This means that Alexander I back in 511 BC was at least 12 years old and this can help us calculate the date of his participation in the Olympics. Since he contested in running – a tough sport – his participation age ranged most probably between 18-30 years of age, and so the most probable Olympiads he would have participated in are the ones that occurred in either 504 BC (19 years old), 500 BC (23 years old), 496 BC (27 years old) and 492 BC (31 years old). Alexander’s age clearly excludes any participation after the Greco-Persian wars, that is, after 478 BC. In 478 BC he was around 45 years old, an improper age for Olympian competitor. So, considering only Alexander’s age, we can easily reject the theories that make him “a non-Greek that was granted permission to participate in the Olympics AFTER the Greco-Persian wars as a reward for his assistance to the Greeks during the wars”.

Shield with Star of Vergina on it

What about the Greeks that questioned his participation right? The fact that probably no Macedonian before Alexander could have participated in the Olympics only due to the constant two centuries long warfare with various non-Greek tribes, made Alexander’s participation look odd and unparalleled. After all, the Olympics were one of these events that reminded and renewed the bond between the various Greek tribes and so it is more than obvious that some Greeks were surprised when they saw a participant from a region that never before gave another Olympic athlete. After all, as the Italian Indro Montanelli brilliantly states in his book “Storia dei Greci” (page 281) about the Macedonians: “a big part of the Greeks simply ignored even the existence of their northern most kingdom named Macedonia”. We can easily reject also the theories that the Alexander had to invent his “Argive descent” around 500 BC in order to compete. If a Macedonian in general wanted to prove himself as a Greek around 500 BC the only thing that he had to do was remind the other Greeks of the ALREADY EXISTING two-century old Hesiodic tradition in which Macedon was “brother” of Magnes and a Deucalionid by ancient descent. Only that was enough to guarantee him equal rights to those of the Magnetes and the right to participate in the Olympics. So Alexander I had no need to invent a Greek genealogy in order to participate in the Olympics and this only strengthens the originality of his Argive descent.

Before closing with the Royal House and passing on to the Macedonian population there’s one thing left to clarify. Many modern scholars have rejected the Argive descent of the Temenids and considered it “Royal House propaganda”. At this point I would like to point out what the eminent British scholar Andrew Robert Burn says about the large number of examples of Royal Houses with different origin than that of the tribes that they control. In his book “A Traveller´s History of Greece” written in Oxford in 1984, in the chapter “people, idioms and the coming of the Greeks” he states:

“The expansion of the Hellenes (as the descendants of the proto-Greeks used to refer to themselves) wasn’t always the result of direct conquests. Sometimes they were invited, AS THE GREEK LEGENDS NARRATE, by the local kings in order to help them against their enemies; For Thucydides, this was the mode that the “sons of Hellen” managed to expand from Thessaly. In the legends, the hero arrives alone or followed by a few faithful companions. This is of course a poetic convention. After liberating the territory from enemies or “monsters”, the hero takes for bride the king’s daughter, “the prefixed price for the job”, to use the phrase of a modern scholar. Sometimes the hero inherits the Kingdom. IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE THAT SIMILAR THINGS OCCURED IN REALITY, BECAUSE IN THE PREHISTORICAL AEGEAN (AND IN HISTORICAL TIMES IN SOME TERRITORIES WITH ARCHAIC CUSTOMS *like Macedonia, personal note*) PARENTAGE WAS DETERMINED AND THE PROPERTY INHERITED PROBABLY THROUGH THE FEMALE LINE. IN HOMER, MENELAUS (A MYCENAEAN, BROTHER OF THE POWERFUL MYCENAEAN KING AGAMEMNON) BECOMES KING OF SPARTA AFTER TAKING FOR BRIDE HELEN, THE DAUGHTER OF THE OLD KING TYNDAREUS, ALTHOUGH TYNDAREUS HAD LIVING SONS (AS HELEN NARRATES IN THE ILIAD), THE DIOSCURIDS (KASTOR AND POLYDEYKES)”.

