"Whose is Macedonia, Whose is Alexander?"

This is the title of an article written by professor Andreas Willi, which discusses the open letter to President Obama on the status
of Macedonia, which is to appear in Classical Journal (105) and is now on line.


In response to this article, Professor Stephen G. Miller (Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley) wrote the following article:

Response to Andreas Willi, "Whose is Macedonia, Whose is Alexander?"

Response to Andreas Willi,

"Whose is Macedonia, Whose is Alexander?"

Professor Andreas Willi has written a critique of the letter to President Obama signed by nearly 350 scholars concerning the attempt to convert Alexander into a Slav.  There are many problems with AW’s critique.  Some of the more serious will be treated here.

AW  begins by quoting the body of the letter  to Obama but not the documentation that justifies the statements made in the letter.  He mentions in a footnote that the letter “together with some additional documentation . . . is freely accessible at http://macedonia-evidence.org/obama-letter.html.”  In fact the documentation is fundamentally important and the reader of this note is asked to go to the web site and review the letter together with the documentation (http://macedonia-evidence.org/documentation.html).  That is the only way a student of antiquity can truly understand the reasons for the letter which is based on “fundamental principles of historical scholarship”; that is, the use of primary sources to explain ancient events.

AW states that it “is true that most of the factual observations of the letter are correct.”  He thereby implies that some are not correct, but does not list them or even give examples.  We would be grateful to learn what factual observations in the letter are not correct.

AW states that the text of the letter is “one-sided”, but he presents no ancient evidence for the “other side” except to suggest that Herodotus 5.22 does not prove that Alexander I was really Greek.  In fact, Herodotus cites the decision of the Hellanodikai at Olympia that Alexander I was Greek, and it must be remembered that it would have been sacrilegious to allow a non-Greek to participate at games dedicated to Zeus. 

The "evidence" for the other side is, then, the accusation – also recorded only by Herodotus – made by some of Alexander’s competitors in the Olympic Games that he was not Greek.   The self-interest of those competitors in making such a claim so that a strong opponent might be disqualified is obvious.  Furthermore, the failure to prove the accusation of non-Greekness invalidates such ‘evidence.’ Some of us may be able to remember a time when we had to prove that we were of legal age. That we were challenged did not make us underage ipso facto, and when we were able to prove that we were in of legal age, that ended the story.  Indeed, the current USA President’s status as a “real American” is being questioned (http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/born_in_the_usa.html).  Those questions do not prove that he is not American but, by AW’s standards, 2000 years from now scholars will question whether Barack Obama was American.

AW states that the fact that Greek was the lingua franca of Alexander’s empire cannot be answered by stating that Alexander was Greek, “given that we have numerous examples of ancient empires in which the lingua franca was not the language of the ruler.” Those numerous examples are not provided, but are we to suppose therefore that, because Greek was the lingua franca of his empire, Alexander was not Greek and did not speak Greek?

In fact, the testimony of ancient sources, literary and epigraphic, is unanimous that he, like his ancestors, did speak and read and write Greek. AW shows an unacceptable disregard for primary sources which must be the fundamental starting point of historical scholarship.

AW goes on to doubt that the Paionians retained a separate identity after Philip had subdued them. “How many Paionians did we ask about it?” AW queries rather superciliously.  If he would accept what the Paionians mightsay about themselves, why should he not accept what the Macedonians – starting with Alexander I – actually did say about themselves?  Moreover, from an evidentiary point of view, AW ignores the Paionian coins and dedications at Olympia and Delphi that go well down into the 3rd century (noted in the documentation to the Letter to Obama).  He then refers to “the incorporation of ‘Paionia’ under Antigonos Gonatas (249 BCE)” without reference to any primary or even secondary source for this event or its date.  We can find no ancient source to substantiate his reference, although the appearance of a city named Antigoneia (known only from Pliny NH 4.34) south of Stobi in Paionia has been taken to be the result of an annexation of Paionia by some Antigonos, but modern scholars interested in this city differ about its which Antigonos and therefore its date.[1]

AW does provide a primary source  (Thucydides 2.99) to show that “the term ‘Macedonia’ also applied to lands not inhabited by ‘ethnic’ Macedonians.”  But Thucydides actually says that “the Macedonians include the Lynkestai and the Elimiotai and other ethne in the upper country who, although allied with them and subject to them, have each their own king.”  See also, e.g., Thucydides 4.83  where the Lynkestai are specifically called Macedonians. The Paionians, on the contrary, are always mentioned as a separate, distinct, non-Macedonian people (see, e.g., Thucydides 2.96 where he refers to the Paionians as independent).

