MACEDONIA: Britain No Longer Claims Alexandrian Ancestry!

By Andrew Leech

At an Athens Tesol Conference, a few years ago, that well known, irrepressible pillar of ELT writing, Jake Alsopp, came up to me and asked "why all this Macedonia stuff was appearing in an ELT newspaper, instead of a normal daily such as the Times, Guardian or Independent." Jake received his answer on the spot. The following is for those who may have been pondering the same question, but weren't there.

Both Luke Prodromou's and my articles were submitted to those august organs of the Press -- and declined. "What we hear is different" said the Guardian; "they are rather long" replied the Times; while the Independent and Time International didn't even bother replying. I even tried the Express and was caustically told "we wouldn't be interested in that kind of stuff, that is unless war were going to break out tomorrow.”

It seemed that no respectable English-speaking newspaper was willing to handle any pro-Greek articles on the subject of Macedonia. Judging by what we read, they were willing to publish anything put out by Skopje (FYROM), but unwilling to print anything supportive from Athens.

Perhaps our articles weren't good enough (but someone else could have re-written and reported them); perhaps they were too long (but they could have been shortened); perhaps we were upsetting labour relations by offering the articles free (but donations could have been made to charity). We just couldn't understand why we were being given the cold shoulder until, in a gestalt wave of enlightenment, the truth dawned: they simply didn't want to know; looking at both sides of the question took too much effort --- and probably upset their pet theories, thoughts or plans dreamed up in the comfort of their armchairs! And so we had to be frozen out, silenced, buried and forgotten.

The ethic of objective reporting and the dictum of justice for all had to go by the board in the name of neatness, expediency and whatever suited the mood of the moment. How could we--mere teachers and lecturers--possibly know as much as they could glean from their deep investigations over lunch and cocktails? And, besides, we live in Greece--and everyone knows you have to be remote from a conflict to understand anything objective about it! After all, didn't our old friend, in the 1990s, Strobe Talbott, prove he knew more about the Macedonia issue from poring over old Kremlin papers? What need did he have to see the Greek point of view?

". . . the truth dawned: . . . [British newspapers] simply didn't want to know; looking at both sides of the [Macedonian] question took too much effort . . ."

C.M. Woodhouse, the eminent historian, asks the question "What is the subject of the history of Greece: a people, a race, a language, a religion, a culture or an idea? It has been called all of these." He then answers the question by stating " the only practicable definition of a Greek is that he is somebody who thinks he is Greek ... his grounds will include language, consciousness of history, religion ... but not necessarily place of birth.”(1)

This definition has placed the essence of being Greek fairly and squarely in the field of language and linguistics. Whereas the Jewish history has been defined in terms of tradition, the Greek history has been defined in terms of language and historical conscience--they are the only things that have remained constant over the centuries of instability. And this is precisely why the Macedonian issue is so important to Greece: the claims that Philip II and Alexander were Slavic ancestors of the Skopjians and that the Skopje holds moral fief over all Greek territory down to Larissa, are rape of Greek history and Greek language; and, therefore, are quite unacceptable. As Luke Prodromou so succinctly put it: " I sense the absurdity of falling out with our neighbours over what happened 2000 years ago..., but, unfortunately, their word games are played to justify irredentism and are, therefore, to be treated seriously."(2)

In an attempt to find some basis for the Skopjian belief in the Slavic ancestry of Alexander the Great, I wandered into the fields of Myths and Legends. In Nicholas Yalouris' essay, "Alexander and his Heritage," we note that "the Romans adopted his titles and promoted him as their model and exemplar, honouring him as a true descendant of Heracles and worshipping him as a true son of Zeus Ammon," and that with the passage of time "historical reality began to fade ... and pass into legend." And, later, that "narratives were modified to reflect the desires, fortunes and beliefs of different peoples; and Alexander is variously portrayed as a Persian hero (named Skander); an agent of God sent to punish the "impure peoples"; as the Shah of the Chedives Dynasty (of the 16th century!); as the hero-king of the Serbs; and as a pilgrim to Mecca."(3)

He is also depicted as Indian of Afghan, seated at the side of Buddha; and a warrior fighting alongside Chinese heroes, or else "discoursing with the sages of China beneath the Tree of Wisdom." According to some legends he even finds his way into the Old Testament where it is prophesied he will rule the world," and is "welcomed by the High Priest, Jaddus, or even Jeremiah himself."

