Ancient Macedonia : Slavs Lost in Translation

 

AncientMacedonianHistory1 Ancient Macedonia : Slavs Lost in Translation

Thessaloniki was a princess; daughter of King Philip II, half sister of Alexander the Great. She was given this name because she was born on the day of the Macedonian victory at the Battle of Crocus Field. Her name literally translates to “Thessalian Victory“, in Greek. The city of Thessaloniki, today the largest city of Macedonia, was founded by her husband, King Cassander. Evidently, two Macedonian Kings used the Greek language in moments of great sentimental value to them. They had no need for intermediaries.

Recently, Aleksandar Donski published an article headlined as “Ancient Macedonians Used Translators To Communicate With Hellenes“.[1]

Naturally an article’s title aims to highlight the article’s main point. The author obviously ought to indicate passages, excerpts, paragraphs that would eventually provide the evidence to support his primary point.

In a provocatively forged article, the author interlaces his exposition with  series of unfounded assumptions, while he fails to provide substantial evidence for the claims introduced in his own title. Aside from the fact that ancient Macedonians were Greeks (See Appendix A), it leaves the reader with the following observation.

If translators were allegedly used in the communications between ancient Macedonians and the Rest of Greeks, as the author suggests, why did he failed to provide any valid evidence of translators mentioned in ancient literary/epigraphic sources?

In short, where are the numerous excerpts from ancient testimonies to back up his primary claim?

Anyone could find numerous ancient accounts mentioning the existence of Interpreters in the dealings between Greeks and non-Greek populations.

On the contrary, among thousands of ancient literary and epigraphical sources, there are No examples of Interpreters between Macedonians and the Rest of Greeks. A clear evidence that ancient Macedonians always spoke Greek, thus were a Greek people.

The article contains a certain number of interesting falsifications, groundless assertions, contradictions and over-generalizations. This is why it is necessary to focalize on these points.

Misconception #1.

Claim:

“we read that the secretary to Philip and Alexander of Macedon, Eumenes, “…sent forward a man named Xenias, who spoke Macedonian…” to negotiate with the Macedonian army of Neoptolomeus. This event took place around 321 BCE.”

 

Here the Author embarks on an clumsy effort to spread mendacious disinformation.  In the original greek text, Arrian speaks explicitely of a man called Xennias “Μακεδονίζων τη φωνή“. This doesnt necessarily mean Xennias is a Macedonian and neither we have “clearly evident distinctiveness of the Macedonian language”. Following the same unfounded assumption, we should also assume of the “evident distinctiveness” of the Doric ( δωρίζουσα τη φωνή“) [2] and Attic (“Αττικής…φωνής) [3]

Furthermore sending a man to address the phalanx in Macedonian, does not mean that Eumenes could not speak/understand the Macedonian dialect himself. Readers should be aware that in the ancient world, it was a common trait among military commanders to dispatch soldiers/messengers and send them to address parts of their own, allied or opponent armies.

The author’s baseless assumption is one giant logical leap. You need only to consider other examples where the same inference could be made, to distinguish the flaw. Just because we  find in Diodorus (XIX 39.5),  the Macedonian General Antigenes to dispatch a Macedonian in order to address the Phalanx, should we also arbitrarily conclude that Macedonians did not speak Macedonian and needed “interpreters” to speak to each other?

“…..Antigenes, the general of the Sliver Shields, sent one of the Macedonian horsemen toward the hostile phalanx, ordering him to draw near to it and make proclamation. This man…shouted: “Wicked men, are you sinning against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander?”

(Diod. Sicily XIX 39.5, Loeb Edition volume IX)

In fact, contrary to the author’s assertions, Eumenes was able to communicate with his Macedonian soldiers. In Plutarch ( Eumenes’ XVII2),  Eumenes finds it quite easy to address Macedonians and also in return the Macedonian mob to be delighted by Eumenes’ speech.

Misconception #2

Claim:

“The fight was further embittered by the old racial rivalry of Greek and Macedonian”. (Arrian: “The Campaigns of Alexander”, translated by Aubrey De Selincourt, Penguin books, USA, 1987, pg. 119.)

