July 15, 2009

Andreas Willi on Macedonia

Andreas Willi has written a rebuttal of sorts (pdf) to the letter of the Macedonia Evidence Initiative. It is an extremely interesting piece of doublethink, and as such, it is useful to address in some detail.

Willi (henceforth W.) writes:
The internet documentation which is referred to in the letter may be right when it sees nothing but “a personal grudge” behind Demosthenes’ calling Philip II a “barbarian,” but to cite Herodotus 5.22 as conclusive evidence that Alexander the Great was “thoroughly and indisputably Greek” is seriously misleading, since Herodotus’ statement “I happen to know that [the forefathers of Alexander] are Greek” is triggered precisely by the existence of a dispute over the matter, long before the age of Demosthenes.
Indeed, there was a dispute over the matter, but the key point is that the dispute was resolved in favor of the Macedonian claims of Hellenicity. So, if the Hellanodikai of ancient Olympia accepted the Macedonian king as a Hellene, what reason does W. have to doubt them? Indeed, this acceptance occurred a century and a half at least before the ascent of Macedonians as a great power, so there is no reason to think that the judges' acceptance was the result of pressure.

Thus, we know that Alexander affirmed his Hellenicity --by choosing to compete at the Olympic games-- and this affirmation (and that of his successors who also competed) were affirmed by the other Greeks. We have both a proclamation and an acceptance of his Hellenicity.

W. writes:
As for (b), the question “Why was Greek the lingua franca all over Alexander’s empire if he was a ‘Macedonian’?” cannot be adequately answered with the words “[Because] Alexander the Great was Greek,” given that we have numerous examples of ancient empires in which the lingua franca was not the language of the ruler.
The unnamed examples of "ancient empires" notwithstanding, it is the case that Empires usually spread their own language. The Romans much esteemed Greek as a language of learning, but they spread Latin, not Greek to most of their Empire. Centuries later, the Europeans, who much esteemed Latin, spread Spanish or English to their empires.

Languages are spread by people, and Empires spread the languages of their peoples. What wondrous miracle would result in myriads of Macedonians settling throughout Asia not to leaving a single trace of their non-Hellenic presence? Did the Macedonians decide to abandon their language at precisely the time of their own triumph? A simpler explanation is that they did not.

But, here comes the doublethink, as W. writes of the ancient Paionians:
What is at the core of the letter is a mistaken and unhealthy notion of historical identity. “While it is true that the Paionians were subdued by Philip II, father of Alexander, in 358 B.C. they were not Macedonians and did not live in Macedonia”—but is that really so? How many Paionians did we ask about it, and at what point in history?
Thus, W. questions the letter's statement that the Paionians were not Macedonians. None of the ancient sources ever confuse the two people, or assert that the Paionians were Macedonians. But, let us grant, for the sake of argument, that at some point in their history, the Paionians felt like Macedonians.

But, if feelings sufficed, then how can W. deny the feelings of the Macedonian kings to be Hellenes? If Paionians may be Macedonians since they may have considered themselves to be such, how can W. simultaneously cast doubt to the claims of the Macedonian kings to be Hellenes, when they certainly did consider themselves to be such.

W. continues:
The comparison with Egypt is awkward, for at least after the incorporation of “Paionia” under Antigonos Gonatas (249 BCE) a territorially continuous political unity had come into being which survived as such in the Roman provincial administration. That the case of Egypt is rather different in this respect need hardly be stressed.
Suppose that Paionians did start feeling like Macedonians during Roman times. Certainly, in Strabo's time, who lived after the Roman conquest, the Paionians continue to be reckoned as a different people, while Macedonia is reckoned as part of Hellas. But, let's suppose that indeed a "Macedonian identity" formed.

But, then, in Byzantine times, the Macedonian theme, consisted of a completely different region, in Thrace. So, whatever, "Macedonian" identity may have formed, it was no lasting thing, having disappeared by medieval times, and transferred to Thrace. Thus, the argument that FYROM Slavs can be seen as inheritors of a distinctive "Macedonian" identity from antiquity collapses. Their only relationship to Macedonia is that they happen to live in what was the Ottoman province of Macedonia.

