Makedonika II – The Ancient Macedonian Names

In addition to the Macedonian ethnic name, we today know the ethnic names of some of the Macedonian tribes, scores of place names in Macedonia and dozens of names of gods and heroes, the names of six festivals and twelve months, and hundreds of personal names, covering thousands of men and women.

The ethnic names of the Elimiotai, Lynkestai and Orestai derive from place names. The first has an undoub­tedly Greek termination. Some scholars believe that the στ of the second and third are an affix that is found in Illyrian names. In the name of the Orestai at least, the σ belongs to the root (Ορεσ-) and the τ to the termination (-ται), which is Greek. Furthermore, both the Orestai and the Lynkestai were undoubtedly Greeks (see page 59).

Alexander I and other Macedonian kings, Philip II, Alexan­der the Great and his successors all gave Greek names to the cities they founded; Alexander the Great and some of his officers went further and translated some of the local names into Greek. Those opposed to the view that the Macedonians were Greeks are not prepared to take this evidence into consideration, justifying their stance with the argument that it all post-dates the introduction of Attic into the court and the state administration. There is no proof of this argument, however, other than the claim that the Macedonians did not speak Greek, and it is this claim that the argument is designed to support. The introduction of this argument into the chain of reasoning designed to demonstrate the above view thus leads to a vicious circle. In order to avoid the accusation that we are using these same toponyms as proof that the Macedonians were Greek, while the evidence for and against this view is still being discussed, we shall restrict ourselves to toponyms in areas where the expansion of the Macedonians ante-dates Philip, and to those names attested before his reign. Some of these names were Greek and some non-Greek. The lat­ter do not prove that the Macedonians were not Greeks, for the areas in question were inhabited for many millennia (from the beginning of human habitation until c. 2300/2200, and from 1900 until the eighth, seventh, sixth and even the fifth centuries B.C.) by non-Greek peoples. We also know that place-names survive even after the dis­appearance of the ethnic groups from which they derive. Further, if the non-Greek toponyms of western and central Macedonia are attributed to the Macedonians, this has two consequences.

Firstly, we have to concede that the Pelasgians, the Paiones, the Bottiaioi, the Eordoi, the Almopes, the Phrygians, the Thracians and other races left no mark on the toponyms of Macedonia, which is im­probable. Secondly, the following problem arises: if we ex­clude the possibility that the Macedonians were responsible for the Greek toponyms in western and central Macedonia before Philip, to which Greeks are they to be attributed? It is possible that only the names Haliakmon and Pieria are earlier than the Macedonian expansion. There are many more toponyms that are connected by our sources with the Macedonian expansion, or that cannot be dated to the period when the Proto-Greeks occupied Macedonia, for in this case they would exhibit a more archaic form which would have been fossilized or corrupted through the inter­vention of a non-Greek language.

Of seventy-two names and epithets of gods and heroes, fifty-six are panhellenic or Greek from a linguistic point of view, at least one is Greek with non-Greek phonetics, eleven are foreign (nine of these came from areas where non-Macedonian populations survived), and two derive from foreign toponyms, with a Greek termination; the rest are doubtful. The proportion of non-Greek names of gods is very small, especially in view of the fact that they are attested at very late periods, when the entire Greek world was feeling the influence of foreign religions.before the middle of the fourth century; many centuries later than this, a large percentage of Paionians, Thracians, Mysians, Lydians, Karians and Lycians had local names, even though they had begun to feel Greek cultural in­fluences much earlier. Furthermore, a number of the Greek-sounding names given by the Macedonians to gods, heroes, festivals, months and persons do not occur outside Macedonia or areas in which Macedonians had settled.

All the names of festivals are Greek. All the names of the months have Greek terminations, and only two of them have roots that are possibly non-Greek. No comprehensive collection of the personal names has yet been made. The few collections that have been made for prosopographical purposes have not inspired any ex­haustive linguistic studies or statistical evaluations. A review of the names borne by members of the royal family of the Temenids, of the dynasties of upper Macedonia, and other Macedonians, before the rule of Philip, reveals only very small percentages for each of the three groups. The recent discovery of large numbers of grave stelai at Vergina has increased our knowledge of Macedonian per­sonal names by adding dozens of examples. With one or two exceptions, these are Greek, and a number of them date from before the accession of Philip. They are all names of members of the middle classes.

Those who deny that the Macedonians were Greeks assert that they took the Greek names for gods, heroes, festivals, months and people from the Greeks. In the first place, however, there is no other example of a people neighbouring on the Greeks whose names were 95% Greek

The majority of Macedonian names in all categories are either nouns as such, or adjectives, or their derivatives, or a variety of compounds; they also include a number of verb-stems, prepositions and affixes. As a result, the names help us to form a picture of the vocabulary, phonetics and rules of derivation and synthesis of the Macedonian tongue which is quantitatively richer and qualitatively superior to that derived from the hundred or so roots of words that have been handed down directly. Consequently, in at­tempting to trace the features of Macedonian, it is necessary to go beyond the words and make use of all the data to be gleaned from the Macedonian names.


Michael B. Sakellariou “Macedonia: 4000 years of Greek history”

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Nick Nikolas says:

In the synthesis of names the syllabical final s is ommited therefore we cannot have ΟΡΕΣ + ΤΑΙ. The correct is ΟΡ +ΕΣΤ + ΑΙ.