Makedonika I: The Ancient Macedonian Testimonies (Archaeological Sources)

In this article, we intend to examine the ancient evidence on the way the Ancient Macedonians were defining themselves in reference to their own identity. Concerning their own beliefs about themselves we shall review the available evidence coming from the ancient sources, both Literary and Archaeological.

B. The Archaeological Evidence.

[1] Pella Katadesmos

The Pella curse tablet is a curse or magic spell (Greek: κατάδεσμος, katadesmos) inscribed on a lead scroll, dating to the 4th or 3rd century BC. It was found in Pella (at the time capital of Macedon) in 1986 and published in the Hellenic Dialectology Journal in 1993. It is possibly the only attested text in the ancient Macedonian language (O. Masson).

It is a magic spell or love charm written by a woman, possibly named Dagina, whose lover Dionysophōn (i.e. “Voice of Dionysus“) is apparently about to marry Thetima (i.e. “she who honors the gods”; the standard Attic form would be Theotimē). She invokes “Makron and the demons” (parkattithemai makrōni kai [tois] daimosi, Attic would be para-kata-tithemai) to cause Dionysophon to marry her rather than Thetima, and never to marry another woman unless she herself recovers and unrolls the scroll.

Katadesmoi or defixiones were spells written on non-perishable material, such as lead, stone or baked clay, and were secretly buried to ensure their physical integrity, which would then guarantee the permanence of their intended effects.

The language is a harsh but distinctly recognizable form of North-West or Doric Greek, and the low social status of its writer, as evidenced by her vocabulary, strongly hint that a unique form of Doric Greek was spoken by lay people in Pella at the time the tab was written (see below, Dating and Significance). Brixhe and Panayotou (1994:209) think a Macedonian origin of the text probable, but they suggest that the population of Pella was not homogeneously autochthonic, and they prefer to wait for a second find before making a definitive statement.

Before the publication of the Pella katadesmos’ findings in 1993, it was proposed that Doric Greek may have been spoken in pre-Hellenistic Macedon as a second dialect in addition to a Macedonian dialect (Rhomiopoulou, 1980).

The Greek version:
1. [Θετί]μας και Διονυσοφώντος το τέλος και τον γάμον καταγράφω και ταν αλλάν πασάν γυ-
2. [ναικ]ών και χηράν και παρθένων, μάλιστα δε Θετίμας, και παρκαττίθεμαι Μάκρωνι και
3. [τοις]δαίμοσι, και οπόκα εγώ ταύτα διελ<ί>ξαιμι και αναγνοίην πάλ<L>ιν ανορ<ύ>ξασα
4. [τόκα]γάμαι Διονυσοφώντα, πρότερον δε μη μη γαρ λάβοι άλλαν γυναίκα αλλ’ εμέ,
5. [εμέ δ]έ συνκαταγηράσαι Διονυσοφώντι και μηδεμίαν άλλαν, ικέτις υμώ<ν> γίνο-
6. [μαι, Φίλ]αν οικτίρετε δαίμονες φίλ[ο]ι, ΔΑΓΙΝΑΓΑΡΙΜΕ φίλων πάντων και έρημα, αλλά
7. [….]α φυλάσσετε εμίν ό[π]ως μη γίνεται τα[ύ]τα και κακά κακώς Θετίμα απόληται.
8. [….]ΑΛ[-].ΥΝΜ .. ΕΣΠΛΗΝ εμός, εμέ δε [ε]υ[δ]αίμονα και μακαρίαν γενέσται.
9. [-]ΤΟ[.].[-].[..]..Ε.Ε.Ω[?]Α.[.]Ε..ΜΕΓΕ [-]

The English Translation:

1. On the formal wedding of [Theti]ma and Dionysophon I write a curse, and of all other
2. wo[men], widows and virgins, but of Thetima in particular, and I entrust upon Makron and
3. [the] demons that only whenever I dig out and unroll and re-read this,
4. [then] may they wed Dionysophon, but not before; and may he never wed any woman but me;
5. and may [I] grow old with Dionysophon, and no one else. I [am] your supplicant:
6. Have mercy on [your dear one], dear demons, Dagina(?), for I am abandoned of all my dear ones.
7. But please keep this for my sake so that these events do not happen and wretched Thetima perishes miserably
8. and to me grant [ha]ppiness and bliss.
[2] Decree from Boule and Demos of Ephesos making month of Artemision holy; AD 162/164
Transl of the underlined text: “Macedonians and the REST of Greek ethnes (“Makedosin kai tis loipois ethnesin tois Ellinikois“)
[3] Damon’s Decree
Around 143/142 BC, Damon the Macedonian, son of Nicanor, from the city of Thessalonica, paid with his own money and erected a statue of copper in Olympia, honouring Q.Caecilius Metellus. In the statue’s inscription it is written as motives of this honouring the virtue of the honoured and the sympathetic actions of Quintus Metellus to “Macedonians and the rest of Greeks“. What is more interesting is that the statue was erected from Damon the Macedonian in Olympia, the most important Hellenic centre of that era and it reveals Macedonians saw themselves as Greeks.

