Ancient Macedonian language

For the modern Slavic language, see Macedonian language.
Region Macedon
Era 1st millennium BC[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xmk
Linguist list
Glottolog None

Ancient Macedonian, the language of the ancient Macedonians, was spoken in the kingdom of Macedon during the 1st millennium BC and belongs to the Indo-European language family. It gradually fell out of use during the 4th century BC, marginalized by the use of Attic Greek by the Macedonian aristocracy, the Ancient Greek dialect that became the basis of Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Hellenistic period.[4]

The surviving public and private inscriptions found in Macedonia indicate that there was no other written language in ancient Macedonia but Ancient Greek,[5][6] and the recent epigraphic discoveries in the Greek region of Macedonia, such as the Pella curse tablet, suggest that ancient Macedonian was a variety of the North Western Ancient Greek dialects.[7]


Due to the fragmentary attestation of this language or dialect, various interpretations are possible.[8] Suggested phylogenetic classifications of Macedonian include:[9]


From the few idiomatic words that survive, only a little can be said about special features of the language. A notable sound-law is that the Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirates (/bʰ, dʰ, gʰ/) sometimes appear as voiced stops /b, d, g/, (written β, δ, γ), whereas they are generally unvoiced as /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/ (φ, θ, χ) elsewhere in Greek, barring a few exceptions.[19]

If γοτάν gotán ('pig') is related to *gwou ('cattle'), this would indicate that the labiovelars were either intact, or merged with the velars, unlike the usual Greek treatment (Attic βοῦς boûs). Such deviations, however, are not unknown in Greek dialects; compare Laconian Doric (the dialect of Sparta) γλεπ- glep- for common Greek βλεπ- blep-, as well as Doric γλάχων gláchōn and Ionic γλήχων glēchōn for common Greek βλήχων blēchōn.[21]

A number of examples suggest that voiced velar stops were devoiced, especially word-initially: κάναδοι kánadoi, 'jaws' (< PIE *genu-); κόμβους kómbous, 'molars' (< PIE *gombh-); within words: ἀρκόν arkón (Attic ἀργός argós); the Macedonian toponym Akesamenai, from the Pierian name Akesamenos (if Akesa- is cognate to Greek agassomai, agamai, "to astonish"; cf. the Thracian name Agassamenos).

In Aristophanes' The Birds, the form κεβλήπυρις keblēpyris ('red head', the name of a bird, perhaps the goldfinch or redpoll) is found,[22] showing a Macedonian-style voiced stop in place of a standard Greek unvoiced aspirate: κεβ(α)λή keb(a)lē versus κεφαλή kephalē ('head').

A number of the Macedonian words, particularly in Hesychius' lexicon, are disputed (i.e., some do not consider them actual Macedonian words) and some may have been corrupted in the transmission. Thus abroutes, may be read as abrouwes (αβρουϝες), with tau (Τ) replacing a digamma.[23] If so, this word would perhaps be encompassable within a Greek dialect; however, others (e.g. A. Meillet) see the dental as authentic and think that this specific word would perhaps belong to an Indo-European language different from Greek.

A. Panayotou summarizes some generally identified, through ancient texts and epigraphy, features:[24]



Ancient Macedonian morphology is shared with ancient Epirus, including some of the oldest inscriptions from Dodona.[26] The morphology of the first declension nouns with an -ας ending is also shared with Thessalian (e.g. Epitaph for Pyrrhiadas, Kierion[27]).



M. Hatzopoulos summarizes the Macedonian anthroponymy (that is names borne by people from Macedonia before the expansion beyond the Axius or people undoubtedly hailing from this area after the expansion) as follows:[28]

Common in the creation of ethnics is the use of -έστης, -εστός especially when derived from sigmatic nouns (ὄρος > Ὀρέστης but also Δῖον > Διασταί).[24]


The toponyms of Macedonia proper are generally Greek, though some of them show a particular phonology and a few others are non-Greek.


