Macedonians were Greeks

Historical truth on the ancient Macedonians

"Alexander, the son of Philip, and all the Greeks, with the exception of the Spartans, won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia."
Greek biographer ( c. AD 46 – AD 120)

Plutarch knew that the ancient Macedonians were Greeks. His work “Parallel Lives” compares the lives of famous Greeks with similar lives of Romans, in pairs. In two of those pairs the Greeks are Macedonians: a) Demetrius I paired with Mark Anthony and, b) Alexander the Great paired with Julius Caesar. If it is not obvious that Plutarch considered the Macedonians as Greeks, then perhaps the following numerous text excerpts will convince even the sceptical reader.

Plutarch “The Life of Alexander”

On his father’s side Alexander was descended from Hercules through Caranus, and on his mother’s from Aeacus through Neoptolemus: so much is accepted by all authorities without question.

(Plut. 7.2) [The fact that Alexander was Greek by both his parents went unquestioned by all authorities]

The first was that his general Parmenio had overcome the Illyrians in a great battle, the second that his race-horse had won a victory in the Olympic games, and the third that Alexander had been born.

(Plut. 7.3) [Philip participated in Olympics where only Greeks could take place since he was a Greek himself]

Philip for example was as proud of his powers of eloquence as any sophist, and took care to have the victories won by his chariots at Olympia stamped upon his coins.

(Plut. 7.4) [Philip as a proud Greek, had his victories in Olympics stamped on his coins]

The person who took on both the title and the role of Pedagogue was an Acarnanian named Lysimachus. He was neither an educated nor a cultivated man but he managed to ingratiate himself by calling Philip Peleus, Alexander Achilles, and himself Phoenix, and he held the second place in the prince’s household.

(Plut. 7.5) [The love of Philip and Alexander for anything Greek is apparent]

Besides this he considered that the task of training and educating his son was too important to be entrusted to the ordinary run of teachers of poetry, music and general education: it required as Sophocles puts it:

The rudder’s guidance and the curb’s restraint,

and so he sent for Aristotle, the most famous and learned of the philosophers of the time and rewarded him with the generocity that his reputation deserved.

(Plut. 7.7) [One of the most famous Greek philosophers, Aristotle was entrusted by Philip with the task of training and educating his son]

He [Alexander] regarded the Iliad as a handbook of the art of war and took with him on his campaigns a text annotated by Aristotle, which became as “the casket copy” and which he always kept under his pillow together with his dagger. When his campaigns had taken him far into the interior of Asia and he could find no other books, he ordered his treasurer Harpalus to send him some. Harpalus sent him the histories of Philistus, many of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the dithyrambic poems of Telestes and Philoxenus.

(Plut 7.8) [Alexander never hide his love for anything Greek]

During this period he [Alexander] defeated the Maedi who had risen in revolt, captured their city, drove out its barbarous inhabitants, established a colony of Greeks assembled from various regions and named it Alexandroupolis.

(Plut. 7.9) [Here we have undisputed evidence of Macedonia’s Greekness. On one hand, the term “barbarians” is used only for Maedi, not Macedonians while on the other hand Alexander of course establishes a Greek colony since he is Greek himself.]

There he [Philip] scolded his son and angrily reproached him for behaving so ignobly and so unworthily of his position as to wish to marry the daughter of a mere Carian, who was no more than the slave of a barbarian king.

(Plut. 7.10) [Point of interest: Philip uses the term barbarian for a foreign satrap. It’s obvious Philip was Greek, otherwise he wouldn’t use at all the derogatory remark if he was “barbarian” himself]

The neighbouring barbarian tribes were eager to throw off the Macedonian yoke and longed for the rule of their native kings.

(Plut. 7.11) [The difference between the “neighbouring barbarian tribes” and Macedonians is clear.]

As for the barbarian tribes they [Macedonians] considered that he [Alexander] should try to win them back to their allegiance by using milder methods.