W. writes:
Moreover, to use an ancient but immediately relevant analogy, are we really to think that Thucydides got it all wrong when he wrote that, decades before the conquest of Paionia, the term “Macedonia” also applied to lands not inhabited by “ethnic” Macedonians (Thuc. 2.99)?
But, Thucydides statement actually opposes W's argument:
Assembling in Doberus, they prepared for descending from the heights upon Lower Macedonia, where the dominions of Perdiccas lay; [2] for the Lyncestae, Elimiots, and other tribes more inland, though Macedonians by blood and allies and, dependents of their kindred, still have their own separate governments. [3] The country on the sea coast, now called Macedonia, was first acquired by Alexander, the father of Perdiccas, and his ancestors, originally Temenids from Argos. This was effected by the expulsion from Pieria of the Pierians, who afterwards inhabited Phagres and other places under Mount Pangaeus, beyond the Strymon (indeed the country between Pangaeus and the sea is still called the Pierian gulf) of the Bottiaeans, at present neighbors of the Chalcidians, from Bottia, [4] and by the acquisition in Paeonia of a narrow strip along the river Axius extending to Pella and the sea; the district of Mygdonia, between the Axius and the Strymon, being also added by the expulsion of the Edonians. [5] From Eordia also were driven the Eordians, most of whom perished, though a few of them still live round Physca, and the Almopians from Almopia. [6] These Macedonians also conquered places belonging to the other tribes, which are still theirs--Anthemus, Crestonia, Bisaltia, and much of Macedonia proper. The whole is now called Macedonia, and at the time of the invasion of Sitalces, Perdiccas, Alexander's son, was the reigning king.
It is clear from this passage that Macedonians e.g., the Lyncestae) existed outside the Macedonian state, while some people who lived within it were not reckoned as Macedonians. Macedonians and the "Kingdom of Macedonia" are not conterminous entities. Thucydides does not assert that the non-Macedonians within the Macedonian state become, by reason of their inclusion in this state, Macedonians.

Thus, there were non-Macedonians within the Kingdom of Macedonia, and none of the independent self-governing Macedonians listed by Thucydides lived in present-day FYROM.

W. writes:
But to call Cleopatra a “Macedonian” gives away what constitutes true identity in the eyes of the letter’s authors: to them, identity seems defined by ancestry and blood-lines, by the past more than the present. Are we then to conclude that, for example, John F. Kennedy—or George W. Bush or Barack Obama, for that matter—were never real Americans? And if John F. Kennedy’s ancestors spoke Irish at one point, is it preposterous for all English-speaking Americans to use him today in their construction of a national identity because of that?
On what basis was Cleopatra not a Macedonian? She was a Macedonian by blood, and indeed by a fairly inbred pedigree full of Macedonians. But, suppose we discount, for the sake of argument, the importance of ancestry. Why, still, was Cleopatra not a Macedonian?

According to W. the conquered Paionians became Macedonians on account of them being conquered, but Cleopatra, the descendant of the conquerors of Egypt became a non-Macedonian, and, presumably, an Egyptian.

In W's strange world of doublethink, it appears that conquerors become the conquered (Cleopatra becomes an Egyptian), and the conquered become the conquerors (Paionians become Macedonians).

W. continues the JFK analogy:
By coming to America John F. Kennedy’s ancestors chose to become Americans (with Irish roots); but why could the Slavs coming to Macedonia then not become Macedonians (with Slavic roots)?
The analogy is false, for several reasons. First of all, JFK's ancestors came to the US as peaceful immigrants while the Slavs came to Macedonia as enemies of the local inhabitants. One needs to read the Miracula Sancti Demetrii to see what the local Macedonians thought of Slavs during the time of their arrival.

But, for the sake of argument, let's accept that the Slavs after several centuries, and because they live in part of Ottoman Macedonia, have some reason to consider themselves some kind of Macedonian. If this was all they did, no Greek would mind; after all, Greeks speak of Turkocretans, or Turkocypriots, or Slavomacedonians.

No, the real issue is that the Slavs of FYROM want to usurp the rights to the use of Macedonians exclusively for Slavs. Consider the official FYROM state policy about the existence of a "Macedonian" minority in Greece, which is -supposedly- oppressed by Greeks.

