Polybius on the Ethnicity of Ancient Macedonians

ancient macedonia

Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his book called ‘The Histories’ covering in detail the period of 220–146 BC.

[1](Philip V of Macedon speaking) For on many occasions when I and the other Greeks sent embassies to you begging you to remove from your statutes the law empowering you to get booty from booty, you replied that you would rather remove Aetolia from Aetolia than that law.

[Polybius, “The Histories”, 18.4.8]

[It is crystal clear that:

(a) Philip V of Macedon considers himself a Greek and

(b) Philip V of Macedon considers Greeks as his brethren]

[2] Again, you have bitterly reproached Alexander for punishing Thebes when he believed that city had wronged him, but you never mentioned how he inflicted punishment on the Persians for their outrages on all the Greeks, and how he delivered us all from the greatest evils by enslaving the barbarians and depriving them of the resources they used for the destruction of the Greeks, pitting now the Athenians and now the Thebans against the ancestors of these Spartans, how in a word he made Asia subject to Greece.

[Polybius, “The Histories”, 9.34.1-3]

[Points of interest:

(a) Alexander inflicted punishment on the Persians for their outrages on all the Greeks,

(b) Alexander delivered all Greeks from the greatest evils by enslaving the barbarians and depriving them of the resources they used for the destruction of the Greeks,

(c) Alexander made Asia subject to Greece]

[3] “…I assert is that not only the Thessalians, but the rest of the Greeks owed their safety to Philip.”

[Polybius “The Histories”, 9.33.3]

[4] “…because he (Philip) was the benefactor of Greece, that they all chose him commander-in-chief both on sea and land, an honour previously conferred on no one.”

[Polybius “The Histories”, 9.33.7]

[5] The 38th book contains the completion of the disaster of the Hellenes. For though both the whole of Hellas and her several parts had often met with mischance, yet to none of her former defeats can we more fittingly apply, the name of disaster with all it signifies than to the events of my own time. In the time I am speaking of a comon misfortune befell the Peloponnesians, the Boiotians, the Phokians, the Euboians, the Lokrians, some of the cities on the Ionians Gulf, and finally the Macedonians

[Polybius “The Histories”, 9.38.8]

[It is quite evident that Polybius indeed considered the Ancient Macedonians as Greeks]

[6] But if thanks are due to the Aetolians for this single service, how highly should we honour the Macedonians, who for the greater part of their lives never cease from fighting with the barbarians for the sake of the security of Greece? For who is not aware that Greece would have constantly stood in the greatest danger, had we not been fenced by the Macedonians and the honourable ambition of their kings? The best proof is this. The moment that the Gauls after defeating Ptolemy Ceraunus conceived a contempt for the Macedonians, Brennus making light of all other opponents marched into the middle of Greece with his army, a thing that would often have happened if our frontiers were not protected by the Macedonians.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 9.35.2]

[Points of Interest:

(a) Macedonians for the greater part of their lives never cease from fighting with the barbarians for the sake of the security of Greece.

(b) A clear evidence that Macedonians are not considered Barbarians by Greeks but instead they fight against the Barbarians for the sake of the security of Greece.

(c) Greece would have constantly stood in the greatest danger if Macedonians had not protected her.]

[7] A mighty similarity exists, no doubt, in your minds, and no diversity at all! Then you were contending for glory and supremacy with Achaeans and Macedonians, men of kindred blood with yourselves, and with Philip their leader; now a war of slavery is threatening Greece against men of another race, whom you think to bring against Philip, but have really unconsciously brought against yourselves and all Greece. For just as men in the stress of war, by introducing into their cities garrisons superior in strength to their own forces, while successfully repelling all danger from the enemy, put themselves at the mercy of their friends,–just so are the Aetolians acting in the present case. For in their desire to conquer Philip and humble Macedonia, they have unconsciously brought such a mighty cloud from the west, as for the present perhaps will overshadow Macedonia first, but which in the sequel will be the origin of heavy evils to all Greece. “

[Polybius “The Histories”, 9.37.6-8]

[Here we have undoubted evidence on the Greek ethnicity of Ancient Macedonians. We find a clear distinction between the Romans, (who are called clearly a foreign race), and the Macedonians as Greeks, being from “the same Race of the Achaeans and Spartans]