The Macedonian names of about half or more of the months of the ancient Macedonian calendar have a clear and generally accepted Greek etymology (e.g. Dios, Apellaios, Artemisios, Loos, Daisios), though some of the remaining ones have sometimes been considered to be Greek but showing a particular Macedonian phonology (e.g. Audunaios has been connected to "Haides" *A-wid and Gorpiaios/Garpiaios to "karpos" fruit).


Macedonian onomastics: the earliest epigraphical documents attesting substantial numbers of Macedonian proper names are the second Athenian alliance decree with Perdiccas II (~417–413 BC), the decree of Kalindoia (~335–300 BC) and seven curse tablets of the 4th century BC bearing mostly names.[29][30]

  1. ^ SEG 49-750. Oraiokastro. Defixio, Classical period - Brill Reference

The Pella curse tablet, a text written in a distinct Doric Greek dialect, found in 1986 and dated to between mid to early 4th century BC, has been forwarded as an argument that the ancient Macedonian language was a dialect of North-Western Greek, part of the Doric dialects.[31]

Hesychius Glossary

A body of idiomatic words has been assembled from ancient sources, mainly from coin inscriptions, and from the 5th century lexicon of Hesychius of Alexandria, amounting to about 150 words and 200 proper names, though the number of considered words sometimes differs from scholar to scholar. The majority of these words can be confidently assigned to Greek albeit some words would appear to reflect a dialectal form of Greek. There are, however, a number of words that are not easily identifiable as Greek and reveal, for example, voiced stops where Greek shows voiceless aspirates.[32]

marked words which have been corrupted.

Other sources


A number of Hesychius words are listed orphan; some of them have been proposed as Macedonian[55]

Macedonian in Classical sources

Among the references that have been discussed as possibly bearing some witness to the linguistic situation in Macedonia, there is a sentence from a fragmentary dialogue, apparently between an Athenian and a Macedonian, in an extant fragment of the 5th century BC comedy 'Macedonians' by the Athenian poet Strattis (fr. 28), where a stranger is portrayed as speaking in a rural Greek dialect. His language contains expressions such as ὕμμες ὡττικοί for ὑμεὶς ἀττικοί "you Athenians", ὕμμες being also attested in Homer, Sappho (Lesbian) and Theocritus (Doric), while ὡττικοί appears only in "funny country bumpkin" contexts of Attic comedy.[56]

Another text that has been quoted as evidence is a passage from Livy (lived 59 BC-14 AD) in his Ab urbe condita (31.29). Describing political negotiations between Macedonians and Aetolians in the late 3rd century BC, Livy has a Macedonian ambassador argue that Aetolians, Acarnanians and Macedonians were "men of the same language".[57] This has been interpreted as referring to a shared North-West Greek speech (as opposed to Attic Koiné).[58] In another passage, Livy states that an announcement was translated from Latin to Greek for Macedonians to understand.[59]

Quintus Curtius Rufus, Philotas's trial[60] and the statement that the Greek-speaking Branchidae had common language with the Macedonians.[61]

Over time, "Macedonian" (μακεδονικός), when referring to language (and related expressions such as μακεδονίζειν; to speak in the Macedonian fashion) acquired the meaning of Koine Greek.[62]

Contributions to the Koine

As a consequence of the Macedonians' role in the formation of the Koine, Macedonian contributed considerable elements, unsurprisingly including some military terminology (διμοιρίτης, ταξίαρχος, ὑπασπισταί, etc.). Among the many contributions were the general use of the first declension grammar for male and female nouns with an -as ending, attested in the genitive of Macedonian coinage from the early 4th C BC of Amyntas III (ΑΜΥΝΤΑ in the genitive; the Attic form that fell into disuse would be ΑΜΥΝΤΟΥ). There were changes in verb conjugation such as in the Imperative δέξα attested in Macedonian sling stones found in Asiatic battlefields, that became adopted in place of the Attic forms. Koine Greek established a spirantisation of beta, gamma and delta, which has been attributed to the Macedonian influence.[63] Other adoptions from the ancient Macedonian include the simplification of the sequence /ign/ to /i:n/ (γίνομαι, Attic γίγνομαι) and the loss of aspiration of the consonant cluster /sth/ (> /st/) (γενέσται, Attic γενέσθαι), for example as in a Koine inscription from Dura-Europos from the 2nd or 3rd century AD: "τον Χριστὀν μνἠσκεστε".