(Plut. 7.11) [Again, Barbarians are being distinguished from Macedonians, even by Macedonians themselves]

In the previous year a congress of the Greek states had been held at the Isthmus of Corinth: here a vote had been passed that the states should join forces with Alexander in invading Persia and that he should be commander-in-chief of the expedition. Many of the Greek statesmen and philosophers visited him to offer their congratulations

(Plut. 7.14) [Macedonia as a Greek state took part in the congress held at Isthmus of Corinth. Alexander was voted to be commander-in-chief while many Greek statesmen and philosophers showed their joy about the event by offering him their congratulations.]

Once arrived in Asia, he [Alexander] went up to Troy, sacrificed to Athena and poured libations to the heroes of the Greek army. He anointed with oil the column which marks the grave of Achilles, ran a race by it naked with his companions, as the custom is, and then crowned it with a wreath: he also remarked that Achilles was happy in having found a faithful friend while he lived and a great poet to sing of his deeds after his death. While he was walking about the city and looking at its ancient remains, somebody asked him whether he wished to see the lyre which had once belonged to Paris. I think nothing of that lyre, he said, but I wish I could see Achilles’ lyre, which he played when he sang of the glorious deeds of brave men.

(Plut. 7.15) [First thing Alexander did while being in Asia was to honour the Greek heroes and his own ancestor Achilles]

At the same time he [Alexander] was anxious to give the other Greek states a share in the victory. He therefore sent the Athenians in particular three hundred of the shields captured from the enemy and over the rest of the spoils he had this proud inscription engraved:

Alexander, the son of Philip, and all the Greeks, with the exception of the Spartans, won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia.

(Plut. 7.16) [Things are pretty clear. Alexander considered Macedonia as a Greek state and the inscription itself reveals Macedonians are Greeks]

It is said that there was a spring near the city of Xanthus in the province of Lycia, which at this moment overflowed and cast up from its depths a bronze tablet: this was inscribed with ancient characters which foretold tha the empire of the Persians would be destroyed by the Greeks. Alexander was encouraged by this prophecy and pressed on to clear the coast of Asia Minor as far as Cilicia and Phoenicia.

(Plut. 7.17) [No reason Alexander to be encouraged unless he was Greek himself. Another undisputable evidence of his Greekness]

he [Alexander] managed to extend it round the enemy’s left, outflanked it, and fighting in the foremost ranks, put the barbarians to flight.

(Plut. 7.20) [The distinction between Macedonians and Barbarians is obvious]

It was here that the Macedonians received their first taste of gold and silver and women and of the luxury of the Barbarian way of life.

(Plut 7.24) [Macedonians couldn’t receive their first taste of the luxury of the Barbarian way of life if they were Barbarians themselves]

he [Alexander] dashed to the nearest camp fire, dispatched with his dagger the two barbarians who were sitting by it

(Plut. 7.24) [Another evidence Macedonians were Greeks and certainly not Barbarians]

One day a casket was brought to him which was regarded by those who were in charge of Darius’ baggage and treasure as the most valuable item of all and so Alexander asked his friends what he should keep in it as his own most precious possession. Many different suggestions were put forward, and finally Alexander said he intended to keep his copy of Iliad there.

(Plut. 7.26) [Alexander’s love for anything Greek was overwhelming. He considered Iliad as his most precious possession.]

According to this story, after Alexander had conquered Egypt, he was anxious to found a great and populous Greek city there, to be called after him.

(Plut. 7.26) [Alexander as a Greek himself founded Greek cities]

Others say that the Priest, who wished as a mark of courtesy to address him with the Greek Phrase ‘O, paidion’ (O, My son)…

(Plut. 7.27)

On this occasion, Alexander gave a long address to the Thessalians and the rest of the Greeks. They acclaimed by shouting for him to lead them against the barbarians and at this he shifted his lance into his left hand, so Callisthenes tells us, and raising his right be called upon the gods and prayed that he were really the son of Zeus they should protect and encourage the Greeks.

(Plut. 7.33) [Greek soldiers couldn’t have shouted to Alexander to lead them against the Barbarians if he and his Macedonians were Barbarians themselves. Alexander’s pray includes Macedonians to the rest of Greeks.]