In the West, Alexander has been transformed into a Frank, a Goth, a Russian and a Saxon. According to one popular tradition, he explored the depths of the sea off Santorini in a primitive diving bell or glass bathyscaph (evidenced by a 14th c. ms. in the Bodleian Library), and then ascended to the heavens "in a chariot harnessed to two carnivorous birds (according to a 15th c. woodcut in Windsor Castle)."

"It seems fairly obvious now where the Skopjian claims to Alexander's ancestry have originated: they are borrowed from the mythology of the 'hero-king of the Serbs,' . . . "

It seems fairly obvious now where the Skopjian claims to Alexander's ancestry have originated: they are borrowed from the mythology of the " hero-king of the Serbs, " that was current in the Middle Ages and, then, incorporated into the early history of the Southern Slavs which was passed from one villager to the other, by word of mouth, to relieve the tedium of the long, winter night.

When one considers that many Slavs still believe in "Vily and Rusalki, nymphs of trees and woodlands; also in Baba-Jaga, a kind of man-eating witch, and in Besy -- evil spirits, vampires and werewolves " (4) -- it is not difficult to understand how this incorporation took place, and in its tenacious belief.

A great difference is seen if one compares early Slavic and Greek religion; and this is one of the prime rebuttals of any common ancestry between the Slavs and early Macedonians --- quite apart from the lack of any Slavic historical remains! Whereas the Greek City States and Macedonians shared the well known Olympian deities, that were later adopted by the Romans and Latinised, the Slavs had : "the Thunderer Perun; Svarog, the God of Heaven; Dazbog, the Sun; Chors and Veles, the gods of cattle; and Striborg, the God of storms. Their goddesses were Vesna, the Spring, and Morana, death and winter. Another basic difference is shown in the fate of the "soul of the ancestor, who seems to have developed into the house, or hearth god -- Domovy, Kret -- who guarded the family". Strangely, though, there seem to have been no priests, temples or images among the early Slavs and, thus, we know more of their beliefs from other's writings than from what remains they, themselves, have left. (5)

It is also worth noting that the Southern Slavs conversion to Christianity was delayed until AD 865 -- much later than their neighbours --- when a certain King Methodius (not to be confused with the famous monk and missionary of the same name) "adopted the new faith and put to the sword those who resisted;" whereas Greece's conversion had started in the 1st century, as evidenced by the New Testament being written in that language from that date. (6)

It is fortunate for Greece that all its claims can be proved and evidenced historically (hence the support from Universities and educated people), but unfortunate that the Press seeks to ignore this evidence and deny Greece the right to present it. It is also unfortunate that Skopje (Fyrom) has to resort to weaving fairy tales into its history, to support an otherwise untenable position, but fortunate, for them, that they have many powerful friends who will support their stance, --- whatever the weakness of their arguments!

Perhaps, in time, the Press will come to realise what stuff the Greeks are really made of; and, perhaps, --- after noting that the Indians, the Chinese, the Persians, the Russians, the Italians, the French, the British (as descendants of the Saxons -- and I do hope I can answer for all !!!) and, yes, maybe even the Serbians, have renounced all claims to Alexander's mythological heritage (realising that fact, fiction and mythology are all separate entities) --- the Skopjians too will follow suit and renounce the myth, themselves; and, thus, allow us to turn our energies, once more, to doing something important " like saving the pelicans of Prespa and the few bears left in the forests of Macedonia. (7)


(1) C.M. Woodhouse, Modern Greece, Faber, 1977

(2) L. Prodromou, ELT News, March, 1993

(3) N. Yalouris, Alexander & his Heritage, in The Search for Alexander, New York Graphic Society (Little, Brown & Co.), 1982

(4) Encyclopaedia Britannica, Slavs PP. 789-91 Vol. 20

(5) Ibid

(6) ibid

(7) L. Prodromou

(Posting date 8 October 2008)

HCS encourages readers to view other articles and releases in our permanent, extensive archives at the URL To read more fine articles by Andrew Leech, see our special archives section devoted to his works at the URL For more information about the author, see his short biographical sketch at the URL .

2000 Hellenic Communication Service, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.