See also


  1. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary (1989), Macedonian, Simpson J. A. & Weiner E. S. C. (eds), Oxford: Oxford University Press, Vol. IX, ISBN 0-19-861186-2 (set) ISBN 0-19-861221-4 (vol. IX) p. 153
  2. ^ Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (1976), Macedonian, USA:Merriam-Webster, G. & C. Merriam Co., vol. II (H–R) ISBN 0-87779-101-5


  1. Macedonian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. B. Joseph (2001): "Ancient Greek". In: J. Garry et al. (eds.) Facts about the World's Major Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present.
  3. Blažek, Václav (2005). "Paleo-Balkanian Languages I: Hellenic Languages"
  4. Eugene N. Borza (1992) In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon, p. 94 (citing Hammond); G. Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers (1993), ch.4.1.
  5. Joseph Roisman; Ian Worthington (7 July 2011). A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. John Wiley & Sons. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-4443-5163-7. Many surviving public and private inscriptions indicate that in the Macedonian kingdom there was no dominant written language but standard Attic and later on koine Greek.
  6. Lewis, D. M.; Boardman, John (2000). The Cambridge ancient history, 3rd edition, Volume VI. Cambridge University Press. p. 730. ISBN 978-0-521-23348-4.
  7. Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture, Oxford University Press, 2008, p.289
  8. B. Joseph (2001): "Ancient Greek". In: J. Garry et al. (eds.) Facts about the world's major languages: an encyclopedia of the world's major languages, past and present. Online paper
  9. Mallory, J.P. (1997). Mallory, J.P.; Adams, D.Q., eds. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Chicago-London: Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 361. ISBN 1-884964-98-2.
  10. A. Meillet [1913] 1965, Aperçu d'une histoire de la langue grecque, 7th ed., Paris, p. 61. I. Russu 1938, in Ephemeris Dacoromana 8, 105-232. Quoted after Brixhe/Panayotou 1994: 209.
  11. 1 2 Masson, Olivier (2003) [1996]. "[Ancient] Macedonian language". In Hornblower, S.; Spawforth A. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (revised 3rd ed.). USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 905–906. ISBN 0-19-860641-9.
  12. Hammond, N.G.L (1993) [1989]. The Macedonian State. Origins, Institutions and History (reprint ed.). USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814927-1.
  13. Michael Meier-Brügger, Indo-European linguistics, Walter de Gruyter, 2003, p.28,on Google books
  14. Roisman, Worthington, 2010, "A Companion to Ancient Macedonia", Chapter 5: Johannes Engels, "Macedonians and Greeks", p. 95:"This (i.e. Pella curse tablet) has been judged to be the most important ancient testimony to substantiate that Macedonian was a north-western Greek and mainly a Doric dialect".
  15. Ahrens, F. H. L. (1843), De Graecae linguae dialectis, Göttingen, 1839–1843 ; Hoffmann, O. Die Makedonen. Ihre Sprache und ihr Volkstum, Göttingen, 1906.
  16. B. Joseph (2001): "which could more properly be called Hellenic" This terminology may lead to misunderstandings, since the "Hellenic branch of Indo-European" is also used synonymously with the Greek branch (which contains all ancient and modern Greek dialects) in a narrower sense. Online paper
  17. Vladimir Georgiev - The Genesis of the Balkan Peoples, The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 44, No. 103 (Jul., 1966), pp. 285-297
    ancient Macedonian is closely related to Greek, and Macedonian and Greek are descended from a common Greek-Macedonian idiom that was spoken till about the second half of the 3rd millennium BC
  18. Eric Hamp & Douglas Adams (2013) "The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages", Sino-Platonic Papers, vol 239.
  19. Exceptions to the rule:
  20. Greek Questions 292e – Question 9 – Why do Delphians call one of their months Bysios .
  21. 1 2 Albrecht von Blumenthal, Hesychstudien, Stuttgart, 1930, 21.
