“Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us harm“. This is one sentence the modern Greek propaganda and the Greek nationalists use all day long to “prove” that Macedonia was part of ancient Greece, as they claim. But, propaganda and blatant lies of nationalists are easy to refute as we will show now in the following article.
First of all, let us see were this “famous” quote comes from.
Arrian – Anabasis
In November 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius III. After the battle of Issus, the Persian king Darius offered in a letter to surrender half of his empire. But the Macedonian king Alexander III considered this not enough. The Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia described Alexander’s reply in chapter 2.14 of his well known work Anabasis.
This letter you can find through the world wide web, and of course in Arrians work and the translations of it. We will not provide the whole letter here, but the passage from were this quote is extracted by the modern Greek nationalists.
[2.14.4] Alexander drafted a reply to this letter and sent Thersippus to accompany the envoys from Darius, with instructions to hand over the letter to Darius but not to engage in any negotiations. Alexander’s letter read as follows: “Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us harm although we had not done you any previous injury. I have been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks and it is with the aim of punishing the Persians that I have crossed into Asia, since you are the aggressors.
The Greek nationalists fabricated two “key arguments” for their propaganda out of this tiny passage of the whole letter:
- Alexander “confirmed that Macedonia was part of Greece”, as he said “Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece”.
- The phrase “I have been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks” is used as proof, that “Alexander was Greek because he was appointed as leader of the Greeks”.
The latter argument is easy to debunk, as Alexander was also later on the leader of the Persians, Egyptians,…, either there are other examples in history were foreigners were leaders of a nation. This is by far no argument for the “Greekness” of Alexander and the ancient Macedonians.
Before we will go further into the first main “key argument” made by Greek nationalists, there is one important thing you should know about these letters: They are not authentic and defined as ancient forgery!
Those letters are even labeled as “fictional letters“. Some historians argue, that these letters reflect only contemporary Macedonian propaganda – as we know, Greeks were not really loyal to Alexander III of Macedon. They rose up on every occasion, Alexander even did not took much Greeks on his campaign versus Persia. He was aware of the non-loyalty of Greek troops.
“Identified as a forgery of the antiquities”
Historians are still in doubt if these letters are genuine. Despite the fact that segments of these letters survived on some papyri, dated to the second century AD, and would seem to make the case for an argument in favour of their original existence, doubts about the authenticity have been raised and are overwhelming. The material is questioned and is identified as a forgery of the antiquities! This conclusion can be drawn by arguments made by L. Pearson and C.B. Wells.
“In this context, Arrian delivers a letter from Alexander and Darius, which is probably not authentic, but can be traced back to contemporary Macedonian propaganda.” is the conclusion of the well known German historian Hans-Ulrich Wiemer in his work Alexander der Große.
The dutch historian Jonas Lendering says as introduction to the letter: “The text of the reply is probably not authentic, but contains the general gist of Alexander’s letter.” On his website Livius.org you can read the whole letter, as also the introduction we just mentioned.
Moreover, “Macedonia and the rest of Greece, the words described to Alexander, must be Arrians words, and reflect later conception.” is the conclusion of P.A. Brunt in the introduction of the book “Arrian with an English translation” released by Harvard University Press in 1976.
As we have seen now, the modern Greek propaganda argues on behalf on a not authentic letter!
But let us guess that these letters were probably authentic. What did Alexander meant with “Your ancestors invaded Macedonia and the rest of Greece, and you did us harm”.
What does “Rest of Greece” mean, if true?
As we said above, modern Greek nationalists claim that Alexander “was aware that Macedonia was part of ancient Greece because he said: Macedonia and rest of Greece”. In the eyes of those nationalists, Macedonia and Greece were one, as Alexander considered with these words that Macedonia was part of ancient Greece. In other words, the other “rest of Greece” was Macedonia!? But this argumentation does not reflect historical facts! The “other rest” was simply the part of Greece not under Persian control, or occupation! Because, to this date Persians had already occupied parts of ancient Greece!
We mentioned Jona Lendering an his website. Just after the words Macedonia and Greece you will see in his article a “note” mark. If you click on it, some additional lines of text will appear. They read as following:
- Macedonia: Macedonia had been made a Persian vassal in c. 512 by the Persian commander Megabazus. In 492, Mardonius had strengthened the Persian grip on Macedonia.
- Greece: In 490, Darius had send an army, commanded by Datis and Artaphernes, to conquer the Greek islands in the Aegean sea. It had seized them all and had deported the inhabitants of Eretria. Later, Datis had tried to make Hippias, a pro-Persian nobleman, tyrant of Athens, but his army had been defeated near Marathon.
So, from these additional explanations we can now focus on the events Alexander mentioned in the fictional letters, and the time. The events took place about 492-490 BC.
Those readers interested in ancient history, will immediately know, that in 492 BC happened the so called “first Persian invasion of Greece”, with the glorified final battle in Marathon 490 BC. But this is not the main point. Before the Persians started the first invasion, parts of ancient Greece were already for several decades under Persian control: Asia Minor!
For example: In 499 BCE, the Ionian city-states on the west coast of Anatolia rebelled against Persian rule.
As Asia Minor was considered as part of ancient Greece, and Darius tried to invade Greece in 492 BC, we now have the answer what Alexander considered as the “rest of Greece”. It was not Macedonia, but the Greek peninsula and the islands, not being under Persian rule…
One more hint: “You sent unfriendly letters…”
Even if we consider these letters as authentic, there is another problem with the arguments of the modern Greek propaganda. The Greek nationalists use exclusively only one tiny part of the fictional letter. But the letter does not consist only of one passage. The passage they use, is known in historiography as Arrian 2.14.4. The Greek nationalists refuse to show the following passage in the letter, as the next passage known as 2.14.5 does not back their cheap argumentation.
Let’s remember, modern Greeks claim that Alexander is Greek because he considered Macedonia as rest of Greece, but also because he said “I was appointed leader of the Greeks”. But in those not authentic letters Alexander maybe wrote to Darius: “You sent unfriendly letters to the Greeks about me”.
This is the following passage 2.14.5:
[2.14.5] You gave support to the people of Perinthus, who had done my father harm, and Ochus sent a force to Thrace, which was under our rule. My father died at the hand of conspirators instigated by you, as you yourself boasted to everybody in your letters, you killed Arses with the help of Bagoa and gained your throne through unjust means, in defiance of Persian custom and doing wrong to the Persians. You sent unfriendly letters to the Greeks about me, to push them to war against me.
So if Alexander was Greek, how it comes he said: the letter was send “to the Greeks”?
- Anabasis, Arrian
- Arrian with an English translation, P.A. Brunt
- Alexander the Great, Hans-Ulrich Wiemer
- Arrian on Alexander’s letter to Darius III, Jona Lendering, Livius.org
- Darius’ Letters to Alexander and the Responses: Ideology of Conquest in Retrospect, Parivash Jamzadeh (mentioned quotes of L. Pearson and C.B. Wells taken from there)