[8] Even when he [Alexander] crossed to Asia to chastise the Persians for the outrages they had perpetrated against the Greeks, he strove to exact the punishment from men that their deeds deserved, but refrained from injuring anything consecrated to the gods, although it was in this respect that the Persians had offended most while in Greece.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 5.10.8]

[9] “..the Achaean magistrates refused the latter request on the ground that they were not empowered to receive additional members without consulting Philip and the rest of the allies. For the alliance was still in force which Antigonus had concluded during the Cleomenic war between the Achaeans, Epirots, Phocians, Macedonians, Boeotians, Acarnanians,º and Thessalians. They, however, agreed to march out to their assistance on condition that the envoys deposited in Sparta their own sons as hostages, to ensure that the Messenians should not come to terms with the Aetolians without the consent of the Achaeans.”

[Polybius “The Histories”, 4.9.4]

[A shining example of the above is the fact that Macedonians were a part of the Hellenic Alliance or symmachia, a league consisting of Macedonians, Thessalians, Arcananians, Phocians, Epirotes and Beotians under the command of Antigonos.

[10] Polybios also in talking of the size and height of the Alps compares them the greatest mountains in HELLAS: Taugetos, Lykaion, Parnassos, OLYMPOS, Pilion, and Ossa; and Aimos, Rodopi and Dounax in Thrace.”

[Polybius “The Histories”, 34.10]

[11]Adhering to his resolve he [Philip] now made an expedition against the barbarians. Passing through central Thrace he invaded the country of the Odrysians, the Bessi, and the Dentheleti”

[Polybius “The Histories”, 23.3]

[12] Again, no one could approve of the general scheme of this writer. Having set himself the task of writing the history of Greece from the point at which Thucydides leaves off, just when he was approaching the battle of Leuctra and the most brilliant period of Greek history, he abandoned Greece and her efforts, and changing his plan decided to write the history of Philip. 4 Surely it would have been much more dignified and fairer to include Philip’s achievements in the history of Greece than to include the history of Greece in that of Philip.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 8.11.3-4]

[13] There are several peninsulas jutting out from Europe, and Polybius has given a better description of them than Eratosthenes, but not an adequate one. 12 The latter says there are three, that which runs down to the Pillars and is occupied by Spain, that running down to the Straits and occupied by Italy, and thirdly that terminated by Cape Malea and comprising all the peoples between the Adriatic and the Euxine and Tanaïs. 13 Polybius agrees about the two first, but makes the third that reaching to Malea and Sunium, occupied by the whole of Greece, by Illyria and parts of Thrace, the fourth being the Thracian Chersonese, on which is the Strait between Sestus and Abydus, inhabited by Thracians, and the fifth that of the Cimmerian Bosporus and the mouth of the Palus Maeotis.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 34.7.13]

[Point of Interest: Macedonia is included in “the whole of Greece]

[14] Antiochus traversed the worst part of the road in the manner I have described, safely but very slowly and with difficulty, only just reaching the pass of Mount Labus on the eighth day. 2 The barbarians were collected there, convinced that they would prevent the enemy from crossing, and a fierce struggle now took place, in which the barbarians were forced back for the following reason. 3 Formed in a dense mass they fought desperately against the phalanx face to face, but while it was still night the light-armed troops had made a wide detour and occupied the heights in their rear, and the barbarians, the moment they noticed this, were panic-stricken and took to flight. 4 The king made every effort to restrain his men from continuing the pursuit, summoning them back by bugle-call, as he wanted his army to descend into Hyrcania unbroken and in good order.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 10.31.2-4]

[15] Philip, then, is but the nominal pretext of the war; he is in no kind of danger; but as he has for allies most of the Peloponnesians, the Boeotians, the Euboeans, the Phocians, the Locrians, the Thessalians, and Epirots, you made the treaty against them all, the terms being 5 that their persons and personal property should belong to the Romans and their cities and lands to the Aetolians. 6 Did you capture a city yourselves you would not allow yourselves to outrage freemen or to burn their towns, which you regard as a cruel proceeding and barbarous; 7 but have made a treaty by which you have given up to the barbarians the rest of the Greeks to be exposed to atrocious outrage and violence.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 11.5.6-7]