During the advance across Persis the Greeks massacred great numbers of their prisoners, and Alexander has himself recorded that he gave orders for the Persians to be slaughtered because he thought that such an example would help his cause.

(Plut. 7.37) [Macedonians are recorded by Plutarch as Greeks]

Alexander stopped and spoke to it [Xerxes Statue] as though it was alive. ‘Shall I pass by and leave you lying there because of the expedition you led against Greece, or shall I set you up again because of your magnanimity and your virtues in other respects?’

(Plut. 7.37) [Xerxes statue was toppled by Macedonians and was left in the ground. This spontaneous action of Macedonians, plus Alexander’s words reveal how much Macedonians wanted to revenge Persia through this Panhellenic expedition.]

Demaratus the Corinthian, who was much attached to Alexander, as he had been to his father, began to weep, as old men are apt to do, and exclaimed that any Greek who had died before that day had missed one of the greatest pleasures in life by not seeing Alexander seated on the throne of Darius.

(Plut. 7.37) [Greeks wouldn’t have missed this great pleasure in life to see Alexander seated on Darius throne if he wasn’t Greek himself]

From this point he advanced into Parthia, and it was here during a pause in the campaign that he first began to wear barbarian dress.

(Plut. 7.45) [So Macedonian dresses were Hellenic since in Parthia was the FIRST time Alexander began to wear BARBARIAN dresses]

However he didn’t go so far as to adopt the Median costume, which was altogether barbaric and outlandish.

(Plut. 7.45) [More evidence of the Greekness of Macedonians. The remark about the Median costume being Barbaric wouldn’t make sense if Macedonian costume was Barbaric too. Here we have another distinction between Barbaric and Macedonian (Greek) costume]

For this reason he [Alexander] selected thirty thousand boys and gave orders that they should be taught to speak the Greek language and to use Macedonian weapons and he appointed a large number of instructors to train them.

(Plut. 7.47) [Alexander spread everywhere the Greek language since he was a Greek himself. There is no reason or even an example of a conqueror in classical ages to spread a “foreign” language but solely his own.]

The barbarians were encouraged by the feeling of partnership which their alliance created, and they were completely won over by Alexander’s moderation and courtesy.

(Plut. 7.47) [Again a clear distinction between barbarians and Macedonians]

After the company had drunk a good deal somebody began to sing the verse of a man named Pranichus which had been written to humiliate and make fun of some Macedonian commanders who had recently been defeated by the Barbarians.

(Plut. 7.50) [The distinction between Macedonian commanders and Barbarians is more than obvious]

Callisthenes then turned to the other side of the picture and delivered a long list of home truths about the Macedonians, pointing out that the rise of Philip’s power had been brought about by the divisions among the rest of the Greeks,

(Plut. 7.53) [The evidence of the Greekness of Macedonians is striking. Macedonians and the rest of Greeks]

In the meantime Demaratus of Corinth, although he was by now an old man, was eager to visit Alexander and when the king had received him Demaratus declared that those Greeks who had died before they could see Alexander seated on the throne of Darius had missed one of the greatest pleasures in the world.

(Plut. 7.56) [No reason for those Greeks to “miss one of the greatest pleasures in the world when they when they would see Alexander seated in Darius throne if Alexander was not Greek]

For example he put to death Menander, one of the Companions because he had been placed in command of a garrison and had refused to remain there, and he shot down with his own hand one the Barbarians named Orsodates who had rebelled against him .

(Plut. 7.57) [Clear distinction between the Macedonian Menander and the Barbarian Orsodates.]

He [Alexander] also set up altars for the gods of Greece and eve down to the present day the kings of the Praesii whenever they cross the river do honour to these and offer sacrifice on them in the Greek fashion.

(Plut. 7.62) [Another evidence Alexander and Macedonians worshipped the Greek Pantheon]

The ladder was smashed so that no more Macedonians could join him and the barbarians began to gather inside along the bottom of the wall and to shoot at him from below.

