History of the Macedonian People - The Rise of Christianity a New Beginning
History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present
Part 13 - The Rise of Christianity a New Beginning
by Risto Stefov email@example.com
Alexander's ventures into Asia and Africa created trade routes and shipping lanes and opened up a world of new wonders that not only tantalized the senses but also fascinated the mind.
The intellectual bridge connecting Europe, Asia and Africa gave birth to new sciences, astronomies and philosophies that are unparalleled to this day. Scientists in India were debating atomic theory even before any of the Athenians, credited with inventing the subject, were born. The astronomers in Babylon not only possessed astrological charts but they were also aware of the orbits and spherical shapes of our planets, including that of earth. The Egyptians were applying geometry in figuring out property lines after the Nile floods even before the Europeans had any notion of mathematics. After Alexander's conquests all this knowledge became the possession of the Macedonians who centralized it in the libraries of Alexandria, Antioch, Solun (Thessalonika) and later in Tsari Grad (Istanbul), Ohrid and Sveta Gora (Athos).
In exploring the vast reaches of Asia, India and Egypt, the Macedonians, among other things, discovered new gods and new faiths. After studying them they not only enriched their own knowledge of the divine but also brought about a spiritual revolution that, with time, spread throughout the entire world.
After exploring the many deities and their cults, the Macedonians began to believe that the variously named gods might be different aspects of a single divine force. The newly discovered deities were in many ways similar to their own Olympian gods. For example Astarte and Isis were very similar to Aphrodite and Jupiter, Ahura and Baal were similar to Zeus. The intermingling of the various cultures, especially in cosmopolitan centers like Alexandria, Antioch and Solun, opened the door for deep philosophical debates questioning the nature, origins and purpose of the various gods. Fueled by revolutionary ideas, sophisticated theological theories began to emerge leading to the concept of a single divine being, a God who lives in heaven. Obviously there was enough evidence in the universe to warrant the existence of such a being, otherwise how would the universe work? However, there were some problems. How does a Supreme Being living in heaven communicate with his subjects on earth? The evolutionary mind, hard at work, managed to solve that problem as well by proposing the existence of a second God or the Son of God, a concept to which most of the world subscribes to this day. The Son of God would be a living God who would descend from the heavens to earth to spread God's message among his people.
Here I have given a simplified explanation of a complex problem. My intention was to show that as a result of the Macedonian conquests, the world was exposed to new and revolutionary ideas, which not only enriched our knowledge of the world but also revolutionized our religious beliefs. Christianity was born as a direct result of Macedonian intervention. The old Macedonians in the new world knew far too much to remain static and cast their Olympian hypothesis aside for a new reality. The Macedonian world had matured and had come a long way from the Homeric days and the mythical gods. As the millennium turned, the time was right for a new beginning. The new world surged forward with much vigour, challenging old beliefs. Even the well established Jewish religion, which already prescribed to a single supreme being, came under attack. It was precisely the re-interpretation of the Jewish religion that sparked the Christian movement which not only splintered from its Jewish roots but grew larger and enveloped most of the world. Christianity was a new force that would dominate the world, born out of necessity due to the cruelty of Roman rule, which drove the subjugated to a life of despair. Women refused to bear children because they knew their future was hopeless. Life was painful and the world was full of evil. By the turn of the first millennium the familiar old gods were nothing more than instruments of cruelty designed to serve the rich and powerful and cast the poor into oblivion. No nation suffered more cruelty at the hands of the Romans than Macedonia. Was it jealousy of Macedonia's unsurpassed glory, or was it Rome's fear of her rebellious nature?
As I mentioned earlier, after Perseus's defeat at Pydna in 168 BC, Macedonia was partitioned into four regions and became Roman territory. It was particularly during this period that Macedonia was robbed of its cultural treasures including the many monuments of art located in Solun, Pella and other culturally rich cities. Macedonia's treasures were transferred to Rome and paraded as trophies of Roman victories on Roman streets during triumph festivals. After 148 BC the four regions of Macedonia were united again but made into a Roman province with Solun as its capital. What is also interesting is that all city states and jurisdictions south of Macedonia, including Athens and Sparta, were also annexed and added to this large Roman province called Macedonia. This merger lasted for about one hundred and twenty years until 27 BC. In 27 BC Augustus separated the region to form the province of Macedonia and the province of Achaia. For one hundred and twenty years Solun, not Athens, was the capital or "mother city" of this vast province called Macedonia.