Ruins of ancient Pella in Greece

This pattern of a “Hero” invited to fight the old king’s enemies fits perfectly with the Temenids, because immediately after Perdiccas’ I accession to the Macedonian throne we have the Macedonian expansion through warfare. Anyway, Herodotus provides us another example of a king belonging to a different Greek tribe from the one that he controls. In [V.72] he reminds us that the Spartan king Cleomenes was an Achaean ruling over Dorians:

” …but the priestess stood up from her seat before he had passed through the door, and said, “Lacedemonian stranger, go back and enter not into the temple, for it is not lawful for Dorians to pass in hither.” He said: “WOMAN, I AM NOT A DORIAN, BUT AN ACHAEAN”.”

Other examples of the genre are the Phtiotid Aeakid Royal house of the Molossians, the Corinthean Bakkhiad Royal house of the Lynkestians, the Pylean “Nestorid” descent of the Peisistratids and Alcmeonids in Athens and the more historical examples of Gelon from Gela and the Rhegian Agathocles becoming respectively successful tyrant and chief-general of the Syracusans in Sicily. In this frame there is nothing “suspicious” in a Doric-Argive family ruling over the Macedonians. After all, Thucydides, a more “standard” historian than Herodotus who rarely concords with the later, in this particular theme is in accord with him about the Argive descent of the Temenid kings of Macedonia (II,98).

The next component of the ancient Macedonian history is the general population. We’ve already seen that we must make a distinction between the “Eteomacedonians” (that is the original Macedonians of the Old Kingdom) and the “Macedonians” who the Temenids finished up ruling under the Persian kings – that is after the submission to the Persians the Temenid dominion expanded outside the Eteomacedonians and the Old Kingdom. Intermarriages with the neighbouring Royal houses took place in order to solidify the expanded dominion and there is no doubt that non-Greek populations were eventually assimilated into the Macedonian stock. This can explain the minority of non-Greek names found in Macedonia (less than 5% of all the attested names). But if we must speak on the “origin of the ancient Macedonians”, then the focal point are the “Eteomacedonians”, just like any research on the early Roman History must be limited to the original Latins of Latium. NGL Hammond underlines this distinction clearly in his book “The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions and History” where in chapter VI in a discussion about the earliest Macedonian institutions he states: “at this point we must focus on the real Macedonians and not on the “Molossian” tribes of Upper Macedonia and the populations east of the river Axius that the Macedonians managed to subdue”.

So what does Herodotus’ testimony has to offer for these “Eteomacedonians”?

In two different and independent passages he equates the Macedonians and the Dorians:

In [I.56] he states:

“for in the reign of Deucalion this race dwelt in Pthiotis, and in the time of Doros the son of Hellen in the land lying below Ossa and Olympus, which is called Histiaiotis; and when it was driven from Histiaiotis by the sons of Cadmos, it dwelt in Pindos and was called Makednian; and thence it moved afterwards to Dryopis, and from Dryopis it came finally to Peloponnesus, and began to be called Dorian.”

It is clear that in Herodotus’ opinion – a man descended from a Doric colony in Asia minor – the Dorians used to be called Makednians when they inhabited northern Pindus. In other words, the Dorians were Makednians that migrated southwards.

Later in [VIII.43] when he’s presenting the Peloponnesian contribution to the Greek fleet opposing the Persians he states:

“From Peloponnese the Lacedemonians furnishing sixteen ships, the Corinthians furnishing the same complement as at Artemision, the Sikyonians furnishing fifteen ships, the Epidaurians ten, the Troizenians five, the men of Hermion three, THESE ALL, except the Hermionians, BEING OF THE RACE CALLED DORIC AND/OR MAKEDNIAN and having made their last migration from Erineos and Pindos and the land of Dryopis.”

