Recovering Macedonia 3 - Who are the Modern People?

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Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913

Part 3 - Who are the Modern People?

By Risto Stefov

December, 2005


In the previous chapter we established that the ancient indigenous people living in the lower Balkans were Paeonians, Lyncestians, Pelasgians, Phrygians, Illyrians, Thracians and others. From these tribes, over time and through external cultural influence and through mutual contact, two distinct independent and powerful communities emerged.

1. The Macedonians, who were a monarchical society, organized as a single large state and were ruled politically by a royal dynasty and a single king.

2. The Peloponnesians or "Ancient Greeks", who were a mixed democratic-monarchical society, organized in many (dozens) City States. Some were democratic and some were ruled by dynastic monarchies, which were very protective of their culture, xenophobic and closed to outsiders. The City States were never united and were never organized under a single political system or under a single universal leader.

Even though the two communities emerged and developed independently, they eventually came into contact and, to some extent, influenced each other politically, economically and culturally. For the most part, however, the two communities remained aloof until Macedonia conquered the Greek City States in 338 BC. After that the City States lost their political independence and began to decline under Macedonian domination. Then in 197BC they were briefly liberated and re-conquered by Rome, from which they never recovered.

There is no question that Macedonia was culturally influenced by the more advanced City States but no one can say with any certainty how deep this influence penetrated Macedonian society. If language can be a factor of "cultural influence", then we know that some Macedonians were bi-lingual and only a small segment, mainly the educated elite, spoke Attic, later Koine. The vast majority, or common Macedonians, neither had the inclination nor the need to learn foreign languages. It is doubtful that the farmers and soldiers who came from rural Macedonia had any desire or need to learn more than their own indigenous mother tongue.

With regards to ethnic mixing, there is no historical evidence of any extraordinary ethnic mixing between Ancient Macedonians and Ancient Greeks. There is, however, historical evidence that during classical times the number of slaves living in Attica roughly equaled the number of free inhabitants. What this means is that even at the outset, the ancient Greeks were multi-ethnic. There were no slaves in Macedonia.

I just want to mention here that many ethnicities, including blacks from Africa were among the Attic slaves who during the Roman occupation were freed and became Greek citizens and assimilated into ancient Greek society. [2]

To learn more about the differences between the Ancient Macedonians and the Ancient Greeks, I would recommend reading J.S.G Gandeto's book "Ancient Macedonians: Differences Between The Ancient Macedonians and the Ancient Greeks" [1]. Gandeto has dedicated his entire book, using mostly ancient sources, to prove without any doubt that the Ancient Macedonians were not Greeks. Neither of the ancient people believed they were related to the other.

For the 140 years or so between the time Macedonia conquered the Greek City States and Rome annexed Macedonia, there were open borders and people could have moved back and forth but no one knows to what extent and how many, if any, moved.

What we do know is that a number of cities (18) were founded by Alexander III during his Eastern campaigns which in part were populated with Macedonian settlers. These cities continued to exist for centuries after the Macedonian dynasties collapsed. We also know that sick and wounded Macedonian soldiers were left behind by Alexander as far back as Pakistan and never returned. You can draw your own conclusions from this.

Rome was a City State and did not have a large population to run its vast empire, so it tended to hire from the outside. Given that Rome just conquered the Macedonian kingdoms (three of them) with well established administrations and trained armies then it must have been natural for Romans to hire Macedonians.

Much of Rome's army, administration and leadership, including its Emperors, especially towards the end, came from the non Roman but Romanized populations outside of Rome. Even the Romans themselves admitted that the Emperors from Macedonia were the most capable and progressive of all leaders. The Empire always expanded, prospered and gained magnificence under the leadership of Macedonian Emperors such as Justinian I and Basil II.

There is historic evidence of Roman colonization in Macedonia but to what extent and what ethnicities, is unknown. The only visible evidence of Roman presence in Macedonia today are Roman ruins and Latin speaking Vlachs, who I will address in the next chapter.

After the Roman Empire split into West and East, the Western part disintegrated while the Eastern part continued to exist for another millennium or so. During this vast time span, much happened in the Balkans and the region experienced population shuffles and foreign invasions which greatly influenced its demographics.

The Eastern Romans or Byzantines (better known as the Pravoslavs to the Macedonians) were notorious for population shuffles. It is well known that invaders such as the Slav speakers, who entered Byzantine territories from north of the Danube River, were moved to Morea (modern day Peloponnesus) and to Asia Minor. These invading Slav speakers, I believe, were refugees fleeing from other invading tribes who came to the Balkans from beyond the Danube River.

When Bulgars from the north started crossing the Danube River, the Pravoslavs moved populations from Syria and Armenia to fill sparsely populated areas in Northern Macedonia so that they would act as barriers against the invasion.

The Pravoslavs were also notorious for displacing people from trouble spots. History has recorded a number of such displacements including the one of Tsar Samoil's ancestors who were moved from Armenia to Macedonia.

Besides internal population displacements, outsiders also invaded the lower Balkans over the years.

According to H. G. Wells [3] who studied world history, it was the Wall of China that propagated displacements and caused demographic changes in Western Asia and Europe. The Wall of China, which was meant to end Mongolian invasions into Eastern China, was in fact the cause for the westward migrations.

The wall forced Mongolian migrants, who spent their summers in Mongolia and winters in China, to abandon their traditional annual migrating patterns and turn westward. Pressure from the westward Mongol invasions pushed some of the indigenous tribes further to the south thus causing a cascading effect, which was eventually felt in the Balkans.