Solun was the most important city in Macedonia not only because of its prosperous economy due to its busy harbour and its close proximity to "via Egnatia" but also because of its great cultural and intellectual growth. Solun was an industrial city that profited immensely from its marine trade and from its close proximity to the military highway, via Egnatia, which facilitated much of the goods destined to Europe. Besides being of economic and intellectual importance, Solun, because of its surrounding wall, was also a great military fortress. The Macedonian King Cassander chose its location well and fortified the city for good reason. Solun was about the only city in Macedonia to withstand and repel the barbarian invasions of the 50s and 60s BC. Even Roman dissidents like the orator Cicero fled to Solun for safety during darker times. Solun had the elements of success and was destined to become a powerful city. During the Roman Civil War of 49 to 31 BC, Macedonia was turned into a battleground. At the time Solun backed the Imperial Army of Antony and Octavian turning the tide on the Republicans. After the Imperial victory at Philippi in 42 BC, the Macedonians of Solun erected a triumphant arch at the west gate of Vardar in honour of the victors. This show of loyalty not only saved Solun, but also allowed its citizens to earn their freedom and Solun to earn the status of a free city. A free city at the time enjoyed special privileges including the right to govern itself, hold free public meetings and to protect itself. This new found freedom allowed the city to grow and prosper, but more importantly, it attracted famous scholars, writers, philosophers, poets and teachers who made Solun their home and added to the city's intellectual wealth. By the turn of the new millennium, Solun was becoming an ethnically diverse cultural center that was beginning to rival Alexandria and Antioch.
When it came to philosophical debates about the nature of the gods, Solun was right up there with Alexandria and Antioch. Why was there such a preoccupation with the gods and why at this time?
There were two factors that influenced the creative thinking of the time. The first was the sophistication of an intellectually evolving society which, with the accumulation of knowledge, matured and grew out of its beliefs in the "mythical gods" of Homer. The second was the intellectual disgust in elevating mere humans, and cruel ones at that, to divinity. After Caesar was deified, deifications of emperors became common practice and even the cruelest men were made into gods. Worse were expectations that people of various races, cultures, religions and intellect would pay homage to these cruel men as if they were gods.
Was it not burden enough to live under their harsh rule, let alone pray to them for spiritual guidance?
This callous Roman behaviour led many to question their faith in such false gods. In time it became increasingly less likely that an educated man would support the cult of his parents, let alone his grandparents.
I want to mention here that outside of some mystical cults, no major religion except for Judaism was allowed to practice in the Roman Empire.
During the first century BC Jewish rival sects, called Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes competed for the attention of the Jews. While the Sadducees adhered strictly to the law of the Old Testament, the Pharisees were progressive thinkers, who produced many intellectual leaders. There was very little knowledge of the Essenes, that is, until 1947 when a set of manuscripts was discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea. The newly discovered scrolls, dating back to about 70 BC, were a record of some old pre Christian beliefs and practices that compared closely to those of the early Christians. Beliefs like the resurrection, rewards and punishments after death, etc., were already widely held before the birth of Jesus. So too was the notion of the coming of the Messiah to fulfill the destiny of God's chosen people.
The Jews were considered to be privileged citizens in the pre-Roman Macedonian kingdoms and were granted free practice of their faith. Later the Romans, for the sake of keeping the peace, followed suit and allowed the Jews to continue to freely practice their faith.
The Jews believed in monotheism, a single God, the kind of God that philosophers were debating about. The Jews, according to historic accounts, had been monotheists for at least two millennia. They were totally devoted and violently resisted change. Last we recall the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, in 168 BC, attempted to impose Macedonism on Jerusalem and provoked an armed revolt. With time the Macedonian culture and language did take hold and if not with the majority, many Jews accepted Macedonism. After the revolt, Jewish kings began to assume dual roles, those of king and high priest. Unfortunately, as client kings of foreign powers they were influenced more by politics and less by faith. Politics, especially during the Roman period, had more to do with interpreting the scriptures than faith. These differences of opinion over religious policies caused discontentment between the priesthood and regular rivalries broke out, fracturing Jewish society and leading it to irreconcilable disputes.
Rome refused to become entangled in Jewish affairs and entrusted Judea to the province of Syria, which at the time was ruled by a governor from Antioch. Local authority was entrusted to the Jewish client kings. These kings were hand picked by the Romans for their loyalty to Rome and for proving themselves sufficiently ruthless to their own people. One such "King of the Jews" was Herod who seized the Judean throne in 43 BC and was confirmed by Rome four years later. Herod himself was not a Jew and some believe he was a Macedonian or at least half Macedonian. Herod had a good relationship with Rome and in some ways this benefited the Jews. The peace that Herod brought during his rule allowed the Jews to prosper. The Jewish diaspora grew and established itself in all the great cities of the Roman Empire including Rome. Solun was no exception and a Jewish community sprang up there also.
The Macedonian adaptation of the Old Testament, composed in Alexandria and written in Koine, was widely used by the Jewish communities in the diaspora. The new composition unfortunately had an expansionist and missionary flavour which was quite alien to the original Testament and represented a departure from tradition
I want to mention at this point that the Jews believed that history was a reflection of Gods' activity and the Testament was a record of history. God guided man on his daily activities and therefore history was God's doing.
Herod died in 4 BC and his kingdom was divided between his sons Archalaus, Herod Philip and Herod Antipus, as bequeathed in his will. The arrangement unfortunately was not successful and fell apart around 6 AD. Conflict between the various factions continued to escalate until 60 AD when a full-scale rebellion flared up. Roman intervention did stop the extreme violence but did not end the conflict which waged on well into the next century until the Romans razed Jerusalem to the ground.
