Makedonika I: The Ancient Macedonian Testimonies (Literary Sources)


In this article, we intend to examine the ancient evidence on the way the Ancient Macedonians were defining themselves in reference to their own identity. Concerning their own beliefs about themselves we shall review the available evidence coming from the ancient sources, both Literary and Archaeological.

A. The Literary Evidence

The first available evidence comes from the Macedonian king Alexander I during his speech to Atheneans. Essentially we have a clear confession that Alexander considers himself a Greek.

Herodotus 9.45:  Had I not greatly at heart the Common welfare of Greece I should not have come to tell you; but I am myself Greek by descent, (“te gar Hellên genos eimi tôrchaion“) and I would not willingly see Greece exchange freedom for slavery. …If you prosper in this war, forget not to do something for my freedom; consider the risk I have run, out of zeal for the Greek Cause,….I am Alexander of Macedon

Another cited excerpt makes it even more clear that Alexander I was proud of his Hellenic identity. While speaking to Persians:

Herodotus 5.20.4: Tell your king who sent you how an Greek man, viceroy of the Macedonians (“anêr Hellên – Makedonôn hyparchos”)has received you hospitably…

Furthermore Herodotus provides us with a clear-cut testimony about their Hellenic identity from the members of the Macedonian royal house themselves.


Herodotus 5.22.1: “Now that these descendants of Perdiccas are Hellenes ( “Hellênas de einai), as they themselves say(“kata per autoi legousi“), I myself chance to know”



 The letter of Alexander the Great to Darius is a mere proof of the Hellenic Identity of Macedonians.

Arrian Anab. 2.14.4: Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece (“Makedonian kai eis tên allên Hellada”) and did US great harm though WE had done them no prior injury […] I have been appointed hegemon of the Greeks […]

Followed by an apparent demonstration of their Hellenic identity and Cause during Alexander’s speech to his army. Simultaneously we have a clear distinction between Greeks and the Foreign elements of Alexander’s army.

Arrian 2.7: There are Greek troops, to be sure, in Persian service — but how different is their cause from ours ! They will be fighting for pay— and not much of it at that; WE on the contrary shall fight for Greece (tous de xyn sfisin yper tis Ellados ekontas amynomenous”) , and our hearts will be in it. As for our Foreign (“barbarwn te”) troops —Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians,Agrianes — they are the best and stoutest soldiers of Europe.

[Translation by Aubrey De Seliucourt]

We find Alexander saying in:

Arrian Anab. 3. 18. 11-12: But Alexander replied that he intended to punish the persians for their invasion of Greece, the destruction of Athens, the burning of the temples, and all manner of terrible things done to the Greeks: because of these things, he was exacting revenge.

On another occasion while he was speaking to Thessalians and other Greeks:

Plutarch. Alex (ed. B. Perrin) XXXIII: On this occasion, he [Alexander] made a very long speech to the Thessalians and the other Greeks, 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

While Speaking to his own Macedonian Commanders:

Curtius Rufus 5.6.1: Alexander called a meeting of his generals the next day. He told them that no city was more hateful to the Greeks than Persepolis, the capital of the old kings of Persia, the city from which troops without number had poured forth, from which first Darius and then Xerxes had waged an unholy war on Europe. To appease the spirits of their forefathers they should wipe it out, he said.

One more testimony from Alexander himself comes in:

Curtius Rufus 5.8: As for Alexander, it is generally agreed that, when sleep had brought him back to his senses after his drunken bout, he regretted his actions and said that the Persians would have suffered a more grievous punishment at the hands of the Greeks had they been forced to see HIM on Xerxes’ throne and in his palace.

In Plutarch we find:

Plutarch’s Moralia, On the Fortune of Alexander, 332A: But he said, ‘If I were not Alexandros, I should be Diogenes’; that is to say: `If it were not my purpose to combine barbarian things with things Hellenic, to traverse and civilize every continent, to search out the uttermost parts of land and sea, to push the bounds of Macedonia to the farthest ocean and to disseminate and shower the blessings of the Hellenic Justice and peace over every nation, I should not be content to sit quietly in the luxury of idle power, but I should emulate the frugality of Diogenes. But as things are, forgive me Diogenes, that I imitate Herakles, and emulate Perseus, and follow in the footsteps of Dionysos, the divine author and progenitor of my family, and Desire that Victorious Hellenes should dance again in India […]“

In the Dedication of Alexander to Athena Polias:

Arrian, I, 16, 10: Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks, except the Lacedaemonians, from the barbarian inhabitans in Asia.

