Ancient writers about Macedonia – Plutarch


Plutarch “The Age of Alexander”

Penguin Classics

[1] On his father’s side Alexander was descended from Hercules through Caranus, and on his mother’s from Aeacus through Neoptolemus: so much is accepted by all authorities without question.

(Plut. 7.2 page 252)

[The fact that Alexander was Greek by both his parents went unquestioned by all authorities]

[2] The first was that his general Parmenio had overcome the Illyrians in a great battle, the second that his race-horse had won a victory in the Olympic games, and the third that Alexander had been born.

(Plut. 7.3, page 255)

[Philip participated in Olympics where only Greeks could take place since he was a Greek himself]

[3]Philip for example was as proud of his powers of eloquence as any sophist, and took care to have the victories won by his chariots at Olympia stamped upon his coins.

(Plut. 7.4, page 256)

[Philip as a proud Greek, had his victories in Olympics stamped on his coins]

[4]The person who took on both the title and the role of Pedagogue was an Acarnanian named Lysimachus. He was neither an educated nor a cultivated man but he managed to ingratiate himself by calling Philip Peleus, Alexander Achilles, and himself Phoenix, and he held the second place in the prince’s household.

(Plut. 7.5, page 257)

[The love of Philip and Alexander for anything Greek is apparent]

[5]Besides this he considered that the task of training and educating his son was too important to be entrusted to the ordinary run of teachers of poetry, music and general education: it required as Sophocles puts it:

The rudder’s guidance and the curb’s restraint,

and so he sent for Aristotle, the most famous and learned of the philosophers of the time and rewarded him with the generocity that his reputation deserved.

(Plut. 7.7, page 258)

[One of the most famous Greek philosophers, Aristotle was entrusted by Philip with the task of training and educating his son]

[6] He [Alexander] regarded the Iliad as a handbook of the art of war and took with him on his campaigns a text annotated by Aristotle, which became as “the casket copy” and which he always kept under his pillow together with his dagger. When his campaigns had taken him far into the interior of Asia and he could find no other books, he ordered his treasurer Harpalus to send him some. Harpalus sent him the histories of Philistus, many of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the dithyrambic poems of Telestes and Philoxenus.

(Plut 7.8, pages 259-260)

[Alexander never hide his love for anything Greek]

[7] During this period he [Alexander] defeated the Maedi who had risen in revolt, captured their city, drove out its barbarous inhabitants, established a colony of Greeks assembled from various regions and named it Alexandroupolis.

[Plut. 7.9, page 260)

[Here we have undisputed evidence of Macedonia’s Greekness. On one hand, the term “barbarians” is used only for Maedi, not Macedonians while on the other hand Alexander of course establishes a Greek colony since he is Greek himself.]


[7]There he [Philip] scolded his son and angrily reproached him for behaving so ignobly and so unworthily of his position as to wish to marry the daughter of a mere Carian, who was no more than the slave of a barbarian king.

(Plut. 7.10, page 262)

[Point of interest: Philip uses the term barbarian for a foreign satrap. Its obvious Philip was Greek, otherwise he wouldnt use at all the derogatory remark if he was “barbarian”himself]

[8]The neighbouring barbarian tribes were eager to throw off the Macedonian yoke and longed for the rule of their native kings.

(Plut. 7.11, page 263)

[The difference between the “neighbouring barbarian tribes” and Macedonians is clear.]

[9]As for the barbarian tribes they [Macedonians] considered that he [Alexander] should try to win them back to their allegiance by using milder methods.

(Plut. 7.11, page 263)

[Again, Barbarians are being distinguished from Macedonians, even by Macedonians themselves]

[10]In the previous year a congress of the Greek states had been held at the Isthmus of Corinth: here a vote had been passed that the states should join forces with Alexander in invading Persia and that he should be commander-in-chief of the expedition. Many of the Greek statesmen and philosophers visited him to offer their congratulations

(Plut. 7.14, page 266)

[Macedonia as a greek state took part in the congress held at Isthmus of Corinth. Alexander was voted to be commander-in-chief while many Greek statesmen and philosophers showed their joy about the event by offering him their congratulations.]