Human cruelty was not singularly a Roman trait but was a factor that preoccupied the minds of the new breed of philosophers. Many dreamt of a peaceful world free of evil and some tried to put their dreams into practice but none so successfully as Jesus of Nazareth.
Historically, little is known about Jesus the person. Most of the information about Jesus comes to us from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which were written in the Mediterranean Koine language after his death. The new faith's destiny, however, was preordained by the writings in the Old Testament, which foretold of the fall of empires through the agency of God, not man. One like the 'son of man' will come on the clouds of heaven, embodying the apocalyptic hope of the Jews, and accompanied by a resurrection of the dead. Simply put, this was the blueprint and code of instructions for shaping the future faith.
It is important to understand that before Jesus' time the Macedonians were not just part of the spiritual evolution but they were the cause of it. In other words, they were the catalyst that accelerated the whole spiritual process and brought it to a boil. "Lightfoot finds in Alexander the Great the proof of the greatness of the step which Luke here records in Paul's work, and even says that 'each successive station at which he halted might have reminded the Apostle of the great services rendered by Macedonia as the pioneer of the Gospel!'" (Page 199, W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL. D., St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder and Stroughton, London. 1894).
After Jesus' death, the Jews were well established throughout the great cities of the Roman Empire and free, at least from the Romans, to pursue their faith. Through their services to the empire, many prospered and were granted Roman citizenship. It is estimated that by the time of Jesus about four and a half million Jews lived in the diaspora in contrast to one million living in their homeland.
I must emphasize here that before Christianity took hold a large proportion of the people in the diaspora attending Jewish synagogues were not Jewish by race. They were not full Jews in a religious sense nor were they expected to obey all of the Jewish laws. Most of them were God fearing people who accepted and worshipped the Jewish God and were tolerated and permitted to mingle with the Jews. These people, many of whom were Macedonian and communicated with the real Jews in the Koine language, were not expected to become full Jews but were tolerated and allowed to penetrate the Jewish social circles, a precursor to Christianity.
The Jews were admired for their stable family life, the relationships they sustained between children and parents and for the peculiar value they attached to human life. The Jews were also admired for something unusual for the time. During the Herodian period, mainly in the large cities in the diaspora, they developed elaborate welfare services for the indigent, poor, sick, widows, orphans, prisoners and the incurable. All of these factors led to the development of the earliest Christian communities and were a principle reason for the spread of Christianity in the cities.
The combination of God-fearing people and the destitute produced converts to Judaism from all races and classes of people, educated and ignorant alike.
Judaism had the potential to become the religion of the Roman Empire but in order to do that it had to evolve and adapt its teachings and organization to an alien world. It had to give up the idea that its priests were descendants of the tribes of Aaron, temple-attendants of Levi, king and rulers of David, and so on and so forth.
For the true Jewish priests, heredity and the exact observance of the Jewish laws was very important. Unfortunately in the diaspora, religious rules were not always observed and exact heredity was a matter of guesswork, sometimes even fraudulent. This loose application of rules was resented by the conservative Jews and any corrective action taken was usually met with opposition, violence and schisms. The irreconcilable differences between the old conservative Jews and the new breed of liberal semi-Jews grew wider and eventually gave birth to Christianity, a totally new faith.
It was again the Macedonians, among this new breed of liberal Jews, who were the first to preach Jesus' message to the worshipers of Mitra (Mithra), Astart and Zeus as well as others outside the Jewish faith. It was among the Macedonians in Antioch in about 40 AD that the followers of Jesus came to be known as Christians for the first time.
In its refusal to allow Gentile Christianity, as it was then known, to flourish the conservative Jews employed every means, including persecution of its leaders, to stop its progression. Among the savage persecutors pursuing the Jewish Christians was Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, born in Tarsus. Saul was a Jew and a Roman citizen headed for Damascus in pursuit of Christians when he had a vision of Christ which changed his life. After that he himself converted to Christianity, took the name Paul and began to spread the "Good News" of Jesus until his death in Rome in 64 AD.
It cannot be said that Paul created Gentile Christianity but he was responsible for giving it impetus. Paul became an important factor in the spread of Christianity to Macedonia when he had a vision of a man, a Macedonian, urging him to "come to Macedonia and help us". Paul interpreted this vision as God's will to take the "Good News" of Jesus into Macedonia. "And when they had come opposite My'sia, they attempted to go into Bithyn'ia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by My'sia, they went down to Tro'as. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedo'nia was standing beseeching him and saying, 'Come over to Macedo'nia and help us.' And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedo'nia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Page 1044, The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Holman, Philadelphia, 1952).
There are some who believe that the man in Paul's vision was the Apostle Luke. Luke was a Macedonian, a physician by trade who Paul met for the first time in Troas. Luke may have had some connection to Philippi to have Paul sent there. It is unknown whether Luke was a Christian or not before he met Paul but he was certainly one afterwards. Luke was a great writer and composer of one of the gospels.
