ORIGIN OF THE MACEDONIAN ROYAL HOUSE
Excerpt from "The Hellenism of the Ancient Macedonians" Apostolos Dascalakis, Professor, University of Athens (Institute for Balkan Studies, Thessalonica, 1965) (Ed. M.D.Stratis)
The founding of the Macedonian kingdom and the ancestor of its
royal house are both veiled in the mists of prehistoric Greek antiquity. Greeks
belonging to the 5th century B.C. city-states first came into direct contact
their brethren who were isolated among the barbarians north of Olympus and
Pindus, mainly after the Persian Wars (499-479 B.C.) and more so during their
subsequent quarrels during the Peloponnesian War (431-404
B.C.), many events of which took place on Macedonian soil among the Chalcidice
But this was some centuries distant from the foundation of the state of Macedonia. During the centuries, poetic legends and traditions had arisen and given the classical Greeks a basis on which to account for and interpret Macedonia's historical past. Herodotus and Thucydides, the foremost historians of the 5th century, limit themselves to these traditions whenever they happen to speak of the Macedonians' past and the foundations of their realm, while Euripides makes of the Macedonian legend, as he does of others belonging to Greek prehistory, a subject for dramatic poetry. Historians, chroniclers and biographers from the middle of the 4th century on, caught up in the dazzle of events almost beyond human ken, which occurred during the reigns of Philip II and Alexander the Great, destined to change the fate of Greece and the whole course of her history, had but to collect, or on occasion to link in a more fascinating way, the legends and traditions concerning the founder of the glorious, and by then renowned Argaed dynasty, to the beginning of the state, for which so splendid a destiny has been reserved.
As was natural, modern historical research has been devoted since the last century to studying this question of the founding of the Macedonian kingdom and the origin of its royal house with the keenest interest, the more so for its close affinity with the whole ethnological subject of ancient Macedonia and its people.
Greek popular legends of antiquity, which reflect beliefs and in many cases facts whose historical root is lost in centuries past, attributed divine origins to the most prominent royal houses of the prehistoric and early historical
period. Traditions developed from these myths placed the kingly house of Aegae (Vergina) in Macedonia among the Heracleid Temenids, thus linking it "warp and woof" with the full cycle of archaic Hellenism's sagas.
It can be considered certain that the kings of Macedonia did not shape these traditions of their descent from the Heracleids of Argos, drawing them from Greek literature of classical times, nor made them up to imitate the myths
current in Greek cities about the divine descent of their most illustrious regal families, but had cherished them, handed down from one generation to another since time immemorial, as the Lares and Penates of their hearths and folk. In fact, when shortly before the Persian Wars the kings of Macedonia appeared on the Greek historical scene, they themselves announced their origin, proudly proclaiming the Argaead legends as their very own, unquestionably so on the ground of a family tradition centuries old.
Ancient Traditions about the First Argaead King As the first written record of the Greek legend about the Macedonian Argaeads we may regard Aeschylus' lines in the play "The Suppliants," where the poet introduces Pelasgus, king of Argos, common ancestor of the Doric branch of Greeks, boasting that his race rules as far as the pure waters of the Strymon (end note 1). On the basis of the age-long legend handed down by the Greeks from prehistorical times, Aeschylus indirectly proclaims the descent of the Macedonians from the Doric branch and directly tells us about their origin from the Argive Heracleids, as those who ruled "the land of the Perrhaibians," "beyond Pindus," "near the Paeonians," "in the Dodona mountains" and "all the territory through which the pure Strymon flows."
Because of the generally believed descent of these people from the Dorians, who claimed Pelasgus as their common ancestor and revered Heracles as their nonpareil national hero, Aeschylus with poetic elation somewhat broadens the legend about the Argaeads, to include the peoples of Thessaly and Epirus, whose royal families had their own traditions of descent from the gods. But it is clear that it chiefly concerns those living between Pindus, the Dodona mountains and the Strymon, in other words the Macedonians whose royal house traced its descent to the Argive Temenids. Thus, the poet who is the bearer par excellence of pan-Hellenic traditions and ideals, the fighter at Salamis and singer of the all-Greek surge against the invader from Asia, believes Macedonia to be a Greek land, and broadcasts its royal house's descent, according to Greek legend, from the Hellenic pantheon.
But Herodotus, the father of history, himself hands on to us the legend of Macedonia's Argaeo-Temenids in no uncertain way. What is more, he does not confine himself to one graphic vivid account, but repeats or alludes to
this saga at many points of his work, in order to interpret historical facts or support the thread of his own narrative.