AW claims that to call Cleopatra a Macedonian shows that the letter regards only “ancestry and blood-lines” as defining elements in identity.   But her full name, Cleopatra Philopater, is Greek as are the names she gave to her twin children by Antony, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and to her sons, Ptolemy Caesar and Ptolemy Philadelphos.  This shows clearly and succinctly that ties to her Macedonian Greek ancestry were important to Cleopatra and not just to the authors of the letter.

AW accuses the authors of the letter of forgetting everything that happened after Alexander by focusing almost exclusively on him.  But if read carefully and completely, it will be seen that the letter was prompted by the “antiquization” program of the current government in Skopje.  As this new country struggles for an identity, it has clearly decided to “borrow” that of ancient Greece.  The logic seems to be:  we are recognized by the USA and 120 other countries as the Republic of Macedonia;  that is, we are Macedonians;  that is,  since Alexander was a Macedonian, he is ours; and it follows that since we are Slavic, Alexander was Slavic.[2]  

Some manifestations of this “antiquization” program, in addition to those noted at the beginning of the letter to Obama, are the copies of the Alexander Sarcophagus which are to be set up in cities and towns around FYROM, and a statue of Alexander which, it is reported, is to be seven stories tall and will sing Slavic folk songs.   This program has stirred criticism from archaeology students at the University of Skopje who regard it as counter-productive and a disgrace to their country (see: http://vardaraxios.wordpress.com/) but this voice of dissent has been stilled after the incarceration on July 4, 2009 of its leader, Vasko Gligorijević, who did not regard our letter as “a—somewhat naïve—undergraduate essay”. (http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/110315).

AW states that "the territory of the modern Republic of Macedonia does have a shared past with the modern Greek province of Macedonia".  The statement is, however, true only after the battle of Pydna in 168 B.C. and the subsequent creation of the Roman province of Macedonia.  Livy, our source for the creation of that province (45.29.7-8), makes it very clear that until that time Paionia (the largest single ancient territory in the modern FYROM) was separate from Macedonia.  Indeed, Livy (45.29.12) mentions that Paionia had belonged to the Dardanians (i.e. in modern Kosovo) at some point and, therefore, was not a part of Macedonia.[3] In other words, the “shared past” begins a century and a half after the death of Alexander.

AW believes that there is “. . .no reason why the modern Slavic Macedonians should not be allowed . . . . to pride themselves in Alexander the Great. . .”  In other words a people who came to a place where Alexander spent, at the most, two or three days during his lifetime (Arrian 1.5.1) a millennium after his death and speak a language that did not exist in his time should “pride themselves in him”?  Is this acceptable to “guardians of the past”? 

Finally, AW seems to think that no one is claiming that Alexander was not Greek.  He might want to look, for example, at an English TV quiz show where two contestants were asked “What Nationality was Alexander the Great?”  Their response,”Greek” was pronounced wrong, and the “correct” answer was supplied:  “Macedonian.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AdgCe0cf9g).  By this reasoning, Plato was not Greek because he was Athenian.

Silly? Yes, but the public is being inundated with such misinformation and the purpose is to disassociate Alexander from his Greek ethnicity.  The infiltration of the public’s communal memory with this historic lie has been going on for some time and with much passion.  Consider, as just one example, the following advertisement in “The Sun Herald” of Sydney on May 3, 1962 (p. 60):

Always remember:

"Philip II, Alexander the Great and Aristotle were Macedonians.

"Cyril and  Methodie were Macedonians."

"The Macedonians are not Slavic."

"The Macedonians are not Greek."


There are many, many similar statements.  They are, we submit, a real threat to the fundamentals of our profession as classical scholars.  If historical integrity is not important to our society, then neither are we.


Stephen G. Miller



[1] E.g., Irwin L. Merker, “The Ancient Kingdom of Paionia,” Balkan Studies 6 (1965) 52, attributes Antigoneia to Antigonos Doson, while N.G.L. Hammond and F.W. Walbank, A History of Macedonia III (Oxford 1988)  268 associate it with Antigonos Gonatas, but specifically at an unknown date.

[2] To be sure, some involved in this program claim that they are not Slavic but “Macedonian” even though their language is a form of Bulgarian which is a member of the Slavic linguistic group.

[3] Strabo (7 frag. 4) a contemporary of Livy, makes the geographic distinction between Paionia and Macedonia clear when he states that “Paionia . . . lies above Macedonia to the north.”  Strabo, after a gap in the text, goes on to relate that the passage from Paionia to Macedonia is difficult.

Polybius (4.29.2) referring to events in the winter of 218/7 B.C., uses a form of the same verb used by Strabo (hyperkeitai) in referring to the ”barbarians lying above Macedonia.” In other words, the Paiones were at that time barbarians and, therefore, not Greeks.


  • Facebook Classic
  • Twitter Classic
  • c-youtube

© 2014 Macedonian-History.org. Designed by Designs to the Max