It was around 50 AD, when Paul set foot on European soil for the first time. That was in the Macedonian towns of Philippi, Solun (Thessalonica) and Beroea where he preached the word of Jesus (Acta apos., XVI, id. XVII). Around 52 and 53 AD he sent epistles to the people of Solun (Epist. Thess); then in 57 AD he came back to Macedonia to follow up on his progress. In 63 AD he again sent epistles to Macedonia but this time to the people of Philippi (Epist. Philipp).
Even before Paul went to Macedonia legend has it that Macedonia was visited by Jesus' mother Mary. "The Blessed Virgin excluded all other women from Holy Mountain, when she claimed it as 'Her Garden' after she was driven ashore by storms near the site of the present monastery of 'Iviron' USPENIE." (Page 41, Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology, Western Australia, 1998). Holy Mountain or Sveta Gora as is known in Macedonia, is the holiest place in Europe and one of the greatest monastic centers of Christendom.
Initially, in his teachings, Paul had insurmountable problems trying to explain the nature of Jesus' doctrines through the Jewish faith and its laws to a Macedonian audience. However, by using well understood concepts of faith, which in themselves were somewhat of a departure from the original scriptures, the message was quickly understood. Paul was creative and by sticking to the most basic principles of Jesus' teachings and avoiding most of the six hundred and thirteen Jewish commands, he was able to convey his message. Surely no man could fulfill all six hundred and thirteen commands of the Jewish law? Was everyone then a sinner? In Paul's mind, this was not what Jesus was about. Jesus was about freedom and the liberation of law. Paul associated freedom with truth and in pursuit of truth he established the right to think. He accepted the bonds and obligations of love but not to the authority of scholarship and tradition.
If not by nationality then by spirit Paul was truly a Macedonian because he preached something familiar to the Macedonians. Paul spoke directly to the Macedonian people and they understood him without the use of interpreters. This means that he knew the Macedonian language well enough to captivate his audience. Paul's first mission to Macedonia took him to Philippi where he met a woman named Lydia, a fabric dealer. Lydia was a widow who sold cloth and textiles and was a rare example of a free woman who lived and worked in Macedonia. For some time, Lydia was exposed to Jewish religious practices which she had observed at a colony of Jews who had settled near her home in Thyatira. Lydia, along with her household, is believed to be the first Christian in Macedonia to be baptized by Paul. After Philippi, Paul's missionary journey took him to the beautiful Macedonian city of Solun where, in 50 BC, he established what later came to be known as the "Golden Gate" church, the first Christian church in Europe. According to the Bible, Paul, along with his friend Silas, spent about three weeks in Solun in a synagogue debating the "Good News" of Jesus with the Solun Jews. But much to his disappointment he could not sway them to see things his way. He persuaded some to join but the majority would not join and became hostile towards him. The real surprise, however, was that many non-Jewish Macedonians accepted the "Good News" of Jesus and embraced Christianity as their new faith.
I must mention at this point that the process of Christianization and the establishment of the Christian church was not that simple. The central and eastern Mediterranean, for the first and second centuries AD, swarmed with a multitude of religious ideas struggling to be spread out. Jesus' message was being rapidly propagated over large geographical areas and his followers were divided right from the start over elements of faith and practice. The new faith may have had spirit but it lacked organization. Many Christian churches sprang up and practiced a kind of diverse Christian faith. Each church more or less had its own "Jesus Story" based on oral traditions and the personal biases of its founders. It would be a very long time indeed before the Christian faith would be amalgamated into a single religion and achieve unity. In the meantime, besides the competing Jews, the Christians had found a new enemy, the Romans.
The Romans were tolerant of all religions and had no problems with what people believed. There were some conditions however. It was mandatory that all people in the Roman Empire participate in Roman religious festivities, pay homage to the Roman emperor and make regular sacrifices as required. This, unfortunately, for the more dedicated monotheistic Christians was not possible because some Roman traditions conflicted with Jesus' teachings.
The Romans did not know what to make of the Christians. For the most part they were peaceful people with no criminal records, they wanted nothing from the Romans but to be left alone to pray in peace yet they were somehow a danger to the stability of the empire. Even though the Christians were peaceful in nature, their attitude towards Roman traditions was in direct violation of Roman law. Besides, if the Christians disrespected the Roman way, what was to stop others from doing the same? It was Pliny the Younger who first made an example of these disobedient Christians by sentencing them to death for simply being Christian. Others then followed suit. During their trials Christians were offered a chance to renounce their Christian faith and obey Roman law. If they did, they were set free but those who refused were sentenced to a gruesome death.