According to his version of the story, three brothers descended from the Heracleid Temenos, who founded the Heracleid dynasty of Argos, namely Gauanes, Aeropus and Perdiccas, left Argos and went to Illyria, whence they
reached Upper Macedonia and were employed as shepherds by the king of the small city of Lebaea. This monarch, warned by divine portents of the future glory destined for the youngest brother Perdiccas - the bread baked for him by the queen swelled to double its size - sent them away, giving them in mockery the sun which came through the chimney hole as their wages. Young Perdiccas circumscribed the space occupied by the sun with a knife and with symbolic gestures put it three times in his pockets, clearly meaning that he was taking possession of the region. The king, realizing rather late what the youth had implied, sent horsemen after the fugitives to slay them. But the three brothers succeeded in crossing a river, which immediately after miraculously flooded, so that it became impassable to the horsemen. In this fashion the Temenids of Argos were saved and settled near the so-called "Gardens of Midas" beside Mount Bermion, where Perdiccas, the youngest, became founder of the Macedonian kingdom's dynasty, with Aegae for its capital (2).
Unlike later authors who have preserved traditions about the first Argaeads, Herodotus does not speak of warlike operations or other exploits of the first Argaead king of Macedonia. He says nothing of Aegae, the capital of the
newly founded kingdom, as having been captured by assault, but rather leaves it implied that they themselves built it in that flowery region of the "gardens of Midas." The three Argaead brothers were being led to their lofty destiny by the gods and the foundation of the Macedonian state by Perdiccas, the youngest of them, appears not as a military achievement but as the work of divine providence. Thus the tradition kept for us by Herodotus, a local
Macedonian one in all respects (Herodotus himself interposes "as the Macedonians say" in his story; this shows it was a local tradition), does not try to give a down to earth interpretation of the realm's origins and of its Argaead dynasty, but cloaks the whole matter with the glamour of supernatural power, as an act of the gods' will.
Even though Herodotus does not precisely mention Aegae, or that the region which the Argaeads either captured or settled was in Emathia, the admirable description of the gardens - where sixty-petal roses of rare fragrance grew wild - leaves us in no doubt that he referred to that area, which to this day the abundant waters pouring in headlong torrents turn into a park abloom with flowers and fruit-trees, an earthly paradise. In addition, Herodotus' statement that "a mountain called Bermion overhangs the gardens and is impassable during the winter," tallies with this region which does indeed lie under snow-covered Vermion (its name now).
No stranger to Greek tradition is Midas of Gordion, the figure found in Herodotus either as lord of the region or former occupant of the wondrous gardens which bore his name, also mentioned by the historian Justin as having been evicted by the Argaeads (3). He is a personage half way between legend and reality, and evoked the admiration of the Greeks who included him in their national mythology though he was a Phrygian. Herodotus sets the legend of Silenus' capture by Midas in these gardens of Emathia, while Xenophon and Pausanias refer to Thymbrium in Asia Minor as the scene of the event (4). Herodotus also tells us that Midas had presented to Delphi the famous royal throne on which he sat to dispense justice (5).
Thus preserved by Herodotus out of local tradition, the name of that mythical Phrygian king, who won the admiration of the Greeks for his wealth and wisdom, is tied up with that of the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, as is that of the equally revered king Pheidon of Argos through other legends.
Herodotus affirms in the same account that even in his day the members of the Argaead royal family went to sacrifice beside the river which had saved their ancestors the Heracleids, founders of their dynasty, when they came from Argos. This means that the tradition had long been deep-rooted in Macedonia, interwoven with the whole national growth of the Macedonians for centuries already. It must not be forgotten that in Herodotus' time and even more so during that of Alexander I the Philhellene, and of the Persian Wars, when this tradition concerning the kings of Macedonia was first officially brought to the fore, there was no close cultural contact between Athens and that country, nor had the Macedonian court yet become a center for men of letters and artists, as it did in the time of Archelaus later on.
Consequently we must reject the theory that this legend was invented by the "hellenizing" kings of Macedonia who worshipped Greek letters and legends. It is unquestionably a local tradition, comparable to that existing in Greece,
perhaps some folk-ballad garnished with the miraculous saving of the three brothers. Herodotus, while including the legend of the royal Macedonian house's origin, culled as is his wont from local sources, at the same time believes in its historical ground and cites it in many parts of his history as proof that the Macedonian kings were Hellenes (6). Thucydides, limiting himself as usual to recognized historical data, when speaking of the Macedonian kings, simply records their descent from the Argive Temenids as something historically accepted in his day (7).