[11] Once arrived in Asia, he [Alexander] went up to Troy, sacrificed to Athena and poured libations to the heroes of the Greek army. He annointed with oil the column which marks the grave of Achilles, ran a race by it naked with his companions, as the custom is, and then crowned it with a wreath: he also remarked that Achilles was happy in having found a faithful friend while he lived and a great poet to sing of his deeds after his death. While he was walking about the city and looking at its ancient remains, somebody asked him whether he wished to see the lyre which had once belonged to Paris. I think nothing of that lyre, he said, but i wish i could see Achilles’ lyre, which he played when he sang of the glorious deeds of brave men.

(Plut. 7.15, page 268)

[First thing Alexander did while being in Asia was to honour the Greek heroes and his own ancestor Achilles]

[12] At the same time he [Alexander] was anxious to give the other Greek states a share in the victory. He therefore sent the Atheneans in particular three hundred of the shields captured from the enemy and over the rest of the spoils he had this proud inscription engraved:

Alexander, the son of Philip, and all the Greeks, with the exception of the Spartans, won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia.

[Things are pretty clear. Alexander considered Macedonia as a Greek state and the inscription itself reveals Macedonians are Greeks]

(Plut. 7.16, page 270)

[13] It is said that there was a spring near the city of Xanthus in the province of Lycia, which at this moment overflowed and cast up from its depths a bronze tablet: this was inscribed with ancient characters which foretold tha the empire of the Persians would be destroyed by the Greeks. Alexander was encouraged by this prophecy and pressed on to clear the coast of Asia Minor as far as Cilicia and Phoenicia.

(Plut. 7.17, page 270)

[No reason Alexander to be enouraged unless he was Greek himself. Another undisputable evidence of his Greekness]

[14]he [Alexander] managed to extend it round the enemy’s left, outflanked it, and fighting in the foremost ranks, put the barbarians to flight.

(Plut. 7.20, page 274)

[The dinstiction between Macedonians and Barbarians is obvious]

[15] It was here that the Macedonians received their first taste of gold and silver and women and of the luxury of the Barbarian way of life.

(Plut 7.24, page 278)

[Macedonians couldnt receive their first taste of the luxury of the Barbarian way of life if they were Barbarians themselves]

[16] he [Alexander] dshed to the nearest camp fire, dispatched with his dagger the two barbarians who were sitting by it

(Plut. 7.24, page 280)

[Another evidence Macedonians were Greeks and certainly not Barbarians]

[17]One day a casket was brought to him which was regarded by those who were in charge of Darius’ baggage and treasure as the most valuable item of all and so Alexander asked his friends what he should keep in it as his own most precious possesion. Many different suggestions were put forward, and finally Alexander said he intended to keep his copy of Iliad there.

(Plut. 7.26, page 281)

[Alexander’s love for anything Greek was overwhelming. He considered Iliad as his most precious possession.]

[18]According to this story, after Alexander had conquered Egypt, he was anxious to found a great and populous Greek city  there, to be called after him.

(Plut. 7.26, page 281)

[Alexander as a Greek himself founded Greek cities]

[19] Others say that the Priest, who wished as a mark of courtesy to address him with the Greek Phrase ‘O, paidion’ (O, My son)…

(Plut. 7.27, page 283-4)

[20] On this occasion, Alexander gave a long address to the Thessalians and the rest of the Greeks. They acclaimed by shouting for him to lead them against the barbarians and at this he shifted his lance into his left hand, so Callisthenes tells us, and raising his right be called upon the gods and prayed that he were really the son of Zeus they should protect and encourage the Greeks.

(Plut. 7.33, page 290)

[Greek soldiers couldnt have shouted to Alexander to lead them against the Barbarians if him and his Macedonians were Barbarians themselves. Alexander’s pray includes Macedonians to the rest of Greeks.]