[16] It is for this reason that while we must praise Demosthenes for so many things, we must blame him for one, for having recklessly and injudiciously cast bitter reproach on the most distinguished men in Greece

[Polybius “The Histories”, 18.14.1]

[17] But if preserving the rights of their respective countries, they simply differed in their judgement of facts, thinking that the interests of Athens were not identical with those of their countries, they should, I maintain, not have been dubbed traitors for this reason by Demosthenes.Measuring everything by the interests of his own city, thinking that the whole of Greece should have its eyes turned on Athens, and if people did not do so, calling them traitors, Demosthenes seems to me to have been very much mistaken and very far wide of the truth, especially as what actually befel the Greeks then does not testify to his own admirable foresight but rather to that of Eucampidas, Hieronymus, Cercidas, and the sons of Philiadas

[Polybius “The Histories”, 18.14.10]

[18] Treaty between Hannibal and King Philip of Macedon

In the presence of Zeus, Hera, and Apollo: in the presence of the Genius of Carthage, of Heracles, and Iolaus: in the presence of Ares, Triton, and Poseidon: in the presence of the gods who battle for us and the Sun, Moon, and Earth; in the presence of Rivers, Lakes, and Waters: 3 in the presence of all the gods who possess Macedonia and the rest of Greece: in the presence of all the gods of the army who preside over this oath. 4 Thus saith Hannibal the general, and all the Carthaginian senators with him, and all Carthaginians serving with him, that as seemeth good to you and to us, so should we bind ourselves by oath to be even as friends, kinsmen, and brothers, on these conditions. 5 (1) That King Philip and the Macedonians and the rest of the Greeks who are their allies shall protect the Carthaginians, the supreme lords, and Hannibal their general, and those with him, and all under the dominion of Carthage who live under the same laws; likewise the people of Utica and all cities and peoples that are subject to Carthage, and our soldiers and allies 6 and cities and peoples in Italy, Gaul, and Liguria, with whom we are in alliance or with whomsoever in this country we may hereafter enter into alliance. 7 (2) King Philip and the Macedonians and such of the Greeks as are the allies shall be protected and guarded by the Carthaginians who are serving with us, by the people of Utica and by all cities and peoples that are subject to Carthage, by our allies and soldiers and all peoples and cities in Italy, Gaul, and Liguria, who are our allies, and by such others as may hereafter become our allies in Italy and the adjacent regions. 8 (3) We will enter into no plot against each other, nor lie in ambush for each other, but with all zeal and good fellowship, without deceit or secret design, we will be enemies of such as war against the Carthaginians, always excepting the kings, cities, and ports with which we have sworn treaties of alliance. 9 (4) And we, too, will be the enemies of such as war against King Philip, always excepting the Greeks, cities, and people with which we have sworn treaties of alliance.

[Polybius “The Histories”, 7.9.1]

1. Polybius verifies ancient Macedonians are Greek, sharing a common misfortune with the rest of Greeks

2. Polybius verifies ancient Macedonians viewed themselves as Greek which is explicit from the words of Philip V, king of Macedon.

3. Polybius verifies Ancient Greeks viewed Macedonians as being Greeks and particularly being part of the same Race with other Greek people like it is evidentially documented by the account of Lyciscus.

4. Polybius verifies ancient Macedonians are entirely differentiated with Barbarians, shattering the main argument of FYROM´s propaganda while he adds that “Macedonians never cease from fighting the Barbarians for the sake and security of Greece” and their king was the “Benefactor of Greece”.

5. Polybius verifies Alexander´s campaign was a Pan-Hellenic campaign where in essence Alexander “made Asia subject to Hellas”

6. Polybius verifies Demosthenes was very much mistaken and very far wide of the truth, especially for having recklessly and injudiciously cast bitter reproach on the most distinguished men in Greece”

7. Polybius verifies ancient Macedonians shared the same religion as the rest of Greece as is explicitly shown even by treaties of ancient Macedonians themselves.


In summary and contrary to the falsified version of History emanated mostly by FYROM’s propaganda, we can conclude from Polybius account:

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