The Macedonian ancient heritage is undeniable (2)

With the weakening of the theme system in Byzantium during the second half of the 9th century, and particularly in the 12th, the term Macedonia was being less and less used in its thematic and administrative meaning and under the influence of classicism the term Macedonia in its classic, historical-geographical meaning was being restored.

When did the Slavs start calling themselves Macedonians?


Since then, the term was gradually used not only to mark the territory of Macedonia in its ancient meaning, but the use by its inhabitants that they were from Macedonia or that they were Macedonians became more frequent. This nomination was gradually accepted by the new inhabitants, the Slavs, who started naming themselves Macedonians after the territory and the people that they assimilated, according to Dr. Boshkoski.
“The relationship between the Slavs and the native Macedonians and their life together is a question that is always asked when it is discussed about the Macedonians’ continuity. The native Macedonians from the period when the Slavs inhabited this region were mainly Romanized and Hellenized Macedonian population which was a mix from the remains of the old Macedonians and the many Romanian and “barbarian” colonists that survived the Slavic inhabitation, while only a small number of those who took shelter in the high mountain places managed to preserve their ethnic marks.

On the other hand, according to other authors, it can be certainly claimed that the ancient Macedonians actually merged into the Slavic sea and forever disappeared from the world history scene. According to Prof. Dr. Stjepan Antoljak, the name Macedonians transferred into the memory of the newly inhabited Slavs, who were called Macedonians by the Byzantine authors starting from the 10th century” – says Dr. Boshkoski.

Immediately before the arrival of the Slavs in Macedonia, the majority of the population consisted of Macedonians, Paeonians, Romanized people and other smaller ethnic groups and the language of the native remained in use, beside the official Latin. This fact is confirmed by the high rate of presence of the name Makedo and other typical Macedonian names in the region of Macedonia throughout the Roman period.
Relating the name Macedonia to the Slavs in Macedonia


The first time that the name Macedonia was mentioned in relation to the Macedonian Slavs was by Anastasius the librarian and it was about a Byzantine military expedition against the Slavs in 759. Anastasius clearly differentiated Slavs and Bulgarians, as well as the Byzantine administrative unit, or the theme Macedonia, from Macedonia in its ancient meaning, which was now inhabited by Slavs. He wrote that “in the 18th year of his reign, Constantine captured the Sclavinias in Macedonia, and conquered the others.”

A particularly interesting use of the name Macedonia was by the Byzantine King Michael II in early 9th century. In his letter from 10th April 824 sent to the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ludwik the Fair, the Byzantine king reported about events that happened during his reign. He reported about the heavy traumas that the Byzantine Empire survived during Tomas the Slav from 820-824, writing “after he conquered our boats and dromons, he could come in parts of Thrace and Macedonia. By going there, he besieged our town (referring to Constantinople) and surrounded it with the fleet in December 821.

Further in the letter it was pointed out that Tomas the Slav had many insurgents from different regions in his lines, such as “regions of Mysia, Europe, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly and the Sclavinias that were around”.
Constantine VII “the purple-born” was one of the most significant Byzantine authors from early- and mid-10th century that used the terms Macedonia and Macedonians in their ancient meaning by calling the Slavs from that territory with that name, even though most of Macedonia’s territory was under Bulgarian command at the time. His works contain very important information about the Southern Slavs on the Balkans, the Macedonian Slavs and the Slavs in Greece and Peloponnese.

Unlike many of his contemporaries or medieval authors from the 10th and 11th century, he managed to successfully make a difference between the Byzantine theme Macedonia, located in western Thrace, and Macedonia in its ancient meaning with its historical-geographical borders.

“The information from Constantine VII about the lion as a crown of the Macedonians since the ancient period is the oldest written data about the tradition of the lion as crown of the Macedonians. That is why the coins with lion’s face of the Macedonian kings, who were dressed in lion’s skin, were valued more than any jewel or royal diadem. His testimony about the region of Strymon is very interesting. He wrote that the theme Strymon merged with Macedonia but did not regard it as a theme, but as a gorge that was used by Scythians rather than Macedonians, after Justinian Rinomet moved them to the mountains of Struma and the natural gorges”.


What is important is that Constantine VII never used the term Bulgarians to describe the Macedonian Slavs, or the Macedonians that were under Bulgarian command during his reign, which showed that he clearly differentiated the Macedonians from the Bulgarians. He used the terms Slavs, Scythians and barbarians to describe the Slavs in Macedonia and he remained consistent with his use of the term Macedonia as a land that was inhabited by the Slavs, at the same time ignoring the term Bulgaria for the territories that the Bulgarians conquered from Macedonia. 

Macedonia was still Macedonia even in 1018!

The Byzantine historian Leo the Deacon, born in Asia Minor circa 950, wrote about history in 10 books about the period from 959 to 976, but also about events that happened until 989. He used many ancient and early-byzantine authors as reference in his books. In one of his ten books there is a detail description of the Battle at the Gates of Trajan from 17th August 986 when the Macedonian army, led by Aron and Samoil, won a glorious victory over the Byzantine army led by Emperor Basil II.

“An interesting thing is that Leo the Deacon called the inhabitants of the medieval Macedonian state, whose first king was Samoil, Scythians and Mysians. Beside these names for the Macedonian Slavs, he also used the terms Macedonia and Macedonians to mark the territory and inhabitants that lived in that territory. The primary meaning of that term was its ancient one and represents a negation of the imposed term Bulgaria for the territory of Macedonia under Bulgarian command, while the term Macedonians, borrowed from the ancient authors, was used to mark the Macedonian Slavs from south-east and southern Macedonia, that remained in the Byzantine Empire for much of Samoil’s reign” – says Dr. Boshkoski.

The Byzantine historian John Skylitzes represents one of the most important historical sources about the history of the Macedonian medieval kingdom. In his historical book that represents a continuation of the “Chronicles” from Teophanes he covered the period between 811 and 1057. He wrote it during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos and his understanding of the term Macedonia was particularly clearly differentiated.


According to him, the term Macedonia indicated a Byzantine administrative unit, or a theme, Macedonia, in western Thrace, which coincided with the information that Samoil rampaged in that Macedonia, too. It indicated an area that was called that way because a great number of Macedonians were forcefully inhabited there several centuries before.

Another mention of the name Macedonia by Skylitzes was when he described the earthquake from 1037. He wrote: “In 6546 (1037), 6th Indict (2nd November) in 10 A.M. there was an earthquake and the ground continued to shake until the end of January. There was famine in Thrace and Macedonia, Strymon and Thessaloniki, all the way to Thessaly”.

His younger colleague John Zonaras, who was a dignitary at the Byzantine court and head of the court’s office, had a dual approach to the term Macedonia. Namely, as with most Byzantine authors from the 11th and 12th century, Zonaras also used the term Macedonia as an administrative term for the Byzantine theme Macedonia in western Thrace, but on another occasion he used the term to indicate Macedonia in its ancient, historical-geographical borders.

Byzantine writer Anna Komnene wrote her “Alexiad” in mid-12th century, a book where she described the history of her father Alexios I Komnenos’s reign. Her book consisted of 15 volumes, using the name Macedonia on two occasions when writing about the ancient history of the Macedonians, and on all other occasions she used the term to indicate the theme Macedonia in western Thrace, thus making a strict difference between ancient Macedonia and the province Macedonia in Byzantium” – says Dr. Boshkoski.

(to be continued)

Блаже Миневски за МИА (извор: МИА)

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