The diachronic Greek history of Macedonia is at the core of the current FYROM name dispute

The diachronic Greek history of Macedonia is at the core of the current FYROM name dispute

March 08, 2009
A cult of identification of the modern inhabitants of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has grown since 1992, with the aim of portraying FYROM as an inheritor and indeed the single inheritor of all things Macedonian. This culture, aided by laws that forbid scientific research in FYROM on the origins of its inhabitants, strives to take away from Greece and especially from the Greek administrative district of Macedonia almost anything that forms part of its Macedonian heritage.

It is uncomfortable to me as a Greek to have to defend Hellenism, especially to a man as blinded with hatred as Risto Stefov. One hopes that by arguing something reasonably, the discourse will benefit everybody. The recent polemics of Risto Stefov (beginning with American Chronicle, 4 Jan 2009 might especially create the false impression to the unknowing public that Greeks have made connections to the ancients using some racial purity argument. Or even that foreigners made such racial links to the ancients on the Greeks´ behalf. Even that this happened unpredictably when no one considered the Greeks to be Greeks. He quotes much from his friend Gandeto, a man he describes as an eminent historian, but who swears a lot. He includes gossip from an Albanian friend of his as evidence about the existence of an allegedly unreported, concealed minority of 3,5 million Albanians in Greece, a country with a population of 11 million. Stefov carefully omits the vast majority of evidence which does not confirm his allegations. Often he does not give references to his sources but pulls accusations out of his hat as if it were an established fact and well known – perhaps it is well known to some of his friends.

The links of the Greeks with diachronic Greek history, language and culture are simply due to a historic continuity, a continuity of language and customs that has survived if altered down to our own time. Greeks are Greeks in the same sense that Italians regard themselves as Italian and the Spanish as Spanish. The language is sufficient without the need to justify their Italianness or Spanisheness by some genetic test, some new discovery or by historical revisionism. For that kind of practice, Mr Stefov ought to look closer at home. While the question of getting a certificate of genetic identity had never occurred to the ancients, the recent Skopjian claims of genetic purity and genetic links to the ancient Macedonians are well beyond the pail. Examples are (a) a highly vaulted in FYROM but otherwise widely discredited study of the HLA gene carried out by FYROM scientists which allegedly proves that the FYROMians are Macedonians while the Greeks and Japanese are Ethiopians, and (b) a recent video made by FYROM state TV where God appears saying among else: “Listen to me, children of the sun and flowers! I, God, created the Macedonoids from which the white race sprung, inhabiting the lands far to the Japan Sea. The other races are Mongoloids and Negroids. All other peoples are of a mixed race”. (

If one looks carefully, the video also shows the Greek adminsitrative provinces of Macedonia and Thrace while the praying voice laments, claiming that many “Macedonians” (presumably FYROMian Slavs) have died for them.

Risto Stefov conveniently skips most of the Greek history of Macedonia to make some racial arguments about the modern Greeks. As that leaves the majority of the relevant facts aside, let us rather take the ancients first. We are primarily concerned about the identity of the Macedonians and they were ancient. It should be made clear from the outset that the ancient Macedonians had Greek names, their cities had Greek names and that they had temples and altars dedicated to the gods of the Greek pantheon as the other Greeks. The cult of the Olympian gods in Greece was a religion centered on Mount Olympus in Macedonia. The Macedonian coins had the names of their kings written in Greek. The currency was the drachma as in the rest of Greece as far back as records exist (5th C BC). They had theatres where it is known that plays written only in Greek were played and they spread the Greek language and culture to the lands in Asia conquered by Alexander. All inscriptions found in Macedonia before Roman times only had Greek writing on them – more than 5000 in number. Where hints of the spoken language and grammar survive, as in a katadesmos (magic curse) from Pella, it was in a form of Doric Greek.

“Macedonia, of course, is a part of Greece”.

Strabo, VII, Frg. 9 (Loeb, H.L. Jones).

Macedonians participated in the Olympic Games, which at the time were open only to Greeks. Not only are the names of several Macedonian Olympic champions known, but dedications to Macedonian Olympic victors were erected in Olympia itself and were described by Pausanias. The Macedonians had athletic competitions of their own, such as the Olympics of Dion, taking place at the start of the Macedonian month of Dios (month of Zeus), which also marked the start of the Macedonian new year. The city of Dion (Dium), where the games took place, was located at the foothills of Mount Olympus and was suitably dedicated to Zeus. Dion had an important temple dedicated to Zeus, just as Athens was dedicated to Athena and the Parthenon was her best known temple in ancient Greece.