Going back to the Irish immigrants example, imagine if Irish immigrants not only started calling themselves Americans, but also started speaking about an American minority (by which they meant Americans of Irish origin) oppressed by "Anglos." That is, they tried to dispossess the original bearers of the name and take it as their property. Yet, this is precisely what FYROM Slavs are attempting to do.

W. writes:
No matter what its ethnic mix was—and what serious scholar would nowadays want to argue that the only “good” states are ethnically “pure” states, in which everyone must speak the same language?—the tendentiously-labeled “pseudo-greater Macedonia,” far from being a recent invention, did exist as a real recent invention, did exist as a real identitarian concept well before the 20th century. And in a sense its roots can be traced back to the conquests of Philip II, Alexander the Great and their successors in “Paionia”; for if those conquests had never taken place, the history of the region would have looked different and the territory of “Paionia” might not have shared the fate and fortune of “Aegean” Macedonia for long stretches of its history. Thus, unless one subscribes to a dangerous “blood-and-soil ideology,” there is no reason why the modern Slavic Macedonians should not be allowed to continue to call their country “Macedonia” and to pride themselves in Alexander the Great just as much as the modern Hellenic Greeks do. What does it matter if Alexander “was Greek, not Slavic,” as long as no one claims the opposite?
This is a truly peculiar argument. Alexander's conquests influenced the history of much of the known world, so, should they all be called Macedonians on account of being conquered by the actual Macedonians?

Also, what can one make of the statement about sharing the "fate and fortune"? Was a Macedonian Greek in any case closer to a Skopje Slav because they both happened to live in a territory that Ottoman Sultans claimed to be Macedonia? Was he not closer --Ottoman borders notwithstanding-- to a Thessalian or Thracian Greek? If we abandon the "blood-and-soil ideology", should we replace it with a "borders-and-history ideology", whereby an annexation of Paionia 23 centuries ago has forever marked the territory as Macedonia?

FYROM Slavs may, of course, feel pride that the ancient Paionians were conquered by Philip and Alexander a thousand years before their linguistic ancestors came to Macedonia. I don't feel particular pride that Greece was conquered by the Romans or the Ottomans or the Nazis, but there's no accounting for taste.

One cannot fail to notice, however, how thoroughly un-Macedonian this attitude is. Philip and Alexander loved Greek culture, and proudly proclaimed their Greekness, while these modern "Macedonians" despise Greeks, and proudly proclaim their non-Greekness. I submit this as exhibit A in the case that they are not, indeed, Macedonians at all.


Urselius said...

Well over 98% of modern Scots do not speak the ancestral language of the Scots, the original "Scotti" who came from Dal Riada in Ulster (Ireland). The Scotti spoke a Gaelic dialect. All modern Scots speak English, even the vanishingly small number who also speak Gaelic (Erse).

Indeed, Edinburgh was once in the English kingdom of Northumbria, and Glasgow was in the Welsh kingdom of Strathclyde. Both cities only came under Scottish control in about 1018. This is about half a millenium after the Slavs had settled Macedonia.

By your standards the people of Edinbugh and Glasgow should have no claim to be Scottish. Go there and try telling them that, Dienekes, you might survive ;)

Dienekes said...

Strictly speaking they are not Scots, just as French people are not Franks.

Nonetheless, these cases are not the same as that of Macedonia as there are no longer any real Scots worth speaking of, and -as far as I can tell- no genuine Franks.

If Greeks had disappeared, no one would mind if the FYROM Slavs used the name of "Macedonians", just as no one cares that the Slavs of Bulgaria use the name of Bulgars even though they are not really Bulgars. Even in that case, though, there is some justification, since the historical Bulgars presided over a Slavic state; just as the historical Franks presided over a French-speaking state.

Not even this level of justification can be found in the case of the FYROM Slavs. Their claims to the name of "Macedonians" would be equivalent to West Turks calling themselves "Ionians", or Russians calling themselves "Scythians".

Joan said...

