Greeks and Macedonians by E. Badian 01

This paper does not propose to bring up the much-debated old question of whether the ancient question of whether the ancient Macedonians "were Greeks." From the anthropological point of view, if suitably reworded, it could no doubt be answered; I suspect that, to the anthropologist, remains found in the areas of ancient Greece, Macedonia, and surrounding parts would not show significant differences. However, this is of no historical importance: no more so than it would have been to point out in the 1930s (as I am told is the fact) that there is little anthropological difference between Jewish communities and the non-Jewish populations among whom they happen to live. From the linguistic point of view, again, if suitably reworded (i.e, "Did the ancient Macedonians speak a form of Ancient Greek?"), the question seems to me at present unanswerable for the period down to Alexander the Great. We so far have no real evidence on the structure of the ancient Macedonian language; only on proper names and (to small extent) on general vocabulary, chiefly nouns. This is not a basis on which to judge linguistic affinities, especially in the context of the ancient Balkan area and its populations.

Let us again look at the Jews-those who in the 1930s were living in Eastern Europe. Their names were Hebrew with a slight admixture of German and Slav elements; their alphabet and their sacred writings were Hebrew. Yet their vocabulary was largely, and the structure of their vernacular language almost entirely, that of a German dialect. As a precious survival of a pronationalist world, they are of special interest in such comparisons. One wonders what scholars would have made of them, if they had been known only through tombstones and sacred objects. In any case, interesting though the precise affinities of ancient Macedonian must be to the linguistic specialist, they are again of very limited interest to the historian. Linguistic facts as such, just like archaeological finds as such, are only some of the pieces in the puzzle that the historian tries to fit together, In this case, unfortunately, as every treatment of the problem nowadays seems to show, discussion has become bedeviled by politics and modern linguistic nationalism: the idea that a nation is essentially defined by a language and that, conversely, a common language mean s a common nationhood--which is patently untrue for the greater part of human history and to a large extent even today. The Kultursprache of ancient Macedonians, as soon as they felt the need for one, was inevitably Greek, as it was in the case of various other ancient peoples. There was no feasible alternative. But as N.G.L. Hammond remarked, in the memorable closing words of volume I of his History of Macedonia, "a means of communications is very far from assuring peaceful relations between two peoples, as we know from our experience of the modern world." It is equally far (we might add) from betokening any consciousness of a common interest.

What is of greater historical interest is the question of how Greeks and Macedonians were perceived by each other. We have now become accustomed to regarding Macedonians as "Northern Greeks" and, in extreme cases, to hearing Alexander's conquest described as in essence Greek conquests. The former certainly became true, in Greek consciousness in the course of the Hellenistic age; the latter may be argued to be true ex post facto. But it is an important question whether these assertions should properly be made in a fourth-century B.C. context. Not that Greeks abstained from ruthless fighting among themselves. But as is well known, there was in the classical period and above all since the great Persian Wars--a consciousness of a common Hellenism that transcended fragmentation and mutual hostility: of a bond that linked those who were "Hellenes" as opposed to those who were "barbarians," and (by the fourth century at any rate) of certain standards of behaviour deemed to apply among the former that did not apply between them and the latter. The question of whether the Macedonians, in the fourth century B.C., where regarded as Greeks or as barbarians--a question which, as I have indicated, is not closely connected with the real affinities that a modern scholar might find--is therefore of considerable historical interest. Of course, any answer we might tentatively give must be one-sided at best. The average Macedonian (as distinct from the royal family and the highest nobility) had left us little evidence of what he thought--or indeed, whether he cared. But on the Greek side, fortunately, there are far more records. An answer can and should be attempted.

There is no evidence whatsoever of any Macedonian claim to a Greek connection before the Persian War of 480-479 B.C. Amyntas I had long before this recognized the suzerainty of Darius I; his daughter had married an Iranian nobleman, and his son Alexander I loyally served his suzerain, continuing to profit by Persian favour and protection, as his father had done. However, being a shrewd politician. Alexander I took care to build bridges toward the Greeks, giving them good advice that would not harm his overlord; and when at Plataea it became clear to anyone who would look that a decisive Greek victory could not be long delayed, he came out in full support of the victors, rendering them services that were appreciated. In fourth-century Athens a record of this appears to have survived-and it is of a certain interest that this great Macedonian king, the first of his line to have serious dealings with the Greeks and a friend of Athens in particular was confused with his successor Perdiccas. In any case, with Persian overlordship gone for good, cooperation with his southern neighbours became an essential aim of policy. It was no doubt at this time, and in connection with his claim to have been a benefactor of the greeks from the beginning, that he invented the story (in its details a common type of myth) of how he had fought against his father's Persian connection by having the Persian ambassadors murdered, and that it was only in order to hush this up and save the royal family's lives that the marriage of his sister to a Persian had been arranged. It was also at this time that he took the culminating step of presenting himself at the Olympic Games and demanding admission as a competitor. (The date is not attested, but 476 the first opportunity after the war, seems a reasonable guess.) In support, he submitted a claim to descent from the Temenids of Argos, which would make him a Greek, and one of the highest extraction. With the claim, inevitably, went a royal genealogy going back for six generations, which(again) we first encounter on this occasion. We have no way of judging the authenticity of either the claim or the evidence that went with it, but it is clear that at the time the decision was not easy. There were outraged protests from the other competitors, who rejected Alexander I as a barbarian--which proves, at the least, that the Temenid descent and the royal genealogy had hitherto been an esoteric item of knowledge. However, the Hellanodikai decided to accept it-- whether moved by the evidence or by political considerations, we again cannot tell. In view of the time and circumstances in which the claim first appears and the objections it encountered, modern scholars have often suspected that it was largely spun out of the fortuitous resemblance of the name of the Argead clan to city of Argos; with this given, the descent (of course) could not be less than royal, i.e., Temenid.