Again the Macedonians and the Dorians are being equalised in Herodotus’ opinion. What does this mean? Instead of equalising the two Greek tribes it would be better if we considered them as “brother” tribes originating from the same North-Western Greek stock that used to inhabit the Boion range in northern Pindus. Boion is a focal point for all the tribes belonging to the so-called Northern Greek group. The eminent German linguists Porzig & Risch based on the various isoglosses of the various Greek dialects have proven that Mycenaean Greek was already a south Greek dialect and wasn’t the precursor of all the historical Greek dialects, but only of the Attic-Ionic and the Arkado-Cypriot ones. Aeolic and North-Western Greek on the other hand form a northern Greek group, and both derived from a common “undifferentiated” precursor. So far we know that the Dorians and Macedonians originate from the Boion range, the Aeolophon Boetians took their name from this mountain, meanwhile the Aeolophon Perrhaebians’ ethnonym literally means “from the source of the Aias/Aous” (Πέρρας ΑἴFου) situated immediately west of the Boion range.

‘Yauna Takabara’,(Greeks with sun hats)the Persian name of the Macedonians

Furthermore we have Hesiod’s account that the Macedonians were “brother” tribes with the Aelophon Magnetes (mythological sons of Zeus and Thyia and by the last Deucalionids, that is, descendants of Deucalion, the genarch of all Greeks). Some have questioned the Macedonians´ Hellenicity because of their “co-laterality” to the mythological Hellen – that is, Thyia was Hellen’s sister and so her children were not Hellenes. This argument – at the degree that we can argue over mythology – is definitely shallow because there are other Greek-speaking tribes that do not descent from Hellen directly, but do descent from Deucalion. In the myth Deucalion had three children: Hellen, Thyia and Pandora junior. From Hellen derived Dorus, Aeolus and Xouthus, and from Xouthus Ion and Achaean. From Thyia and Zeus originated the two brothers “Magnes and Macedon rejoicing in horses and dwelling in Pieria around Olympus”, while from Zeus and Pandora originated Graecus, the genarch of the Epeirotans and the other north-western Greeks except the Dorians. Since no historian ever rejected the Greekness of the Magnetes, and since the vast majority of historians accept the Greekness of the Epeirotans, it is logical to include the Macedonians also in the bulk of the Greek-speaking population. After all, independently of the Hesiodic myth, and based on historical conclusions, the vast majority of the modern NON-GREEK scholars like Hammond, Burn, Bengtson, Brixhe, Masson – to mention some of them – accept the Greekness of the Macedonians. Furthermore, there are some important common usances specifically between Macedonians and Magnetes that seem to enhance the Hesiodic myth. Both (and only the Macedonians and Magnetes) had the cult of Zeus Akraeus and the festival of the Heretideia (although the Magnetes had for a very long time ceased to have a king and hetairoi), and both of them and the Aenians had a dance simulating livestock theft that the Macedonians named “Karpea”, and the Magnetes and Aenians “Karpaea”, from the Greek verb “karpeuein”, meaning “to gain”.

Now lets to return to the Boion and the bulk of the northern Greeks. It was the Phrygian descent into the region at the beginning of the Early Iron Age or the end of the Late Bronze Age that prompted the so called “Great Aegean Migration” that we know better as the “Dorian Descent”. The Phrygians pushed out this northern-Greek bulk and caused it’s dispersion and fragmentation into smaller tribes. The Dorians and Epeans ended up in the Peloponnese, the Thessalians moved to “Pelasgian Argos” and renamed it Thessaly, the majority of the Epeirotans moved south of the Aous and the Macedonians, the Magnetes and the Perrhaebians ended up around mount Olympus in Pieria and Perrhaebia.

What caused the migration of the Magnetes south of the river Penius in historical Magnesia? Herodotus gives us the answer in [VII.20.2] “…nor that of the Mysians and Teucrians, before the Trojan war, who passed over into Europe by the Bosphorus and not only subdued all the Thracians, but came down also as far as the Ionian Sea and marched southwards to the river Peneios.”