Following the period after the death of Jesus, the Roman Empire began to experience its own problems, the least of which was Christianity. During the first century AD, Roman pursuit of wealth brought about social changes in the empire. Roman citizenship was no longer determined by one's nationality but rather by one's possession of wealth. Social status or position of power could also be achieved by wealth. One no longer needed to be Italian to become a Roman Senator or hold office in the Roman administration or be a high ranking officer in the Roman military. Successive Roman emperors aligned themselves more and more with the rich. Even some of the early Roman emperors like Trajan and Hadrian were not Italian but Spanish. Even the Roman soldiers were no longer Roman. Wherever there were problems in the empire, the armies sent to deal with them were raised from the local populations. Rome itself was also being challenged demographically. Besides the rich, the well off and the educated who were flocking to Rome to live the high life, Roman soldiers were bringing home brides from various places in the empire. As problems began to develop on the outskirts of the vast empire, central control became less and less effective. Military men were sometimes empowered with carrying on the responsibilities of the emperor and when the need arose, the army was empowered with appointing a new emperor general, a practice the Romans adopted from the Macedonians. The frontiers were long and difficult to hold, stretching from Britain, along the Rhine and the Danube, across the Caucasus and Anatolia, along the Tigris and the Syrian desert to Aqaba and from Egypt to Morocco. Even before the close of the first century AD, Roman leaders came to the realization that one emperor could no longer rule such a vast empire. Unfortunately for a long time no emperor was prepared to willingly give up or share his rule with another.
Besides the change in demographics, the Italians in Rome were beginning to be outclassed by a new breed of middle class intellectuals who preferred the use of the Koine language over Latin. Even in Rome local culture was shifting from conservative to intellectual and Romans and foreigners alike, including most emperors, preferred literary works written in the universal romantic Koine language instead of the dry and brisk Latin. Like the 19th century French language of Europe, Koine, fueled by the literary works of the sophists, began to experience a revival. There was a certain ambiance about the language which gave life and expression to its subjects. Koine was utilized heavily by intellectuals and academics all throughout the vastness of the empire, especially in Asia Minor and Alexandria. Koine was very popular not only with the sophists but also with the philosophers who by now had dedicated themselves to defining the new faith. Jesus' message was spreading like wildfire, captivating the minds of a new breed of philosophers and they in turn recorded their experiences not in the Aramaic language of Palestine nor in Latin, but in the international Koine, the language of the Macedonian elite. As evidenced by the inscriptions found in Dura Europos, of which I made mention earlier, the Macedonians also spoke another language, the language that today is referred to as Macedonian. Although history has no name for it, it is often mentioned as the native language spoken by the Macedonian soldiers. Koine may have been the language of the elite and of the institutions but it was useless when it came to bringing the word of Jesus to the uneducated masses living in the vast Roman Empire. It is well documented that, as Christianity spread from the cities to the towns and to the countryside, many of the scriptures written in Koine had to be translated to native languages. While neither the Macedonians before them nor the Romans saw any benefit in educating the peasants, the Christians did. This was happening as much in Egypt as it was in Macedonia. The word of Jesus was good for everyone including the village dueling peasant. But how does one communicate it to the uneducated masses? This was indeed a problem for the early Christians but through the written word Christianity translated the scriptures to the various native languages and began to educate the masses.
I want to make it clear here that the Koine language was the international language of commerce, introduced to the vastness of the Macedonian Empire by Alexander the Great. This was the language of the educated and elite, not of the masses of people throughout the empire. For the most part, the native people of all parts of the empire, who took part in the affairs of the empire, were educated in Koine. That did not preclude them however from speaking their native language. It is well documented that non Europeans in the ranks of the European elite not only spoke a second language, their native language, but were also known by a different name, their local native name.
While the Macedonians and later the Romans had no interest in local affairs, other than harvesting taxes, Christianity showed great interest in everyone irrespective of social status. In Jesus' eyes all men were created equal and in the image of God. The common people could identify with the Christian God and this had appeal for them. In contrast, deities of the Roman faith imitated "the all-powerful" Roman emperor sitting on his throne, far removed from the common man.
By making contact directly with the native people of the empire, the Christians began to institutionalize the local languages by giving them life through the written scriptures and through educating the masses to read and write. Unfortunately at the turn of the new millennium, in Europe at least, there were only three scripts available upon which to base the written word and these were Aramaic, Koine and Latin. Most local languages had far richer sounds than the existing written scripts could accommodate and in time had to be refined. For the Macedonians, this would take a few centuries but eventually a single refined universal script would emerge and bring Macedonia back into her former intellectual glory.
It seems that around the 4th century BC, in the name of progress, Macedonia abandoned its ancient native Venetic script in favour of the international Koine. Unfortunately, half a millennium of neglect left her native spoken language without a script. As we have seen, again as evidenced by the Dura Europos inscription, the Macedonians utilized Koine and Latin scripts, sometimes in combination, to express themselves in their native language. This may have been good enough for scribbling graffiti and writing casual letters but not for compiling literary works.
With time Christianity introduced the gospel to every race in every corner of the Roman Empire and with it came the written word, formalization and later the institutionalization of the modern written languages. The Macedonian language, to which history refers to as the language spoken by Alexander's soldiers, was no exception.
The development of the modern Macedonian language will be discussed in greater detail in later chapters. Look for it in future articles.
