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N.G.L. Hammond

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"The language spoken by these early Macedonians has become a controversial issue in modern times. It seems not to have been so in antiquity. As we have seen, Hesiod made Magnes and Macedon first cousins of the Hellenes, and he therefore regarded them as speakers of a dialect (or dialects) of the Greek language. That he was correct in the case of the Magnetes has been proved by the discovery of early inscriptions in an Aeolic dialect in their area of eastern Thessaly. Then, late in the fifth century a Greek historian, Hellanicus, who visited the court of Macedonia, made the father of Macedon not Zeus but Aeolus, a thing which he could not have done unless he knew that the Macedonians were speaking an Aeolic dialect of Greek. A remarkable confirmation of their Greek speech comes from the Persians, who occupied Macedonia as part of their conquests in Europe c.510-480. [...] Disagreements over this issue have developed for various reasons. In the second half of the fifth century Thucydides regarded the semi-nomadic, armed northerners of Epirus and western Macedonia as "barbarians", and he called them such in his history of events in 429 and 423. The word was understood by some scholars to mean "non-Greek-speakers" rather than "savages." They were shown to be mistaken in 1956, when inscriptions of 370-68, containing lists of Greek personal names and recording in the Greek language some acts of the Molossians, were found at Dodona in Epirus. This discovery proved beyond dispute that one of Thucydides "barbarian" tribes" of Epirus, the Molossians, was speaking Greek at the time of which he was writing. Demosthenes too called the Macedonians "barbarians" in the 340s. That this was merely a term of abuse has been proved recently by the discovery at Aegae (Vergina) of seventy-four Greek names and one Thracian name on funerary headstones inscribed in Greek letters.
"The Miracle That Was Macedonia", Palgrave Macmillan (September 1991)

N.G.L. Hammond

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What language did these Macedones speak? The name itself is Greek in root and in ethnic termination. It probably means highlanders, and it is comparable to Greek tribal names such as `Orestai' and `Oreitai', meaning 'mountain-men'. A reputedly earlier variant, `Maketai', has the same root, which means `high', as in the Greek adjective makednos or the noun mekos. The genealogy of eponymous ancestors which Hesiod recorded [] has a bearing on the question of Greek speech. First, Hesiod made Macedon a brother of Magnes; as we know from inscriptions that the Magnetes spoke the Aeolic dialect of the Greek language, we have a predisposition to suppose that the Macedones spoke the Aeolic dialect. Secondly, Hesiod made Macedon and Magnes first cousins of Hellen's three sons - Dorus, Xouthus, and Aeolus-who were the founders of three dialects of Greek speech, namely Doric, Ionic, and Aeolic. Hesiod would not have recorded this relationship, unless he had believed, probably in the seventh century, that the Macedones were a Greek speaking people. The next evidence comes from Persia. At the turn of the sixth century the Persians described the tribute-paying peoples of their province in Europe, and one of them was the `yauna takabara', which meant `Greeks wearing the hat'. There were Greeks in Greek city-states here and there in the province, but they were of various origins and not distinguished by a common hat. However, the Macedonians wore a distinctive hat, the kausia. We conclude that the Persians believed the Macedonians to be speakers of Greek. Finally, in the latter part of the fifth century a Greek historian, Hellanicus, visited Macedonia and modified Hesiod's genealogy by making Macedon not a cousin, but a son of Aeolus, thus bringing Macedon and his descendants firmly into the Aeolic branch of the Greek-speaking family. Hesiod, Persia, and Hellanicus had no motive for making a false statement about the language of the Macedonians, who were then an obscure and not a powerful people. Their independent testimonies should be accepted as conclusive.

N.G.L. Hammond

Our understanding of the Macedonians' emergence into history is confounded by two events: the establishment of the Macedonians as an identifiable ethnic group, and the foundation of their ruling house. The "highlanders" or "Makedones" of the mountainous regions of western Macedonia are derived from northwest Greek stock; they were akin both to those who at an earlier time may have migrated south to become the historical "Dorians", and to other Pindus tribes who were the ancestors of the Epirotes or Molossians. That is, we may suggest that northwest Greece provided a pool of Indo-European speakers of Proto-Greek from which were drawn the tribes who later were known by different names as they established their regional identities in separate parts of the country... First, the matter of the Hellenic origins of the Macedonians: Nicholas Hammond's general conclusion (though not the details of his arguments) that the origin of the Macedonians lies in the pool of proto-Greek speakers who migrated out of the Pindus mountains during the Iron Age, is acceptable.

Eugene N. Borza

That the Macedonians were of Greek stock seems certain. The claim made by the Argead dynasty to be of Argive descent may be no more than a generally accepted myth, but Macedonian proper names, such as Ptolemaios or Philippos, are good Greek names, and the names of the Macedonian months, although differed from those of Athens or Sparta, were also Greek. The language spoken by the Macedonians, which Greeks of the classical period found unintelligible, appears to have been a primitive north-west Greek dialect, much influenced by the languages of the neighboring barbarians.

J.R. Hamilton

Here we have seen that their early history is still largely an open question. They may have had Greek origins: Whatever process produced the Greek-speakers (of that is how one defines "Greek") who lived south of Olympus may have also produced the Makedones who wandered out of the western mountains to establish a home and a kingdom in Pieria.

Eugene N. Borza

Certainly the Thracians and the Illyrians were non-Greek speakers, but in the northwest, the peoples of Molossis (Epirot province), Orestis and Lynkestis spoke West Greek. It is also accepted that the Macedonians spoke a dialect of Greek and although they absorbed other groups into their territory, they were essentially Greeks.

Robert Morkot
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