He informs us that Teucrians (Trojans) and their allies (Thracians, Paeonians, Mysians, Luwians, etc) had undertaken a vast military operation in the Balkans that reached to the Ionian Sea and the river Penius. This is definitely the best known reason for the departure of the Magnetes from Pieria southwards, for the isolation of the Macedonians in mountainous Western Pieria and for the arrival of the Thracian Cicones in coastal Pieria. Do we have any proof that this operation indeed occurred? Of course! During the Late Helladic IIIB period (ca. 1250 BC) we have massive fortifications constructed in the Mycenaean centres of Gla, Orkhomenos, Athens, Mycenae and Tiryns, but not in Messenia and Laconia. What does this mean? It means that the feared enemy of the Mycenaeans at that time was coming from the North-north East and it wasn’t only a naval force, but a terrestrial one also since Orkhomenos, far from the Aegean coast, was fortified also in this period.

Lets return now to the Macedonians gathered in western Pieria. We have a Mycenaean Greek presence archaeologically documented in this area with the necropolis near the modern village of Agios Demetrios. Being a necropolis – that is, a cemetery – one can exclude immediately influence from the south since the burial modalities of all cultures tend to remain conservative and adhering to the proper tradition. As NGL Hammond has argued many times, ALL THE TOPONYMS AND HYDRONYMS IN WESTERN PIERIA ARE OF GREEK ETYMOLOGY. IF THE MACEDONIANS DID NOT SPEAK GREEK FROM THE BEGINNING, THEN THEIR EARLY HOMELAND SHOULD HAVE CONTAINED NON-GREEK NAMES. Pieria, Leibethron, Lebaea, Aison, Aigai, Aegidion, Pimpleia, Haliakmon, Balla, Phylake, Akasamenae are examples of some of these topyonyms and hydronyms, and all have a purely Greek etymology. A classical example is that of the Thracians, who although massively Hellenized in late antiquity, kept toponyms and hydronyms indicating their early non-Greek background. Cities ending in “-bria” (Thracian word for “city”), “-diza” (Thracian word for “walls”, that is, walled city), and “-para” (Thracian word for “village”) can be found till today, while Hadrianople’s Thracian name “Uscudama” had survived until the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed it in the 2nd AD century.


Gathered in mountainous Pieria, from ca. 1200 BC until 700 BC when the Temenids arrived, the Macedonians practiced transhumant pastoralism between the southern part of the Emathian plain in the winter (another Greek word meaning “sandy place” and used many times by Homer in the form “emathoen” = sandy) and the Pierian highlands in the summer. During this period they came into strong contact with the Phrygians who were living in the central Macedonian plain and having their capital in Edessa, the town where later the Macedonians founded Aegai in modern Vergina. The name Edessa and the nearby river Ascordus are the only non-Greek toponyms in northern Pieria-South Emathia and are unquestionably of Phrygian origin (“Vedy” in Phrygian means “water”). The Phrygian presence in the area is archaeologically documented by their characteristic “Lausitz” culture that the Phrygians brought with them from the north.

Around 700 BC as we have seen, Perdikkas I becomes king and the Macedonian expansion begins. What does Herodotus have to say about the Macedonians living in Western Pieria and their contact with the Phrygians?

In [VII.127] he states that the northern limit of Macedonia was the union of the rivers Haliakmon and Ludias, north of which started Bottia:

“as far as the river Lydias and the Haliacmon, which form the boundary between the lands of Bottiaia and Macedonia, mingling their waters together in one and the same stream”.

Herodotus wrote his histories around 450 BC, and so Hammond is convinced that Herodotus has borrowed this quote from the Milesian geographer Hecataeus who wrote around 515 BC, a time when indeed – as we have seen above – Ludias was the northern limit of Macedonia.

In [7.131] he names the Pierian mountains the “Macedonian mountain”, and that is in agreement with the fact that Western Pieria was the homeland of the Macedonians:

“…in the region of Pieria many days, for the road over the Macedonian mountain…”

In [VIII.137] He says that Perdikkas I found the Macedonians in Lebaea in Upper Macedonia.

“Now of this Alexander the seventh ancestor was that Perdikkas who first became despot of the Macedonians, and that in the manner which here follows: From Argos there fled to the Illyrians three brothers of the descendents of Temenos, Gauanes, Aëropos, and Perdiccas; and passing over from the Illyrians into the upper parts of Macedonia they came to the city of Lebaia”.

