Ancient Macedonians - Identity - Modern Discourse

Modern Discourse

Modern scholarly discourse has produced a variety of hypotheses as to how the Macedonians sat within the Greek world. In view of discovered material remains of Greek-style monuments, buildings, inscriptions dating from the 5th century, and the predominance of Greek personal names; one school of thought suggests that the Macedonians were “truly Greeks” who had retained a more archaic lifestyle viz-a-viz their southern cousins. This cultural discrepancy was highlighted and exploited during political struggles of Athens and Macedonia in the 4th century. As a point of comparison, Engels suggests the Greekness of the Epirotes, who led a similarly "archaic" life as the Macedonians, never drew a sharp discussion as with the Macedonians, perhaps because the Epirotes, unlike the Macedonians, never attempted to achieve hegemony over all of Greece. This has been the predominant viewpoint from the 20th century onwards. As Worthington summarizes: "...not much need to be said about the Greekness of ancient Macedonia: it is undeniable".

Another perspective interprets the literary evidence, and the archaeological-cultural differences between Macedonia and central-southern Greece prior to the 5th century and beyond, as evidence that the Macedonians were originally non-Greek tribes who underwent a process of Hellenization. Accepting that political factors did play a part, they also highlight that the degree of antipathy between Macedonians and Greeks was of a different quality to that seen amongst other Greek states, even those with a long-term history of mutual animosity (e.g. Sparta and Athens). According to these scholars, it is only with the ongoing Hellenization of Macedonia, and the emergence of Rome as a common enemy in the west, that the Macedonians came to be regarded as "northern Greeks". This is precisely the period during which ancient authors, such as Polybius and Strabo, called the ancient Macedonians "Greeks". By this point, as described by Isocrates, to have been a Greek could have suggested a quality of culture and intelligence rather than strict "racial" or ethnic affinity.

Others have adopted both views; citing that "there is no question that, in the fifth and fourth centuries, there were noticeable difference between the Greeks and the Macedonians"; yet the issue of Macedonian Hellenicity was ultimately a "political one". Hall adds: "to ask whether the Macedonians "really were" Greek or not in antiquity is ultimately a redundant question given the shifting semantics of Greekness between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. What cannot be denied, however, is that the cultural commodification of Hellenic identity that emerged in the 4th century might have remained a provincial artifact, confined to the Balkan peninsula, had it not been for the Macedonians."

The situational, mutable and multi-layered nature of ancient ethnicity becomes again highlighted after the Roman conquest and the creation of provincia Macedonia. Now, Macedonian elites had to contend with the need for keeping a sense of local, Macedonian identity against the gradual acceptance of a new, "Roman", one.

Read more about this topic:  Ancient Macedonians, Identity

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