The most well-documented period of ancient Greek history and probably the best-known era of all Greek history, modern and ancient, is the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BC). The Hellenistic Period was marked by well-detailed sculpture, monumental architecture, excellent literature, and the overall expansion of Greek/Hellenic culture to the Near East. The ancient kingdoms of Egypt and Babylon took on an increasingly Greek character during the Hellenistic Period, but perhaps somewhat ironically the “Greekness” of those who brought Hellenic culture to the east was often questioned.
It is impossible to separate the Hellenistic Period from the ancient Macedonians, as Alexander the Great, who was from Macedon, essentially started the period and his Macedonian generals and successors continued the program of “Hellenization” in the east until the Mediterranean basin was conquered by the Romans. Yet for centuries the Greeks of the classical city-states did not consider the Macedonians as the same people, even if they did speak a dialect of Greek. Born from wandering Indo-European tribes in the early Bronze Age, the Macedonians became a cultural group that was closely related to the Greeks of the city-states in language and culture, yet always a bit different. The Macedonians prized war even more than their Greek cousins and practiced monarchal government long after the city-states began experimenting with republics and democracies.
In order to understand the origins of ancient Macedon and the Macedonian people, it is important to understand how they were related to the Greeks of Athens, Sparta, and the other traditional Greek city-states. The Kingdom of Macedon, sometimes known as Macedonia, was located in what is today the northern part of the nation-state of Greece, but in ancient times its place in the Hellenic world was often dubious. Like the Greeks of the city-states, the Macedonians were descended from Indo-European tribes that migrated to the Balkans in the Late Bronze Age, particularly the Myceneans and the Dorians. Most modern scholars believe the ancient Macedonian language was a dialect of Greek. Hammond, N. G. L. “Macedonians.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Third Edition. Edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pgs. 905-6 The Greek language was a critical element of ancient culture’s identities, but it was not the only factor. More importantly than language, though, the Macedonians shared many cultural affinities and attributes with the Greeks of the city-states.
Categories: Ancient History