We have been accustomed in this blog to reading groundless claims from Albanian Nationalists regarding an alleged connection between Ancient Macedonians and Illyrians. While all the available archaeological and literary evidence makes it explicit that Ancient Macedonians and their Barbarian Illyrian neighbours shared nothing in common – except a common border – it has becoming tiresome to point out the obvious again and again to such terribly misinformed souls.
Fact is that the eminent historians and linguistic scholars still argue even on the alleged connection between Illyrians and modern Albanians. However in this article, we will limit ourselves in useful conclusions after examining the evidence coming out from the ancient literary and archaeological sources.
(a) Ancient Macedonians Never identified themselves as Illyrians.
Its a painstaking task to repeat ourselves that exactly NOT a single quote from ancient sources exist where an ancient Macedonian identifies himself as an Illyrian. Any informed reader could easily find ancient Macedonians identifying themselves as being Greek, but NOWHERE any Macedonian links himself with Illyrians. Macedonian never regarded Illyrians as their kinsmen. Alexander the Great left no doubt as to who the Ancient Macedonians were by emphasizing the Otherness of the Illyrians, in contrast with the Macedonian acknowledgement of being Greek:
“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, and our hearts will be in it. As for our FOREIGN troops —Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians,Agrianes — they are the best and stoutest soldiers of Europe, and they will find as their opponents the slackest and softest of the tribes of Asia.
Arrian (The Campaigns of Alexander) Alexander talking to the troops before the battle. Book 2-7 Penguin Classics. Page 112. Translation by Aubrey De Seliucourt.
(b) Ancient Sources always distinguish ancient Macedonians and Illyrians
Another key element that needs to be addressed is the fact that ancient Greek, Roman, Jewish, Persian sources always seperate ancient Macedonians and Illyrians for the sole reason that they were two completely Unrelated people. In the same manner, Macedonia is always portrayed as an entirely different region from ancient Illyria. Of course neither this plain truth seems to bother Albanian propagandists who have placed the bulk of their cynical propaganda behind comical “arguments”, being serious contestants to the imagination of their Slavic neighbours from FYROM.
(c) Ancient Macedonians spoke a different language from Illyrians
The Greek language was unintelligible to Illyrians, hence translators were used in their exchanges between Macedonians and Illyrians. Even much later than Alexander’s era, interpreters are used, as the evidence reveals from the negotiations between the Greek-speaking Macedonians of Perseas and Illyrians [Polybius 28.8]
(d) Ancient Macedonians and Illyrians had a different Religion and different Customs
Since Macedonians were Greeks, they shared the common religious and cultural features of the Hellenic world. Consequently the gods worshipped among Southern Greeks can also be found in Macedonia. However regional characteristics have to be noted. On the other hand, the 12 gods of Olympus were not shared by Illyrians. Aristophanes in his “Όρνιθες” [1520-1523], places the gods οf the Triballians/Illyrians above Zeus, distinguishing this way the 12 Olympian Gods from the gods of Triballians/Illyrians. A clear delimitation of the Hellenic world and its borders with Illyrians. Similarly, those two ancient people had different culture. Herodotus refers to the Eneti tribe in Illyria and their habit of taking their daughters to the marketplace to sell them for marriage, a Barbarian custom which was found only among Babylonians.
The ancient sources leave no doubt that the ancients saw among Macedonians and Illyrians not only two Alien people, but the persistent source-tradition portrays Illyrians as the greatest enemies of Macedonians. Illyrian incursions in Macedonian territory was a frequent phenomenon before Philip’s Reign. During Perdiccas and Brasidas joint expedition, their Illyrian Allies changed sides without scruples and became the chief instrument or the explulsion of the Macedonian expeditionary force. Later, Illyrians resisted the power of Archelaos‘ resurgent Macedon. Amyntas, the father of Philip II, was driven out of his country by Illyrians who invaded Macedonia. He could surely give up hope for his crown, had the Thessalians not decided to intervene, in order to restore him to his throne. Philip’s brother, Perdiccas III was killed during a battle against Illyrians together with 4,000 Macedonians. Phillip’s massive victory against the Bardyllis, possibly in 359 BC, put an end to the ambitious plans of the Illyrian king. Alexander the Great, in the battle of Pelium (335 BC) defeated the Illyrian forces of Glaukias and Cleitus. The persistent armed conflicts between the two rival people kept up during Hellenistic ages till the Roman Occupation.
Furthermore, as Papazoglou mentions (Pap. 1957, 224-230; 1985), it is significant that despite the close contacts with Epirus and Upper Macedonia, the strong Hellenization and the use of the Greek language especially during the Roman period, the Illyrian Dasaretioi were never assimilated by the Macedonians, and their land was not taken into the administrative borders of the Macedonian districts established in 167 BC. So, although the Illyrians at Lychnitis were conquered by Philip II in 358 BC (Diodorus XVI 4–5; 8, 1), the ethnic border between the Illyrians, on one side, and the Paeonians and Macedonians, on the other, always lay to the east of Lake Ochrid — ancient Lychnitis, and the Dassaretis area respectively (Papazoglu 1957, 224–230; 1985; e.g. Livy XXXII 9, wrote that the Illyrian Dasaretioi were the neighbours of the Macedonian Lynkestai).
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