Some of the tribes that invaded the south Balkans included the Visigoths who crossed the Danube around 376 AD, the Huns around 447 AD, the Avars around 560 AD, the Bulgars around 680 AD and so on. Slav speakers or Slav movements have also been recorded by history but they were simply refugees fleeing from the invaders. Many Slav families, due to economic hardships brought on by the invaders, left their ancestral homes and traveled south into Byzantine territories.

As mentioned in chapter two of this series, the Slav speakers were indigenous to the region. The Slav speakers are the original Europeans, the first people to settle the Balkans.

After the Bulgars, next to invade the Balkans were the Vikings. The Vikings made their trek from the north by water but were repealed by the Byzantines. At the turn of the first millennium following the Vikings came the Muslims. The Muslim invaders were successfully repealed and held at bay for at least another two centuries before they made their presence felt in the Balkans. By the 12th century AD the Muslims had mustered enough strength to cross over from Asia Minor, invade the Eastern part of Europe and keep parts of it occupied until the 20th century.

The Muslim invaders, better known as the Ottoman Empire, were numerically far inferior to the vast populations they invaded. To overcome their population shortages, they tended to assimilate people from the occupied lands by converting them to Islam. Some converted voluntarily and yet others were forcibly converted regardless of their ethnicity. The only distinction that mattered to the Ottomans was whether their citizens were Muslim or not, everything else was unimportant. By the 16th century, before nationalism had reached the Balkans, people could only be distinguished by their religion. There were Muslims, the dominant class, and others, the administrative and working classes. The reason I emphasize that there was a non-Muslim administrative class is because it played an important role in the emergence of the modern Balkan States, which I will discuss in the next chapter.

By the 19th century, outside of religion and language (and to a small extent, traditions), it was impossible to distinguish between the various ethnicities living in the lower Balkans. People simply identified with their religion and to some extent with their language. There were Muslim Turks who spoke Turkish, Slavic, Albanian, Roma, etc. and then there were Christians who spoke Turkish, Slavic, Koine, Vlach, Albanian, etc. So it was impossible to determine ethnicities.

In the categories of "people classification" religion was number one, followed by social class, language and then by tradition. Nationality was not even a criterion until nationalism was introduced in the Balkans in the 19th century.

Nationalism in the Balkans

As mentioned earlier, before the introduction of nationalism in the Ottoman Balkans, the Ottoman State classified its citizens by religion, Muslims and "others". The "others" belonged to the Christian and Jewish faiths. Official Islam prohibited any other classification of its citizens outside of religion.

Within the Christian classification, unofficially there were two classes of people, the administrative or middle class and the working class. In terms of language most of the working class was uneducated and spoke one or more of the indigenous languages of the region, which were orally passed on from generation to generation. The vast majority of the administrative class was educated and spoke two or three languages. They spoke their mother tongue, Turkish and Koine. The Ottoman administrative class was multicultural and multiethnic, similar to modern middle classes in multi-ethnic states.

The administrative class had to be educated in order to serve the Ottoman Empire in various capacities, from running the Empire's banks to running Ottoman business outside of the Empire to performing domestic duties like purchasing goods, administering the Christian Churches and performing translating services for the Ottoman Empire. Muslims by law were not allowed to handle money, speak foreign languages, or venture outside Islamic borders.

The administrative class was educated in the ancient traditional language of administration and commerce, the Koine language. Koine was spoken in Tsari Grad (Constantinople or Istanbul) by the middle class since the city was created. Tsari Grad served as the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

When nationalism was introduced on masse for the first time in the Balkans, the very concept was foreign and difficult for people to comprehend. People clearly understood religious affiliations, languages spoken and social class structures but they could not tell one nationality from another because the concept was foreign to them.

The Nationalities of the Lower Balkans

Up to this point we have given you a general overview of historical events that affected the demographics of the lower Balkans from the dawn of the Roman Empire up to the early 19th century. I also want to mention that, from the 4th century AD up to the 19th century AD the lower Balkans have been without borders and internal travel and population movements have been without restrictions.

So at the dawn of the 19th century we have two major religions dominating the lower Balkans, Islam and Orthodox Christianity. Among the two religions we have a very large population of Slav speakers and smaller populations of Turkish, Albanian and Vlach speakers. Among the Orthodox Christians we also have the middle class of Koine speakers.

It is very important to understand that before the introduction of nationalism in the lower Balkans, the Koine speakers, also known as the Phanariots, had no allegiance to any nation nor clung to any ideals of nationalism or nation building. They were simply the servants of the Ottoman Empire. However as the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, the Phanariots, being educated and thus more enlightened on world affairs, were the first to "consciously awaken". Their first thoughts were to replace the ruling Turkish class with themselves. They wanted to replace the Muslim Ottoman Empire with a Christian one and restore the Byzantine Empire to its former glory. The idea of another "Large State" in Europe, especially in the Balkans, unfortunately created fear in the leadership of the Great Powers whose only comfort was to see the Ottoman Empire dismantled and replaced with small, manageable "western style" States.

After failing to create "one Balkan State" out of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, the Phanariots refocused their efforts in creating several new states, the kind that fit in the agenda of the Great Powers: the kind that could be manipulated by Western leaders and served their interests. Following the Western example, the Phanariots began to employ nationalism as the line of division for making these new States. Nationalism unfortunately was a new concept for the Balkan people and the proposed dividing lines were but a blur at best.

To be continued...


1. Gandeto, Josef S. G. Ancient Macedonians, Differences Between The Ancient Macedonians and The Ancient Greeks. New York: Writer's Showcase, 2002.

2. Shea, John. Macedonia and Greece The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation. London: McFarland & Company Inc., 1997.

3. Wells, H.G. The Outline of History. New York: Garden City Books, 1961.

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