Who were the Ancient Macedonians?

It is almost impossible for an admirer of the Ancient Macedonian History not to be involved, one way or another, with one of the questions which still remain crucial in our days. Who were the Ancient Macedonians?

The aforementioned question has emerged into an object of scholarly research for a really long time. Many eminent scholars discussed the various manifestations of the Macedonian identity mostly as articulated through shared self-identification, shared language, shared cult practices and the foundational myth. In this article we should aim for an comparative exploration of the complex theme of the ancient Macedonian Ethnicity and exhibit the significant correlations of the different theories with what literary and epigraphic evidence have to tell us. The following analysis is significant enough not only to throw a light on these theories but perhaps even to challenge them. The main theories in random order are:

1) The Phrygian Theory (FT): The Ancient Macedonians were Phrygians, remnants of the earlier inhabitants of the area and spoke the Phrygian language.

2) The Distinct Ethnicity Theory (DET): The Ancient Macedonians composed a Distinct Ethicity from all their neighbors and spoke a distinct language.

3) The Dorian theory (DT): The Ancient Macedonians were a Greek tribe, and more specifically they belonged to the Doric Stock. They spoke a Doric dialect, with elements from the Illyrian and Thracian language.

4) The proto-Slavic theory (ST): The Ancient Macedonians were proto-Slavic people and spoke a proto-Slavic dialect.

5) The Illyrian/Thracian Theory (ITT): The Ancient Macedonians were a mixed race of Thracian/Illyrian stock, therefore the language was a mixture of both languages.

FT: The theory is based on the assertion that the Briges/Brigoi were residing in the neighborhood of Macedonia and eventually migrated to Asia Minor as Phrygians. Some of them remained in the area of Macedonia and formed the backbone of the early Macedonians. The pillars of the theory put forward to the Phrygian affinity with the Greek language to justify the Greek place names, names and words. The theory finds no support either in archaeological discoveries, nor to historical sources. At any rate, the Macedonians did not identify themselves with the Briges, Herodotos makes the Macedonians neighbors of the Briges/Brigoi. Odysseus fought the Brigoi from Thesprotia, which means the Brigoi in this instance were higher up than the Briges of the environ of Bermion. When moving into Asia Minor they become Phryges/Phrygoi [the ph pronounced also as B at times or vice versa].

DET: This theory constitutes one of the two most popular theories in the study of this topic. The main thesis is that the ancient Macedonians were a distinct ethnic group from all their neighbours, had their own pantheon and spoke their own distinct language. Furthermore their language bore some elements from neighboring languages, mainly Greek. The Greeks considered Macedonians as barbarians (non-greeks) but the Macedonian kings gradually achieved to hellenize their people. At the time of Alexander the Great, Macedonians had been fully hellenised. The theory is supported by a number of modern historians with most notable examples professors Eugene N. Borza, Ernst Badian and Peter Green. These scholars base their views on their interpretation of the surviving ancient literary sources. The foundational tradition of the Macedonian Royal house is dismissed on the grounds of being an Alexander Philhellene’s “invention”. The campaign of Alexander the Great against Persia is unhooked by its Pan-Hellenic cause as being merely “Propaganda”. The available evidence pointing to a Greek connection is vindicated as sign of “Hellenization” [see also the “Hellenization Contradiction“]. The main disadvantage is that we encounter a major discrepancy between this position and the archaeological, linguistic testimonia. Additionally the genealogical tradition was widely believed by ancient Macedonians and accepted among ancient people. An illustrating example pointing out a certain inconsistency is that archaeologists have found absolutely no evidence of a separate ancient Macedonian language [see Appendix A].