The original line in question is :

καὶ τοῖς γένεσι τῷ τε Ἑλληνικῷ καὶ τῷ Μακεδονικῷ φιλοτιμίας ἐνέπεσεν ἐς ἀλλήλους.”

I provide the exact meaning of each word:

καὶ = and
τοῖς = the
γένεσι = beginning, origin, descent, clan/tribe, race, kind
τῷ = of
τε = the
Ἑλληνικῷ = Hellenic
Μακεδονικῷ = Makedonian
φιλοτιμίας = literally “love of honour”, but can also mean ‘ambition’ among other things..
ἐνέπεσεν = to fall
ἐς = on
ἀλλήλους = eachother

In fact the exact passage gives away the nature of the pride in filotimia: “Proud invicible Macedonian phallanx”. So it talks about the pride of which army is better, the one trained exclusively in Macedonia, or the Mercenary one, trained from various places of the entire Greece. In short, the event occurs during the battle and while the Macedonians were trying to equal Alexander’s accomplishments and not tarnish the honor/reputation of the phalanx, which was ‘invincible’. It becomes painfully obvious that the word “γένεσι” , having the meaning of origin, flows naturally and refers to the pride of each military unit. Segregation of ancient Greek tribes with the rest of Greeks is a common phenomenon in the surviving literary sources. [4]

Point of Interest:

The Greek Mercenary forces of Darius included Macedonians. The Macedonian Prince, Neoptolemus, son of Arrhabaeus, joined the Persian army like other Greek Mercenaries and lost his life at the gates of Halicarnassus (Arrian 1.20.10) fighting even his own countrymen. Similarly after Issus, the Macedonian Noble Amyntas, son of Antiochus, leads a army of 4000 Greek mercenaries fled to Egypt  (Diodorus, 17.48.2). It must be re-emphasized the fact that these Greek mercenaries fighting in the Persian side had as their Commander a Macedonian. Finally we are informed, the Macedonian Commander was slaughtered along with his mercenary troops during a plunder in Memphis. (Diodorus 17.48.3-5; Curtius 4.1.27-33)

Misconception #3

Claim:

“The ancient historian Plutarch (c.45-120AD) gave an outstanding account of the distinctivenessof the ancient Macedonian language…. On the first sight of the general of their heart, the troops saluted him in the Macedonian language, clanked their arms, and with loud shouts challenged the enemy to advance, thinking themselves invisible while he was at their head.”

To begin with, nowhere the passage suggests an alleged “distinctiveness”. In fact, Plutarch tells us, once the Macedonians greeted Eumenes, carried at the time on a litter, «μακεδονιστί τη φωνή» (Eum. XIV.5). Context shows that this greeting was spontaneous and complimentary at the same time, a result of the warmth that the troops (Macedonians) felt toward Eumenes, their Commander, whom they urged on to fight.

Following the same irrational logic when we read in Demosthenes’ (Yper Megalopoliton 2), the reference, “τη φωνή λέγειν Αττικιστί», should we also assume the “distinctiveness” of the dialect spoken in Attica?

Misconception #4

Claim:

Sometime around 76 CE, Plutarch, referencing some older works, wrote a biography of Alexander the Great of Macedon”

This is where the esteemed Author brings out his best. Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st century. It is a work of considerable importance, not only as a source of information about the individuals biographized, but also about the times in which they lived.

The surviving Parallel Lives [in Greek: Βίοι Παράλληλοι], as they are more properly and commonly known, contain twenty-three pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one GREEK [Emphasis given] and one Roman, as well as four unpaired, single lives.

Plutarch makes it blatantly obvious that he considers Alexander as a Greek, when one of the pairs he compares between Greeks and Romans, is Alexander the Great Vs Julius Ceasar. Since Julius Ceasar is apparently a Roman, obviously Plutarch considers Alexander as a Greek.

In another Plutarch’s comparison of a Greek and a Roman, we find the pair of the Macedonian Demetrius the (so-called) Besieger Vs Mark Antony. Again we become witnesses of the same fact. Plutarch’s list contains two Macedonians among the Greeks because simple and plainly Plutarch considers Macedonians as being Greeks.

