A Quick Analysis


In Greece today people start from the a priori assumption the "Greek identity of Macedonia is an obvious fact". Identifying the Greeks from the ethnic and linguistic point of view with the ancient Macedonians is not scientifically supportable.

Although none of the Mycenaean scholars in the world takes seriously Greek hypothetical interpretations of the Mycenaean texts, Greek scholarship nevertheless wishes to discover in them "proofs" that the ancient Macedonians were Indo-Europeans, proto-Hellenes, and that their language was the oldest, purest and most conservative Greek dialect which at the same time cast a new light on the history of the Greek ethnos (Istoria tou Elinikou ethnous, Proistoria kai proto istoria, Athens, 1970). This thesis reached its culmination at the beginning of the 1980's when an unusual jubilee under the title of 4000 years of Greek Macedonia was celebrated with great pomp.

The theory thus constructed has pretensions to scholarship, but in fact it starts out from unsupported presuppositions. The history of the Ancient Macedonians over a lengthy period of 1 600 years (2200-600 BCE) has been reconstructed on the basis of a pre-judgement that they could have been nothing other than Greeks.

In fact there is no argument that will prove any phase of a alleged close relation between the Greeks and the Macedonians in the ancient period. The assertation, very often emphasized, that there is no preserved documents about the language of the Macedonians, is unconvincing and is result of a prejudiced policy. It is impossible that the great and powerful Macedonian state should not have produced numerous administrative documentation. The question is where that documentation had been kept; is it still on that undiscovered place or is it destroyed, and if this is true who destroyed it and when.

Only about hundred words of the old Macedonian language are known. While earlier on Doric forms were being sought in the Macedonian words, Greek linguists are now investing great efforts in revealing archaic Aeolian, Arcado-Cypriot and Mycenaean parallels. The hypothesis that ancient Macedonian was closest to the Thessalian and Magnesian Aeolian dialect is based upon a fragment from Greek mythology in Hesiod (Fr.7-MW), that Magnes and Makedon were first cousins by the sons of Helen. It is methodologically unsound to reconstruct histor y on the basis of. The same myth offers a similar link between the Romans and Greeks, and consequently, according to the modern Greeks, this would imply that even the Romans were Greeks ??? It is clear that among the glosses there are borrowings from Greek which in antique times was a language of great prestige (as English and French are today, and Latin was in the Middle Ages).

"The Kultursprache of ancient Macedonians, as soon as they felt the need for one, was inevitably Greek, as it was in the case of various other ancient peoples. There was no feasible alternative. But as N.G.L. Hammond remarked, in the memorable closing words of volume I of his History of Macedonia, "a means of communications is very far from assuring peaceful relations between two peoples, as we know from our experience of the modern world."9
It is equally far (we might add) from betokening any consciousness of a common interest.

The Greek words however have been adapted according to a different, non-Greek phonetic system, just as English borrowed words from Latin (dignity = dignitas, tatis) and just as any language today borrows words from English and Latin (English Computer, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, kompjuter; or Latin - dignitas, tatis, English - dignity, Macedonian - dignitet). Here are some examples from ancient Greek and Macedonian:




ade (sky)

aither (air)

danos (death)

thanatos (death)

keb(a)le (head)

kephale (head)


But at the same time there are among the glosses such words that are not found in Greek but have parallels in other Indo - European languages:

Macedonian: aliza (a white layer under a bark of tree)
Slavonic: e/olha (a white layer under a bark of tree)

Macedonian: goda (innards)
Greek: entera (innards)
Old Indian Sanskrit: gudam (intestine)

From the analysis of the ancient Macedonian glosses it can be concluded that ancient Macedonian was an Indo-European language distinct from Greek. The well-known French Indo-European scholar A. Meje says that Greek is no closer to ancient Macedonian than it is to any other Indo-European language.

Another fact proving the idea that ancient Macedonian was a separate language is the fact that the mother tongue of Alexander the Great was not understood by the ancient Greeks: a fact of which there are explicit proofs. (Quintus Curtius Rufus, VI, 9, 37 ). Plutarchus wrote that the Macedonians had their own language:

    * "But, he [Alexander]...jumped up on his feet and started to call his shield bearer in Macedonian [and that was a sign of great danger]..."

Plutarchus, Alexander, 51.

The question of the use of the Macedonian language was raised by Alexander himself during the trial of Philotas, one of his generals accused of treason. Alexander said to Philotas:

"The Macedonians are about to pass judgment upon you; I wish to know whether you will address them in their native tongue." Thereupon Philotas replied: "Besides the Macedonians there are many present who, I think, will more easily understand what I shall say if I use the same language which you have employed, for no other reason, I suppose, than in order that you speech might be understood by the greater number." Then said the king: "Do you not see how Philotas loathes even the language of his fatherland? For he alone disdains to learn it. But let him by all means speak in whatever way he desires, provided that you remember he holds our customs in as much abhorrence as our language."