[21]To the Plataeans in particular he [Alexander] wrote that he would rebuild their city because their ancestors had allowed the Greeks to make their territory the seat of war in the struggle for their common freedom. He also sent a share of the spoils to the people of Croton in Italy in honour of the spirit and valour shown by their athlete Phayllus: this man when the rest of the Greeks in Italy had refused to give any help to their compatriots in the Persian wars, he fitted out a ship at his own expense and sailed with it to Salamis to share in the common danger.

(Plut. 7.34, page 291)

[22] During the advance across Persis the Greeks massacred great numbers of their prisoners, and Alexander has himself recorded that he gave orders for the Persians to be slaughtered because he thought that such an example would help his cause.

(Plut. 7.37, page 294)

[Macedonians are recorded by Plutarch as Greeks]

[23]Alexander stopped and spoke to it [Xerxes Statue] as though it was alive. ‘Shall i pass by and leave you lying there because of the expedition you led against Greece, or shall i set you up again because of your magnanimity and your virtues in other respects?’

(Plut. 7.37, page 294)

[Xerxes statue was toppled by Macedonians and was left in the ground. This spontaneous action of Macedonians, plus Alexander’s words reveal how much Macedonians wanted to revenge Persia through this Panhellenic expedition.]

[24] Demaratus the Corinthian, who was much attached to Alexander, as he had been to his father, began to weep, as old men are aprt to do, and exclaimed that any Greek who had died before that day had missed one of the greatest pleasures in life by not seeing Alexander seated on the throne of Darius.

(Plut. 7.37, page 295)

[Greeks wouldnt have misses this great pleasure in life to see Alexander seated on Darius throne if he wasnt Greek himself]

[25]She wanted to put a torch to the building herself in full view of Alexander, so that posterity should know that the women who followed Alexander had taken a more terrible revenge for the wrongs of Greece than all the famous commanders of earlier times by land or sea. Her speech was greeted wit wild applause and the king’s companions excitedly urged him on until at last he allowed himself to be persuaded, leaped to his feet and with a garland on his head and a torch in his hand led the way.

(Plut. 7.38, page 295)

[26] From this point he advanced into Parthia, and it was here during a pause in the campaign that he first began to wear barbarian dress.

(Plut. 7.45, page 301)

[So Macedonian dresses were Hellenic since in Parthia was the FIRST time Alexander began to wear BARBARIAN dresses]

[27]However he didnt go so far as to adopt the Median costume, which was altogether barbaric and outlandish.

(Plut. 7.45, page 302)

[More evidence of the greekness of Macedonians. The remark about the Median costume being Barbaric wouldnt make sense if Macedonian costume was Barbaric too. Here we have another dinstinction between Barbaric and Macedonian (Greek) costume]

[28]For this reason he [Alexander] selected thirty thousand boys and gave orders that they should be taught to speak the Greek language and to use Macedonian weapons and he appointed a large number of instructors to train them.

(Plut. 7.47, page 303)

[Alexander spread everywhere the Greek language since he was a Greek himself. There is no reason or even an example of a conqueror in classical ages to spread a “foreign” language but solely his own.]

[29]The barbarians were encouraged by the feeling of partnership which their alliance created, and they were completely won over by Alexander’s moderation and courtesy..

(Plut. 7.47, page 304)

[Again a clear dinstiction between barbarians and Macedonians]

[30]After the company had drunk a good deal somebody began to sing the verse of a man named Pranichus which had been written to humiliate and make fun of some Macedonian commanders who had recently been defeated by the Barbarians.

(Plut. 7.50, page 307)

[ The dinstiction between Macedonian commanders and Barbarians is more than obvious]

[31]Callisthenes then turned to the other side of the picture and delivered a long list of home truths about the Macedonians, pointing out that the rise of Philip’s power had been brought about by the divisions among the rest of the Greeks,

(Plut. 7.53, page 311)

[The evidence of the Greekness of Macedonians is striking. Macedonians and the rest of Greeks]

[32]In the meantime Demaratus of Corinth, although he was by now an old man, was eager to visit Alexander and when the king had received him Demaratus declared that those Greeks who had died before they could see Alexander seated on the throne of Darius had missed one of the greatest pleasures in teh world.