There are some who believe that the period between 27 BC and 180 AD was a period of wasted opportunity. It was a period of spending rather than of creating, an age of architecture and trade in which the rich grew richer and the poor poorer. It was an age when man's soul and spirit decayed. There were thousands of well built cities supplied by great aqueducts, connected to each other by splendid highways and each equipped with temples, theaters, amphitheaters and markets. The citizens of these great cities were well refined in attitude and mannerism, indicative of a civilized society. All this unfortunately was achieved on the backs of slaves who came from the vastness of the empire, including Macedonia. The slaves provided the manpower to build the cities, aqueducts, roads, temples and theaters. The slaves provided the labour to cultivate the soil and feed the masses. And the slaves provided the bodies that fuelled the blood sport that entertained the Roman citizenry so much.
It is unknown how many slaves suffered cruel deaths to civilize the glorious Roman Empire, the pride of the west, but I am certain the numbers were horrendous.
It is often asked, "Who were the Roman gladiators, who were the Christians fed to the lions, and who were the slaves that gave their lives to build the Roman Empire and entertain the Roman citizen?" Although history provides us with no answers, all we need to do is look at the aftermath of every Roman victory and count the numbers enslaved.
Macedonia was the last nation in Europe to fall into Roman hands but the first on mass scale to fall into Roman slavery. While the middle class Macedonian, among others, supplied the Roman Empire with enlightenment, the Macedonian slave, among others, supplied her with the necessary labour to build her civilization. Even though Macedonia, more so than any other nation in the history of the Roman Empire, had contributed to its development, modern Roman history mentions nothing of the Macedonians. The Macedonian people have received no credit for their contribution and the willing and unwilling sacrifices they made for the success of the Romans.
Even though it is well known that the Roman Empire was built on the foundation of Alexander the Great's Macedonian Empire, its modern inheritors refuse to give Macedonia and the Macedonian people the credit they deserve.
Today's modern westerner speaks of the Roman Empire's accomplishments with great pride, forgetting that without Macedonia's contributions their precious empire would be an empty shell.
Every historian knows that the only contribution that the lumbering Roman Empire should be credited for is the construction of roads, cities and aqueducts. In terms of government it had none. At its best it had a bureaucratic administration that kept the peace but failed to secure it. The typical Roman was so overly preoccupied with pursuing "the loot" that he forgot to implement any free thinking and apply knowledge. He had an abundance of books but very few were written by Romans. He respected wealth and despised science. He allowed the rich to rule and imagined that the wise men could be bought and bargained for in the slave markets. He made no effort to teach, train or bring the common people into any conscious participation of his life. He had made a tool of religion, literature, science and education and entrusted it to the care of slaves who were bred and traded like animals. His empire, "It was therefore, a colossally ignorant and unimaginative empire. It foresaw nothing. It had no strategic foresight, because it was blankly ignorant of geography and ethnology." (Page 397, H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Garden City Books, New York, 1961). This is only a tiny sample of what an eminent western scholar and author thinks of the contributions of the Roman Empire.
Ironically we refer to the Romans as civilized and to the Macedonians as barbarian, knowing full well that Macedonia employed no slaves and Rome built its empire on the backs of slaves.
"Civilize: bring out of barbarous or primitive stage of society; enlighten, refine and educate." (Page 127, The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 1991). I guess 19th century modern historians forgot to consult the dictionary for the word "civilized" when they wrote the modern history of the Roman Empire.
Without getting into the grossness of the Roman excesses and coliseum blood lusts, I believe I made my point that "the Roman Empire was neither civilized nor did it contribute as much as its proponents would have us believe".
Attacks mounted on Christianity apparently were not restricted to the Jews and Romans. As Christianity began to grow and make its way into Europe, it became a target for the intellectuals who had discovered it and identified it as the enemy.
The sophisticated Athenian intellectual found it difficult to accept Christianity especially since he was expected to abandon his long held beliefs. While the oppressed Macedonian found hope in Christianity, the freer Athenian was not content with leaving behind what truly defined him and his culture.
For better or worse Macedonia gave in and embraced Christianity. Her neighbours to the south, however, were too sophisticated for this modern phenomenon and clung onto their old beliefs.
"Athens in Paul's time was no longer the Athens of Socrates; but the Socratic method had its roots in the soil of Attica and the nature of the Athenian people. In Athens Socrates can never quite die..." "In this centre of the world's education, amid the lecture-rooms where philosophers had taught for centuries that it was mere superstition to confuse the idol with the divine nature which is represented, the idols were probably in greater numbers than anywhere else in Paul's experience." (Pages 238-239, W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL. D., St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder and Stroughton, London. 1894).
Paul's mission to Athens yielded no converts. There is, however, something interesting that came out of Paul's discussions with the Athenians that gives us a glimpse of the Athenian attitude towards Paul and foreigners in general. In the University of Athens certain philosophers engaged Paul in discussion and some said, "What would this spermologos [ignorant plagiarist] say?" (Page 241, W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL. D., St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder and Stroughton, London. 1894).
