Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

IV. The Races of Macedonia

8. History of Macedonian Races

Disappearance of Greek and Latin Culture. Causes of Early Decay of Greek influence. The Coming of the Slavs Origin of the Bulgars. The Bulgarian Empires Servian Empire


Of the races which inhabit Macedonia to-day only the Albanians have any claim to be autochthonous. Their southern branch, the Tosks, are most likely the lineal descendants of the ancient Epirotes. Their northern branch, the Ghegs, are probably the people whom the ancients called Illyrians. Of the ancient Macedonians whose original seat lay between Monastir and Vodena, no heirs remain, unless indeed any remnants of them escaped civilisation and became confounded with the kindred Albanians. The Thracians may possibly survive in the modern Vlachs, at least in so far as they became absorbed by Roman colonies. All these original races, though doubtless near cousins of the Greeks, must have been very imperfectly Hellenised during the classical and Macedonian periods. The Greek colonies were never much more than trading centres along the coast, and what was Greek in ancient times is Greek to-day. There is no evidence that the interior was ever settled by a rural Greek population. With the Roman conquest came a long period in which the two languages and the two civilisations struggled for the mastery. Military colonies were scattered liberally, and this planting of Latin towns took place only after a ruthless destruction and uprooting of the older Greek cities, whose populations were sold into slavery. Round these colonies the aboriginal inhabitants may have clustered, and acquired the Latin speech which the modern Vlachs still retain. One Byzantine writer remarks significantly that the Thracians never took kindly to Greek, while they acquired Latin with


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ease (Prisci, "Historia," p. 190). By the sixth century Latin had become the language of a considerable part of Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace. We have acquired a habit of talking of the Byzantine Empire as though it had been a Greek Empire. It hardly acquired a national character until its long, final agony began. It was the Crusades which emphasised its Hellenism, by teaching the Eastern world that the Latin West was still peopled by barbarian hordes. Then in the double struggle against Franks and Turks a Greek patriotism revived too late. But during the earlier centuries of the Empire the Greeks were not even a ruling caste. The Emperors themselves were cosmopolitans of any and every stock. Many of the best of them were Armenians; Justinian was actually a Slav; few were Greeks. Nor was the Eastern Church naturally or originally Greek. The Arians showed a marked preference for the Latin language, and the persecutions of the Catholic party in which they indulged had sometimes the character of an anti-Greek movement. It was indeed during this period of persecution, while Latin-speaking Arians dominated the court that the Orthodox Church became, what it has always remained, the rallying point of Greek patriotism and the only outward embodiment of the Greek national idea. Latin, moreover, even in Justinian's time, was still so far the official language that his great legal codes were composed in it.

Whatever Greek population there may ever have been in the interior of rural Macedonia must have been effectually uprooted by the barbarian invasions. Race succeeded race, conqueror trod on the heels of conqueror, and though few of the strangers effected a permanent settlement until the coming of the Slavs, they destroyed the earlier civilisation and ruined the wealthier classes who had adopted Greek culture. The invaders broke up the large estates, and the slaves who tilled them were appropriated by the barbarians, or else regained their freedom during this secular anarchy. The cultured minority, reduced to penury, and driven to seek refuge in walled towns, sank to the level of their own slaves. The impoverishment was general, and with the


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wealth of the old aristocracy its Hellenic culture disappeared. The general movement to the towns, aided by the amazing policy of the Emperors, created that unique product of Eastern conditions the Levantine population. A Levantine is essentially a townsman, but not every townsman in the East is a Levantine. The true Levantine belongs to a race which inhabits only the towns Greek, Jewish, or mongrel-European. He is bred in town, and from the cradle to the grave he never quits the town. He despises the country and the ruder alien races which inhabit the country. Fear confines him within the walls. He knows nothing of muscular work. He has his conquerors and his rulers always with him. He becomes timid and physically incapable of resistance. The growth of this Levantine population had begun centuries before the coming of the Turks. The country was either a desert or a hostile region inhabited by strange barbarians. Whatever military or patriotic instincts the Greeks of the Macedonian towns may have possessed were systematically suppressed by Byzantine policy. The theory of Constantinople was that the function of the settled Greek population was to earn taxes, and Byzantine taxation must have been oppressive both in amount and in incidence. The Greeks were not only exempt from military service even for the defence of their own provinces, but actually forbidden to enlist. They were already what they are under the Turks, a purely civilian population grinding out tribute for a costly governing machine. No landed proprietor or agricultural labourer was allowed to serve, and the army was composed entirely of mercenaries and barbarians. Up till the reign of Justinian the Greek cities still possessed some local independence. But Justinian, casting about for fresh sources of Imperial income, confiscated their revenues. The consequence was that the roads were everywhere neglected, and the police disbanded. Without roads and without security the cities became more than ever isolated, and the general decline towards barbarism and decay proceeded at a swifter pace than ever. Finally, as if to complete the ruin of Hellenism in Macedonia, Justinian, who


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lived in constant terror of revolt, suppressed the militias which the Greek cities had begun to revive under the menace of the barbarian invasions, and left them exposed to the mercy of any raiding horde. When a professor in modern Athens puts forward the theory that the Macedonians of to-day are really Greeks in disguise, the answer is to be found in this chapter of history. Macedonia never was Greek, but such Hellenic civilisation as it possessed was ruined long before the coming of the Turks, and long before the rise of the Servian and Bulgarian Empires. It was ruined by an unconscious conspiracy between the Byzantine Empire and the barbarians.

