WHO WERE THE MACEDONIANS?

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Perhaps I should start this blog with “Who are the Macedonians?” They are not the Slavic people of the Balkans who in recent years have adopted the name “Macedonia” as a political ploy and even had the audacity to erect a statue of Alexander in Skopje.

The Macedonians (Gr: Makedones) were tribal people who originated in the north-eastern part of the Greek peninsula and gradually expanded to the northern edge of the Greek world. The Kingdom of Macedon, made up of these tribes, was established around the 8th century BC.  During the years they absorbed neighbouring tribes, primarily Thracian and Illyrian. They are mostly associated with the Argeads, the ruling dynasty of one of the largest tribes.

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Mt. Olympus

There is a belief that the earliest Macedonian tribes lived in the Orestian highland in the north, then moved down to the highland of Pieria and the Haliaconon valley. In this area north of Mt. Olympus, they mingled with the Dorian Greeks whose homeland ranged in the Pindus mountains of west Thessaly. Toward the late 6th century BC, Macedonia became open to Greek influence from the south and by the 5th century BC they had become part of the Greek culture with many traits like the southern Greek city states.

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The Macedonian 16 pointed star associated with the Argeads

Little is known of the Macedonians until the reign of Amyntas I (540 -505 BC). At that time Macedonia was virtually a satrapy of Persia. His son Alexander 1 accompanied Xerxes on his invasion of Greece. Although traditionally ruled by independent tribal clan lords, by the time of King Alexander 1 (498 – 454 BC) they had accepted Argead rule. Later, King Archelaos (413- 399) was a patron of Greek art and literature and established cordial relations with Greece which remained so until Philip II conquered the Greek city states.  The Greek historians, Thucydides and Herodotus, regarded the Macedonians as ‘northern Greeks” and barbarians. Herodotus stated that the Dorians were a fusion of Macedonian and other Greek tribes, although in other writings he implies that Macedonians are not Greeks, though King Amyntas was looked on as a ‘Greek who ruled over Macedonians’.

Macedonian society was dominated by aristocratic families. Their main source of wealth was their herds of horses and cattle. Later they seized control of the gold and silver mines on Mt. Pangeion and today, when you view the grave finds of Macedonian royalty they are a wealth of gold and silver artifacts. It was the gold from Mt. Pangeion that financed Alexander’s conquests of the East. 

The kingship was seen by some as an autocracy and the king held absolute power. All positions of power were appointed by the king.  Kingship was hereditary along the main male line but this was complicated by the fact that Macedonian kings were notoriously polygamist. This resulted in many accounts of sibling rivalry and even fratricide right up to the time of Alexander the Great.

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Gold coin with image of Philip II

Philip II ruled from 359 – 336 BC. Without his brilliant military and political efforts perhaps his son, Alexander III, would not have been such a success as he was. Philip came to power in 359 BC after the Macedonians had been defeated by the Illyrians. Macedon had fallen into political and military turmoil and Philip set about to bring the people under his control. He defeated the Illyrians in 358. (Illyria was the tribal country just north of the Macedonia border, now the area called Skopje in the former Yugoslavia.) He secured their alliance and loyalty by marrying one of the Illyrian war lord’s daughters, Audata. This was Philip’s first wife. There would be five wives to follow including Olympias, mother of Alexander. This was Philip’s primary way of creating allegiances with tribes he conquered.

His military genius was evident at the Battle of Chaironea in August 338 BC when, with 18 year old Alexander leading the cavalry left wing, they defeated Athens and Thebes.  Philip consolidated the Greek city states under his control, leaving Sparta as the only Greek state independent of Macedonian control.

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Statue of Philip II in Thessaloniki

The next year, Philip declared war on Persia to retaliate for the Persian invasion of Greece several generations earlier. He had already sent his main generals and 10,000 troops over to Asia Minor to liberate the Greek cities along the coast, when he was assassinated. Two years later, at the age of twenty, Alexander followed his father’s ambitious quest and set out on a ten year conquest, defeating the Persians and spreading Hellenism as far East as India.

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Alexander III (the Great)

For further reference: http://www.macedonia.com/english/origin.html

 

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