Prof. W. Clarysse: Macedonian nobility in Alexandria spoke a Doric Dialect and had Doric Names

One of the best researches over the Ethnic diversity and dialects in Ptolemaic Egypt and especially in Alexandria,  comes from prof. W. Clarysse.  Prof. Clarysse after examining all the available evidence regarding the names of ancient Macedonians in the Alexandria of Egypt, concludes that “nearly all the names are Greek and only 3 hellenized families shows traces of foreign descent“. Furthermore, he adds “All these names have in common the feature that they are not in koine, but represent one of the “Doric” Greek dialects. As the old Greek dialects gradually disappear in Greece itself toward- the end of the Hellenistic period, it is the more interesting tο see them alive and well in the names of the most prominent families at the royal court in Alexan­dria. Dialect names were not born by peasants or common Alexandrians, but functioned as a hallmark of the highest nobility.

The list of eponymous officers confirms that of the eponymous priests: Doric names were typical of some of the higher families at the royal court. It seems possible that members of these families were still speaking a Doric dialect.“[..]

Professor continues:

“This remind us of a famous passage where Plutarch criticises the later Ptolemies be­cause some of them had forgotten to speak Macedonian (ενίων δε και το μακεδονίζειν εκλιπόντων). Plutarchus. Vita Antonii 27.5)- This shows that at the Alexandrian court Macedonian remained spoken for a long time alongside koine Greek and was considered us a sign of aristocratic descent. Speaking only plain koine was considered a sign of degeneration! A vivid illustration of the Macedonian roots of the Ptolemies is provided by one of the poems of Poseidippos in the famous Milan papyrus, which is to be pub­lished shortly by G. Bastianini and C. Gallazzi.” The poem was no doubt meant to ac­company a statue group of Ptolemy II and his parents, perhaps in Olympia. Ptolemy ll himself speaks, proudly reminding the reader of his roots in Heordaiai’

We are the first three and only kings who have won the Olympic chariot race, my parents and i am number one, having the same name Ptolemaios and being the son of Berenike, belonging to the race of the Heordaioi. The two others are my parents

The most remarkable thing about this poem is its language: it is the only poem by Posidippos that is not written in the usual poetic koine. It is written in a Doric dialect…the -prestige dialect” which the Macedonian kings spoke among their peer. That the Macedonians kings claimed a relationship with the Dorians is confirmed by an inscrip­tion found in Xanthos, where the Dorieis of Central Greece, asking for financial help from the Xanthians, stress that such help would be appreciated by king Ptolemy, who is a relative of the Dorians through the line of the kings of the Argead dynasty since Herakles.” Even if the oldest form of Macedonian may have been a non-Greek language, by the Hellenistic period it had certainly become a Greek dialect*.»

[*]NGL Hammond and G.T. Griffith, A History of Macedonia II (Oxford 1979) 39-54 are probably right to consider Macedonian as a Greek dialect throught its history. Here i am only interested in the form it took in the Hellenistic Period.

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An excellent piece of information. Thank you for it “History-of-Macedonia”. Congratulations!