Disappearance of Greek and Latin Culture. Causes of Early Decay of Greek influence. The Coming of the Slavs
The interior once abandoned by the settled civilised population which paid taxes, its fate became a matter of indifference to Byzantium. The barbarians acted after their kind, settled where they pleased, and raided as they pleased. The only concern of the Empire was now its commerce. The diminished Greek population occupied the sea-coast of the Aegean and the Adriatic, and inland the sole anxiety of its rulers was to keep open the great main roads which carried the wealth of Asia to Western markets. Indian trade now followed the Black Sea route, and the Via Egnatia from Salonica to Dyrrachium was still kept open. The Goths, the Huns, and the Avars did not settle in Macedonia. But the Slavonian tribes which accompanied the Avars as allies undoubtedly did settle, and their villages were to be found even south of the Via Egnatia, so early as the reign of Heraclius (565-633 A.D.). Serbs and Croats were actually invited by Heraclius to settle. As though to encourage barbarians at the expense of Greeks, they lived tax-free and served as militia, despite the fact that they were cultivators, and they doubtless amalgamated with the earlier Slavonic immigrants. These primitive Slav settlers differed widely from the more savage barbarians. They were not so much a pastoral as an agricultural people. They desired to settle rather than to raid. They grouped themselves in villages, which enjoyed a certain communal life, and expected to be left in local independence. They were not properly a


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political people. They formed no organised State. They had no aristocracy, and their leaders were probably elective. They formed neither clans nor towns. Their unit was the hamlet within which their knowledge and their social life was contained. They were jealous of any authority which sought to unite them, and ready to engage in internecine feuds. Their sense of race must have been quite undeveloped, and they readily blended with any other kindred people speaking a Slav tongue. For them the village was the one political reality. Servian and Bulgarian conquests can have altered little in their daily life, and even the Turkish tyranny still left them their indissoluble political atom their village. They must have been, ten and twelve centuries back, the same primitive and conservative people which they are to-day, plodding, laborious, unaggressive, with the fraternity of village life for the foundation of their virtues. Christianity has altered their theory of the next world, but it can have changed very little in their view of this.

Origin of the Bulgars
The purely Slavonic races, whether they were called Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, or Antai, had undoubtedly peopled Macedonia by the end of the seventh century. But they pretended to no national cohesion, and were not politically a menace to Byzantium. They were rather settlers than conquerors. It required the infusion of non-Slavonic blood to fire them with political ambitions and to organise them into a rival to the Eastern Empire. This impulse came from the Bulgarians (Volga-men), a non-Aryan people akin to the Turks, who had long been settled on the Volga. Their organisation contrasted sharply with that of the Slavs. They had an absolute king or khan, who ruled them as an Oriental despot. They were polygamists, owned slaves, and were accustomed to military discipline. Like the Turks, they shaved their heads and wore pigtails. They burned their widows, and indulged in human sacrifices. These disagreeable Asiatic nomads had no civilisation of their own. They adopted the Slav language, while modifying its structure, and they readily amalgamated and intermarried with the Slavs. This process may have begun


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before they left the Volga, and it was certainly complete before their conversion to Christianity in the year 864, since Cyril and Methodius preached to them in Slav. Their kingdom was founded near Varna in 678, and it covered at first pretty much the territory occupied by modern Bulgaria. Though the Bulgarians gave it its organisation and made it a power, it must none the less have been predominantly Slavonic in blood and in traditions. Their kingdom was hardly consolidated before they began to move upon Thrace and Macedonia. They besieged Salonica as early as 679, and repeated their invasions whenever the Empire was occupied in dealing with the Arabs or the Turks. Under their Khan Krumm they overran Thrace and twice appeared under the walls of Constantinople, defeated and did to death two emperors in succession (Nicephorus and Michael), and made one of the immortal legends of the Balkans by converting the skull of Nicephorus into a drinking-cup. Nearly a century later (892), under their Khan Simeon, who assumed the title of Tsar, the Bulgarians founded their first Empire. It extended at first over the whole of Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, and Bulgaria. Under the third Tsar, Samuel, the eastern provinces were lost, but the Empire remained firmly seated in the west, with its capital at Ochrida, where it maintained its independence till 1018. [1] It was thus definitely a Macedonian state, and Ochrida acquired in the tradition of the Macedonian Slavs a sentimental prestige which it still retains. After an hiatus of over a century and a half the Bulgarians once more appear as an Imperial Power (1186), under a dynasty of adventurers, by name Asen, who were of Vlach origin. It represented an alliance between Vlachs and Slavs, and it can have been "Bulgarian" only in the sense that it revived the Bulgarian tradition of conquest. It made the most of the anarchy which followed the Fourth Crusade, and allied itself sometimes with the

1. The final blow was dealt by the Emperor Basil, the Bulgar-killer, who is said to have slaughtered 15,000 Bulgarians in a single battle, and to have sent back the remnant of 150 with their eyes put out to tell the tale to Tsar Samuel.