(Plut. 7.56, page 313)

[No reason for those Greeks to “miss one of the greatest pleasures in the world when they when they would see Alexander seated in Darius throne if Alexander was not Greek]

[33]For example he put to death Menander, one of the Companions because he had been placed in command of a garrison and had refused to remain there, and he shot down with his own hand one the Barbarians named Orsodates who had rebelled against him .

(Plut. 7.57, page 314)

[Clear Dinstiction between the Macedonian Menander and the Barbarian Orsodates.]

[34] He [Alexander] also set up altars for the gods of Greece and eve down to the present day the kings of the Praesii whenever they cross the river do honour to these and offer sacrifice on them in the Greek fashion.

(Plut. 7.62, page 320)

[Another evidence Alexander and Macedonians worshipped the Greek Pantheon]

[35] The ladder was smashed so that no more Macedonians could join him and the barbarians began to gather inside along the bottom of the wall and to shoot at him from below.

(Plut. 7.63, page 320)

[Clear Dinstiction between the Macedonians and Barbarians]

[36]Both men were wounded and Limnaeus was killed, but Peucestas stood firm wile Alexander killed the Barbarian with his own hand. But he was wounded over and over again and at last received a blow on the neck from a club which forced him to lean against the wall, although he still faced his assialandts, At ths moment the Macedonians swarmed round him..

(Plut. 7.63, page 321)

[Clear Dinstiction between the Macedonians and Barbarians]

[37] Nevertheless the prince Taxiles awas able to persuade Clanaus to visit Alexander. His real name was PShines but because he greeted everyone he met not with the Greek salutation chairete but with the Indian word cale, the Greeks called him Calanus.

(Plut. 7.65, page 323)

[38] Not long afterwards Alexander discovered tha the tomb of Cyrus had been plundered and had the offender put to death, enen though he was a prominent Macedonian from Pella named Polymachus. When he read the inscription on the tomb he ordered it to be repeated below in Greek characters.


(Plut. 7.69, page 326)

[39] The thirty thousand boys whom he had left behind to be given a Greek education and military traning had now grown into active and handsome men and had developed a wonderful skill and agilit in their military exercises.

(Plut. 7.71, page 328)

[40] The other, Cassander, had only lately arrived in Babylon and when he saw some of the barbarians prostrate themselves before the king he burst into loud and disrespectful laughter for he had been brought up as a Greek and had never seen such a spectacle in his life.

(Plut. 7.74, page 331)

Plutarch – Moralia, “On the Fortune of Alexander”  











  • “But he said, `If I were not Alexandros, I should be Diogenes’; that is to say: `If it were not my purpose to combine barbarian things with things Hellenic, to traverse and civilize every every continent, to search out the uttermost parts of land and sea, to push the bounds of Macedonia to the farthest Ocean, and to diseminate and shower the blessings of the Hellenic justice and peace over every nation, I should not be content to sit quietly in the luxury of idle power, but I should emulate the frugality of Diogenes. But as things are, forgive me Diogenes, that I imitate Herakles, and emulate Perseus, and follow in the footsteps of Dionysos, the divine author and progenitor of my family, and desire that victorius Hellenes should dance again in India and revive the memory of the Bacchic revels among the savage mountain tribes beyond the Kaukasos…’





(Plutarchos, On the Fortune of Alexander, 332 a-b) 

  • Yet through Alexander, Bactria and the Caucasus learned to revere the gods of the Hellenes … Alexander established more than seventy cities among savage tribes, and sowed all Asia with Hellenic magistracies … Egypt would not have its Alexandria, nor Mesopotamia its Seleucia, nor Sogdiana its Prophthasia, nor India its Bucephalia, nor the Caucasus a Hellenic city, for by the founding of cities in these places savagery was extinguished and the worse element, gaining familiarity with the better, changed under its influence.’

(Plutarchos Moralia. On the Fortune of Alexander, I, 328D, 329A) 

  • When he (Alexander the Great) arrived at Ilion he sacrificed to Athena and offered libations to the Heroes.” 

