The heart of Macedonia

The heart of Macedonia

Although the Slav Macedonians insist on calling their land 'Macedonia" and would like the whole world to recognize the FYROM as such, in reality the heart of Macedonia lies to the south of this former Yugoslav republic in an area where the ancient Macedonian epic was actually played Out. Macedonia of old centered in present day Greek Macedonia and its center of gravity has always been there (see Map 3). It is in Greek Macedonia that all historic capitals of the region can be found: Aegae (at the site of Vergina) the first capital of the "Aegae Mokedones"; their religious centre at Dion in the northern foothills of Mount Olympus; Pella, capital of classical Macedonia and the birthplace of Alexander the Great; and Thessaloniki (Salonika) its medieval and modern capital and the traditional bulwark of Macedonian Hellenism. Founded by Cassander in 316 (or 315 BC) and named after his wife, a half-sister of Alexander, Thessaloniki was referred to as the 'co-Queen" of the Byzantine Empire (the '~Queen" city was Constantinople) and is nowadays regarded as the co-capital (Athens being the capital) of Greece.

The coast of Greek Macedonia, and in particular the Chalkidike peninsula, is the site of numerous southern Greek foundations on what was originally Thracian territory. The town of Stagira in the Chalkidike was the birthplace of Aristotle, who was the tutor of Alexander and one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world. On the easternmost prong of the Chalkidike peninsula is the famous monastic community of Mount Athos (also known as the "Holy Mountain"), which has been a very important centre of Greek Orthodoxy since the early Byzantine period.

Overwhelmingly populated by Greeks, both indigenous and of refugee origin, Greek Macedonia's inhabitants proudly call themselves "Mokedones" (Macedonians) and regard their northern Slavic neighbour's insistence on this label with both contempt and apprehension. Needless to say they viewed the FYROM's attempt to "adopt" the Sunburst with a volatile mixture of disgust and indignation.

Alexander the Great is an enormously powerful symbol and as such (not surprisingly) is also claimed by the Slavs of Macedonia - the descendants of Slavic tribes that invaded much of Macedonia over nine centuries after his reign. Needless to say, for the Greeks, and in particular the Greeks of Macedonia, he is one of the most cherished and ever present historical icons and an enduring source of national pride.

The potential for conflict over this historical figure is therefore obvious. In one of the few speeches that can confidently be attributed to him, and in one of his well known letters, Alexander himself offers his input as to his own "ethnic" Orientation and that of his people

Alexander's address to his troops before the Battle of Issus (333 BC)

Alexander now sent for his infantry and cavalry commanders and all officers in charge of allied troops and appealed to them jar confidence and courage in the coming fight. 'Remember', he said; 'that already danger has often threatened you and you have looked it triumphantly in the face; this time the struggle will be between a victorious army and an enemy already once vanquished. God himself moreover by suggesting to Darius to leave the open ground and cram his great army into a confined space, has taken charge of operations in our behalf: We ourselves shall have room enough to deploy our infantry, while they, no match for us either in bodily strength or resolution, will find their superior numbers of no avail. Our enemies are Medes and Persians, men who for centuries have lived soft and luxurious lives; we of Macedon for generations past have trained in the hard school of danger and war Above all, we are free men, and they are slaves. There are Greek troops, to be sure, in Persian service - but how different is their cause from Ours! They will be fighting for pay - and not much of it at that; we, on the contrary shall fight for Greece, and our hearts will be in it. As for our foreign troops - Thracians, Paeonions, Illyrians, Agrianes - they are the best and stoutest soldiers in Europe, and they will find as their opponents the slackest and softest of the tribes of Asia. And what, finally, of the two men in supreme command? You have Alexander the Darius!..."

Arrian, "Anabasis of Alexander", (Book 11.7).

 

Alexander's response to a letter by Darius, King of Persia (333 BC)

Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us much harm though we had done nothing to provoke them. As supreme commander of the Greeks, I have invaded Asia to take vengeance on Persia for this act..."

Arriun, "Anobasis of Alexander", (Book It 14).

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