Ancient Macedonian Greekness and explanation of the term ‘Barbaroi’ by N.G.L. Hammond

Deductions and explanation of the term ‘barbaroi’


The deductions are the following. The Macedonians and the Magnesians lived ‘around Pieria and Olympus’, which I take to be the high ground where there were fine summer pastures. Each spoke its own dialect of Greek. The dialects were related to one another. But both were different from the dialects which developed among the Greeks south of Mt Olympus. At some time before ca. 1200 B. C. the Magnesians migrated to dwell ‘around Peneus and Pelion’, and centuries later in the archaic period they were talking a dialect of Aeolic Greek which differed from two other groups of Aeolic dialect in Thessaly. It was a characteristic of the transhumant pastoral groups of the Vlachs that they conserved dialectal distinctions, the Vlachs for instance on Olympus and Pieria having a distinct and strong dialect. The Macedonian speech was regarded by the Greeks of Ionic, Doric and Aeolic dialects as a backward brogue, but there was no doubt that their speech was Greek. Late in the fifth century Hellanicus saw a kinship of the Macedonian dialect with the Aeolic dialect; that kinship may have developed through contacts of Macedonia with Thessalians, Perrhaebians and Magnesians. In the fourth century the standard form of Greek, the koine, was probably gaining ground even in the homeland of the Macedonians. In 371 B. C. we see the first evidence of Macedonia being included in the company of Greek states. The speakers of the other 3 dialects, Ionic, Doric and Aeolian developed the city-state as their chief political form. It was republican, racist, and generally democratic, and it prided itself on its intellectual and cultural standing. The Macedonians and the Molossian tribes, whether in Epirus or in what is now West Macedonia, were entirely different; for they were tribal states, usually monarchical, and culturally backward. Even Aristotle who knew the Macedonian court held that people who were ruled by a king had to be so ruled because they lacked the intelligence to govern themselves.

Thucydides drew a firm line between the settled, civilized city-states and ‘many parts of Hellas’ which ‘still follow the old fashion, the Ozolian Locrians for instance, the Aetolians, the Acarnanians and that region of the continent’ (1.5.3), and he compared that old fashion with the barbarian way of life (1.6.6). It is therefore not surprising that he called some tribes of northern Greece ‘barbarians’: Amphilochi (3.112.7), those near Cheimerium (1.47.3; 1.50.3), being Thesproti), Chaones, Molossi, Atintanes, Parauaei, Orestai (2.68.9; 2.80.5; 2.81-2), tribes of Upper Macedonia (4.124.1 and 126.3), and probably the Macedonians proper (4.124.1 and 126.3). As we have seen, inscriptions show beyond dispute that the Molossi and the Macedones were Greek-speaking in the lifetime of Thucydides. He therefore used the term ‘barbaroi’ not in a linguistic sense but in a cultural sense.21 As an example of the abusive term ‘barbarian’ we may cite the fragment of Thrasymachus, written on behalf of the democrats of Larissa: ‘Shall we who are Greeks be the slaves of the barbarian Archelaus?’ (Αρχελάω δουλεύσομεν Έλληνες όντες βαρβάρω ;). As a member of the Temenid family Archelaus was of the noblest Greek descent, like the oligarchic Aleuadae of Larissa and the kings of Sparta. The jibe put in the mouths of the democrats was vitupera-tive, not linguistic. Similarly Demosthenes called a Macedonian king (Perdiccas II, but not named) ‘a Barbarian’ (3.24), and he dismissed Philip as ‘not only no Hellene, not only not related to the Hellenes, but not even a barbarian from a country that one could acknowledge with credit – he is a pestilent Macedonian, from whose country it used not to be possible to buy even a slave of any value’ (9.31). Such cheap parody is matched by wartime songs about the Siegfried Line or the genitals of Adolf. Scholars have taken more seriously a passage in Isocrates, Philippus 107 f. Isocrates was writing in 346 B. C. about the founder of the Macedonian kingdom, presumably Perdiccas I, as a Heraclid who went out from Argos in the Peloponnese to obtain a throne. Isocrates claimed, as Aristotle was claiming that the Hellenes would not submit to monarchy but that the others could not organise their lives without it. So Perdiccas was unique in going beyond ‘the Hellenic area’ and claiming rule over ‘a race not of the same tribe’ (ουχ ομοφύλω γένους άρχειν αξιώσας). This last phrase has been interpreted as ‘of non-kindred race’ and as indicating ‘the feeling of a major difference’. 

