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Era1st millennium BC[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3xmk

Ancient Macedonian was the language of the ancient Macedonians which was either a dialect of Ancient Greek or a separate Hellenic language. It was spoken in the kingdom of Macedonia during the 1st millennium BC and belonged 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.[5] It became extinct during either the Hellenistic or Roman imperial period, and was entirely replaced by Koine Greek.[6]

While the bulk of surviving public and private inscriptions found in ancient Macedonia were written in Attic Greek (and later in Koine Greek),[7][8] fragmentary documentation of a vernacular local variety comes from onomastic evidence, ancient glossaries and recent epigraphic discoveries in the Greek region of Macedonia, such as the Pella curse tablet.[9][10][11] This local variety is usually classified by scholars as a dialect of Northwest Doric Greek, and occasionally as an Aeolic Greek dialect or a distinct sister language of Greek.


Due to the fragmentary attestation of this dialect or language, various interpretations are possible.[12][13] Suggested classifications of ancient Macedonian include:[14][15]


Because of the fragmentary sources of Ancient Macedonian, only a little is understood about the 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 were generally unvoiced as /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/ (φ, θ, χ) elsewhere in Ancient Greek.[28]

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.[31]

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,[32] showing a Macedonian-style voiced stop in place of a standard Greek unvoiced aspirate: κεβ(α)λή keb(a)lē versus κεφαλή kephalē ('head'). Emilio Crespo, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Madrid, wrote that "the voicing of voiceless stops and the development of aspirates into voiced fricatives turns out to be the outcome of an internal development of Macedonian as a dialect of Greek" without excluding "the presence of interference from other languages or of any linguistic substrate or adstrate", as also argued by M. Hatzopoulos.[33]

A number of the Macedonian words, particularly in Hesychius of Alexandria' 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.[34] 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.[citation needed]

A. Panayotou summarizes some features generally identified through ancient texts and epigraphy:[35]



Ancient Macedonian morphology is shared with ancient Epirus, including some of the oldest inscriptions from Dodona.[37] The morphology of the first declension nouns with an -ας ending is also shared with Thessalian (e.g. Epitaph for Pyrrhiadas, Kierion[38]).



M. Hatzopoulos and Johannes Engels summarize the Macedonian anthroponymy (that is names borne by people from Macedonia before the expansion beyond the Axios or people undoubtedly hailing from this area after the expansion) as follows:[39][40]

Common in the creation of ethnics is the use of -έστης, -εστός especially when derived from sigmatic nouns (ὄρος > Ὀρέστης but also Δῖον > Διασταί).[35]

Per Engels, the above material supports that Macedonian anthroponymy was predominantly Greek in character.[40]


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


Further information: Ancient Macedonian calendar

The Macedonian calendar's origins go back to Greek prehistory. The names of the Macedonian months, just like most of the names of Greek months, are derived from feasts and related celebrations in honor of the Greek gods.[41] Most of them combine a Macedonian dialectal form with a clear Greek etymology (e.g Δῐός from Zeus; Περίτιος from Heracles Peritas (“Guardian”) ; Ξανδικός/Ξανθικός from Xanthos, “the blond” (probably a reference to Heracles); Άρτεμίσιος from Artemis etc.) with the possible exception of one, which is attested in other Greek calendars as well.[41] According to Martin P. Nilsson, the Macedonian calendar is formed like a regular Greek one and the names of the months attest the Greek nationality of the Macedonians.[41]


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.[42][43]

About 99% of the roughly 6,300 inscriptions discovered by archaeologists within the confines of ancient Macedonia were written in the Greek language, using the Greek alphabet.[45] The legends in all currently discovered coins also in Greek.[45] 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 dialect group.[46]

Hesychius' glossary

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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.[47]

⟨†⟩ marked words which have been corrupted.

Other sources


A number of Hesychius words are listed orphan; some of them have been proposed as Macedonian[70]

Macedonian in Classical sources

Further information: Greek historiography

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.[71]

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".[72] This has been interpreted as referring to a shared North-West Greek speech (as opposed to Attic Koiné).[73] In another passage, Livy states that an announcement was translated from Latin to Greek for Macedonians to understand.[74]

Quintus Curtius Rufus, Philotas's trial[75] and the statement that the Greek-speaking Branchidae had common language with the Macedonians.[76]

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.[77]

Contributions to the Koine

Further information: Ancient Macedonians

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 century 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.[78]

