Ancient Macedonian Ethnic Identity: A Study with Emphasis on the Literary Sources From the 5th c. B.C. to the 2nd c. A.D.

Thumbnail Image
Harmantas, Alexander
Macedon , Macedonia , Ethnicity , Identity
The ethnic identity of the ancient Macedonians continues to be the most debated subject within Macedonian historiography. The debate has fixated on a simple question: were the Macedonians Greeks, or a separate ethnic group? Rather than attempting to trace the exact origins of the Macedonians – an exceedingly difficult task in dealing with any ancient people – this thesis will focus on the ethnic presentation of the Macedonians: how do the ancient literary sources identify the Macedonians? How did the Macedonians identify themselves? What factors shaped the Greeks’ perspectives towards the Macedonian kings and their people? How much can we reasonably infer about the Macedonians’ ethnic self-perception and identification in the absence of their own literary testimony? This thesis will seek to answer these essential questions by providing a comprehensive analysis of the relevant ancient literary sources dating from the mid-late 5th c. B.C. to the early 2nd c. A.D., devoting careful attention to all of those passages which particularly relate to the subject of Macedonian ethnic identity. It will be demonstrated that the first established ruling dynasty of Macedon, the Argeads, may be considered Greek according to both modern and ancient Greek criteria for ethnicity; they held a conscious identity as Greeks and were accepted as such at a fairly early point by the intellectual and literary elite of southern Greece. Regarding the wider Macedonian populace, however, more direct evidence is required for us to readily ascertain their sense of ethnic identity. While an ethnocultural merging of Greeks and Macedonians does appear in literature by a later point in antiquity, the Greeks of the Classical period were consistent in designating the Macedonian people as ‘barbarians.’ Although further literary evidence (especially in the form of an average Macedonian communicating their sense of ethnic self-perception) is needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn, we may perhaps best understand the Greeks and Macedonians as ethnically related yet distinct groups, gradually placed in close ethnocultural alignment by Greek writers only in the centuries following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Near East.
External DOI