The tradition concerning the migration of the Temenids from Argos to Macedonia first recorded by Herodotus appears often in the works of later authors, particularly those of the Alexandrine and later periods, i.e. since the illustrious house of Aegae had become the pride of the whole Hellenic nation through the exploits of its last scion, Alexander the Great.
Nevertheless, the legends concerning the origin of the Macedonian kings recorded
by later writers merit special attention , since they themselves did not invent
them, but based them on earlier historical, poetical or chronicle
1.Aesch. Suppl. 250 ff.
2.Herod. Hist. VIII, 137-139.
3.The well-known tradition from Euphorion [fr. 15] says simply that Edessa - the Phrygian predecessor of Aegae - "was inhabited in the old days" by the Phrygians who were brought into Europe by Midas, without saying whether Midas was a contemporary of the first Argaead, who expelled him.
4.Herod. VIII, 138; also, Xen. Anab. I, 2, 13, and Paus. I, 4, 5.
5.Herod. I, 14.
6.Herod. V, 22.
7.Thuc. Pelop. II, 99.
8.Theop. in F.H.G. fr. 30, 1, 283.
9.See Jacoby, F. Gr. Hist. vol. II, 2, p. 615 [Geo. Syncell. p. 499, 5] and Diod. VII. frag. 15.
10.Geo. Syncell. p. 373 ; this tradition is found as taken from Diodorus, in the surviving section translated into Latin in Eusebius' Chronicle [Euseb. Chron. I, p. 227, ed. Schoene. See also Diod. fr., bk. VII, No. 15-17, ed. Vogel, vol. II, p. 144 etc.
11.Justini, Historiae Philippicae, VII, 1, 7-12.
12.This very ancient Doric name is also met with in Sparta during the 6th cent. B.C. It is mentioned by Herodotus (VII, 173) as Karenos (Ionic form of Karanos) father of Euanetus, the Lacedaemonian general on the Tempe expedition during the Persian Wars).
13.The name Caranus is not met with in the royal house of Aegae until the time of Philip II, who having already been made commander-in-chief of the Greeks and evidently influenced by the tradition that the Temenid Caranus had founded the royal house, gave it to his newly born son shortly before his death.
14.The Doric forms Caranus, "karenon" (or "karanon") and "karano," are often met with and always with the same meaning of ruler, commander. The exact meaning of the word "kara" is head and thus highest point, summit of a mountain, etc. and "karano" means take to the top. Hence metaphorically the word comes to mean the man at the head, ruler, etc. [Xen. Hell. I, 4, 3]. It is true that according to Hesychius the Cretans called the goat "karano" and the word "karnos" meant a sheep or horn or horned beast. But the attempt to identify the meaning of the words with the name of the first king Caranus as coming from the age of animal worship when Caranus was adored as a goat god is not convincing. The zoolatric tradition had long ceased to influence the Hellenes when Macedonia was founded and the words "karanos" and "koiranos" had definitely taken on the meaning given them in our text. Besides, there is no record of an ancient Macedonian tradition or later reference to words in the Macedonian dialect to support this theory. Thraco-Phrygian animal worship traditions cannot in any circumstance be identified with basic notions in the beginnings of Macedonian history. The tradition about the goats which according to the oracle's prophecy led the first
king may be correlated with Aegae and perhaps with primeval Dorian tradition, but not with Caranus.
15.Hom. Od. I, 247; the verb "koirano" means I am the leader, I rule.
16.Note the tradition handed down by the Roman historian Solinus, according to which Perdiccas was the son
and heir of Caranus, but was also the first to be styled king of Macedonia (C. Julii Solini, Polyistor. IX,10).
17.Paus. III, 15, 9.
18.See article by E. Pandermali-Poulaki "Olympus and the Macedonians" for substantiation of the theory that
Mycenaean colonists settled on Olympus and blended with the Macedonians - listed on Pan-Macedonian Network History selections.
19.Euphor. frag. 30.
20.Paus. IX, 40, 8. Pausanias' interpolation "It is said by the Macedonians" indicates that he did not take this tradition from the earlier writers on whom he drew but collected it on the spot during his travels in Macedonia. According to Pausanias, the sacred rule against erecting trophies existed in pre-classical times among the Peloponnesian Dorians, coupling this common law with Herodotus' information about a Doric and "Makednon" race which lived north of Pindus before emigrating to the Peloponnese.
21.Const. Porphyr. Peri Thematon [ed. Bonn], p. 48.