Spermolos is an Athenian slang that means "a worthless fellow of low class and vulgar habits, with the insinuation that he lives at the expense of others, like those disreputable persons who hang round the markets and the quays in order to pick up anything that falls from the loads that are carried about. Hence as a term in social slang, it connotes absolute vulgarity and inability to rise above the most contemptible standard of life and conduct; it is often connected with slave life, for the Spermologos was near the type of the slave and below the level of the free man; and there clings to it the suggestion of picking up refuse and scraps, and in literature of plagiarism without the capacity to use correctly." (Page 242, W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL. D., St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder and Stroughton, London. 1894). Is this the superior race of men to whom our modern world owes its foundations?
After a short visit in Athens Paul was kicked out. From there he went to Corinth and after spending some time in Corinth he returned to Solun.
Christianity apparently retaliated against such intellectual attitudes by claiming that their philosophy had nothing to teach the Christians but folly and immorality.
Even though Christianity was beginning to gain confidence and take a more relaxed attitude towards these attacks, its doctrine was still divergent. Gnosticism was particularly strong in many areas of the empire and combined with pagan beliefs and myths not only diverted from Jesus' simple teachings but also infuriated many Christian fundamentalists to advocate the return to "simple faith". The Gnostics, in their attempt to "purify" Jesus' teaching and free them from their earthly bounds, had injected new ideas into Christianity most of which were based on myth and fantasies and were bordering on heresy.
The call to return to the "simple faith" was easier said than done. In the end "simple faith" was universally restored but not without the help of an emperor.
The start of the new millennium witnessed the death of the Roman Republic and the birth of Imperial Rome. The Augustan emperors may have brought peace to the empire but with it they also brought neglect, decline and decay. As I mentioned earlier, by 180 AD, there were unmistakable signs of decay. Besides the agricultural and economic decline, the empire opened its doors to anarchy when the adoptive system of choosing emperors was abandoned in favour of personal appointments. The first emperor to break with tradition was Marcus Aurelius who appointed his son, Commodus, as his successor. Unfortunately, Emperor Commodus, instead of ruling, spent twelve years (180 to 192 AD) drinking with the gladiators until he was strangled by his trainer. After a year of civil war Septimius Severus, an African rose to supreme power and in his eighteen years of rule he did his best to restore peace and order. Severus and his relations kept the empire functioning until 235 AD, when the last member of that family was assassinated.
The following fifty years witnessed bloodshed, misrule and civil war. The erosion of central power opened the doors for barbarian invasions and besides attacks from the various Germanic tribes and Franks on the west, a more serious push came from the Goths in the east. The Goths were a maritime people who lived in southern Russia and controlled the waterways from the Baltic, across Russia to the Black and Caspian Seas.
Unable to withstand their advance the Romans lost the eastern seas and allowed the Goths to enter the Aegean coastline and advance on Macedonia. Another group crossed the Danube in a great land raid in 247 AD, defeating and killing the Emperor Decius. The Romans eventually did muster enough strength and, in 270 AD, Claudius defeated the Goths driving them back to where they originated.
Further east, under the powerful Sassanid dynasty, the Persian Empire was revived and it too attacked the Romans, capturing the Roman Emperor Valerian in 260 AD. In 276 AD the Goths returned to raid the coasts of Asia Minor. Then in 284 AD Diocletian, an Illyrian born general, seized power in Rome and ruled for the next twenty years.
It was Diocletian who first seized the opportunity and introduced the share of rule. The empire was too great a task for one man to rule so Diocletian established a Board of Four Emperors. This was an old idea whose time had finally come. Unfortunately, this idea only worked while Diocletian was in power and fell apart after his retirement in 305 AD. Fortunately, the concept of sharing rule survived and after another round of destructive conflicts in 313 AD, Constantine emerged victorious as co-Emperor with Licinius.
One of the main failures that led to the decline of the Roman Empire was poor communication. Rome's geographical position in relation to its empire made her unsuitable as a world capital. Every order and every official document had to travel northward for half the length of Italy before it could turn east or west. Even though some of the more capable emperors set up their headquarters in the hub of activity this still did not solve the communication problem in its entirety.
One of Constantine's priorities after seizing power was to find a suitable location for his capital where communication would not be problem. Although Solun was contemplated for its cosmopolitan Macedonian culture, economy and defenses, Constantine opted for the city of Byzantium. After all was it not Byzantium that withstood Philip II's siege and survived? From a strategic point, Byzantium offered some advantages over Solun. Byzantium was located on the waters of the Bosporus that linked the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. It was the center of the Roman world and linked east with west. From a military perspective, ships could easily be dispatched east or west up the rivers and outflank every barbarian advance. Even Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Aegean and Adriatic coastlines were within a reasonable striking distance from Byzantium. From a commercial perspective, Byzantium was a lot closer to the eastern trade routes than Rome or Solun. In other words, Constantine chose Byzantium by careful planning and design, which in the long term gave his empire the advantage it needed to survive for nearly a millennium and a half, until 1453 AD.
