top of page

The Yaunã takabara and the ancient Macedonians

by Demetrius E. Evangelides, Ethnologist


Recent research has provided unambiguous details concerning the ethnological classification of the ancient Macedonians, including from another source that lies outside the Greek world, which removes all doubt that had existed concerning the Hellenic nature of this nation.  The unexpectedness of this source is certainly the fact that it comes from the Persian Empire – the Persians, the relentless enemies of the Greeks during antiquity.

North of the ruins of Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenian Dynasty of the Persian Empire, at a distance of about 5 kilometers lies the site Naqsh-I Rustam (i.e. the reliefs of the [mythical hero] Rustam) where are to be found the tombs of Darius I (521-486 B.C.), his son Xerxes (486-465) and two more kings (Artaxerxes I and Darius II) cut into the rock, as well as eight other reliefs from the period of the Sassanids (the dynasty that ruled the Iranian plateau - after the Parthians - between 224 and 651 A.D. and is known for its wars against the Byzantines.

































The Tomb of Darius at Naqsh-I Rustam


The façade of the tomb of Darius I has the shape of a cross (see the photograph) with the entrance to the tomb at the center, while above is a monumental relief showing Darius I who is praying at an altar of the supreme god of the Persians, Ohrmazd (Ahuramazda) on top of a base that is supported by 28 different subject peoples of the Persian Empire.  An inscription at the upper right corner (see the photograph), known to archaeologists as DNa (i.e. Darius Naqsh [inscription] a), names those peoples, and presents Darius as a reverent and strong leader.  Another inscription in the central part of the "cross", which consists of a representation of the southern entrance of the palaces of Persepolis, known as DNb, comprises the famous "Will" of Darius I, a copy of which is also – lightly adapted – on the façade of the tomb of Xerxes, known as XPl.































The inscription with the subject peoples (DNa)


The text is written in the ancient Persian language (Old Persian) in a script inspired by the Sumerian-Akkadian cuneiform script, but with simpler characters.  As it has been maintained (see especially D.T. Potts:  The Archaeology of Elam, 1999, p. 317) this first Persian script was created on purpose by Darius I for the texts of the famous inscription of Behistun.  This script is syllabic consisting of only 36 symbols and also preserved four ideograms representing the words "King", "Country", "Province", and "Ahuramazda" (the supreme god in the Iranian Pantheon).  The script was written from left to right, and is known as the "Syllabic System of Persepolis" (see image), and was used from the 6th to the 4th century B.C. for the monumental inscriptions of the Achaemenian Kings.  After the kingship of Artaxerxes III (359/8-338 B.C.), inscriptions in the "Persepolis" script are completely lacking and after the dissolution of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, this script was not used again, given its connections with the previous regime (see Charles Higounet, Η γραφή Athens 1964, pp. 37-38).







The Syllabic System of Persepolis


In the aforementioned inscription DNa that lists the subject peoples, we read the following:

. . . King Darius says: By the favor of Ahuramazda these are the countries which I seized outside of Persia; I ruled over them; they bore tribute to me; they did what was said to them by me; they held my law firmly.  (These countries are:)  Media, Elam, Parthia, Areia, Baktria, Sogdia, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Arachosia, Sattagydia, Gandara, India, the Skythians who drink (the sacred drink) haoma, the Skythians with pointed caps, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, Kappodokia, Lydia, the Ionians (Greeks of Asia Minor), the Skythians across the sea (on the shores of the Black Sea), Thrace,  the Greeks who wear shieldlike headcoverings, the Libyans, the Nubians, the people of Maka and the Carians . . .



















The Inscription on the tomb of Darius I (DNa)


In the above text, with the enumeration of the subject peoples we see that they include the Greek colonists of Asia Minor who are called in ancient Persian Yaunã (i.e. Ionians), a name for the Greeks that will subsequently be spread to all the peoples of the East.  These Yaunã – Ionians (=Greeks) are referred to for the first time in a catalogue of subject peoples in the famous monumental inscription of Darius I at Behistun which we mentioned earlier (for details of the inscriptions see D. E. Evangelides, Λεξικό των Λαών του Αρχαίου Κόσμου, ΚΥΡΟΜΑΝΟΣ Thessaloniki 2006, under "Persians.")  
But in the cited text in ancient Persian of Naqsh-I Rustam, some people described as Yaunã takabara (i.e. Greeks with shieldlike headcoverings) are mentioned.  Who are these Greeks?  We should mention that the inscription of Behistun is to be dated around 520 B.C. when Darius I swallowed the wave of rebellions which broke out during his ascension to the Persian throne and thus stabilized his power.   In 513/2 B.C. Darius I undertook the well-known (thanks to Herodotus) "Skythian campaign” with which he took over Thrace (Skudra), the northern Greek region (i.e. Macedonia) and the regions around the mouth of the Danube where certain Skythian tribes lived (i.e. the across the sea Skythians).

It is thus determined that the mysterious Yaunã takabara or Greeks with shieldlike headcoverings were none other than the ancient Macedoniansand the relevant facts of the submission by Amyntas I, father of Alexander I, are recorded by Herodotus (5.18-21).

Thus for the Persians the Macedonians were Greeks (same language, same customs and same habits) and were therefore included within the Yaunã, but they separated from the other Greeks of Asia Minor, who were also subjects, because of the fact that they inhabited the European side of the Aegean and in order to distinguish them they were called after a characteristic, the type of head coverings they wore.  We see that the same was done with the Skythians (Sakas in the Persian language) who are distinguished into those manufacturing / drinking the sacred drink haoma (Sakã haumavargã), nomads to the north of Sogdia and the Iaxartes River (=Syr Darya), and into those other Sakas (i.e. Skythians in Greek) who wore "pointy caps" (Sakã tigraxaudã) and live between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea, and finally into the Skythians who lived across the sea (Sakã tyaiy paradraya) whom the Persians encountered in the area at the mouth of the Danube.  In addition, the Macedonians wore a characteristic headcovering called the kausia (Polybios 4.4-5, Arrian, Anabasis 7.22) that distinguished them from the rest of the Greeks.  [The word kausia comes from the Greek root  καύσ- from which  καύση, καύσων =heat].  For that reason the Persians called them Yaunã takabara; i.e. "Greeks with shieldlike headcoverings."  The Macedonian cap was very different form the headcovering that the Greeks of Asia Minor wore, and that detail was used by the Persians to distinguish between their Greek subjects.










Coin of Alexander I with a horseman wearing the Macedonian kausia.


The fact that completely proves the above analysis is that it comes also from a source foreign to the Greeks.  In the inscription mentioned above from the Naqsh-I Rustam tomb of Xerxes, it is to be noted that in the catalogue of subject peoples there are missing the Yaunã takabara which agrees with everything we know from historical sources.  After their failure to conquer Greece and after the battle of Plateia (479 B.C.) the Persians withdrew from their European holdings, and therefore from Macedonia.  It was thus impossible at the time of the death of Xerxes (465 B.C.) to include the Yaunã takabara or Macedonians as subjects of the Persian Empire.

bottom of page