(Plutarchos, Alexander 15) 

  • “It is agreed on by all hands, that on the father’s side, Alexander descended from Hercules by Caranus, and from Aeacus by Neoptolemus on the mother’s side”

(Plutarch, The Life of Alexander)

IX. When Philip was besieging Byzantium he left to Alexander, who was then only sixteen years old, the sole charge of the administration of the kingdom of Macedonia, confirming his authority by entrusting to him his own signet. He defeated and subdued the Mædian rebels, took their city, ejected its barbarian inhabitants, and reconstituted it as a Grecian colony, to which he gave the name of Alexandropolis.

Plutarch’s Lives – Life of Alexander

“From when he was master of Egypt, designed to settle a colony of
GRECIANS there, he resolved to build a large and populous city, and give it his own name.”

Now why would he want to create a large and populous city (in a sense the capital of his empire) named after himself, full of non-Macedonians if he didn’t consider himself and the Macedonians Greek themselves.


“He made the longest address that day to the Thessalians and other Greeks, who made answered him with loud shouts, desiring him to lead hem on against the BARBARIANS, upon which he shifted his javelin into his left hand and with his right lifted up towards heaven, besought the gods, as Callisthenes tells up, that if he was of a truth the son of Zeus, they would be pleased TO ASSIST AND STRENGTHEN THE GRECIANS.”

Once again to strengthen the GRECIANS and not Macedonians. This tells me that when people refer to Macedonians, they infer that they are Greeks but of Macedonia, just like the Athenians and Spartans are refered to just that, but no one ever questions their Greekness!


“It is related that the first time he sat on the throne of Persia under the canopy of goled, Demaratus the Corinthian, who was much attached to him and had been one of his father’s friends, wept, in and old man’s manner, and deplored the misfortune OF THOSE GREEKS WHOM DEATH HAD DEPRIVED OF THE SATISFACTION OF SEEING ALEXANDER SEATED ON THE THRONE OF DARIUS.”

“What spectator… would not exclaim… that through Fortune the foreign host was prevailing beyond its deserts, but through Virtue the Hellenes were holding out beyond their ability? And if the ones [i.e., the enemy] gains the upper hand, this will be the work of Fortune or of some jealous deity or of divine retribution; but if the others [i.e. the Hellenes] prevail, it will be Virtue and daring, friendship and fidelity, that will win the guerdon of victory? these were, in fact, the only support that Alexander had with him at this time, since Forune had put a barrier between him and the rest of his forces and equipment, fleets, horse, and camp. Finally, the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and, when they had fallen, pulled down their city on their heads. “

Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander, 344 e-f

she lit the fire before the king himself <Alexander> and wished the world would learn that the women in
Alexander’s train took revenge upon the Persians ON BEHALF OF HELLAS, surpassing both sailors and infantry. Noise and   commotion ensued and ENCOURAGED by FRIENDS and COMPANIONS the king was moved and he jumped up wearing his crown and holding a torch. THE REST followed him, singing and shouting they surrounded the palace, and all the OTHER MACEDONIANS who heard that RUN WILLINGLY holding torches.”

 <Plutarch, Alexander 38>

Again, however, Fortune stirred up Thebes against him, and thrust in his pathway a war with Greeks, and the dread necessity of punishing, by means of slaughter and fire and sword, men that were his kith and kin, a necessity which had a most unpleasant ending.
[Plutarch, Virtue, 11]

For Alexander did not follow Aristotles advice to treat the Greeks as if he were their leader, and other peoples as if he were their master; to have regard for the Greeks as for friends and kindred, but to conduct himself toward other peoples as though they were plants or animals; for to do so would have been to cumber his leadership with numerous battles and banishments and festering seditions. But, as he believed that he came as a heaven sent governor to all, and as a mediator for the whole world, those whom he could not persuade to unite with him, he conquered by force of arms, and he brought together into one body all men everywhere, uniting and mixing in one great loving‐cup, as it were, mens lives, their characters, their marriages, their very habits of life.