DT: The theory is based on the assertion that the ancient Macedonians were one of the Doric tribes [See also Appendix B’]. Its is supported by ancient literary sources and linguistic material. Proponents of the theory argue that the Macedonians spoke a Doric dialect, quite difficult for the Southern Greeks to comprehend. Furthermore, the Religion, feasts, calendar and traditions show us the relations of the Macedonians with other Greek tribes. Very close relations of blood are both testified and sustained, by various indications, between the Macedonians, the Dorians and the Magnetes. [See Appendix C] The main disadvantage of this theory is concetrated on specific references from literary sources, where we can observe a process of “othering” of the Macedonians towards Southern Greeks, without that to make use of stereotyped opposition between Greeks and Barbarian Non-Greeks. Main supporters of this theory are the Professors NGL Hammond, R. M. Errington and the German Historian Ulrich Wilcken.

ST: This theory concetrates on the assumption that ancient Macedonians were a Proto-Slavic tribe. It is supported only by Slavic nationalists, mainly supporters of Pan-Slavism, and reached its culmination only recently. It starts out from unsupported presuppositions and carries no scholarly support since it is globally accepted by World Academia that the Slavs appeared in the Balkans during the 6th century AD and not before.

ITT: The Theory of the Illyrian/Thracian origins found supporters mainly among historians of previous centuries. The ancient historical sources always distinguished the Macedonians from the ancient Illyrians and Thracians. There is no source to classify the ancient Macedonians as Illyrian or Thracians. The Illyrian language appears to be incomprehensible to the Macedonians with illuminating paradigm the use of a translator by the King Perseas of Macedon to communicate with the Illyrians. It is likely, however, the Macedonian language/dialect to contain elements of both those languages. The theory is supported by very few modern historians.

Appendix A

Language of the Macedonians. Certainly, the available evidence does not support a Makedonian language but a dialect of the Greek family. It could be said that Plutarch began the Μακεδονίζειν cycle, but this is imprecise as to whether language, dialect or a fashion of speaking is meant. There is allusion to a particular fashion the Makedones spoke, but the evidence is lacking to make definite statements. In reality there are no ancient texts makedonisti/Macedonian dialect with the single exception, of course, of the Pella katadesmos with its language peculiarities which are identifiable as Makedonian dialect. The earliest epigraphical evidence from Macedonia consists only of names, but the names of this early period can reveal something about the Makedonians in this instance. Names’ etymology, type, formation, endings/suffixes, etc. [the names are written naturally in the Greek alphabet]. And where makedonisti is mentioned in the ancient sources, no specimen is given illustrating makedonisti [as it is usually done with lakonisti].

Appendix B

Many scholars depending mainly on the interpretation of the literary sources, stress the theory that Macedonians may be a Greek tribe speaking a North-West Greek dialect. The Northwest Greek group is closely related to the Doric Group and/or sometimes there is no distinction between the Doric and the North-West Greek. Whether North-West Greek is a part of the Doric Group or the opposite or even both of them are two subgroups of West Greek, is not our aim to examine in this article. This theory is treated here to be the same with the Doric theory, since they both reach the same conclusion. Namely that ancient Macedonians were Greeks.

Appendix C

Professor Elias Kapetanopoulos in the Appendix A’ of his “An Athenian Macedonian marriage of Alexander’s line” has developed an interesting perspective on the Herodotus account of Makednoi. A nameless Greek Ethnos, moved from Pthiotis (Time of Deukalion) to Histiaiotis, under Osa and Olympos (Time of Doros) and later to Pindos. In Pindos this nameless Greek Ethnos acquired the name “Μακεδνόν (έθνος). From Pindos the Makednon ethnos (or part of it) moved to Dryopis and hence to the Peloponnese, where it now adopted the name Δωρικόν (Έθνος). However the name Makedon ethnos was not abandoned entirely, as shown by Herodotus again (VIII.43) when the Sikyonians, Epidaurians and Troizenians are called Δωρικόν τε και Μακεδνόν έθνος, εξ Ερηνεού τε και Πίνδου και της Δρυοπίδος ύστατα ορμηθέντες. Consequently, it is erroneous to refer to the Makedonians as Dorians when the Dorians were first called Makednoi.

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