(Plut. 7.63) [Clear distinction between the Macedonians and Barbarians]

Both men were wounded and Limnaeus was killed, but Peucestas stood firm wile Alexander killed the Barbarian with his own hand. But he was wounded over and over again and at last received a blow on the neck from a club which forced him to lean against the wall, although he still faced his assailants, At this moment the Macedonians swarmed round him..

(Plut. 7.63) [Clear distinction between the Macedonians and Barbarians]

Nevertheless the prince Taxiles was able to persuade Clanaus to visit Alexander. His real name was Pshines but because he greeted everyone he met not with the Greek salutation chairete but with the Indian word cale, the Greeks called him Calanus.

(Plut. 7.65)

Not long afterwards Alexander discovered that the tomb of Cyrus had been plundered and had the offender put to death, even though he was a prominent Macedonian from Pella named Polymachus. When he read the inscription on the tomb he ordered it to be repeated below in Greek characters.

(Plut. 7.69)

The thirty thousand boys whom he had left behind to be given a Greek education and military training had now grown into active and handsome men and had developed a wonderful skill and agility in their military exercises.

(Plut. 7.71)

The other, Cassander, had only lately arrived in Babylon and when he saw some of the barbarians prostrate themselves before the king he burst into loud and disrespectful laughter for he had been brought up as a Greek and had never seen such a spectacle in his life.

(Plut. 7.74)

Plutarch, on the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander

But he said, `If I were not Alexandros, I should be Diogenes’; that is to say: `If it were not my purpose to combine barbarian things with things Hellenic, to traverse and civilize every every continent, to search out the uttermost parts of land and sea, to push the bounds of Macedonia to the farthest Ocean, and to diseminate and shower the blessings of the Hellenic justice and peace over every nation, I should not be content to sit quietly in the luxury of idle power, but I should emulate the frugality of Diogenes. But as things are, forgive me Diogenes, that I imitate Herakles, and emulate Perseus, and follow in the footsteps of Dionysos, the divine author and progenitor of my family, and desire that victorius Hellenes should dance again in India and revive the memory of the Bacchic revels among the savage mountain tribes beyond the Kaukasos…’

 (Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander, 332 a-b)

Yet through Alexander, Bactria and the Caucasus learned to revere the gods of the Hellenes … Alexander established more than seventy cities among savage tribes, and sowed all Asia with Hellenic magistracies … Egypt would not have its Alexandria, nor Mesopotamia its Seleucia, nor Sogdiana its Prophthasia, nor India its Bucephalia, nor the Caucasus a Hellenic city, for by the founding of cities in these places savagery was extinguished and the worse element, gaining familiarity with the better, changed under its influence.’

(Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander, I, 328D, 329A) 

It is related that the first time he sat on the throne of Persia under the canopy of goled, Demaratus the Corinthian, who was much attached to him and had been one of his father’s friends, wept, in and old man’s manner, and deplored the misfortune OF THOSE GREEKS WHOM DEATH HAD DEPRIVED OF THE SATISFACTION OF SEEING ALEXANDER SEATED ON THE THRONE OF DARIUS.

What spectator… would not exclaim… that through Fortune the foreign host was prevailing beyond its deserts, but through Virtue the Hellenes were holding out beyond their ability? And if the ones [i.e., the enemy] gains the upper hand, this will be the work of Fortune or of some jealous deity or of divine retribution; but if the others [i.e. the Hellenes] prevail, it will be Virtue and daring, friendship and fidelity, that will win the guerdon of victory? these were, in fact, the only support that Alexander had with him at this time, since Forune had put a barrier between him and the rest of his forces and equipment, fleets, horse, and camp. Finally, the Macedonians routed the barbarians, and, when they had fallen, pulled down their city on their heads.

(Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander, 344 e-f)

Again, however, Fortune stirred up Thebes against him, and thrust in his pathway a war with Greeks, and the dread necessity of punishing, by means of slaughter and fire and sword, men that were his kith and kin, a necessity which had a most unpleasant ending.

(Plutarch, Virtue, 11)