He bade them all consider as their fatherland the whole inhabited earth, as their stronghold and protection his camp, as akin to them all good men, and as foreigners only the wicked; they should not distinguish between Grecian and foreigner by Grecian cloak and targe, or scimitar and jacket; but the distinguishing mark of the Grecian should be seen in virtue, and that of the foreigner in iniquity; clothing and food, marriage and manner of life they should regard as common to all, being blended into one by ties of blood and children.
[Plutarch, Fortune, 6]
















But then again spiteful Fortune stirred up the Thebans against him, and entangled him in the Grecian war, and in the dire necessity of defending himself against his fellow-countrymen and relations with fire and sword and hideous slaughter.

A comparison of Alexander with Pericles:


Pericles collected tribute from the Greeks and with the money adorned the Acropolis with temples; but Alexander captured the riches of barbarians and sent them to Greece with orders that ten thousand talents be used to construct temples for the gods.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, II, 13

Alexander’s assault on the citadel of the Mallians:


…that through Fortune the foreign host was prevailing beyond its deserts, but through Virtue the Greeks were holding out beyond their ability? And if the enemy gains the upper hand, this will be the work of Fortune or of some jealous deity or of divine retribution; but if the Greeks prevail, it will be Virtue and daring, friendship and fidelity, that will win the guerdon of victory? These were, in fact, the only support that Alexander had with him at this time, since Fortune had put a barrier between him and the rest of his forces and equipment, fleets, horse, and camp.Finally, the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and, when they had fallen, pulled down their city on their heads.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, II, 13

In conquering and civilising the barbarians, both the cities established and the form of government, law and culture is Greek:


Yet no such busy wars as these employed their time in civilizing wild and barbarous kings, in building Grecian cities among rude and unpolished nations, nor in settling government and peace among people that lived without humanity or control of law.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 4


But Alexander, building above seventy cities among the barbarous nations, and as it were showing the Grecian customs and constitutions all over Asia, quite weaned them from their former wild and savage manner of living.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 5


It may, however, be more justly averred of those whom Alexander subdued, had they not been vanquished, they had never been civilized. Egypt had not vaunted her Alexandria, nor Mesopotamia her Seleucia; Sogdiana had not gloried in her Propthasia, nor the Indians boasted their Bucephalia, nor Caucasus its neighboring Grecian city; by the founding of all which barbarism was extinguished and custom changed the worse into better.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 5


But it behooves us also, as it were, to make a new coin, and to stamp a new face of Grecian civility upon the barbarian metal.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 5

In the treatment and distinguishment of Greeks and barbarians:


But Alexander made good his words by his deeds; for he did not, as Aristotle advised him, rule the Grecians like a moderate prince and insult over the barbarians like an absolute tyrant; nor did he take particular care of the first as his friends and domestics, and scorn the latter as mere brutes and vegetables…On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 6


Nor would he that Greeks and barbarians should be distinguished by long garments, targets, scimitars, or turbans; but that the Grecians should be known by their virtue and courage, and the barbarians by their vices and their cowardiceOn the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 6


But I would gladly have been a spectator of those majestic and sacred nuptials, when, after he had betrothed together a hundred Persian brides and a hundred Macedonian and Greek bridegrooms, he placed them all at one common table within the compass of one pavilion embroidered with gold, as being all of the same family…On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 7

Next Plutarch tells us of the imposition of Greek religion:


Most admirable philosophy! which induced the Indians to worship the Grecian Deities…On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 5


But Alexander engaged both Bactria and Caucasus to worship the Grecian Gods, which they had never known before.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 5

Of Alexander’s descent, which would not be seen as “noble” in Plutarch’s eyes if it was not Greek:


…the nobility of his Macedonian extraction…On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 9

And the ultimate revenge, to see a Greek king on the throne of Persia:


Therefore it was that Demaratus the Corinthian, an acquaintance and friend of Philip, when he beheld Alexander in Susa, bursting into tears of more than ordinary joy, bewailed the deceased Greeks, who, as he said, had been bereaved of the greatest blessing on earth, for that they had not seen Alexander sitting upon the throne of Darius.On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, I, 7





































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