[4]Decree about the founding of Ptolemais from Ptolemy I

The original language of the inscription is:

[Resolved by the boule and demos….Theos Soter [founded] a Greek city in [the Thebaid]…making its name Ptolemais [fron himself, and becoming its patron] To it the king sent […settlers from…]and from Argos [and from..and from Lacedaimo]n and from Thes[saly?] and from..the [council and people] decreed [to…]

Decree about the founding of Ptolemais from Ptolemy I. The inscription itself is a Hadrianic copy of an early Ptolemaic decree.

[5] Dedication by Alexander the Great to Athena Polias

Greek, around 330 BC
From Priene, Asia Minor

In 336 BC Alexander the Great embarked on a programme of territorial expansion, which would eventually extend the boundaries of the Greek world to Egypt in the south and to India in the East. In 334 BC Alexander crossed the Hellespont, the narrow strait separating Europe and Asia, and went first to Troy. There he dedicated his armour to Athena and laid a wreath at the tomb of Achilles, the legendary hero and champion of the Greeks in the Trojan War. This act prefigured Alexander’s role as a new Achilles liberating the Greek cities of Asia Minor from Asiatic rule.

That same summer of 334 BC, a successful engagement with the Persian army at the river Granicus, east of Troy, opened the gates of Asia Minor, and Alexander proceeded to tour the Greek cities of the west coast, expelling their Persian garrisons.

On reaching Priene, he made a further dedication to Athena. There the townspeople were laying out their new city and building a temple to its patron goddess. Alexander offered funds to complete the temple, and the inscription on this wall block, cut into a block of marble, records his gift. The inscription was found in the nineteenth century by the architect-archaeologist Richard Pullan leading an expedition on behalf of the Society of Dilettanti. It reads: ‘King Alexander dedicated the Temple to Athena Polias’.

B.F. Cook, Greek inscriptions (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)

Gift of the Society of Dilettanti
GR 1870.3-20.88 (Inscription 399 and 400)
Room 78, Classical inscriptions, north wall

B.F. Cook, Greek inscriptions (London, The British Museum Press, 1987), pp. 21-22, fig. 12

[6] Ptolemaios, son of Glaukias testimony

In 163 BC the Macedonian Ptolemaios, son of Glaukias living in Memphis of Ptolemaic Egypt, sends a letter to the ruler of his place because he is getting harrased from the Egyptians of one temple despite the fact that he is…GREEK.

eisebiazonto boulomenoi exspasai me kai agagisai, kathaper kai en tois proteron xronois epexeirisan ousis apostaseos, para to Ellina me einai

[7] Alexander’s letter to Chians

In 334 BCE, Alexander invaded Asia as leader (hegemon) of the Corinthian league, the alliance of Greek cities and the Macedonian king that was to fight against the Achaemenid Empire.

One of the articles of the Corinthian treaty stated that the Greek towns were to remain autonomous, and that their constitutions were to remain unchanged.

However, the Greek cities in Asia Minor were no members, and Alexander did interfere with their internal affairs, as is shown in the following letter to the people of the island of Chios.

The inscription was translated by J.C. Yardley.

From king Alexander to the people of Chios,
written in the prytany of Deisitheos:[1]

All those exiled from Chios are to return [2], and the constitution on Chios is to be democratic. Drafters of legislation are to be selected to write and emend the laws so as to ensure that there be no impediment to a democratic constitution and the return of the exiles. Anything already emended or drafted is to be referred to Alexander.

The people of Chios are to supply twenty triremes, with crews, at their own expense, and these are to sail for as long as the rest of the Greek naval force accompanies us at sea.