Where was Lebaea? Before presenting Hammond’s conclusions based on later epigraphy let’s try to find out for ourselves. Herodotus says in Upper Macedonia near Illyria, so one´s mind goes to the LATER Upper Macedonia which bordered the HISTORICAL Illyria. But Perdikkas was the first king, the one who started the expansion so it is impossible to find Macedonians in Upper Macedonia (which Greek Molossian tribes inhabited) near historical Illyria. Where was this Illyria and where was this “Upper Macedonia” in Pediccas’ times? Herodotus helps us find the second one, since in [VII.128] he makes reference to Xerxes’ army having passed from the pass of Petra in western mountainous Pieria “from the Macedonians who dwell in the highland”:

“because he was meaning to march by the upper road, through the land of the Macedonians who dwell in the highland, until he came to the Perraibians, passing by the city of Gonnos.”

The Star of Vergina the symbol of Greek Macedonia

So Perdikkas’ “Upper Macedonia” is nothing else but the Macedonian homeland in western Pieria. What about Illyria? When Perdikkas became king around 700 BC the central plain was still under Illyrian control. One must consider that the Illyrian expansion lasted from ca.1000 BC to 650 BC and was the basic reason that caused the Phrygian migration in Asia minor sometime around 900-800 BC. Professor Andronikos in Vergina (Aegai) has found three different and independent cemeteries: the oldest was Phrygian (Lausitz culture) dating from ca.1100 BC to 900 BC, the second one was Illyrian (Glasinac culture) dating from ca. 900 BC to 700 BC, and the last one was Macedonian, in which in historical times the inscriptions survived and the discovered graves have Greek names and patronymics dating from ca. 480 BC. If to all that we add Polyaenus’ testimony about an early Macedonian-Illyrian conflict around king Argaeus’ times (ca. 650 BC), then it becomes clear that Illyria in Herodotus’ [VIII.137] is nothing else but the Central Plain and it’s western highlands under Illyrian control. This “Illyria” is indeed bordering “Upper Macedonia” as we defined it from [VII.128], that is, Western Pieria.

So we can be pretty sure that Perdikkas had found the Macedonians grazing their stock in the highland of Pieria near the city of Lebaea. And finally, here is what Hammond has to say about Lebaea on page 5 of “The Macedonian State”:

“Where was Lebaea? An answer was provided recently by the discovery of an inscription which recorded the dedication of a liberated slave to “The autochthonous Mother of the Gods at Alebea, a village (attached) to Elimea”, a city of which we know the location. If Lebaea and Alebea are the same place, which is probable, we can put Lebaea in the western part of Pieria. This is consistent with our knowledge that the early home of the Macedonians was around Pieria and Olympus.”

It is more than obvious that Lebaea was a pre-Temenid settlement somewhere in the Pierian mountains. But where? In the archaeological site of Paleogratsiano in the southwestern slopes of the Pierian mountains, archaeologists have found an ancient settlement dating from the Early Iron Age which satisfies all the above pre-requirements and additionally explains the name Lebaea. Immediately west of the Pierian mountains today, the Haliakmon forms an artificial lake due to the presence of a dam. Immediately after the dam, the river enters Emathia and in the border between the modern provinces of Kozani and Emathia it forms a number of little natural lakes. It is more than probable that before the construction of the dam this pattern of small lakes created by the river was present in all its Pierian course. Now Lebaea in Greek literally means “water deposit”, hence both ancient and modern Greek word “Lebetas” meaning the same thing. All this indicates that the Macedonians spoke Greek long before the Temenids arrived and that is why all the Pierian toponyms and hydronyms are of Greek etymology. After all, the Temenids had nothing to do with the name of Lebaea as they had nothing to do with the Mycenaean findings near Agios Demetrios.

Returning to Herodotus, what has he to say about the relation of the Phrygians and the Macedonians? In [VII.73] he states:

“Now the Phrygians, as the Macedonians say, used to be called Brigians during the time that they were natives of Europe and dwelt with the Macedonians; but after they had changed into Asia, with their country they changed also their name and were called Phrygians”.

