FYROM's False Claims to "Macedonianism" Debunked

By George C. Papavizas

"Unlike Serbia's Kosovo story...The Macedonian ideology [of FYROM] is both invented and presented at the same time. There is no outside scholarly consensus. . . the result is a kind of history-free history. The top-down, debate. free imposition of the new history is it­self seen as illiberal and authoritarian" (Christian Science Monitor, March 20,2009).

To crown its proclivity to use distorted historical facts to claim "exclusive rights to "Macedonianism," FYROM has intensified its "illiberal and authoritarian" history revisionism to discredit the Macedonian Hellenism. The historically, linguistically, and archaeologically incorrect challenges to Greece are that Macedonia was never part of Greece and the Macedonians were barbarians who spoke a language incomprehensible to the other Greeks.

It is true that ancient Macedonia was not part of Greece. It is also true that Attica, Lacedaemon, Epirus, Aetolia, Akarnania, and all the other city-states did not belong to Greece because Greece did not exist as a single, united state. Before the battle of Chaeronea (338 B C) the Hellenic nation existed as city-states speaking more than 200 dialects of the Greek language (Marcus Templar 2003).

Differing perceptions of the Macedonians' Hellenism are inevitable, and so is the significance attributed by some historians to the accusation of other Greeks of antiquity that the Macedonians were "barbarians." Political fabrications in Athens based not on ethnicity or language but on the Macedonian way of life were the reasons for the name-calling; and also because Philip and Alexander provoked the enmity of the Athenians. Even opponents of Macedonian Hellenism concluded that name-calling "might have been no more than invective by angry Orators unrelated to historical facts" (Ernst Badian 1992), or "oratory designed to sway public opinion at Athens and thereby formulate public policy" (Eugene Borza 1990).

More than anything else, the language of the Macedonians became the subject of disagreements among scholars. Analyzing the issue carefully necessitates looking into two important facts related to linguistics and the Macedonians' ethnicity: The existence of hundreds of Hellenic tribes and sub tribes; and the lack of linguistic homogeneity (i.e., the polyglot forms of the Greek language in the Greek world).

The fragmented nation spoke about two hundred dialects and idioms (Nicholas Hammond 1989). The structure of each dialect and the manner of speaking reflected the level of civilization of each tribe or state. The nomadic inhabitants of a monarchical regime like ancient Macedonia could hardly be expected to speak Athens' refined dialect. The Macedonian dialect was incomprehensible to the Athenians, but not to the Aetolians and Akamanians.

In "The Shadow of Olympus" (1990) Professor E. Borza wrote that the language of the Macedonians was a standard Greek dialect since the middle of the 5th Century BC, but the common people spoke an unknown dialect beyond recovery.

If the Macedonian is beyond recovery, how do we know it was not Hellenic? There is no evidence it was not Hellenic, but there is abundant evidence it was Hellenic. Proving that the common Macedonians spoke a Hellenic dialect before the middle of the 5th Century, the proposed date of the Macedonian "hellenization", will be the decisive key to clinching the proof that the Macedonians were Greek all the way to the Dark Age (1100-700 BC) and beyond.

Hellenization never occurred in the basic sense of the term. After all, the Macedonians belonged to Hellenic tribes to begin with, and therefore, only evolution of the Macedonian dialect (Doric Hellenic of the Western type) occurred, culminating with the formation of the final product, the koine (common tongue), in Alexander's time. Nothing like that occurred with the non­Greek Illyrians, despite their proximity to the Greek world, simply because their tongue had nolinguistic affinity to Hellenic dialects.

There is now evidence to suggest that the Macedonians spoke a proto-Hellenic dialect before the 5th Century. During the Dark Age, Macedonia had several Greek names. The first known name was Emathia, after its leader Emathion. Later it became Maketia or Makess, and finally Macedonia. The words "Makedonia" and "Makednos" (i.e., tall) are derived from the very ancient Doric word macos (in Attic mecos i.e., length), a word used today in Greece, found for the first time in the Homeric poems as "סίס тε φύλλα μακεδνήѕ αιүείρоιо>> (look at the leaves of tall poplars). If the Macedonians were not Greek would they have used a Greek name for their country?

Knowledge on the ancient Macedonian dialect is limited because there are no surviving texts written in that dialect. But authentic words have been assembled and documented, mainly from inscriptions on coins, statues, stele, gravestones, lead and papyrus plates, and from the 5th century lexicon of Haesychius of Alexandria, amounting to 176 words and more than 200 proper names. The majority of these words have been identified as Greek.

The Macedonian dialect maintained the characteristics and peculiarities of Homeric times, distinguishing it from the Greek spoken in Athens. It also preserved features which had disappeared from other Hellenic dialects, demonstrated by the fact that Roman and Byzantine lexicographers and grammarians used examples from the Macedonian dialect to interpret difficult features of the Homeric poems. Common characters also exist in the Macedonian that had been differentiated from before Homer, suggesting that the Macedonians were speaking a proto-Hellenic dialect at about 1100-800 BC.

Even Professor Borza, the scholar who expressed doubts on the Hellenic identity of the Macedonians, admitted that "The 'Macedones' or 'highlanders' of mountainous western Macedonia have been derived from northwestern Greek stock."

That the Macedonians spoke a Hellenic dialect before the middle of the 5th Century is also shown by the fact that the Macedonian dialect contained Greek words not found in other Greek dialects.

I spent two years studying the language of the ancient Macedonians. Of 11 scholars I studied, only two expressed doubts on the Macedonians' language being Greek: K. O. Muller (1825) suggested it was Illyrian mixed with Greek words and G. Weigand (1924) believed that it was a sibling language to all of the Greek dialects. A. Meillet (1913) was neutral, suggesting that the Macedonian dialect was an independent Indo-European language close to Greek. The remaining eight scholars, including N. G. Hammond (1989) and Olivier Masson (1996), wrote that the Macedonian was either a northwestern Greek dialect, part of the Doric dialects, or Aeolic, part of the western Greek languages.

After all the historical, linguistic, and archaeological facts amassed through the years, is it really possible that the ancient Macedonians, bearing Greek names, who lived in cities with Greek names, spoke a Doric Hellenic dialect of the western type; shared myths and customs with other Greeks; inscribed the Greek names of their deceased relatives and friends on gravestones; prayed and sacrificed to the Olympian gods placed by the other Greeks on Mount Olympus in Macedonia; brought the Hellenic civilization to the depths of Asia and who participated in the Olympic games, where only Greeks were allowed to participate, were not Greek?

Dr. Papavizas is the author of "Blood and Tears" and "Claiming Macedonia. "

(Posting date 2 October 2009)

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