Another clear sign of his Hellenic self-identification is shown explicitely in the event with Daniel’s Prophesy:

Josephus 11.8.5: And when the book of Daniel was showed to him (Alexander) wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he [Alexander] supposed that himself was the person intended.

During the Event with Spitamenes’ wife:

Curtius Rufus 8.15: The savagery of the deed carried more weight with him than gratitude for the favour, however, and he had her ordered from the camp. He did not want her tainting the character and civilized temperament of the Greeks with this example of Barbarian lawlessness.

The Macedonian Philip V verifies his Greek identity:

Polyvius, 18.4.8: For on many occasions when I and the other Greeks sent embassies to you begging you to remove from your statutes the law empowering you to get booty from booty, you replied that you would rather remove Aetolia from Aetolia than that law

 In the Treaty between Hannibal of Carthage and Philip V of Macedon we find a clear-cut reference to “Macedonia and the rest of Greece”:

Polybius, 7, 9, 4: In the presence of Zeus, Hera, and Apollo: in the presence of the Genius of Carthage, of Heracles, and Iolaus: in the presence of Ares, Triton, and Poseidon: in the presence of the gods who battle for us and the Sun, Moon, and Earth; in the presence of Rivers, Lakes, and Waters: 3 in the presence of all the gods who possess Macedonia and the Rest of Greece: in the presence of all the gods of the army who preside over this oath. 4 Thus saith Hannibal the general, and all the Carthaginian senators with him, and all Carthaginians serving with him, that as seemeth good to you and to us, so should we bind ourselves by oath to be even as friends, kinsmen, and brothers, on these conditions. 5 (1) That King Philip and the Macedonians and the Rest of the Greeks who are their allies shall protect the Carthaginians, the supreme lords, and Hannibal their general, and those with him, and all under the dominion of Carthage who live under the same laws; likewise the people of Utica and all cities and peoples that are subject to Carthage, and our soldiers and allies 6 and cities and peoples in Italy, Gaul, and Liguria, with whom we are in alliance or with whomsoever in this country we may hereafter enter into alliance.

In the speech of the ambassador of Macedonia to the Aitolians:

Livius, From the Foundation of the City 31: The Aitolians, the Akarnanians, the Macedonians, men of the SAME speech, are united or disunited by trivial causes that arise from time to time; with aliens, with barbarians, all Greeks wage and will wage eternal war; for they are enemies by the will of nature, which is eternal, and not from reasons that change from day to day.

While the Macedonian troops found a Greek man and burst into tears when they heard Greek spoken:

Arrian, “The Indica” XXXIII: There a man appeared to them, wearing a Greek cloak, and dressed otherwise in the Greek fashion, and speaking Greek also

. Those [Macedonians] who first sighted him said that they burst into tears, so strange did it seem after all these miseries to see a Greek, and to hear Greek spoken. They asked whence he came, who he was; and he said that he had become separated from Alexander’s camp, and that the camp, and Alexander himself, were not very far distant. Shouting aloud and clapping their hands they brought this man to Nearchus


The evidence cited previously from various ancient literary sources help us to comprehend how the ancient Macedonians identified themselves. The conclusion is inescapable: Even if the amount of ancient Macedonian testimonies is limited, the available evidence points out explicitely that Ancient Macedonians identified themselves more or less as Greek. Macedonians are the same people who had Greek names, spoke Greek, renamed or build Greek cities, having of course Greek names, worshiped the Greek Pantheon, participated in Pan-Hellenic games and waged a Pan-Hellenic war against Persia while they spread everywhere they passed the Greek language and Greek Culture. The message they left is quite clear. They identified themselves as Greeks.

Related posts: