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The Greeks and Alexander the Great

To modern Greeks, Alexander the Great is an integral part of their rich heritage -- one of history's greatest conquerors who toppled the hated Persian Empire and took Greek culture as far as Egypt and India.

The Greeks and Alexander the Great
A statue of Alexander the Great in Salonica, Greece, which is in a 27-year dispute with FYROM over its name
[Credit: Fayez Nureldine, AFP]
But ancient Greek city-states, who spent more than a decade fighting against Alexander's father Philip II of Macedon, were probably less enthusiastic.

A skilled general and diplomat who transformed Macedon -- ancient Macedonia -- from a tribal backwater into a regional superpower, Philip waged a sustained campaign against the Greek city-states, eventually crushing Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE.

For the first time in history, most of the Greek mainland was then under the influence of a single ruler, ending decades of internecine warfare.

"Philip was a rather unscrupulous ruler, who tried to, and finally managed, to expand Macedonian power over the rest of Greece... of course, there was a lot of antagonism against him," said Reinhard Senff, scientific director of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens.

At the time, many Greeks did not consider the Macedonians part of the Hellenic tradition -- even though they spoke Greek and worshipped the same gods.

However, in contrast to many of the city-state democracies, Macedon was a monarchy.

The question of ancient Macedonia's Greek heritage has been thrust into the spotlight recently as modern-day Greece and FYROM, a former Yugoslav province, attempt to settle a 27-year dispute over the right to the name.

Zenith of Greek influence

The greatest orator of the era, Demosthenes of Athens, penned fiery speeches against Philip, calling him a "barbarian".

"Force of habit," said Stephen Miller, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

"For Demosthenes, anyone who disagreed with him was a 'barbarian'. He called some of his fellow Athenians barbarians."

In one of the most striking acts of his reign, Alexander razed the leading city of Thebes to the ground after subduing a revolt.

Yet the ancient Macedonians held Greek culture and education in high regard.

Alexander was an avid fan of Homer's Iliad, and Philip enlisted the famed Athenian-trained philosopher Aristotle to tutor his young heir.

"The royal court in Macedon, from the fifth century onwards, very much cultivated Greekness... they esteemed Greek culture and education," Senff said.

As with past Macedonian kings, Philip also participated at the Olympic Games, a competition exclusively reserved to Greeks.

Horses owned by the king won at three successive Games, and Philip later dedicated an imposing monument bearing his name, the Philippeion, to Zeus at Olympia.

"We can say that the (Greek) origin of the Macedonian kings was widely accepted already in the fifth century BCE," said Miller.

But whereas the Macedonian royal family was acknowledged to be descended from the mythical Greek hero Hercules, their subjects were treated differently by the Greeks.

"The Macedonians were not considered Greeks by the Greeks... as far as we know until the end of the classical period only the royal family was admitted to Olympia," said Senff, who heads excavation work at the birthplace of the Olympics.

Alexander's conquests marked the zenith of Greek cultural influence and power in east and central Asia and north Africa.

After his death, successor states continued to operate in what is now Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan and India.

This period, known as the Hellenistic era, lasted nearly 300 years until the rise of Rome.

The Romans later created an enormous province called Macedonia that included parts of modern-day Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Slavs subsequently migrated to the area of present-day Macedonia from the 6th century AD onwards.

Editor's Note

I would like to draw your attention to the same article published in Hurriyet Daily News which cuts the last 5 lines of the story...

Author: John Hadoulis | Source: AFP [January 29, 2018]


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1 comment :

  1. "'The Macedonians were not considered Greeks by the Greeks... as far as we know until the end of the classical period only the royal family was admitted to Olympia,' said Senff, who heads excavation work at the birthplace of the Olympics."

    It's deeply inaccurate statements like these that fan the flames of historical denialism and pseudo-historical revisionism exhibited by Vardarskan ("FYROMian"), Albanian and Turkish propagandists. Is it any wonder why the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet "cut out the last 5 lines of the story" when a so-called "Director" fails to get his facts straight giving the impression that the prestigious German Archaeological Institute in Athens is either politically biased or ignorant of history?

    So no "Director" Senff, the Macedonians were Greeks (or Hellenes) and seen as ethnically Greek by other classical Greeks, because the commonly accepted Hesiodic tradition (8th century BC) clearly indicates that the Macedonians were part of the Greek world even if the Macedonians weren't accepted into the political community of Greek city-states (i.e., Classics 101).

    Also, Miltiades Hatzopoulos demonstrated years ago that the Olympic Games were open to all Macedonians (both royalty and laity) since the Macedonians were Greeks according to the theoroi and that this access was present prior to the political rise of the Macedonian kingdom in the ancient Greek world:

    "Since only Hellenes participated in the Panhellenic sacrifices and contests, it is obvious that the theoroi visited only communities which considered themselves and were considered by the others as Greek. Starting with one of the oldest catalogues, that of Epidauros, dating from 360, and continuing with those of Nemea, Argos, and Delphi, the Macedonian kingdom is never absent from their surviving North Aegean sections. At such an early date in the fourth century as that of the first one it cannot be claimed that the Macedonian presence was the result of the kingdom’s political and military might. Nor can it be said that the invitation concerned only the 'Greek' royal family, for, as we have already stressed, it was addressed not to individuals but to states."


    As for the nonsensical claim that the Macedonian laity wasn't Greek (or wasn't viewed as Greek by the classical Greeks), the unanimous consensus among scholars on this so-called "issue" is crystal clear:

    "In fact, there is no evidence that the commoners of Macedonia were not Greek, even if definitive proof of their ethnicity is not preserved. But the evidence grows – both from archaeological artifacts and from linguistics – that they were Greek. Note, for example, the curse-tablet of the 4th century B.C. which was discovered in a common grave in Pella and is written in what was a Macedonian dialect of Greek."


    Finally, Miltiades Hatzopoulos's article on the Greek speech of the ancient Macedonians ( and his article on Greek identity in Macedon ( should be consulted by "Director" Senff who's sadly behind on the facts despite being at the forefront of archaeological excavations.

    Macedonia was, is and shall forever be Greek (one doesn't have to be Greek or even a philhellene to defend the integrity of historical scholarship).


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