The two most famous Macedonians, Alexander the Great and his teacher Aristotle, were born not in the region of modern FYROM, as some ought to expect based on the Skopjian use of the word Macedonia, but in Greece, in the ancient historic region of Macedonia. Yes – the great philosopher Aristotle was born in Macedonia. Indeed Aristotle´s father Nicomachus was a friend and personal physician of the Macedonian king Amyntas III, the grandfather of Alexander the Great. Alexander himself drew his descent from Achilles through his Epirotan mother Olympias, as the son of Achilles Neoptolemus was according to Homeric legend a king of the Epirotan Molossoi. From his father´s side, Alexander drew his descent from the kings of Argos descended from Heracles and thus ultimately from Zeus. Therefore, not only was Alexander´s lineage regarded as a direct line to some of Greece´s most famous mythical heroes but his reputed descent from Zeus via Heracles was taken seriously enough so that in Egypt he became worshipped as a god. Of course, mythologically all Greeks descended from Zeus through Thyia and Pyrrha – but the belief that Alexander descended from Achilles and Heracles made him a beacon of Hellenism. For their efforts in spreading the Hellenic spirit and culture to the ancient civilizations of the east, Alexander and his teacher Aristotle can safely be considered the most Greek amongst Greeks.

After crossing into Asia, Alexander sacrificed a bull to Poseidon, and poured offerings from a golden cup to the Greek sea-nymphs, the Nereids. Arrian states that he also built altars both on the European and Asian sides of the strait, dedicated to Zeus (lord of safe landings), Athena, and Heracles. Upon arriving to Troy, Alexander first sought the sites of the legendary graves of the Greek heroes, Ajax and Achilles.

” He anointed with oil the column which marks the grave of Achilles, ran a race by it naked with his companions, as the custom is, and then crowned it with a wreath; he also remarked that Achilles was happy in having found a faithful friend while he lived and a great poet to sing of his deeds after his death.”

Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 15.

This act prefigured Alexander’s role as a new Achilles liberating the Greek cities of Asia Minor from Asiatic rule. Soon afterwards, Alexander offered funds for the building of a temple to the goddess Athena in Priene. A dedication from Alexander written in Greek and described by Arrian was discovered by archaeologists in the 19th century and is in the British Museum. Not one Macedonian name was Slavic, not a single Macedonian city had a Slavic name. The Slavs did not appear on the Danube until a thousand years later.

This type of political discourse is a new phenomenon, because until the second world war when making claims on territories was still practiced by nationalist governments, when a historical claim was made on someone else´s territory or state, there was usually an argument in it. Though Risto Stefov may have opened some books and is avoiding this issue, other Skopjians simply dismiss the call of reason: “We need no proofs. It is dogma.” Others are at pains trying to “prove” in their minds that only the other Greeks were Greeks, as they were conquered by the Macedonians. That the Macedonians, who conquered the rest of Greece were not Greeks, otherwise they would have not fought other Greeks. This is plain silly, as this was just the case with the earlier Spartan, Athenian and Theban hegemonies and the argument needs no further comment or it might be given some merit.

Alexander´s conquest of the East meant that in Hellenistic times, the Greek language had spread from India in the East as far as to the Greek colonies on the coast of Spain in the West. Hellenism became a universal idea. As Isocrates had already said:

“So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and the title of Hellene a badge of education rather than of common descent.”

Isocrates, Panegyricus, 50, circa 380 BC (J. A. Freese Translation)

Under Byzantine administration, every inhabitant of the empire was equal to any other. Under Roman Law, initially all free men were considered citizens. In 726 AD, Leo III issued the Greek Codex “Ecloga”. “Ecloga”, referring to both the civil and criminal law, constituted as stated a “rectification towards a more philanthropic version”. The legal reforms of “Ecloga”, protected and supported the institution of marriage, increased the rights of wives and legal children, and affirmed the equality of all citizens before the law. It was no matter if one lived in Egypt, Italy or Macedonia. All citizens were equal. Byzantium was a universal state in the sense that it did not require a test of nobility or a special descent, geographic or otherwise, for one to be a citizen. Athenians, Spartans, Macedonians, Egyptians, Syrians, etc such as might have survived the homogenization and other demographic changes of the Hellenistic and Roman empires, ceased to be different from each other in any civil sense. Those who shared in the Greek traditions and were part of the empire, shared it more or less equally. There were no longer Macedonians or Spartans or Corinthians etc as a state or tribe. From then on, one can only speak of Greeks. It is also simply not arguable that because the ancient Slavs, Huns, Tatars, Kumans, Goths, Bulgarians or any other invaded and ransacked Greece, depopulating vast tracts of land, that they have become now Macedonians – especially when they have failed to obtain even the language and customs of the Greeks. They were the scourge of Greece and indeed of Macedonia, hardly their champions:

Macedonia was an administrative district in the Byzantine Empire and the language of its administration as elsewhere in the empire was naturally the Greek language. It did not coincide or even overlap with the area of FYROM and was named so not after the Slavs but after a Greek hero and progenitor of the Macedonians, a Greek people:

“The district Macedonia took its name from Macedon the son of Zeus and Thyia, Deucalion’s daughter, as Hesiod says: `And she conceived and bare to Zeus who delights in the thunderbolt two sons, Magnes and Macedon, rejoicing in horses, who dwell round about Pieria and Olympus ((lacuna)) . . . And Magnes again (begot) Dictys and godlike Polydectes.”

Byzantine Emperor Constantinus Porphyrogenitus, 2 de Them. 2 p. 48B (referring to the naming of the Byzantine administrative district of Macedonia).

