Macedonia (6)

Macedonia: ancient landscape and state, situated in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and northern Greece, best known because its king Alexander the Great (r.336-323) conquered the Persian Empire and inaugurated a new period in Greek history.


Alexander the Great

Alexander had been raised at an international court. One of his teachers had been Aristotle, who had told the crown prince that he should treat the Greeks and Macedonians as his equals, and the Persians who he wanted to conquer as subjects. Alexander followed Aristotle's advice. Although he sacked the Greek city of Thebes (text), he entrusted important commands to Greeks like Erigyius, being more generous to the Greeks than his father had been.

Political reasons played a role. The Asian campaign officially was a panhellenic ("all-Greek") enterprise to punish the Persians for their attack on Greece in 480-479. To some extent, this was empty propaganda - the Macedonians were the last ones who could punish the people they had once loyally supported. On the other hand, Alexander had been educated as a Greek. Accepting the Greeks as equals must have been his natural attitude.

From their side, the Greeks finally opened the Olympic Games to all Macedonians, who were now fully recognized as Greeks. Again, this must have had much to do with politics, but on the other hand, it was hard to deny that the Macedonian kings had hellenized at least the elite of their country, which must have been bilingual and showed sincere interest in Greek culture. And it could not be denied that during the Asian war, Greek and Macedonian interests coincided. Accepting each other must have been uneasy, but was a simple recognition of facts.

In 334, Alexander crossed the Hellespont and started the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire, which was finished by 330, when the last Persian king, Darius III Codomannus, was killed. After this, he conquered modern Uzbekistan and Pakistan, returned, and died in Babylon on 11 June 323. He was succeeded by his brother Philip III Arridaeus. The story is told elsewhere.

For Macedonia, the successes of Alexander had disastrous consequences. He needed many soldiers and repeatedly had to ask for reinforcements, which his governor in Europe, Antipater, was not always able to send. For example, between 333 and 330, Greece was unquiet because the Spartan king Agis III tried to expel the Macedonian garrisons. Antipater needed the soldiers himself. By the end of Alexander's reign, the Macedonian army in Europe was crippled by serious manpower shortage, and after the death of the great conqueror, the Greeks achieved some spectacular successes during their war of liberation, the Lamian War (or "Greek War", as it was called back then). Antipater even needed reinforcements from Asia, led by Craterus, to restore Macedonia's control of Greece.

Another result of Alexander's spectacular conquests was the creation of new kingdoms: the Seleucid Empire in Asia and the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt and Syria. The military elite of these oversea empires initially tried to retain its Macedonian character. For example, the political body of the European settlers in Babylon was called peliganes, a Macedonian word, and not gerousia, as a Greek would have called it. However, there were simply not enough Macedonians. If the conquerors were to maintain control of their new territories, the Greeks had to have equal rights, which they soon received.

Men like Alexander and his successors, who had received a Greek education and sometimes claimed to descend from legendary Greek heroes, were responsible for the expansion of Greek culture to the east. They accepted the Greeks as partners in rule. At the same time, the Greeks accepted the Macedonians as one of the Greek nations.

What in fact happened was the creation of a new type of Greekness. One was not only born as Greek, but could also become a Greek by accepting a Greek education. The Macedonians were the first ones to be assimilated, but Egyptians, Jews, and Babylonians followed, and later, Romans and Gauls were also accepted as "culture Greeks". This process has a parallel in the loss of political influence, which is the subject of the next part of this article.