BMCR 2021.09.40

Ancient Macedonia

, Ancient Macedonia. Trends in classics - key perspectives on classical research, 1. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2021. Pp. xiii, 241. ISBN 9783110718645 $28.99.


With Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos’ Ancient Macedonia, De Gruyter opens a new series under the title Trends in Classics – Key Perspectives on Classical Research. Under this title, the editors aim to bring together contributions by outstanding scholars on the current state of research and research perspectives in various fields of Classical Studies, which provide orientation for students and researchers alike.[1] Dedicating the first volume of the series to Macedonia is a strong sign, and the author is undoubtedly one of the leading scholars in this area of research. In accordance with his self-set aim of critically assessing the state of research on Macedonia while focusing on various thematic aspects (p. V), he guides his reader through the various scholarly debates that have lasted for several decades. At one point he describes these correctly as a labyrinth (p. V), at another even as a minefield.

The chosen time span runs from the beginning to the end of the Macedonian kingdom, the 7th century BC until the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC. For this, Hatzopoulos discusses both the ancient evidence (literary, epigraphic, and here and there also archaeological) and the scholarship on it since the 19th century when research began on this area. In terms of content and scope the book is divided into three main sections: 2) The Land: Where was Macedonia?, 3) Who were the Macedonians?, 4) Personalities, and a much shorter final section 5 Envoi: Were the Macedonians visited by heaven-sent madness? The Conclusion can almost be neglected due to its short length, while the Introduction Why does Ancient Macedonia Matter? despite its brevity presents data directly related to Macedonia and essential for beginners. An index and four illustrations—the map in fig. 1 with very small labels—accompany the main body of the text along with the obligatory bibliography.

Hatzopoulos introduces the first of his main sections, chapter 2, The Land, with and overview of our understanding of Macedonia’s geography, where he addresses the longstanding (and sometimes still problematic) identification of ancient and modern places and provides an initial insight into the occasionally heated debates and their evolution. As he explains, the spatial understanding of Macedonia is closely connected with the expansion of the domain of the Argeads, Thucydides’ explanations of which can be understood neither as a purely chronological nor a purely geographical sequence. Rather, the ancient author began his account with the places and regions that were immediately relevant to him, to which he subordinated others (p. 14). Regarding the forms of appropriation associated with the concept of expansion, Hatzopoulos addresses the question of ethnic identities, discussed in previous research primarily on the basis of material evidence from Archaic cemeteries. According to him, however, only linguistic evidence allows conclusions to be drawn (p. 29). Based on epigraphic sources and linguistic studies of the attested names in these, he justifies his advocacy of the late dating of the Macedonian expansion into the areas of (Lower) Paionia, Mygdonia and beyond. Moreover, he explains, especially for the Classical period, that the expansion was by no means straightforward, but that there were also repeated setbacks, and he concludes by highlighting the diversity of territories and cities with their different legal statuses.

The question of identity continues in chapter 3, Who were the Macedonians?, where Hatzopoulos takes up the debate whether Macedonians were Greeks or not. The term Macedonian is not to be understood ethnically, but in terms of civil law and does not exclude affilitation to another civic unit (pp. 52. 58). His explanations and argumentation then focus on various aspects associated with this question, such as the origin of the Argeads/Macedonians (Argos via Illyria according to Herodotus 8.137.1, p. 60) and the Macedonian language (a north-western Greek dialect). He presents the various scholarly opinions and the significant influence of the  inscription editions in the 1970s[2] on this question and the Macedonian tongue in particular, and notes with wonder that the Macedonian calendar and its Greek origin were apparently never taken into account (p. 78). Moving on to cults and beliefs, he rejects the view that Macedonian ideas about the afterlife were entirely un-Greek given the lack of evidence in the sources for this (pp. 80. 86 s.). Rather, he stresses the analogies of the Macedonian pantheon with that of other Greeks (p. 81) and points to the important role of rites of passage in Macedonian society (p. 84). Finally, he turns to customs and institutions, where he focuses on the Macedonian state as defined by cities and kingship, and sets out its development in the history of research, occasionally including historical reasons.

In chapter 4, Personalities, Hatzopoulos finally turns his attention to the central protagonists of Macedonian history, around whom not only narratives and myths but also numerous sometimes vehement scholarly debates revolve. He devotes a brief introductory section to the Macedonian kings Alexander I, Perdikkas II, Archelaos, Amyntas III, Kassandros and Lysimachos, as well as the Antigonids, who have received less attention in research. Outlining the limited extent of their treatment in scholarship, he explains his decision to concentrate more on Philip II and Alexander III. He provides an overview and assessment of the central research positions under the aspects of lifespan, reign and associated dates, as well as Philip’s time as hostage and regent, before sheding more light on the debates which concern his wives. Attention is also paid to Philip’s assassination and the identification of his tomb. While Hatzopoulos presents the former primarily with regard to the role of Alexander III, whom he himself considers innocent, he positions himself tentatively approvingly in the discussion about Philip’s tomb: he considers the attribution of Tomb II of the Great Tumulus at Vergina to Philip to be possible, especially since the findings from this tomb correspond to the historical data on the death of Philip II and his wife Kleopatra whereas they do not on the tomb of Arrhidaios-Philip III and Hadea-Eurydike (p. 157-159). However, he concedes that the previous studies with their different approaches were not able to provide definite proof (pp. 151-157). The question will probably never really be answered, which is why I welcome Hatzopoulos’s conclusion. In the last sub-chapter of the section he deals with Philip’s legacy and the preparations for the Asian campaign that Alexander III undertook. At this point, his elaborations shift into a more narrative mode that focuses less on the various scholarly debates. This is also the case in the following, much shorter section 5, Envoi: Were the Macedonians visited by heaven-sent madness?, in which he considers the final years of the Macedonian Empire.[3]

All in all, Hatzopoulos’ Ancient Macedonia is a concise yet comprehensive overview of the main research questions and their historical development presented in a well-structured and very readable manner. He always takes into account the sources and scholars’ views, positioning his own views at the end of his critical assessments, though not excluding himself from criticism—several times he admits to having reconsidered and changed earlier positions. The book offers excellent help for anyone seeking access to the complex discussions of all aspects of Macedonian studies and fully meets the objectives of the series and is indeed suitable for (advanced) students and researchers alike. As Hatzopoulos explains and the series itself suggests this is not a handbook or companion (p. V) and some prior knowledge is helpful. This may explain why there are so few illustrations.

The paperback cover and format are appealing. Nevertheless, the text contains occasional minor errors[4] that escaped the copy-editing process. Also, more consistency would have been desirable with regard to the indication of modern names and in the use of transcriptions (or not).


[1] Thus the description of the series on the cover blurb.

[2] Next to the institution of the international meetings Ancient Macedonia, the publication of G. L. Hammond’s History of Macedonia, and the discovery of the Royal Tombs at Vergina/Aigai through M. Andronicos during the 1970s, Hatzopoulos finds the various editions of inscriptions particularly important: C. Edson’s volumes of the Inscriptiones Graecae on Macedonia which appeared from 1972 onwards, as well as the edition works initiated at the end of the decade which resulted in the corpora of inscriptions of Macedonia and Thrace at the Centre for Greek and Roman Antiquity (KERA) of the National Hellenic Research Foundation (NHRF). Cfr. Hatzopoulos 2021, 73.

[3] In this he criticizes the objectivity of Polybius, whose remarks led to the title of this section.

[4] p. 4 n. 1: Dakin 1966? instead of 1966; p. 118: Hatzopoulos 2006 instead of 2003-2004 as in the note; occasional typos throughout the volume.