As the language in Byzantium was the Greek language, the Francs referred to the Byzantine Emperor as the Imperator Graecorum, the emperor of the Greeks, to distinguish the Byzantine Empire from the own Holy Roman Empire. After the fall of Constantinople first to the Francs in 1204 and later to the Turks in 1453, an exodus of Greeks to the West brought with them the writings of the Greeks and Renaissance with it. Gradually Greece became a European idea. Not in the sense that until the last century Greek was spoken in many areas from Italy as far as Turkey, the coast of the Black Sea and Egypt; not in the sense that Greeks lived, worked and studied in Europe after the fall of the Byzantine Empire as much as in Greece itself, but in the sense that the Greek idea once supplanted in the West became a universal inheritance.

The Macedonian former Prime Minister and President of the Hellenic Republic, Constantinos Karamanlis, who was responsible for Greece becoming an EU member, had said:

“As of today, Greece irrevocably accepts this historical challenge and its European destiny while preserving her national identity. We have confidence both in Europe and in Greece. We have decided to all be Europeans, as Churchill would say, and to all remain Greeks, as Shelley would say. For, to quote Isocrates, the Greeks are not those who are born in Greece but those who espouse the Classical spirit.”

Constantine Karamanlis, Why Greece Joined the European Union, Speech on the Entry of Greece into the EU, January 1, 1981

It does not require a genetic test for a special gene for one to prove they are Greek, as seems to be the current mind frame in FYROM. Greece is not a genetic marker but a culture and an idea, the idea Alexander spread to Asia, that the Byzantines brought to Europe, the idea of freedom of expression, of free education and free enquiry. That is Greece. It does not matter if one is Albanian or American, but apparently it is to Skopjians an unacceptable idea. Risto Stefov, in his recent exposition of his racist views in the American Chronicle, attempts to surprise the world (but surprises only himself) with a view that Athens and the Peloponnesus were inhabited by large numbers of Albanians during Ottoman times. Nevertheless these Christian Albanians rose together with the Greeks elsewhere for the freedom of Greece. That the Greek language survived in those difficult times in folksong, in the language of the Orthodox liturgy, in the Greek schools under special privileges permitted in Istanbul (such as the Great School of the Genos – Megale tou Genous Schole), and in regions enjoying special autonomy in Mani, Zagori, in later periods indeed also in Macedonia, and in parts of Asia and Europe, where Greeks also lived, worked and studied, that is to Stefov of no consequence. It can be ignored through the exercise of free will.

Moreover, if some of those who fought for the freedom of Greece were speaking Albanian, that to Stefov means that the Macedonians were not Greeks. So Greece perhaps is not a country today or perhaps it became free out of Turkish courtesy and those who died for its freedom were not meaning to fight for Greece after all…

Indeed, people of Albanian and Slavic descent fought among the Greeks for the freedom of Greece from the Ottoman yoke. The issue is not race, as it appears to the Skopjian mind that seeks a national purity in undiscovered “Macedonian” genes. Racial considerations were not what has determined Greek identity through time but the allegiance to the idea of freedom, of political freedom, of free enquiry and of social equality and the use of the Greek language as a medium for social and political life. In fact, a key element of the Hellenic liberation of historic Macedonia and its union with Greece was the loyalty shown by those Orthodox Macedonians who spoke a language they called po nashi (“our own”). It was a unique combination of Greek and Slavic that existed only in oral form and which continues to be spoken in villages in western Macedonia (in Greece) today. Macedonians who spoke either ‘po nashi’, Greek or both were critical to the liberation of the Florina and Kastoria districts in western Macedonia (in Greece). Alarmed at the infiltration of agents provocateur sponsored by the Bulgarian Kingdom and by a lack of support from a Hellenic Kingdom devastated by the disastrous war of 1897, individual po nashi-speaking Macedonians took it upon themselves to resist both the Bulgarian efforts of Risto Stefov´s ancestors to assimilate them and also resisted the oppression of the Ottoman Empire. Their efforts are today honored with memorials and museums all over western Macedonia.

Once liberated, Macedonia became an administrative district of the Kingdom of Greece in 1912. That the affiliation of the Macedonians was a Greek one is obvious from the fact that other areas of the Ottoman empire that fell to the other Balkan nations were named Blagoevgrad district (in Bulgaria), South Serbia and Kosovo in Serbia and variously for the other Balkan nations – but no other region was named Macedonia until Tito had an afterthought in 1945. However, an ethnicity cannot jump from one people to another – indeed their erstwhile mortal enemies – as a pretext for the annexation of their land. Neither can ethnicity possibly be moved from one people to another as an act of self-determination. To be a Macedonian is to be Greek.

“I shall not indulge in a lecture on the ancient identity of the Macedonians and on Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, but the Greeks were historically correct in the campaign that they launched in the early days of the dispute…”

“Nor shall I engage in a lecture on the falsification of the history of Slavo-Macedonia since 1944, although that, too, has much hard factual content. I simply remind the House that Tito´s renaming of Vardar Banovina as the Republic of Macedonia in 1944 was a political statement.”

Mr. Edward O´Hara of the British Parliament


Related posts: