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Macedon (or Macedonia from Greek Μακεδονία;) was the name of an ancient kingdom on the northern edge of ancient Greece, bordering the Greek kingdom of Epirus on the west and the non-Greek state of Thrace to the east. For a brief period it became the most powerful state in the ancient Near East after Alexander the Great conquered Persia and southern Greece, inaugurating the Hellenistic period of Greek history.

Early history

The first Macedonian state emerged 8th or early 7th century BC under the Argead Dynasty, when the Macedonians are said to have migrated to the region from further west. Their first king is recorded as Perdiccas I. Around the time of Alexander I of Macedon, the Macedonians started to expand into Eordaia, Bottiaea, Pieria, Mygdonia, and Almopia. Near the modern city of Edessa, Perdiccas I (or, more likely, his son, Argaeus I) built his capital, Aigai (modern Vergina).

After a brief period of Persian overlordship under Darius Hystaspes, the state regained its independence under King Alexander I (495-450 BC). Prior to the 4th century BC, the kingdom covered a region approximately corresponding to the Macedonia of modern Greece. It became increasingly Hellenised during this period, though prominent Greeks appear to have regarded the Macedonians as being uncouth and somewhat barbaric.

A unified Macedonian state was eventually established by King Amyntas III (c. 393-370 BC), though it still retained strong contrasts between the cattle-rich coastal plain and the fierce isolated tribal hinterland, allied to the king by marriage ties. They controlled the passes through which barbarian invasions came from Illyria to the north and northwest. Amyntas had three sons; the first two, Alexander II and Perdiccas III reigned only briefly. Perdiccas III's infant heir was deposed by Amyntas' third son, Philip II of Macedon, who made himself king and ushered in a period of Macedonian dominance of Greece.


Under Philip II, (359-336 BC), Macedon expanded into the territory of the Paionians, Thracians and Illyrians. This brought into its orbit the Monastir (now Bitola) and Gevgeli districts of what is now the FYROM.

Macedon became more politically involved with the south-central city-states of Ancient Greece, but it also retained more archaic features like the palace-culture, first at Aegae (modern Vergina) then at Pella, resembling Mycenaean culture more than classic Hellenic city-states, and other archaic customs, like Philip's multiple wives in addition to his Epirote queen Olympias, mother of Alexander.

Another archaic remnant was the very persistence of a hereditary monarchy which wielded formidable – sometimes absolute – power, although this was at times checked by the landed aristocracy, and often disturbed by power struggles within the royal family itself. This contrasted sharply with the Greek cultures further south, where the ubiquitous city-states possessed more-or-less democratic institutions; the de facto monarchy of tyrants, in which heredity was usually more of an ambition rather than the accepted rule; and the limited, predominantly military and sacerdotal, power of the twin hereditary Spartan kings. The same might have held true of feudal institutions like serfdom, which may have persisted in Macedon well into historical times. Such institutions were abolished by city-states well before Macedon's rise (most notably by the Athenian legislator Solon's famous seisachtheia laws).

Philip's son Alexander III (the Great) (336-323 BC) managed to briefly extend Macedonian power not only over the central Greek city-states, but also to the Persian empire, including Egypt and lands as far east as the fringes of India. Alexander's adoption of the styles of government of the conquered territories was accompanied by the spread of Greek culture and learning through his vast empire. Although the empire fell apart shortly after his death, his conquests left a lasting legacy, not least in the new Greek-speaking cities founded across Persia's western territories, heralding the Hellenistic period.

Despite the empire's collapse into feuding kingdoms ruled by Alexander's generals, Macedonia itself remained a key and fiercely contested territory. It was ruled for a while by Demetrius I (294-288 BC) but fell into civil war. Antipater and his son Cassander gained control of Macedonia but it slid into a long period of civil strife following Cassander's death in 297 BC.

Demetrius' son Antigonus II (277-239 BC) successfully restored order and prosperity and repelled a Galatian invasion, though he lost control of many of the formerly subjugated Greek city-states. He established a stable monarchy and gave rise to the Antigonid dynasty. His successor Antigonus II (239-221 BC) built on these gains by re-establishing Macedonian power across the region.


Under Philip V of Macedon (221179 BC) and his son Perseus of Macedon (179168), the kingdom clashed with the rising power of the Roman Republic. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Macedon fought a series of wars with Rome. They resulted in the defeat of Macedon, the deposition of the Antigonid dynasty and the dismantling of the Macedonian kingdom. Andriscus' brief success at reestablishing the monachy in 149 BC was quickly followed by his defeat the following year and the establishment of direct Roman rule and the organization of Macedon as the Roman province of Macedonia.


The Ancient Macedonian calendar year consisted of 12 synodic Lunar months (i.e. 354 days per year), which needed intercalary month] to stay in step with the seasons. By the time the calendar was being used across the Hellenistic world, 7 total embolimoi (intercalary months) were being added in each 19-year Metonic cycle.


See main article: Ancient Macedonian language.

The language spoken by the area's inhabitants prior to the 5th century BC, and continued into the early centuries of the Common Era by the rural population, is attested in some hundred words from various glosses (mainly those of Hesychius of Alexandria, 5th century AD), as well as placenames and personal names. The majority of these words can be confidently identified as Greek, and the language was either closely related to Greek, or, more probably, a dialect of Greek. There are some words, however, that are not easily identifiable as Greek, a number of which for example show voiced stops where Greek has voiceless aspirates.

There was probably linguistic contact with speakers of Doric Greek (whom Herodotus considered akin to Macedonians, see also Pella katadesmos) and from the 5th century BC Macedonia was closely associated with Southern Greek cultural and political development, resulting in the adoption of the Attic dialect.

Hellenic controversy

The controversy whether or not ancient Macedonia should be considered a Hellenic state is addressed variously: based on ancient sources, and on linguistic evidence. Herodotus asserts that the Macedonian aristocracy was of Achaean origin while Macedonian people were of Dorian stock. Linguistics seems to point inconclusively to either Macedonian as an archaic form of Greek, Macedonian as part of a Graeco-Macedonian subfamily of Indo-European, or Macedonian as an independent member of the Paleo-Balkan Sprachbund.

This controversy concerns the early kingdom before the time of Philip II exclusively. It is undisputed that Macedon was heavily Atticized from the time of Alexander the Great (see Hellenism).


Herodotus considers the Macedonians a Hellenic tribe left behind during the Dorian invasion:

for during the reign of Deucalion, Phthiotis was the country in which the Hellenes dwelt, but under Dorus, the son of Hellen, they moved to the tract at the base of Ossa and Olympus, which is called Histiaeotis; forced to retire from that region by the Cadmeians, they settled, under the name of Macedonians, in the chain of Pindus. Hence they once more removed and came to Dryopis; and from Dryopis having entered the Peloponnese in this way, they became known as Dorians. (Histories, 1.53.1)

When Alexander I attempted to compete at Olympia, Herodotus relates:

Now that the men of this family [of Alexander I] are Greeks, sprung from Perdiccas, as they themselves affirm, is a thing which I can declare of my own knowledge, and which I will hereafter make plainly evident. That they are so has been already adjudged by those who manage the Pan-Hellenic contest at Olympia. For when Alexander wished to contend in the games, and had come to Olympia with no other view, the Greeks who were about to run against him would have excluded him from the contest- saying that Greeks only were allowed to contend, and not barbarians. But Alexander proved himself to be an Argive, and was distinctly adjudged a Greek; after which he entered the lists for the foot-race, and was drawn to run in the first pair. Thus was this matter settled. (Histories, 5:22)

In book eight, Herodotus counts the allied Macedonians as part of the Greek fleet. Some view this as proof that the Macedonians were considered Hellenes before Philip's conquests and Macedon's rise to power.

Titus Livius (lived 59 BC-14 AD) in his Ab urbe condita (31.29) is quoting a Macedonian ambassador from the late 3rd century BC, implying that Macedonians had been a Greek-speaking tribe:

The Aetolians, the Acarnanians, the Macedonians, men of the same language, are united or disunited by trivial causes that arise from time to time; with aliens, with barbarians, all Greeks wage and will wage eternal war; for they are enemies by the will of nature, which is eternal, and not from reasons that change from day to day.---


The classification of the ancient Macedonian language is disputed, but it appears that Macedonian has not participated in at least one sound change common to every other known Greek dialect (the unvoicing of voiced aspirates, leading to *Pherenikē as opposed to Macedonian berenice|Berenikē). Eugene Borza (1999) theorises from this, that the Macedonians were "a unique people in antiquity who gradually became Hellenized, and who are unrelated to any modern people".

On the other hand, Olivier Masson in the Oxford Classical Dictionary (1996) saw the phonological peculiarities mentioned above as "local pronunciations" due to Macedon's "marginal position" and concluded that Macedonian is "a dialect related to North-West Greek"[1].

The late Nicholas G. L. Hammond, a classicist, also suggested that Macedonian was a Greek dialect:

"What language did these `Macedones' speak? The name itself is Greek in root and in ethnic termination. It probably means `highlanders', and it is comparable to Greek tribal names such as `Orestai' and `Oreitai', mean­ing 'mountain-men'. A reputedly earlier variant, `Maketai', has the same root, which means `high', as in the Greek adjective makednos or the noun mekos... At the turn of the sixth century the Persians described the tribute-paying peoples of their province in Europe, and one of them was the `yauna takabara', which meant `Greeks wearing the hat'. There were Greeks in Greek city-states here and there in the province, but they were of various origins and not distinguished by a common hat. However, the Macedonians wore a dis­tinctive hat, the kausia. We conclude that the Persians believed the Macedonians to be speakers of Greek. Finally, in the latter part of the fifth century a Greek historian, Hellanicus, visited Macedonia and modi­fied Hesiod's genealogy by making Macedon not a cousin, but a son of Aeolus, thus bringing Macedon and his descendants firmly into the Aeolic branch of the Greek-speaking family. Hesiod, Persia, and Hellanicus had no motive for making a false statement about the language of the Macedonians, who were then an obscure and not a powerful people. Their independent testimonies should be accepted as conclusive."

See also

External links


  • Eugene N. Borza: Before Alexander: constructing early Macedonia. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1999. Pp. 89. ISBN 0-941690-96-0 (pb)
  • Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great, 1973.
  • Nicholas G. L. Hammond, The Macedonian State, Oxford University Press, 1989, ISBN 0198148836. Pg. 12-13.