Quintus Curtius Rufus, Alexander, VI. ix. 34 - 36

There is no doubt that the letters sent by the soldiers to their relatives home were written in their mother tongue, in Macedonian.

Those historical testimonies are strengthened by the information of N.Oikonomides about the existence of more then 5,000 writings in Macedonian, collected within the frames of the Greek program KERA, but not published in order not to be of use to the "State of Skopje", referring to the Republic of Macedonia. Oikonomides fully denied allegations of the scientists, that written material in Macedonian had not been preserved. Since they write about the Macedonians and their language, and define their ethnic affiliation, they had to take into consideration the serious rebuke and indications of N. Oikonomides (N. Oikonomodes, Book Review, History Department, University of Chicago, 1988, p. 121-6). By the way, only as information and without any suggestion let it be known that at his first visit to Greece after this was published, Mr. Oikonomides died suddenly, and the Greek authorities explained that as alcohol abuse.

But even if (the key word here is IF) the Macedonians might have spoken a form of Greek dialect, it still does not make them Greeks, and it does not nullify the proofs that say the opposite:

"Let us again look at the Jews - those who in the 1930s were living in Eastern Europe. Their names were Hebrew with a slight admixture of German and Slav elements; their alphabet and their sacred writings were Hebrew. Yet their vocabulary was largely, and the structure of their vernacular language almost entirely, that of a German dialect." 10

As a precious survival of a pro-nationalist world, they are of special interest in such comparisons. One wonders what scholars would have made of them, if they had been known only through tombstones and sacred objects. In any case, interesting though the precise affinities of Ancient Macedonian must be to the linguistic specialist, they are again of very limited interest to the historian. Linguistic facts as such, just like archaeological finds as such, are only some of the pieces in the puzzle that the historian tries to fit together. In this case, unfortunately, as every treatment of the problem nowadays seems to show, discussion has become bedeviled by politics and modern linguistic nationalism: the idea that a nation is essentially defined by a language and that, conversely, a common language means a common nationhood - which is patently untrue for the greater part of human history and to a large extent even today.

The allegation, groundless again, that the Macedonian population was not Slavic at all, is a great and complex historical question. Whether the thesis that the Slavs decided to come down to the Balkans much later, which is defined according to Greenberg's writings as a "nomadic-rural settlement" is true, is again an unconfirmed fact. We find confirmation of this thesis (especially) in the writings of G. S. Grinevich, dealing with the subject of pre - Slavic literacy (Genadij Stanistavlovich Grinevich, World History Department, Russian Physical Society, Moscow, 1994).

The decoding and the linguistic coding results that Grinevich had revealed show that the pre-Slavic literacy existed much before the creation of the letters and coding of the Slavic language by the brothers Sts. Cyril and Methody.

The most important argument to the proto-Slavic origin of the Macedonians is that Grinevich has decoded the inscriptions using a language, according to him, spoken by the Aegean Pelasti who were pre-Slavs (p. 175). Grinevich concludes that the pre-Slavic written language had been very close to the Old Slavic written literary language of all Slavs, the later was introduced by the brothers Sts. Cyrilus and Methodius and their students, Sts. Clement and Naum of Ohrid. Since we know the Old-Slavic language from the area around Salonica, it will lead us to the conclusion that that is the language of the Macedonians. The applied antonym Macedonians is in complete accordance to the Ph. Papazoglu's estimation:

Having ceased to exist as a state [after the Roman defeat]... Macedonian people did not vanish; it continued to exist within the frames of the new political community, then Roman State, preserving its ethnic characteristics, its language, religion and customs.

The presence of a pre-Slavic language, such as that one of the Pellastis, is not a new discovery. Even in the distant 1815 the German philosopher L.F. Pasof said that Homer's language is as a matter of fact a form of Slavic. In 1850 his work was translated in English and published in New York (a proof that this theory was not discarded once it emerged). Pasof said that Homer's lexic in the Illiad actually corresponds to the lexic of the Slavic Languages. Because contemporary Macedonian language is also a Slavic language, and according to a lot of research the ancient Macedonian language was of the same kind as the language of the Pellastis, being the oldest recognized Slavic language, it is very likely that contemporary Macedonian in certain laxic elements is like the Homeric Language.

It should be taken into consideration, that the Iliad became popular in Athens in 592 BCE, in the time of king Solon, and his heir, Pysistrates, ordered that the be Iliad translated and decorated in Greek so that the Greek people can be familiar with the victory of the Hellenic peoples over the non-Hellenes (M.N. Gjuric, History of Hellenic Literature, 67 - 8). Plutarchus says that the Iliad was not originally written in Greek, and that Solon used Homer's masterpiece in his own advantage:

Linguistic continuity between the ancient and modern Macedonians is shown by the continuity of the name of the ancient capital of Macedonia, Edessa. The Macedonians knew this city as 'Voden' long before linguists discovered that the Slavic name was a translation of the original name and that both meant "watertown." The Greeks, on the other hand, unless they study linguistics, do not know the meaning of the name.