However that may be, Alexander had clearly made a major breakthrough. He seems to have appreciated the Argive connection and cultivated it. Professor Andronikos has suggested that the tripod found in Tomb II at Vergina, which bears an Argive inscription of the middle of the fifth century, was awarded to Alexander I at the Argive Heraea, to which the inscription refers. Moreover, the official decision by the Hellanokikai won wide recognition. We find it recorded in Herodotus, as proof of the Macedonian king's Argive descent, and Thucydides accepts the latter as canonical. As might be expected, it was by no means the only version. Flatterers accepting the pedigree to Temenus himself and by the fourth century we find that a version extending the royal line by several generations, to make it contemporary with Midas(a known historical figure of considerable importance), had won general acceptance, indeed seems to be official; the first king's name is now the very suitable Caranus(Lord). By the time Herodotus picked up the story of the verdict by the Hellanodikai, a graphic detail about Alexander's participation had been added. Unfortunately the meaning of his words is not perfectly clear, but the most plausible interpretation is that alexander in fact tied for first place in the race. In any case, it is clear that Herodotus version comes, directly or ultimately, from the Macedonian court. One might have thought that the historic decision would have encouraged other Macedonian kings to follow Alexander's example. His successors, Perdiccas and Archelaus, certainly continued to be involved in the international relations of the Greek states and patronized Greek culture. Yet we have no evidence of any participation by Perdiccas and only a late and unreliable record of an Olympic victory by Archelaus, which is difficult to accept. With the exception of the single item, no Macedonian king between Alexander I and Philip II is in anyway connected with the Olympic or indeed with any other Greek games. There is not (so far, at any rate; though this may change) even another Argive tripod. Another item deserves comment is this connection. It is said to have been Archelaus (and here the evidence is more reliable) who founded peculiarly Macedonian Olympics at Dium. We might call them counter- Olympics, for everyone know where the real Olympic Games were celebrated. It is possible that Archelaus, trying to revive Alexander's claim at Olympia(and Euripides development of his lineage perhaps was intended as further support), either had difficulties in gaining acceptance or was even rejected, despite the precedent. Such decisions might change with political expediency, and there were certain to be some Greeks who would challenge his qualifications and provide a reason for a new investigation. The suggestion is not based only on the establishment of the counter-Olympics. As it happens, even Euripides manufacture of an older and unimpeachable Temenid descent did not convince everyone. When Archelaus attacked Thessalian Larisa, Thrasymachus wrote what was to become a model oration On Behalf of the Larisaeans. Only one sentence happens to survive: "Shall we be slaves to Archelaus, we, being Greeks, to a barbarian?" Ironically, it is based on a line by Euripides. Now, that is an odd piece of rhetoric, as applied to Archelaus. Its significance is not merely to demonstrate that as late as c. 400 B.C. the official myth of the Temenid descent of the Argead kings could be derided. What makes it really surprising is that Archelaus seems to have done more than any predecessor to attract representatives of Greek culture and to win their approval--which, like representatives of culture at all times, they seem, on the whole, to have willingly given to their paymaster, even though he had won power and ruled by murder and terror. As we have already noted, Euripides wrote for him and produced a myth of immediate descent from Temenos; a host of other poets are attested in connection with him; and Zeuxis painted his palace (giving rise to a suitable witticism ascribed to Socrates) and gave him a painting of Pan as a gift. It is really remarkable that this king, of all Macedonian kings, should be described as--not a tyrant, which would be intelligible, but a barbarian. It may add up to a declaration at Olympia that either reversed the judgment of Alexander's day or, at least, confirmed it against strong opposition: our decision on these alternatives might be influenced by whether or not we regard the late report of Archelaus' Olympic victory as authentic. In any case Thrasymachus' description of Archelaus should be seen in close connection with the counter-Olympics founded by him and (in whatever way) with the report of his Olympic victory.


No comments:

Post a Comment