Home of the Ancient Macedonians

Home of the Ancient Macedonians

The area around the Pierian Mountains and the northern foothills of Mount Olympus formed the original core of the ancient Macedonian homeland. This region was at one time known as "MACEDONIS" (Macedonia proper) and it was from here that the Macedonians of old burst into history and embarked on a steady road of expansion which eventually brought them, and Hellenic culture, to the furthest reaches of the known world.

The Pierian Mountains, known also in antiquity as the "Mace Oman Mountain", were believed to be the haunt of the famed Muses, vying for this honour with the Helicon region of Boiotia. Certainly one of the most ancient cults of the Muses was in Pieria. The Muses were the nine Greek goddesses of the fine arts and sciences. They were: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (love poetry and hymns), Euterpe (lyric poetry and the flute), Melpomene (tragedy), Polymnia (sacred song and the mimic art), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry) and Urania (astronomy).

At the foot of Mount Olympus lay the town of Dion (named in honour of Zeus), the religious capital of the Macedonians. Here the Macedonians made offerings to the Olympian Gods for the preservation and prevalence of Macedonian arms in coming battles. Modern historians believe that an early version of the Olympic Games may have been held nearby.

Herakleia (the city of Herakles; later renamed Platamon) was the southernmost frontier post of Macedonia proper. It was named in honour of the demi-god Herakles (Hercules) from whom the Macedonian royal dynasty (the Argeodai) traced descent and, through him, ultimately to Zeus.

Aegae was the first capital of the Macedonian kingdom. It lay near the modern village of Vergina where in 1977 the magnificent tomb of king Philip (the father of Alexander the Great) was unearthed. Originally a Phrygian site called Edesso, it fell very early to the Macedonians who renamed it Aegae. The capital of the Macedonian kingdom was later transferred some 35 kilometres north-east to Pella (the Greek name given by the Macedonians to an earlier Illyrian Site, Bounomia) but Macedonian kings continued to be buried at Aegac. Legend held that the Argeadai dynasty would come to an end if any of its members was not buried at Aegac. This prophecy was fulfilled with the death of Alexander in 323 BC. He was buried in Alexandria, Egypt.

Aegae itself is a place-name which is quite common in the ancient Greek world. Apart from being the name of the first capital of the ancient Macedonian kingdom, it was also the name of an ancient Greek city in Aeolia (Asia Minor), a town on the Corinthian Gulf in Achaia and a town on the northwest coast of the island of Euboea. Similarly the name Pella, the capital of classical Macedonia, appears in other regions of the ancient Greek world. Towns of this name existed, for example, in both Thessaly and Achaia. The word Pella appears to be related to the Spartan - Apella" which fundamentally means 'a place of assembly".

As it traditionally stopped at the Aliakmon river, the Slavic definition of Macedonia excluded Pieria. After all, this was an area overwhelmingly populated by Greeks, even according to the most ambitious~ Slavic ethnography. However, the recent archaeological focus on this region and the growing acknowledgment of its central nature in the ancient Macedonian kingdom has, not surprisingly, encouraged the Slavomacedonians to embrace it also as part of their imagined patrimony and to include it within the dream frontiers of their "traditional" land.

In 1979, in an article published in Skopie, the Slavomacedonian historian Hristo Andonovski "graciously" conceded that the finds at Vergina were in Greek ethnographic territory, that is, in territory that even Slav and pro-Slav ethnographers accepted as being inhabited by Greeks. However, he expressed considerable doubt that the place where the magnificent tomb had just been discovered was actually at the site of Aegae - despite the fact it accords perfectly with ancient accounts of its location. (In fact, the British historian Nicholas Hammond, on the basis of ancient sources, predicted its location in the vicinity of Palatitsa[Vergina more than a decade before the excavations of 1977; see Appendix). Andonovslti was so convinced that he ventured to make this bold statement:

"If the hypothesis proved to be true, if the capital of the ancient Macedonian kingdom were to be found in Vergina and not in Voden, we ourselves would put forth an argument for the continuity of Greek culture within the Macedonian space, supporting the notion that ancient Macedonia had Greek ethnic origins.

Andonovski pointed out that, for one thing, no theatre had been discovered anywhere in the area. referring to the well known fact that king Philip was assassinated in the theatre of Aegae during the wedding celebrations of his daughter...

It has since been put beyond doubt that Vergina is the site of Aegae, the first capital of ancient Macedonia. Today few historians of any standing disagree.

Further discoveries in the area, including a large number of broken stelae (grave markers) dating from the fourth and fifth centuries BC, serve to underscore this fact. These stelae were intentionally smashed when the royal cemetery, which was in the middle of graves of ordinary people, was plundered by mercenary Gauls about 274 BC. The names on these Macedonian gravestones were, without exception, Greek names; a fact which points unequivocally to the Greek nature of this ancient people both its royalty and its commoners.

In what is evidently a conscious effort to ignore these uncomfortable facts, one Slavomacedonian car-sticker presently doing the rounds in Australia, ambitiously and absurdly demands (!) that a "'Macedonian' museum be established at Vergina". Of course by "Macedonian" the sticker refers to the Slavomacedonians, a people completely unrelated to the ancient people whose heritage they ludicrously claim.

It is important to stress how irrelevant Andonovski's line of thinking was anyway. Even if the discoveries were made in the center of the FYROM, it would not change the fact that they relate to an ancient Greek people - the Macedonians. Just as Greek ruins in present-day Turkey had nothing to do with the Turks (also later invaders), so too Greek antiquities amongst Slavs would still be Greek antiquities.

The theatre whose absence Andonovski so triumphantly pointed to in 1979 was unearthed in 1982. Greeks therefore feel justified in asking whether Andonovski is now on their side on matters of ancient Macedonian history...

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