  22. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, κεβλήπυρις. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  23. Olivier Masson, "Sur la notation occasionnelle du digamma grec par d'autres consonnes et la glose macédonienne abroutes", Bulletin de la Société de linguistique de Paris, 90 (1995) 231–239. Also proposed by O. Hoffmann and J. Kalleris.
  24. 1 2 A history of ancient Greek: from the beginnings to late antiquity, Maria Chritē, Maria Arapopoulou, Cambridge University Press (2007), p. 439–441
  25. 1 2 Packard Institute epigraphic database
  26. Eric Lhote (2006) Les lamelles Oraculaires de Dodone. Droz, Geneve.
  27. Roberts, E.S., An Introduction to Greek Epigraphy vol. 1 no. 237
  28. Greek Personal Names: Their Value as Evidence, Elaine Matthews, Simon Hornblower, Peter Marshall Fraser, British Academy, Oxford University Press (2000), p. 103
  29. Athens, bottom-IG I³ 89Kalindoia-Meletemata 11 K31Pydna-SEG 52:617,I (6) till SEG 52:617,VI – Mygdonia-SEG 49:750
  30. Greek Personal Names: Their Value as Evidence by Simon Hornblower, Elaine Matthews
  31. "...but we may tentatively conclude that Macedonian is a dialect related to North-West Greek.", Olivier Masson, French linguist, “Oxford Classical Dictionary: Macedonian Language”, 1996.
  32. J. P. Mallory & D.Q Adams - Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture, Chicago-London: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 361. ISBN 1-884964-98-2
  33. Les anciens Macedoniens. Etude linguistique et historique by J. N. Kalleris
  34. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  35. "ARAE: Greek goddesses or spirits of curses; mythology: ARAI". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  36. "Pokorny". 1967-03-27. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  37. Poetae scenici graeci, accedunt perditarum fabularum fragmenta. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  38. "Pokorny Query madh". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  39. "Pokorny's Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  40. (Izela) Die Makedonen, Ihre Sprache und Ihr Volkstum by Otto Hoffmann
  41. Aleksandar Mikić, Origin of the Words Denoting Some of the Most Ancient Old World Pulse Crops and Their Diversity in Modern European Languages (2012)
  42. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  43. "Deipnosophists 14.663-4 (pp. 1059–1062)". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  44. Kalleris, p. 238–240
  45. Kalleris, p. 108
  46. Athenaeus Deipnosophists 3.114b.
  47. Deipnosophists 10.455e.
  48. Pokorny , Gerhard Köbler
  49. Kalleris, p. 172–179, 242
  50. "Pokorny,Pudna". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  51. Zeitschrift der Deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  52. The Dorians in Archaeology by Theodore Cressy Skeat. 1994-06-13. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  53. Poetics (Aristotle)-XXI
  54. Kalleris, p. 274
  55. Otto Hoffmann, p. 270 (bottom). Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  56. Steven Colvin, Dialect in Aristophanes and the politics of language in Ancient Greek, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 279.
  57. Livy, The History of Rome, 31.29.15, on Perseus
  58. A. Panayotou: The position of the Macedonian dialect. In: Maria Arapopoulou, Maria Chritē, Anastasios-Phoivos Christides (eds.), A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 433–458 (Google Books).
  59. Livy, The History of Rome, 45.29, on Perseus
  60. E. Kapetanopoulos. "Alexander’s Patrius Sermo in the Philotas Affair", The Ancient World 30 (1999), pp. 117–128. (PDF or HTM)
  61. Quintus Curtius Rufus, Historiae Alexandri Magni, VII.5.33, (Loeb edition, Latin)
  62. C. Brixhe, A. Panayotou, 1994, «Le Macédonien» in Langues indo-européennes, p. 208
  63. George Babiniotis (1992) The question of mediae in ancient Macedonian Greek reconsidered. In: Historical Philology: Greek, Latin, and Romance, Bela Brogyanyi, Reiner Lipp, 1992 John Benjamins Publishing)

Further reading

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