With respect to those men who betrayed the city to the barbarians, all those who escaped are to be exiled from all the cities that share the peace [of Corinth], and to be liable to seizure under the decree of the Greeks. Those who have been caught are to be brought back and tried in the Council of the Greeks. In the event of disagreement between those who have returned and those in the city, in that matter they are to be judged by us.

Until a reconciliation is reached among the people of Chios, they are to have in their midst a garrison of appropriate strength installed by king Alexander. The people of Chios are to maintain the garrison.

Remark 1:
The prytany of Deisitheos was probably in 334, but the formula “from king Alexander” is not common before the battle of Issus in 333.

Remark 2:
One of the returned exiles was the historian Theopompus.

[8] The Trial of Agonippos

One, not so wide known inscription, stating the same, is the inscription of Mytilene in 332 BC. Its about the imminent conviction of Agonipos, tyrant of Eressos. He was put in that seat from Memnon and afterwards Agonippos fought in the side of Persians. In the following inscription it says clearly Agonnipos went on war against “Alexander and the Greeks”. Of course Macedonians are included as Greeks.

B. Fragment 2 (front face). The trial of Agonippos
[those] who had been besieged [on the] acropolis he [-] and from the ci|tizens he exacted twenty thousand slaters, [and] | he repeatedly plun dered the Greeks with his raids, and the altars he razed || to the ground, (the altars) of Zeus [Ph|ilippi[os]; and after a war had been instituted by him against Alexander and the Greeks, | he stripped the citizens of their weapons, excluded (them) from the city en masse, and, after their wiv|es and their daughters had been seized by him and imprisoned || on the acropolis, three thousand and two hundred | slaters he exacted (from them); the city and the temples | he pillaged with his pirates and burned down, and | (he) burned along with them the bodies [of the] citizens; and finally he went to Alexander and gave || a false account and slandered the citizens. They shall try | him under oath by secret vote regarding | (whether to put him to) death. And if the death penalty is voted, after a counter-proposal (for punishment) has been put forward by Agonippos, the second vote | shall be made, (to indicate) in what way he ought to di||e. If, after Agonippos has been convicted by the court, [ anyone tries to restore any of the family of Agonippos or makes a motion or proposal I about (their) return or about the restoration of their property, ac|cursed shall be that man both himself and his family, and in all other respects let him be liable to the law [that] (is aimed at anyone) by whom the stele || is destroyed, (the stele) that concerns the tyrants and their descend|ants- And a solemn vow shall be made in the assembly imm\ediatelyy that the man who in making his judgement also brings assistance to (he city | and to justice shall prosper but that to those who contrary to justjice cast their vote the opposite of this (shall happen). [| A decision was reached, (There were) eight
hundred and eighty-three (voters). Out of | these, seven acquitted, the rest condem|ned.

[9] The Stele of Xanthos

“The early cemetery of the marketplace of Pella gave us the most important findings. From the end of 5th c. BC. originates the tomb stele of Xanthos, a relatively poor child. In order to construct the small stele, a piece of marble was re-used. The inscription of the stele writes:


“Special interest displays the mitronymic Amadika. The name appears to originate from the root am- where it derives also the homeric verb ‘amao’ αμά-ω (mow) and the macedonian ending -dika. Remember the name Eurydika. Observe the normal formation of the Macedonian ending in -a instead of -i.
So while the examples before a few years were few, today almost daily they are increasing with the discoveries of archaeology”

Translating from John Akamatis.

Ç ãëþóóá ôùÃ* áñ÷áßùÃ* ÌáêåäüÃ*ùÃ* - ÍÝá óôïé÷åßá áðü ôçÃ* ÐÝëëá

A collection of Decrees related to Alexander the Great. All the decrees left behind from ancient Macedonians of course are written in Greek.

1-Letter to chian-king alexander

2- 2 letter to chians-king alexander

3- ionia priene-king alexander,334bc

4- delphi-king alexander,324 bc-

5-maked-kalindria-king alexandros.4cth bc

6-letter to chian by king alexander,334 bc

7-delphi-king alexandros,321 bc

8-amorgos-king alexander

9-delphi-alexandros,170 bc

10. maked-samos-king alexandros



These are only a few of the numerous inscriptions which Archaeologists brought to light in Macedonia and elsewhere. More than 5,000 inscriptions written in Greek is the best evidence of the Greek ethnicity of ancient Macedonians. Once again the conslusion is inescapable: Archaeological Evidence in conjunction with
linguistic analysis of inscriptions and names proves the diachronic cultural identification of the Macedonians with the rest of the Greeks.

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