But one has only to cite from Thucydides 1.102.3 the Spartans’ reflection that the Athenians were ‘of another tribe’ (αλλοφύλους αμα ηγησάμενοι), i. e. lonians as distinct from Dorians. The meaning of Isocrates is that the Macedonians were a different tribe from the Argives. There was no statement that the Macedonians spoke a different language or were of non-Greek origins. Finally, it has been assumed sometimes that when Herodotus wrote of the Dorian family (genos) living in Pindus and being called ‘Makednon’ (a term he resumed at 8.43 with the word ethnos), he meant Macedonian and proposed that the Dorians and Macedonians were in some sense fused. But when Herodotus meant Macedonians, he said Macedonians and he used the adjective Μακεδονικόν (7.13 1). His own usage shows that Μακεδνόν had an altogether different meaning. The term ‘Hellenes’ is sometimes a cause of misunderstanding. Thucydides limited its application to the genealogy of Deucalion – Hellen – sons of Hellen  (i. e. Doros, Xouthos and Aiolos), and he envisaged their descendants being invited into existing states, establishing communication with one another, and eventually adopting a common name ‘Hellenes’ (1.3.2-4). He seems to have assumed an expansion by these descendants from Phthiotis in Thessaly southwards. He did not include under the term ‘Hellenes’ the descendants of Deucalion  Thyia – sons of Thyia (Magnes and Macedon), nor any of the other Greek-speaking peoples west, northwest and northeast of Thessaly. One may name them as Amphilochians, Thesprotians, Molossians, Chaones, Dassaretae, Elimeotae, Tymphaei, Parauaei, Orestae, Lyncestae, Pelagones, Magnesians, Macedonians, Bottiaei (in Bottike) and Chalcideis. It is thus obvious that Thucydides used ‘Hellenes’ to mean the descendants of Hellen and of the peoples into whose states they moved, and not to mean ‘Greek-speaking peoples’. 

 In two passages Thucydides did comment on the speech of a people who were not in his sense of the word ‘Hellenes’. Amphilochia and its capital city, Argos, were peopled by emigrants from Peloponnesian Argos, whose leader was Amphiaraus just after the Trojan War. He and his followers, like the other fighters against Troy, were Greek-speakers in Thucydides’ opinion. Then ‘many generations later’ the men of the capital city accepted as fellow-citizens men of Ambracia, a colony of Corinth, who spoke the Doric dialect. When that dialect prevailed, the Amphilochian Argives ‘were Hellenised in their present speech  … but the other Amphilochians are barbarians’ (2.68.5) (ηλληνίσθησαν την νυν γλώσσαν). The distinction here was between the Doric dialect and a different dialect of Greek speech. The other passage described the cities of the Athos peninsula as inhabited ‘by a mixture of tribes of bilingual barbarians, and there is among them a small Chalcidic element, but the majority is Pelasgic’ (4.109.4).

Here the term ‘bilingual’ (δίγλωσσος) meant that the native language was non-Greek but that Greek was also spoken.On the other hand the Chalcidic element spoke Greek as its native language. These Chalcideis were distinct from the colonial settlers who had come in the eighth and later centuries to the Chalcidic peninsula from Andros and from Chalcis and Eretria in Euboea. Inscriptions have revealed that they spoke a form of the Ionic dialect which differed from the Euboean Ionic dialect. The explanation is that their ancestors had settled there much earlier, either in the Late Mycenaean period or/and in the course of the Ionic Migration of c. 1000 B. C.28 Thucydides recognised them as Greek-speakers; but, to take the Amphilochians as an analogy, he would not have regarded them as ‘Hellenes’.


Source: Literary Evidence for Macedonian Speech, Clare College, Cambridge 

Inscriptions and especially some recorded toponyms have revealed to us that the Bottiaei who lived in the hinterland of the Chalcidic peninsula were speakers of Greek. Thucydides mentioned them and the Chalcideis on several occasions without saying what their speech was; but he did explain that the Bottiaei had previously lived in the Lower Macedonian plain. Their own tradition was that their founder was Botton, who had brought their ancestors from Crete via Taras (Tarentum) and settled them in the Lower Macedonian plain according to Strabo 279, 282 and 329 fr. 1 la. The time must have been between the Mycenaean occupation of Cnossos and the collapse of Mycenaean rule in Crete. Once again we have a Greek-speaking people whom Thucydides would not have regarded as Hellenes. These examples help us to understand the statements by Isocrates that a man of Peloponnesian Argos in founding the royal family among the Macedonians (c. 700-650 B. C.) went beyond ‘the Hellenic area’ and ruled over ‘a race not of the same tribe’.
                                                  Nicholas G. L. Hammond


By Andreas

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