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", Studia Minora Facultatis Philosophicae Universitatis Brunensis 10. pp. 15–34.
  4. ^ Meier-Brügger, Michael (2003). Indo-European Linguistics. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-017433-5.
  5. ^ Borza, Eugene N. (28 September 1992) [1990]. "Who Were the Macedonians?". In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon. Princeton University Press (published 1992). p. 94. ISBN 978-0-691-00880-6. One can only speculate that that [Ancient Macedonian] dialect declined with the rise in use of standard koinē Greek. The main language of formal discourse and official communication became Greek by the fourth century [BC]. Whether the dialect(s) were eventually replaced by standard Greek, or were preserved as part of a two–tiered system of speech—one for official use, the other idiomatic for traditional ceremonies, rituals, or rough soldiers' talk—is problematic and requires more evidence and further study.
  6. ^ Engels, Johannes (2010). "Macedonians and Greeks". In Roisman, Joseph; Worthington, Ian (eds.). A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-4051-7936-2. However, with respect to the discussion in this chapter it seems to be quite clear that (a) ancient Macedonian at some date during the Hellenistic or Roman imperial era was completely replaced by koine Greek and died out, and (b) that ancient Macedonian has no relationship with modern Macedonian which together with Bulgarian belongs to the eastern branch of southern Slavonic languages.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ a b Crespo, Emilio (2017). "The Softening of Obstruent Consonants in the Macedonian Dialect". In Giannakis, Georgios K.; Crespo, Emilio; Filos, Panagiotis (eds.). Studies in Ancient Greek Dialects: From Central Greece to the Black Sea. Walter de Gruyter. p. 329. ISBN 978-3-11-053081-0.
  11. ^ Hornblower, Simon (2002). "Macedon, Thessaly and Boiotia". The Greek World, 479-323 BC (Third ed.). Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 0-415-16326-9.
  12. ^ a b c Joseph, Brian D. (2001). "Ancient Greek". In Garry, Jane; Rubino, Carl; Bodomo, Adams B.; Faber, Alice; French, Robert (eds.). Facts about the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present. H. W. Wilson Company. p. 256. ISBN 9780824209704. Family: Ancient Greek is generally taken to be the only representative (though note the existence of different dialects) of the Greek or Hellenic branch of Indo-European. There is some dispute as to whether Ancient Macedonian (the native language of Philip and Alexander), if it has any special affinity to Greek at all, is a dialect within Greek (...) or a sibling language to all of the known Ancient Greek dialects. If the latter view is correct, then Macedonian and Greek would be the two subbranches of a group within Indo-European which could more properly be called Hellenic. Related Languages: As noted above, Ancient Macedonian might be the language most closely related to Greek, perhaps even a dialect of Greek. The slender evidence is open to different interpretations, so that no definitive answer is really possible; but most likely, Ancient Macedonian was not simply an Ancient Greek dialect on a par with Attic or Aeolic (...).
  13. ^ J. P. Mallory & D.Q Adams – Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture, Chicago-London: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 361. ISBN 1-884964-98-2
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Hatzopoulos, Miltiades B. (2017). "Recent Research in the Ancient Macedonian Dialect: Consolidation and New Perspectives". In Giannakis, Georgios K.; Crespo, Emilio; Filos, Panagiotis (eds.). Studies in Ancient Greek Dialects: From Central Greece to the Black Sea. Walter de Gruyter. p. 299. ISBN 978-3-11-053081-0.
  16. ^ a b Hatzopoulos, Miltiades B. (2020). "The speech of the ancient Macedonians". Ancient Macedonia. De Gruyter. pp. 64, 77. ISBN 978-3-11-071876-8.
  17. ^ a b c Masson, Olivier (2003). "[Ancient] Macedonian language". In Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony (eds.). The Oxford Classical Dictionary (revised 3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 905–906. ISBN 978-0-19-860641-3.
  18. ^ Michael Meier-Brügger, Indo-European linguistics, Walter de Gruyter, 2003, p.28,on Google books
  19. ^ 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".
  20. ^ Dosuna, J. Méndez (2012). "Ancient Macedonian as a Greek dialect: A critical survey on recent work (Greek, English, French, German text)". In Giannakis, Georgios K. (ed.). Ancient Macedonia: Language, History, Culture. Centre for Greek Language. p. 145. ISBN 978-960-7779-52-6.
  21. ^ Babiniotis, Georgios (2014). "Ancient Macedonian: A case study". Macedonian Studies Journal. Australia. 1 (1): 7. On all levels (phonological, grammatical and lexical) common structural features of Macedonian and Doric lead us to classify Macedonian within the Doric, especially the Northwestern group of Doric dialects.
  22. ^ Matzinger, Joachim (2016). Die Altbalkanischen Sprachen (PDF) (Speech) (in German). Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
  23. ^ Brixhe, Claude (2018). "Macedonian". In Klein, Jared; Joseph, Brian; Fritz, Matthias (eds.). Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. Vol. 3. De Gruyter. pp. 1862–1867. ISBN 978-3-11-054243-1.
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  26. ^ Vladimir Georgiev, "The Genesis of the Balkan Peoples", The Slavonic and East European Review 44:103:285-297 (July 1966)
    "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. From the 4th century BC on began the Hellenization of ancient Macedonian."
  27. ^ Eric Hamp & Douglas Adams (2013) "The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages", Sino-Platonic Papers, vol 239.
  28. ^ Exceptions to the rule:
  29. ^ Greek Questions 292e – Question 9 – Why do Delphians call one of their months Bysios [1].
  30. ^ Česko-jihoslovenská revue, Volume 4, 1934, p. 187.
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  35. ^ a b A history of ancient Greek: from the beginnings to late antiquity, Maria Chritē, Maria Arapopoulou, Cambridge University Press (2007), p. 439–441
  36. ^ a b Packard Institute epigraphic database Archived 2007-11-21 at the Wayback Machine
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  42. ^ Athens, bottom-IG I³ 89Kalindoia-Meletemata 11 K31Pydna-SEG 52:617,I (6) till SEG 52:617,VI – Mygdonia-SEG 49:750
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  46. ^ "...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.
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Further reading