Historically speaking the FYROM occupies an area that was
peripheral to the Macedonian kingdom of antiquity. The great bulk of its
territory covers regions that were once mainly inhabited by an assortment of
Thracian and Illyrian tribes (see Map 2). The region to the east of the
Vardar, the river which practically divides the FYROM in two, was inhabited by a
Thracian people known as the Poconions. The Paeonians were largely
hellenised by the time of the Slavs' arrival late in the sixth century AD. The
northern and western regions of this state were inhabited by various Illyrian
tribes, the most powerful of which were the Dardonions. In fact Skopje,
the capital of the FYROM, is firmly situated in the old Dardanian territory.
Only the south-western corner of the FYROM,
comprising about 10% of the FYROM's territory constituted a part of Macedonia
proper it was inhabited by the Greek-speaking pelagones (or Pelagonians)
and other smaller and more obscure Greek tribes such as the Derriops, Argesmi
and Neopoliroi. This area as a whole was known as Pelagonia, a name retained
(as Pelagonia) by the Slavophones, perhaps to bolster their claim to
historical continuity in the area.
the Pelagonians like many other Greek-speaking tribes of what became known as
'Upper Macedonia", such as the Oresrions, Elimejans, Tymphoeans and
Lynkesrions (see Map 3), were counted as Epirotic or Molossian tribes. They
had much in common with the archaic Greek culture of Epirus. Together with the
Epirot tribes proper they formed a broad cultural continuum straddling the
Pindus mountain range. The geographer Strabo (64 BC - c. 21 AD) remarked that
some earlier authors regarded the area as a single cultural unit on the basis of
a similar dialect ("North-west Greek"), tonsure and a short cloak known in Greek
as the chiamys.
In antiquity the most important town of
the region was situated a few kilometres from today's Bitola (Monastir) and was
called, in the typical fashion of the Dorian Greeks, Heraelcia - the city of
Herakles (Hercules). It was situated in that small part of ancient Lynkestis
that now lies within the FYROM (the major part of Lynkestis is in Greece).
Around 483 BC, the Argeodoi Makedones
(the original Macedonians themselves) incorporated Pelagonia and the rest of
"Upper Macedonia" into their kingdom. It was only then that the whole area
became politically "Macedonian". This conquest was part of a process of
expansion which commenced when the Macedonians "outgrew" their homeland in the
hill country of Pieria sometime in the middle of the sixth century BC. This
homeland, once known as Makedonk, was situated in the northern foothills
of Mount Olympus.
And later came the Slavs
"Three years after the death of Justin 11,
under Tiberius, the cursed nation of Slavs campaigned, overran all Hellas, the
country of the Thessalon ions and all Thrace taking many towns and forts, and
devastated and bunit and reduced the people to slavery and made themselves
masters of the whole country and dwelt there in ia/l liberty and withoutlear as
if it had been their own." (John of Ephesus, 585
Today's Slavomacedonians are largely the
product of the late sixth century AD Slavonic invasion of the greater part of
the Balkan peninsula pessimistically described in the preceding quote by the
contemporary chronicler John of Ephesus. This invasion, or rather a series of
invasions, took place over nine centuries after the reigns of Philip and
Alexander the Great.
The Slavic tribes that settled in
Macedonia included the Dragoviti (interestingly, a tribe with that very
name existed in the vicinity of Minsk in Belarus), the Sagudati, the
Bursyatsi, the Strum/jani and the Rinhini (the last two
receiving their names from the rivers on whose banks they settled).
Slavic settlements were heaviest in the
northern areas of Macedonia where the original population was either destroyed
or made good its escape. Those few survivors who may have remained were in time
probably assimilated by the Slavs. The often quoted high incidence of Greek loan
words in local Slavic relating to everyday agricultural and domestic life, is
indicative of an early cohabitation and bilingual coexistence in the region.
This was the case long before the later imposition of more conceptual Greek
words by the Greek Church and Greek education.
The old Greek population (descendants of
the ancient Macedonians) fared better in the south and in the larger towns such
as Kastoria, Verria and Serres. The capital and largest city of the region,
Thessaloniki (or Salonika), remained unconquered by the Slavs throughout its
history. Its inhabitants attributed their success against repeated Slavic sieges
and attacks to the divine intervention of the warrior-saint Demetrias, the
patron and defender of the city. At times of great peril many Salonikans swore
they had actually seen the Saint, a brilliant figure in a streaming white cloak
mounted on his white charger, raising tempests against enemy fleets and
spreading panic among besieging hordes from the ramparts. The annual festival in
his honour was the city's biggest event and from late October the "Demetria"
festival, as it is known, is celebrated throughout Greece and Greek emigre
Curiously, and perhaps as a result of the
Saint's intervention (!), the Greek army liberated Salonika on the eve of the
Demetria in 1912 and on the day of the festival itself (October26) the Turks
signed the protocol of surrender. Consequently this date has taken on an even
greater significance for Salonikans.
Bulgarians into "Macedonians"
The Slavs who settled in Macedonia owed
their primary allegiance to their individual tribes and, short of an awareness
of collectively being "Slavs" (Sloveni, a people not confined to
Macedonia), did not develop a specific sense of a unique ethnic identity until
well into the twentieth century.
When the warlike Bulgars (originally a
Tartar group) arrived on the scene in the 680's AD, they rapidly dominated the
Slavs of the east-central Balkans including Macedonia's Slavs. Historically all
these Slavs came to be counted as "Bulgars". The original Bulgars were rapidly
assimilated by their much more numerous Slavic subjects so that little more than
their tribal name survives. The modern Bulgarians are certainly a Slavic people.