He reminds us that the Macedonians had lived nearby the Phrygians. This is definitely the period when the Phrygians were inhabiting the central Macedonian plain and the Macedonians the Pierian Highland. Furthermore, the fact that they had inhabited nearby helps us to verify the arrival of the Macedonians in Pieria. We know that the Phrygians had migrated to Asia Minor sometime between 900 and 800 BC due to Illyrian harassment. We also know that the Macedonians were heavily influenced by the Phrygians in both tradition, religion, and language. The eminent linguist Claude Brixhe (and an expert in the Phrygian language) in his model of “phonological osmosis” has argued that the Macedonian dialect is nothing else than a north-western Greek dialect heavily influenced phonologically by the Phrygians and that explains perfectly it’s “unorthodoxies” in respect to the other Greek dialects. The same tendencies of voicing and deaspiration of the standard Greek unvoiced aspirates are not only found in the Macedonian dialect, but also in some rare dialectic forms of the Dorian and Aeolic dialects (which descent from the same northern-Greek precursor as the Macedonian) and also in the Pamphylian Greek dialect in southern Anatolia where the Pamphylians were neighboring the Luwian speakers of Lycia and Cilicia. Even there the same unorthodoxies can be found (Aspendos and andropos instead of “standard” Greek Aspenthos and anthropos) and that means that what happened to the Macedonians is nothing more than what has happened in every Greek dialect spoken in the borders of the Greek-speaking world.

The fact that the Macedonians were heavily influenced in both culture and language by the Phrygians means that they had inhabited nearby for a very long time. The Phrygians stayed in Macedonia from ca 1150 BC to ca 850 BC and since an influence of that measure needs at least two centuries of neighbouring, this means that the Macedonians were in the Pierian mountains all the time that the Phrygians were in the plain. After all, it was the Phrygian descent in the first place around 1200 BC that prompted the whole “migrating” phenomenon that caused the dispersion of the Northern Greek tribes from the Boion range to the rest of the peninsula, bringing the Dorians in the Peloponnese and the Macedonians in Pieria. In this time frame the Mycenaean findings in Western Pieria dated around 1200 -1100 BC (that is, after the so called “Trojan Balkanian Operation” that Herodotus mentions, which caused the migration of the Magnetes south of the Penius and the massive fortifications of the south Greek Mycenaean centres around 1250 BC (LH IIIB)) must be attributed to the Macedonians, the “Highlanders” of Pieria.

After all that, the conclusion is that Herodotus is a valuable historical source when one knows what to accept and what to reject. Everything he said about the Macedonians, their kinship with the Dorians, their gathering in mountainous Pieria from where they started their expansion and their neighbouring with the Phrygians are things that linguists and archaeologists have confirmed directly or indirectly.

In a general discusion about Herodotus’ credibility in the introduction of the Italian edition of his “Histories” (the one translated by Fulvio Barberis and edited by Garzanti) , Luciano Canfora states : “certainly like every mortal Herodotus wasn’t infallible , but when we must discuss about his ability to discriminate between true and false and his willingness to express the first , Herodotus speaks by himself:

In [III,124] he states : ” For Polycrates was the first of the Hellenes of whom we have any knowledge, who set his mind upon having command of the sea, excepting Minos the Cnossian and any other who may have had command of the sea before his time. Of that which we call mortal race Polycrates was the first”.

And this is a proof that he can distinguish between myth (Minos the Cnossian ,a mythological figure) and reality (Polykrates of Samos , a person of the “mortal race” that is a historical person) although Thucydides -who is generally considered more standard and less “naif”- failed to make this distinction in [I.4].

About his willingness to speak the truth in [VII.139] he states: “And here I am compelled by necessity to declare an opinion which in the eyes of most men would seem to be invidious, but nevertheless I will not abstain from saying that which I see evidently to be the truth”.

Written by Andrew MOTW

Presented & produced by Truth Bearer & Makedonia25


Proud indigenous Macedonians proud Greeks one people,one language,one country,one culture..


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