Misconception # 5

Claim:

“the official language in the Macedonian Empire and in its army, during the Macedonian dominion, was the language of “koine” (mixed language) that was used in the Macedonian Empire. In addition to words from the ancient Greek dialects (which were numerous) koine contained words from other languages as well. Alexander established this language for practical reasons, since he was aware that he would encounter resistance were he to impose the unfamiliar Macedonian language on the different nations in his empire.”

Of course, there is a hidden reality behind this excerpt. It’s the inability of its author to admit that the Hellenistic Koine was a Greek language (in fact the Attic dialect developed into Koine as the eminent linguists verify)

A little later, we find in the article a map originating from the book “Ancient Language of Europe”, edited by Roger D. Woodard. However the author quite hypocritically omits to mention what his own source testifies about the Koine [5]:

“With the expansion of Hellenic culture under Philip of Macedon in the middle of the fourth century BC, the Attic dialect begins to spread geographically, developing into a Hellenistic Koine. This Hellenistic period of Greek continues until the fourth century AD”

Other sources add more interesting information about the Koine Greek.

Language; The Development of Koine Greek

Beginning with the reign of Philip II of Macedón, the Attic- Ionic dialect group grew in status to become the Panhellenic Greek of the emergent Macedonian empire. This so-called Macedonian Koine became the language of government, administration, and well-educated persons.

An introduction to Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman periods from Alexander the Great down to the Reign of Constantine (323 B.C. – A. D. 337) by Bradley Hudson McLean, page 346

The Hellenistic koine, the Greek language which Alexander and his Macedonians spread everywhere they passed, may be viewed as a development of Attic Dialect and of course the linguists from all around the world consider it as a Greek language. In the aftermath of the Pan-Hellenic campaign of Alexander the Great , it became the lingua Franca of the conquered territories. It is necessary, to introduce here additional factors for consideration which refute the groundless conjectures found in the initial claim. Since Aramaic had been the Lingua Franca of the region for centuries and also very familiar to all the Asian subjects of the mighty Persian empire, Alexander had no reason to replace Aramaic with Greek, neither allegedly “for practical reasons” nor “to facilitate ease of communication among the different nations”. In fact the vast majority of those Asians didnt speak Greek prior to Alexander’s expedition. Macedonians obviously would not spread a foreign language to them, just like they would not spread a foreign Culture to them, but solely their own. Thus being Greek themselves, the Macedonians spread everywhere the Greek Language and Culture.

Misconception #6

claim:

“his military commanders and his army among whom the Macedonians were dominant; there were also many Greeks, Thracians, Jews and people from other nations”

Here we witness another malignant deception refuted by the words of the Macedonian king himself.

 

“There are Greek troops, to be sure, in Persian service - but how different is theirs 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 heart will be in it.  As for our Foreign troops —Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians,  Agrianes — they are the best and stouder soldiers of Europe, and they  will find as their opponents the slackest and softest of the tribes of  Asia.” [Underlined mine]

(Arrian, “the campaigns of Alexander”, translated by Aubrey De Selincourt, Penguin books, USA, 1987, pg 112)

Do you notice that there is no distinction between Macedonians and the rest of Greeks?

Alexander himself in his speech makes it explicit that:

(a) Macedonians fought for Greece with “their hearts being in it”,

(b) the foreign element in his army are solely the Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians, Agrianes but not the Greeks.

Another apparent evidence of the Greekness of Macedonians.

Misconception #7

Claim:

” The incident of the trial of the Macedonian, Philotas… This event establishes the existence of an independent and separate Macedonian language.”

 

Again the author embarks on presenting unfounded claims. The event does not speak about Macedonian as a language and it becomes even clearer that Macedonian is a Greek dialect. Philotas explicitely states that using the Koine would make his speech “easier to understand“, indicating that the Macedonian dialect was not incomprehensible to the non-Macedonians, but a bit more difficult to understand.

In fact, the whole incident shows the Macedonian dialect was not that different from the Koine and could be understood eventhough it had some difficulty by other Greeks. This also explains the quick disappearance of the Macedonian dialect and the quick adoption of the Koine from Macedonians.

