In 1992, following the division of Yugoslavia into five states, southern Serbia (FYROM) adopted the name Macedonia, claiming that its people are descendants of ancient Macedonia. But the claim did not stop there. It extended much further into the realm of historical distortion by delinking ancient Macedonia from ancient Greece and portraying Macedonians as Slavs, even if the latter appear much later on the scene (as one other group among “barbarians”) and are first mentioned as an ethnic group by Byzantine authors.
Naturally, Greece has objected to the use of the name Macedonia by its northern neighbor, and the issue remains unresolved although the rest of the world (including some high-minded Greek leftists!) seems to be using freely the term Macedonia instead of FYROM.
Nonetheless, history and scholarship is clearly on the side of Greece, as Professor Stephen Miller from the University of California and one of the world’s leading archaeology scholars reminds us in a recent exchange over the contentious issue of the use of the name Macedonia by a nation whose people are Slavic.
The northern province of Greece has been called Macedonia for about 3,000 years. We also know that Macedonians were Greek and that, in fact, Alexander the Great considered himself to be a descendant of Achilles and Hercules. Is there any doubt about these historical facts?
There was a time in a previous generation when some doubted, for example, that the Macedonians were Greek, but the evidence has become too massive to allow such doubt. Look at the articles by many different scholars at www.macedonia-evidence.org
Even so, some continue to argue that Macedonians were not Greeks but Slavs, even if the latter do not appear on the stage of history until 1,500 years after the use of the name Macedonia. However, Macedonia was also the home of the Greek gods. How realistic is it that Greeks would have worshiped gods who lived in allegedly “foreign territories?”
Stephen Miller: No – it is not realistic, and the so-called “foreign territories” were then and are now Greek.
Please, allow me to pursue this a bit further. The brutal destruction of Persepolis by Alexander the Great has been attributed to revenge for the destruction of Greek cities and temples, including the Parthenon, by the Persian ruler Xerxes. Ancient sources tells us that a beautiful Greek harlot convinced Alexander to engage in this barbarous act while he was, as usually, highly intoxicated. Would he have taken revenge in such a manner if he did not identify himself as Greek?
Please look at Q&As on the site I mentioned earlier. First, there was no Macedonian language distinct from Greek, and Alexander certainly identified himself as Greek. And do you suppose that his tutor, Aristotle, gave him lessons in Slavic?
Yugoslavian communist leader Tito was the one who gave South Serbia the name Macedonia and sought to rewrite history by portraying Slavs as Macedonians. Is there any archaeological evidence of slav Macedonia?
The problem enters with the Romans who established an administrative province of Macedonia which included the territory previously known as Paionia. See the “Letter to Obama” at macedonia-evidence.org. When the Slavs entered the Balkans in the 6th century after Christ, they took over an artificial Macedonia. Since then, it has been possible to justify a Slavic Macedonia which would be the equivalent of FYROM, but there is absolutely no ancient basis for such a country.
Tito’s goal was to annex the real Macedonia and thus have access to the Aegean, and that is why school children in Skopje are provided with maps that show the “real Macedonia” extending to Mt. Olympus. You surely know the statement by U.S. Secretary of State, Edward S. Stettinius, in 1944 ” . . . this government considers the talk of a Macedonian ‘nation,’ Macedonian ‘fatherland,’ or Macedonian “national consciousness” to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic or political reality, and sees in its present revival a possible cloak for aggressive actions against Greece.”
I am not competent to speak to the issue of archaeological evidence for a Slav Macedonia, but I am sure that there is evidence of Slavs in “Macedonia” as of about 580 A.D. Here at Nemea we have clear evidence and it also exists at, for example, Athens and Corinth and Argos) of the Slavic invasions of ca. A.D. 580. Does that mean that I should think of “Slavic Nemea”? But there is a difference — the Slavs went through Nemea, but they stayed and set up their homes in Serbia.
What are the archaeological origins of Skopje?
I do not know the archaeological origins of Skopje. But one might look at the site of Stobi which was an important center during the Roman period, and has many remains of Christian – Orthodox churches. “Avaro-Slavic invasions in the 6th century ruined the city’s economy and infrastructure.” In other words, the arrival of the Slavs in ancient Paionoia (= FYROM) was a sharp and clear break with the past. Any claim to connections with Macedonia before the 6th century after Christ are without foundation. Indeed, they are lies.
In your view, why are the government and the people of FYROM, distinctly of slav origin and background, so bent on identifying themselves as Macedonians?
Stephen Miller: It has to do with territorial claims, as I indicated earlier. But I would like to add more specifically this:
(1) the original goal of annexation of the real Macedonia for purposes of access to the Aegean are still at the base of the “Macedonian” efforts. See, for example, the coffee that is sold in Skopje under the label of “Pella.” Where is Pella located? And why is there a sailing ship as the logo of that coffee? The implications are clear.
(2) More fundamental and more difficult to deal with is the issue of stolen identity. The people – I do not know them but I imagine – want an identity. We all do. Theirs is stolen, and they know it, but they cannot give up Alexander and replace him with Patraos, one of the kings of Paionia who is a part of their real heritage, their real identity. If you live with a stolen identity, you have problems which often take the form of aggressive defensiveness. I believe that the people of Skopje need Education, and a willingness to be proud of the ancestors who are actually theirs. But they are not unique in that need.
Should Greece give up on its refusal to accept Skopje as Macedonia?
I am an archaeologist and, therefore, an ancient historian. If Greece accepts “Macedonia” does that mean that I have to accept a non-Greek Alexander? For the sake of historical accuracy, it must be understood that Macedonia was and is Greek. I am not certain if the equivalent of New York, and New Jersey, and New Hampshire, would solve the “sense of identity problem,” especially since York and Jersey and Hampshire do not border those states, but perhaps a “New Macedonia,” or perhaps even better and more descriptive and historically accurate Slavic Macedonia” would be acceptable. But best of all, for this archaeologist, would be “Paionia.”
Sorry to go on so much, but I have to defend historical accuracy if my profession is to have any value. Virtual history — which FYROM is practicing — leaves us floating without a compass.