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A.B. Bosworth
Professor of Classics and Ancient History, The University of Western Australia
On the Macedonian language and ethnicity of the Macedonian Army


[1] Bosworth responds to Hammond regarding the usage of the Macedonian language by Alexander: "I deliberately refrain from adopting any position on the linguistic status of ancient Macedonian. It has little significance outside the nationalistic propaganda of the contemporary Balkan states, in which prejudice and dogma do duty for rational thought. What matters for the present argument is the fact, explicit in Curtius, that Macedonian was largely unintelligible to non-Macedonians. Macedonians might understand Greek, and some Greek (like Eumenes) with experience of Macedon might speak Macedonian. However, even Eumenes took care that a vital message was conveyed to the phalangites of Neoptolemus by a man fluent in Macedonian (MAKEDONI/ZONTA TH]=FWNH]=:PSI 12. 1284,col. ii. 19-20).] "Alexander shouted out in Macedonian, and called the hypaspists in Macedonian." In my view there is nothing at all surprising in the use of Macedonian. Alexander was calling his hypaspists, who were Macedonians, and he addressed them in their native language/dialect."

[2] In Hammond's view the soldiers from Lower Macedonia (old kingdom) spoke Macedonian while the soldiers from the Upper Macedonia spoke a dialect of West Greek.

Bosworth's response: "The evidence for this hypothesis is decidedly tenuous. Nearly two centuries before Alexander Hecataeus may have described the Orestians as a Molossian tribe, but, as far as I can ascertain, there is no evidence for the language of any or all of the Upper Macedonian people before the time of Alexander, and nothing to suggest that the hypaspists were anything other than linguistically homogeneous." "Alexander's invitation to speak (Curt. 6. 9. 34) presupposes that the entire army spoke Macedonian." "Alexander's challenge presupposes that all the army would understand an address in Macedonian." "He used Macedonian because the troops would instantly understand and (he expected) would react immediately. There is no need for more complicated explanation."

It is evident from the text of Arrian, Plutarch, and Curtius Rufus that Alexander's army spoke Macedonian and not Greek. Any other interpretation would be intolerably difficult, if not impossible, to accept.

[3] About the Macedonian army: "The turning point in the evolution of Alexander's army appears to have been the year 330. Until then the Macedonian component was progressively reinforced, reaching peaks before Issus and after the arrival of Amyntas' great contingent late in 331. Alexander then thought it safe to divest himself of non Macedonian troops. The forces from the Corinthean League, [the Greek] infantry and cavalry, were demobilized from Ecbetana in the spring of 330; [Arr. III.19.6-7; Plut. Al. 42.5; Diod. XVII.74.3-4; Curt. VI.2.17] even the [Greek] Thessalian cavalry who re-enlisted were dismissed at the Oxus last than a year later (Arr. III.29.5) Alexander now relied on the Macedonian nucleus for front-line work and the mercenaries for support function." [p.271] Conquest and Empire.

"Alexander had deliberately retained the offsprings of his Macedonian veterans when he demobilized them, promising to train them in Macedonian style.(Arr. VII.12.2; Justin XII.4.2-10.) His ultimate purpose was to weld them into a military force without attachment of race or domicile, loyal to himself alone. The transformation of the Macedonian national army with its regionally based units could not have been more complete." [p.273] Conquest and Empire

[4] Bosworth on the allied (including Greek) troops: "The structure of command seems to have been parallel to that of the Macedonian cavalry, with regionally based ilai, but at the head was a Macedonian commander. The rest of the [Greek] allied cavalry, predominantly from central Greece and the Peloponnese, was much less important and effective, fewer in number and less prominent in action. Like the [Greek] Thessalian they were divided into ilai (Tod. GHI no 197.3) under the command of a Macedonian officer." [p.264] Conquest and Empire

"The infantry from the allied Greek states is more problematic. They formed a contingent numerically strong, 7,000 of them crossing the Hellespont in 334, and they were predominantly heavy-armed hoplites. But once in Asia they are mainly notable for their absence. There is no explicit record of them in any of the major battles. At Guagamela we may infer that they provided most of the men for the reserve phalanx (Arr. III.12.1), but in the other engagements there is no room for them. They are only mentioned as participants in subsidiary campaigns, usually under Parmenio's command (in the Troad, at the Amanid Gates, in Phrygia, and in the march on Persis), and they never appear in the entourage of Alexander." [p.264] Conquest and Empire

[Point of Interest] Are these the Greek troops with Alexander? Are these the same Greek troops with Alexander that went on the Asian conquest? Can Alexander's conquest be called a Greek conquest? Can Alexander's army be called Greek army? There is absolutely nothing in the literature to even remotely suggest that my quest to find and bring forward documented evidence for the ethnic affinity of the ancient Macedonians is losing steam. On the contrary, the conclusion is solidified with avery passing sentence: There was no Greek conquest with Alexander. There was nothing Greek with Alexander or his Macedonians.

[5] "There was also the question of loyalty. Alexander might well have been reluctant to rely on men recently vanquished at Chaeronea to face the Hellenic mercenaries in Persian service. It was too much kin against kin, and his Greek allies naturally had less stomach for the task than his native Macedonians." [p.264] Conquest and Empire

[6] Alexander's views on the Greeks in Asia. We should never deviate too far from our main focal point to find and present demonstrable evidence where Alexander's actions and policies strongly and convincingly illustrate his innermost feelings and aspirations. Here, you will see that Alexander treated the Greeks in Asia as any other conquered people, and that is a testament, by itself, that, he, Alexander did not view the Greeks as his own people. Judging by his actions, one will be hard press to find any difference between his treatment of the Greeks and that of the barbarians.

"It is most unlikely that the Greeks of Asia were incorporated in the Corinthian League. This is an issue which has been endlessly debated with surprising intensity, but arguments inevitably founders on the lack of evidence. That silence does have some weight. If the Greek cities had been involved in the League with its symmachical obligations, it is remarkable that there is never any reference to alliance or even to a formal treaty. As we have seen repeatedly, Alexander dealt with them as a victorious despot not as the executive head of an expanding League."[p.255], "As he continued east, the Greeks receded into obscurity and there is virtually no record of them." [p.256] [Conquest and Empire]

[7] Ancient authors testify that Alexander heavily depended on his Macedonians, whom he called 'his kinsmen', to carry the brunt of his campaign. "Alexander himself seems to have made little distinction in his last years between Greeks of Europe or Asia, or even between Greeks and barbarians." [p.257]

[Point of Interest] And this fact alone, must be constantly born in mind when one ascribes any "greekness" to Alexander. For, Alexander would not put his own people in an equal balance with the barbarians of the East. Was Alexander the Great a Greek King? Does this action suggest anything of a sort? It is morally corrupt, and historically incorrect to even suggest that Alexander the Great belonged to any other nation but Macedonia. He remained loyal to his royal Macedonian heritage to the last day of his life.



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