Misconception #8

Claim:

“Regarding the language of the ancient Macedonians we present a map (see page 13) from the “Ancient Languages of Europe” published in 2008 at the University of Cambridge Edited by Roger D. Woodard, published by Cambridge University Press, 2008 which depicts those territories in which ancient Greek was spoken. It is clear that most of Macedonia (with the exception of the sparsely inhabited peninsula Chalkidiki, where Greek colonies remained for a very long time) was not part of the Greek speaking area.”

Here we witness an attempt of the author to attribute scientific importance and seriousness to his ´analysis´. The method used is by providing a linguistic map which allegedly shows that the Macedonian speech was not part of the Greek Speaking area. Of course, the deliberate omission of what the same source [6] underlines about the linguistic status of the ancient Macedonians.speaks volumes.

1. “Much uncertainty surrounds the linguistic status of the Macedonian peoples

2.  “it remains unclear if Greek was the native language of the Macedonians”

So the author’s own source dismiss two of his basic claims and attests:

(a) The Hellenistic Koine was an Attic-based Greek language,

(b) it remains unclear the linguistic status of the Macedonian peoples.

Ignoring the context can often be a mere error. But selective quotation to fit one’s agenda is more like wilful distortion.

Misconception #9

Claim:

“First of all, we have cited accounts that state that some of them did not speak a word of spoken Greek.”

This one is a masterpiece. The author embarks on giving more false conclusions based on his previous groundless assertions. The above quote defies not only reality but most importantly Common Sense.

How could the Macedonians have Names in a language that they allegedly didn’t speak?

How would the Macedonian kings issue decrees, coins, etc that their own people would not understand at all?

How would the Macedonians even spread a language that they didn’t speak?

Why they never protested if they were allegedly imposed a foreign language and culture, like they did for example with the Persian?

Misconception #10

Claim:

“Even if we agree that the ancient Macedonian language did not exist in its written form and that the first written language used for communication among the Macedonians was Greek, it does not follow that writing in Greek makes them Greek people.”

Interestingly enough, the author keeps the same style; Denying the Historical Reality.

If allegedly ancient Macedonians were not Greeks, then we publicly challenge the author to share with us a non-Greek people who shared ALL these characteristics of the ancient Macedonians, prior to Alexander’s conquests.

Namely a Non-Greek people:

(a) speaking Greek,

(b) participating in Pan-Hellenic Games where Only Greeks can enter.

(c) having Greek names,

(d) sharing the same religion with Greeks.

(e) conquering/spreading Greek language and Culture everywhere they pass,

(f) using Greek Architecture,

(g) building Greek cities

(h) identifying themselves as Greek.

The conclusion is inescapable. Only Greeks could share the above characteristics.

 

Appendix A

“Macedonia and the Rest of Greece” in the ancient Literary & Epigraphical sources

Arrian II.14.4: “Macedonia and the rest of Greece” (..Είς Μακεδονίαν και είς την άλλην Ελλάδα)

Polybius 7.9.3: “Macedonia and the rest of Greece” (..Μακεδονίαν και τήν άλλην Ελλάδα)

Strabo, 7.9:Macedonia, of course, is a part of Greece[..]without taking her [Macedonia] from the rest of Greece” (..έστι μεν ουν Ελλάς και η Μακεδονίαν[…]χωρίς έγνωμεν αυτήν από της άλλης Ελλάδος )

Polybius 7.9.5: “Philip and Macedonians and the rest of Greeks(..Φιλίππον και Μακεδόνων και υπό τών άλλων Ελλήνων)

Julius Valerius Alexander Polemios I.18: omni Macedonia et et reliqua Graecia conspirante

Polybius 7.9.7: “Macedonians and the rest of Greeks” (..και Μακεδόνες και των άλλων Ελλήνων)

Plutarch, Alexander’s Fortune 99.3.6:Macedonians and the rest of Greeks(…Μακεδόνες και οι άλλοι Έλληνες)

Arrian Ι.16.7:Alexander, son of Philip and the Greeks..” (Αλέξανδρος Φιλίππου και οι Έλληνες )

Strabo, 10.2.23: “to the Macedonians and the rest of Greeks” (…πρός τε τους Μακεδόνας και τους άλλους Έλληνας )