It seems that so many scholars think that it was only the Macedonians who had issues with their Hellenicity. If one were to remove all Athenocentric arguments about who is and who is not Greek, we would be quite surprised to find that no other Greeks whether of a Polis or Ethne (Tribal) background were so interested in evoking some type of Hellenic benchmark. Thucydides mentions that 'Barbarian lifestyles were also practiced' by the Aetolians, Arkadians, and Molossians. Again the Athenocentric arguments pivot around the 'type of lifestyle these people practiced' not who they were and as such these assertions did no stop these tribes to continue their own brand of lifestyle throughout their recorded history. No-one doubted (except of-course the Athenians) their Hellenic background. Likewise, the Macedonians practiced a lifestyle which was similar to the above mentioned tribes, one which revolved around non-Polis guidelines. All these ethne-states and the Macedonians included, knew who they were, they just did not need city-slickers like the Athenians to come into their turf and tell them that they were all just a bunch of uncouth hillbillys. So as you can see A. Willi (like D. Tompkins before him) is not really that concerned with the historical narrative. It is the use of academic institutions in current contemporary politics which has these scholars concerned. Yes, the people who live in the modern region of Macedonia such as the Greeks, Bulgarians, YugoSlavs, Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, etc. should all be able to call themselves Macedonians. But not at the expense of the other's historical narrative. For example, the "ancients" were part of a Hellenic historical narrative just as the "moderns" are part of the wider Balkan historical narrative consisting of the Bulgarians, Greeks, YugoSlavs, and others who live within its regional confines. Geographical qualifiers make good sense but only if they are respected by all the regional players. The region of contemporary Macedonia is a "Pragmatic Salad" we have to be careful to avoid leaders who act like fruit.

Andrew Lancaster said...

I am not sure about your logic on this particular bit: "What wondrous miracle would result in myriads of Macedonians settling throughout Asia not to leaving a single trace of their non-Hellenic presence? Did the Macedonians decide to abandon their language at precisely the time of their own triumph? A simpler explanation is that they did not." The problem here is that we know that the Macedonian army had other Balkan peoples in it, who also left no linguistic trace, and we know Greek was the language of authority and communication. So why would you expect any minority languages of soldiers to leave a trace within the enormous empire? This does not affect your main argument, but I see no "miracle" here.

Andrew Lancaster said...

"Strictly speaking they are not Scots, just as French people are not Franks." Tell that to a Scot or Frenchman. Both see themselves as modern derivatives of the older peoples you name. I think you are defining ethnicity by language? Personally I think this kind of definition never works. Consider Slavophone and Albanophone Greeks who normally considered themselves fully Greek.

Dienekes said...

we know that the Macedonian army had other Balkan peoples in it

Other Balkan peoples were illiterate at the time, while Macedonians were clearly not, as there are 4th century inscriptions and texts in both Attic and the Macedonian dialect (which is of course perfect Greek).

Tell that to a Scot or Frenchman. Both see themselves as modern derivatives of the older peoples you name.

I do not ascribe to the theory that what one "considers" is what one is.

Consider Slavophone and Albanophone Greeks who normally considered themselves fully Greek.

These people (whatever their genetic origins) did begin to consider themselves as Greeks and were gradually accepted as such by the Greeks, and now they all speak Greek and are tied to the Greeks by ties of marriage.

A common language is an absolute prerequisite for a formation of a common people, because without a common language, there is no real communication and sense of unity.

aherne said...

I agree with Dienekes on account of having the name of Macedonia usurped by Bulgarians from FYROM. There is no doubt that ancient Macedonians spoke a Hellenic tongue, although some evidence, such as retention of d instead of th (danos vs. thanos) would indicate a moment of division from the rest of Greek dialects before the age of Mycenaeans (so in the first half of 2nd millenia BC). In these aspects, Macedonian is close to Phrygian: probably in the very ancient times, Greek language wasn't isolated, but part of a large dialect continuum that included Greek, Phrygian and the ancestors of Armenian language.

Genetically, the blood of Macedonians continues both in Greeks and to lesser extent the Bulgarians who used to live in the Western parts of modern Greek Macedonia. Most of the latter have been driven out to Bulgaria in so called population exchanges and the rest have become Hellenes. Those living in FYROM can make no claim of being of Macedonian descent, since those regions were never part of historical Macedonia, but of Paeonia, who was inhabited by a peculiar Thracian tribe.