The term Μακεδόνας and its derivatives in Byzantine sources

 

articles1 The term Μακεδόνας and its derivatives in Byzantine sources

A quite interesting research over the term Μακεδόνας and its derivatives in Byzantine era, comes from Professor Ioannes  Tarnanides in his book entitled “Οι Κατά Μακεδονίαν Σκλαβήνοι“.  Professor Tarnanides begins with the ancient Macedonians and dwells particularly on the Macedonians of the Byzantine era who were forced to accept the Slavs in question in their territory. From his invenstigation of contemporary historical sources, he draws on his own words:

a) The two terms, Μακεδών (noun, Translation: “a Macedonian”, plural Μακεδόνες ) and Μακεδονικός (adjective – “Macedonian”) do not always have the same significance: they coincide only to the extend that they refer to a geographical concept.

b) The term Μακεδoνικός is used exclusively to characterise forces or armies coming from the Byzantine Theme, that is, the administrative or military district, of Macedonia. Since the theme of Macedonia was not a fixed entity always contained within geographical boundaries, a military unit coming from a specific place, could be described as Macedonian at one historical moment or another. This, consequently could mean that the leaders of these troops could at one time be designated Macedonian generals and at other times not.
This usage derives from the fact that the meaning of the term was purely geographical, dependent upon the administrative district- the “theme” – that bore the name at any given time.

c) The term Μακεδών also was to a considerable extend used in its geographical sense, when it designated a Byzantine inhabitant of Macedonia. Since, however, it could at the same time have other, non-geographical, connotations (racial, family, etc.). it does not appear blindly to follow the successive administrate changes effected by the central authority.

It is characteristic that those who from time to time are designated as Μακεδόνες are always members of Byzantine society or the Byzantine army, speaking the same language and apparently following the same failh, and that they never appear to turn, as the head of a certain group, against ihe Byzantine state.

d) In this sense, the term Μακεδών could be applied lo a person who was not of Macedonian descent. The characteristic example here  is that of the Emperor Basil I, who is clearly described as being descended “from the Armenian nation: This however, did not stop the  Byzantines from calling him a Macedonian.

e) This category does not appear to include the more recent immigrants to Macedonia, evidently because they retained their own ethnic particularity (language, religion, culture, etc.) and, more important still, their independence from the Byzantine rule. Thus, for example, in no case could any Bulgars, Slavs or Turks who were known to have settled in the region after a certain period (and who, indeed, became the permanent residents) ever be described as Μακεδόνες.

An interesting case of this refusal to use the term Μακεδών, as a descriptor for local, generally Slav, rulers, is that of Tsar Samuel. Samuel who came from the Western Macedonian district of Ochrid and who brought all Macedonia under his rule in the late 10th centure and early 11th century, was never called Μακεδών, either by the Byzantines or by local Slavo-Bulgarian sources. This fact would be exceplionally illuminating if his Armenian descent could be proven which would make his case congruous with that of the Emperor Basil I, also of Armenian origin. This would make it absolutely clear that the one, was called, perfectly naturally, a Macedonian because he accepted without inhibition ot reaction the capacity of a Byzantine citizen and Byzantine subject, while the other was denied this honour by Byzantine writers and Byzantine public opinion because his distinction was based on rebellion against the Byzantine authorities. The fact that the city of Ochrid was not at that particular moment part of the Theme of Macedonia would of course, have been no obstacle to this, for two reasons: firstly, because Ochrid had been part of Macedonia n the past and most of Samuels dominions lay within the historical territory of Macedonia and secondly because the designation “Macedonian” did not always, as we have noted appear faithfully to echo the formal and practical administrative changes and divisions of the broader Balkan region effected by the Byzantine authorities. When, that is, the emperor Alexios (according to Choniates) calls Bryennius a Μακεδών, since he came from the “blessed” and “all-powerful” Macedonian city of Orestiada, it is difficult to imagine that any temporary administrative change could alter this. That Orestiada could, that is, cease to be a Macedonian city or its inhabitants be Μακεδόνες. Even less could the scion of a famous Macedonian family, such as the “Gomoste” mentioned by Georgios Monachos (who does not of course specify where they came from) cease to be called a Μακεδών, just because an administrative shit in the Theme of Macedonia might leave him outside its borders.

From the existing literature it is possible to conclude with certainty that the privilege of designating a region as Macedonia and its inhabitants as Macedonians always lay with the Byzantine side. For this reason, no foreign – and especially no Slavic source – has ever arbitrarily attributed the appellation “Macedonian” to any region or any person outside Byzantium.

f) The designation Μακεδόνες, with the added information that the person in question was “of the race of the Macedonians” or came from a well-known Macedonian family (Gomostes) or was related to some Macedonian personality (Bryennius) is encountered sporadically throughout the Byzantine period. This means that the Byzantines were aware of the particular presence of the Macedonians in the specific geographical area in the past and kept the memory of their continuity and succession alive in the context of the new “Romeo-Christian” family. And

g) It is evident that on many occasions the Byzantine use of the term ‘the race ol the Macedonians” is deliberately intended to set them apart from other peoples surrounding them or living in their midst and these populations that are identified as non-Macedonians, who in their majority co-exist with the Greeks in the region , are in the main Slavs.
This means that the Macedonians, who were the recipients of Slav migrations and who, after attempting to repulse the incomers for a period, eventually accepted and co-habited with them, were none other than the Byzantine citizens and subjects of the region in question. Citizens and subjects who no longer always bore the name of Macedonians or were necessarily of Macedonian origin. They might have come, and as we have seen did indeed come, from various parts of the Byzantine empire and in order to serve some specific purpose were rhetorically or selectively designated Macedonians, collectively and indepedently of their particular “racial origin” solely because they were Byzantine subjects and lived in the Byzantine administrative district called Macedonia or the geographical region of the historical kingdom of Macedonia.

All the historic evidence goes to prove the the Slavs never encountered any people who were distinctively and unambiguously Macedonians, whether by descent or by name or by conscience. The little intermingling there was between groups, was with with Byzantine, and ex facie presumably Greek, inhabitants of the region.

Another consequence of this fact – that is – the Byzantine impact on or evolution of the significance of the term ‘Macedonian’, which by this time meant any Byzantine inhabitant of the theme of Macedonia or of historic Macedonia – is the present day insistence of the Greeks who live in that region on calling themselves Macedonians and the persistence of their local Macedonian conscience, as part of their broader Hellenism. The reaction of these contemporary – and by Byzantine tradition – Macedonians to the improper and unhistorical use of this national appelation by the Slavs of the region, those who in all likehood are the descedants of the “Sclavini of Macedonia” is thus wholly explicable.

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  3. Byzantine sources about the greekness of Medieval Macedonia
  4. Ancient Macedonia – Deductions and explanation of the term ‘Barbaroi’ by N.G.L. Hammond
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