Dio Chrysostom, Discourse on Kingship no. 4; 9 and 48:, Macedonians and the rest of Greeks(…Μακεδόνας τε και τους άλλους Έλληνας )

IG XII,2 525: “…Alexander and the Greeks..” (..καὶ πόλεμον ἐξε[νι]- [κ]άμενος πρὸς Ἀλέξανδρον καὶ τοὶς Ἔλλανας τοὶς μὲν πολίταις παρελόμενος τὰ ὄπλα ἐξε- κλάϊσε) (Eresos 332 BC)

IG X(2.1) no.1031 lines 6-7: “..Macedonians and the rest of Greeks..” (..και τους λοιπούς Μακεδόνας και τους άλλους Έλληνας) (Olympia, Damon the Macedonian, 143 BC)

Syll. 3 nos. 372, lines 6 kai 7: “Kings and the rest of Greeks”, (..[υ]πό των βασιλέων και /[τ]ών άλλων Ελλήνων) (Samothrace 288-281 BC)

Magnesia 6, 557, lines 30-31: “of the kings and the rest of Greeks“ (..των βασιλέων [κ]αί των άλλ[ων] Ελλήνων απάν]τωμ) (Magnesia et Maian.: Artemis Leukofryni, 207/6 BC)

Syll.³ 398 590, line 30, “of the kings and the rest of Greeks” (..τοίς βασιλεύσι και τοις άλλοις Έλλησι) (SbBerlin 24 (1905) 979-993, 196 BC)

Ephesos 163: ”..Macedonians and the rest of Greek ethne” (..εἶναι μῆνα καλούμενον παρ̣’ ἡ̣[μ]ῖν μὲν Ἀρτεμισ[ι]-ῶνα, παρὰ δὲ Μακεδόσιν καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς Ἑλληνικοῖς) (Ephesos 160 BC)

 

[1] Τhe article was published in the magazine of a divided “Macedonian Diaspora” NGO, a Slavic anti-Greek organization using Greek words in its title; “United Macedonian Diaspora”, Voice Spring Edition 2011, pages 12-14. It can be found online here.

[2] Dio Chrysostom – 4rth Discourse on Kingship 54;

[3] Athenaeus D. ΙΙΙ, 126e;

[4] See Segregation between Ancient Greek tribes in literary sources

[5] Roger D. Woodard (ed), “Ancient Languages of Europe”, University of Cambridge, , published by

Cambridge University Press  (2008)

[6] Roger D. Woodard (ed), “Ancient Languages of Europe”, University of Cambridge, published by

Cambridge University Press  (2008), page 14

[7] Roger D. Woodard (ed), “Ancient Languages of Europe”, University of Cambridge, published by

Cambridge University Press  (2008), page 9

 

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  2. Discussion about the Ancient Macedonian Origins in FYROM’s TV
  3. Was Greek the Linqua franca of ancient times prior to Alexander?
  4. Makedonika: “Macedonia and the Rest of Greece” in the ancient Literary & Epigraphical sources
  5. Livius.org article about ancient Macedonia
Comments
Eleni D. says:

“ANCIENT MACEDONIANS DID NOT SPOKE A WORD OF GREEK”? THIS IS THE DEFINITION OF IDIOCY.

IMAGINE A PEOPLE TO GO AND SPREAD A LANGUAGE THAT THEY DONT SPEAK.

HOW FOOLISH ARE THESE DELUDED SLAVS? THE SLAVS OF FYROM ARE BRAINWASHED THAT IF THEY ARE TOLD ALEXANDER WAS AN ELEPHANT THEY WILL BELIEVE IT.

IT’S GOOD THEY WRITE SUCH FOOLISH ARTICLES. THEY ARE EXPOSED TO THE EYES OF THE WORLD AS THE GREATEST SOURCE OF AMUSEMENT !!!

Kavalliotis says:

Don’t waste your time with these people. Do what i always do. Give them to read an inscription from ancient makedones and you ‘ll have the laugh of your lives with their inability to read it.

Aristides says:

hahaha these southern slavs are trully ridiculous. I havent ever read so much garbage. No serious modern historian link them with ancient macedonians, yet they insist on fooling themselves and pretend they are related to ancients macedonians.