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Greeks and sometimes with the Latins. Three of its sovereigns were assassinated. The fourth, Asen II., was the greatest power in Eastern Europe. He ruled the entire Balkan Peninsula including Servia and Albania, and left the Latins nothing but Constantinople, with which his capital Tirnovo vied in the splendour of its buildings and its material prosperity. But the second Bulgarian Empire fell to pieces immediately after Asen's death in 1241, though Bulgaria retained a shadow of independence until Tirnovo was burned by the Turks in 1393.

Servian Empire
The interval between Asen's death and the coming of the Turks was marked by the rise of an ephemeral Servian State. It first attained a national existence about 1150, under Stephen Nemanya, who was an elective chief in Novi Bazar. Its natural extension was rather to the north than towards Macedonia. Its centre was in the plain of Kossovo (Old Servia), and it included Bosnia, Montenegro, and part of the modern Servia. After the collapse of the second Bulgarian Empire Servia became the dominant power in the Balkans, and now pushed southward over Macedonia and Albania. Under its last Emperor, Stephen Dushan, who fixed his capital at Uskub, it covered the whole Balkan Peninsula except Salonica and Constantinople. Stephen defeated Hungary and the Turks, and seemed on the point of taking Constantinople and destroying the Byzantine Empire in its last refuge when he died suddenly, perhaps by poison, in his camp (1356). His empire, like Asen's, collapsed on his death at the moment of its greatest splendour, and its discordant remnants became the easy prey of the Turks, who finally crushed a weak and disloyal coalition of Servian, Albanian, and Bulgarian princelings on the fatal field of Kossovo (1389). The Servian aristocracy either fled to Bosnia, Montenegro, and Hungary, or accepted Islam, and Macedonia became once more a country of little villages whose whole struggle henceforward was to maintain their isolation and their identity under yet another alien tyranny. [2]

2. This sketch of the political vicissitudes of Macedonia before the coming of the Turks is necessarily incomplete. There was also a rather flourishing Vlach State, whose centre was in Thessaly, which included in its dominions the southern slopes of the Pindus and Southern Macedonia up to Castoria. It was semi-independent as early as the latter half of the eleventh century, and survived until Dushan's conquests a period of three hundred years, which is in the Balkans a highly respectable antiquity. It must not be confused with the Vlacho-Bulgarian Empire of the Asens. From 1204 to 1222 Salonica was the seat of a Latin crusaders' kingdom, under Boniface of Monferrat. This was destroyed by the new Greek power which had arisen in Epirus under the Comneni.


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Seven centuries elapsed between the complete settlement of Macedonia by Slavonic races and its final conquest by the Turks. Its history during this period suggests little progress towards any stable organisation. It was not the Byzantines or the Serbs who destroyed the second Bulgarian Empire. It was not the Turks who destroyed the Servian Empire. Both fell to pieces, as it were, of their own weight. They fell, both of them, at the moment of their greatest splendour and widest extension, a fact which suggests that they must have been held together, not by the consent of the people, but by the strong will of a vigorous tyrant. It was not in accordance with the traditions of the Slavs to accept a dynasty or build up an Empire; loyalty to a leader of genius, such as Dushan must have been, was another matter. But, indeed, except so far as their disappearance left the field open to the Turks, there is no great reason to regret either the Servian or the Bulgarian Empire. They were purely military Powers, and their glory, such as it was, reposed solely on the achievements of their arms. Their administration was modelled on that of Byzantium. Their official Church despite the fact that most of their Emperors coquetted with Rome reproduced all the characteristics of Greek orthodoxy. Their literature was imitative, and, indeed, hardly existed save in translations from Greek ecclesiastical works. Nor was even their architecture their own, so far as they built at all. They either copied Byzantium or imported artists from Italy. Their civilisation, in short, was second-hand, and it must have been a growth so brief and so divorced from the life of the people that it neither left its impress on the peasants, nor in turn received the quickening of their peculiar genius.


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The villages continued to live their own life, and whatever was native and original among the Slavs of Macedonia grew directly from peasant soil. The popular ballads have more value than the ecclesiastical histories. The native Bogomil heresy (see p. 67) was a vastly more interesting attempt to understand the Universe than anything to be found in the formularies of the official Church. The traditional embroideries of the peasant women suggest that the instinct for art might under happier conditions have found some worthy expression. But Macedonia never had its chance. The Crusaders, the Turks, and the absence of political ideals among the Slavs, prevented the formation of any stable State which might have kept the peace and allowed them to develop on their own lines. A tolerant tyranny, even if alien, might have brought this about as well as a native Power, provided they had been allowed to lead the village life for which they have so marked a taste, in comparative freedom and security.
 

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