Flavius Valerius Constantinus, or Emperor Constantine as he was later known, was born in Naissus in the province of Moesia Superior, the modern day Nish in Serbia, on 27 February in either year 271, 272, or 273 AD. His father was a military officer named Constantius (later named Constantius Chlorus or Constantius I). His mother, a woman of humble background, was named Helena (later named St. Helena). It has been said that Constantius and Helena were not married. Having previously attained the rank of tribune, provincial governor, and probably praetorian prefect, Constantius, on March 1st, 293AD, was promoted to the rank of Caesar in the First Tetrarchy organized by Diocletian. On this occasion he was required to put aside Helena and marry Theodora, the daughter of Maximian. Upon the retirement of Diocletian and Maximian on May 1st, 305 AD, Constantius succeeded to the rank of Augustus. Constantine, meanwhile, had served with distinction under both Diocletian and Galerius in the east. Kept initially at the court of Galerius as a pledge of good conduct on his father's part, he was later allowed to join his father in Britain and assisted him in a campaign against the Picts. When Constantius died, on July 25th, 306, at Eburacum (York), Constantine was at his side. The soldiers at once proclaimed him Augustus. Constantine henceforth observed this day as his dies imperii. Having settled affairs in Britain swiftly, he returned to the Continent where the city of Augusta Treverorum (Trier) served as his principal residence for the next six years. There too, in 307 AD, he married Maximian's daughter Fausta putting away his mistress Minervina, who had born his first son, Crispus.
At the same time Constantine was proclaimed Augustus, the Senate and the Praetorian Guard in Rome had allied themselves with Maxentius, the son of Maximian. On October 28th, 306 AD they proclaimed him emperor in the lower rank of princeps initially, although he later claimed the rank of Augustus. Constantine and Maxentius, although they were brothers-in-law, did not trust each other. Their relationship was further complicated by their scheming and eventually by the death of Maximian in 310 AD. Open hostilities between the two rivals broke out in 312 AD and Constantine won a decisive victory in the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge. This made Constantine and co-Emperor and brother in law, Licinius the sole rulers of the Roman Empire.
To be continued...
And now I leave you with this...
Believe it! Christianity owes its roots to the Macedonians. Almost every book I read that deals with Christianity mentions Macedonians as contributors to founding Christianity. Alexander the Great opened the way to discovering the various religions that existed in Asia, Africa and India. Macedonians pondered and debated whether or not the gods of various cultures were indeed the same gods by different names. Macedonians were among the first philosophers to put forth the idea of one God. Is this a revelation? No it is not! The answer has always been in front of us inside all those books including the Holy Bible.
What surprised me the most is how widespread the use of the Koine language was during the Roman period. Even the original New Testament was written in Koine and later translated to the various languages of the Christian world.
As I said before, the Koine language was the common language or lingua franca of the Mediterranean people, including the Macedonians. It did not exclusively belong to the Athenians or to any other group of people in the Greek peninsula. Koine was also spoken by Thracians, Illyrians, Bythinians, Carians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Galatians, Paphlagonians, Lycians, Syrians, Cilicians, Misians, Cappadocians, Egyptians, Italians, Romans, etc., etc, of whom none were Greek nor did they live in the Greek peninsula.
Just because the modern Greeks were the first to lay claim to the Koine language, as their own, it doesn't make it so. When modern Greece was created for the first time in 1829, no one spoke the Koine language. The modern Greek language is a modern invention based on the Koine and unsuccessfully on the Attic languages. In fact, before 1829 more than 90% of the population of the Greek peninsula spoke anything but Greek. Do the math!
The people of western Greece spoke Squiptar (modern Albanian), the people of eastern Greece spoke Turkish, the people of northern Greece spoke Macedonian, the Pontics from Asia Minor who were brought into Greece by force during the 1920's spoke Turkish and the indigenous Vlachs spoke Vlach. It is well known that the Slav intruders that invaded the Greek peninsula down to the Peloponnesus during the early centuries and were assimilated among the Greeks during the 1830's, also did not speak Greek. Even the Cretans and Cypriots did not speak Greek before 1829.
So, who were the Greek speakers of 1829?
This is a question for those who claim that their precious Greek language was handed down to them from generation to generation from the ancient Greeks.
Give it up!
Alexandar Donski, The Descendants of Alexander the Great of Macedon The Arguments and Evidence that Today's Macedonians are Descendants of the Ancient Macedonians (Part One - Folklore Elements), Shtip/Sydney - 2004.
A History of the Macedonian People, Institute of National History, Macedonian Review, 1979, Skopje.
F.E. Peters, The Harvest of Hellenism A History of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity, Simon and Schuster, 1970.
Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum New York, 1976
W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL. D., St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder and Stroughton, London. 1894
Apostolos Papagiannopoulos, Monuments of Thessaloniki, John Rekos & Co., Thessaloniki, 1980
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Holman, Philadelphia, 1952
D. Fishwick, The Foundations of the West, Clark, Irwin & Company, Toronto, 1963
Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology, Western Australia, 1998
Will Durant, The Story of Civilization Caesar and Christ, A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from the Beginnings to A.D. 325, Simon & Shuster, Toronto, 1994.
H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Garden City Books, New York, 1961
The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 1991).
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