A Macedonian History of Macedonia
By Victor Bivell
Thank you to Dushan Ristevski and the Macedonian Literary Association
Grigor Prlichev for inviting me to launch this much-needed book, Short
History of Macedonia, by well-known Macedonian Canadian author, Risto
The book is 300 pages long but it seemed shorter than that as I enjoyed
reading it. It's a very good narrative; it tells an interesting story;
it held my attention; it was easy to read; and it's quite fast paced,
almost racy in places. Overall it was very enjoyable.
The book is a good introduction to Macedonian history. The story is
very accessible, and no prior knowledge is needed to understand it and
enjoy it. So it would make a good introduction for young English speaking
Macedonians, and for general English readers with little prior knowledge
But the book also has a lot to offer more knowledgeable readers. Because
the book is a "short history", many people, Macedonians in particular,
may feel they know enough about Macedonia's history to skip this "short"
version, but that would be a mistake.
For my own part, even when the book is talking about parts of history
that I've already read quite a lot about, such as Alexander the Great
or the Greek Civil War, I didn't feel any sense of repetition. Rather,
I still wanted to keep reading because the story is told in an interesting
way and with many facts and historical snippets that I didn't know.
So the book has got a lot to offer those people, including Macedonians,
who already have some knowledge or even a lot of knowledge about Macedonian
The book is useful for both knowledgeable and unknowledgeable readers
because it does something that most books don't do - it gives a 2,800
year overview of the major events in Macedonia's history. Particularly
its political history. It starts at around 800 BC and ends in 2007.
In this massive time line, the author does a good job of picking the
key events in Macedonia's political history and telling them in a logical,
informative and interesting way.
A little over a third of the book is about the early Macedonians from
Kings Philip and Alexander to the end of the Macedonian Empires. A little
under a third is about the Roman occupation through to the end of the
Ottoman occupation. And a little over a third is about the struggle
for freedom in the modern period including the Greek, Bulgarian and
Serbian occupations and the development of the Republic of Macedonia.
Although the book is a short history, the section on Philip and Alexander
is crammed with action and facts and is quite detailed in places, enough
to give me the impression the author is particularly keen on this part
of Macedonian history and has spent a lot of time researching it. Even
through I've read about Philip and Alexander before, I still found out
many things I didn't know and found this section very interesting.
If I can quote one example of both the strong narrative and the plethora
"The news of Philip's murder attracted the attention of the whole world;
especially the City States who rejoiced in knowing that he was gone.
Alexander was quick to let them know that he expected from them the
same loyalty that they had for his father. He reminded the City States
that the Treaty of the League of Corinth was perpetual and gave him
a legal claim to be Hegemon, the same as his father. But Alexander's
words did not please the City States in the least, for in Athens they
were dancing n the streets with joy. Demosthenes, intoxicated with the
prospect of liberty, appeared in council dressed in white with a wreath
on his head making offerings to the gods for the joyful news. The call
to freedom from Athens spread like wildfire to the rest of the City
States. The Aetolians recalled all those exiled by Philip, the Ambraciots
expelled the Macedonian garrison, the Thebans took up arms to liberate
Cadmeia and there were signs of rebellions in Peloponnesus, Argos, Elis
As you can see - a fast, information-packed, action-packed and colorful
I particularly liked the section after the death of Alexander and the
breakup of his empire, as it is a part of Macedonian history that for
a long time I have wanted to read more about but I haven't yet had the
chance. This section gave me a good overview of the main political characters
and events, and the intense political intrigues and maneuverings of
the era. With a better understanding of the times, I now feel I can
come back to this period with more confidence and fill in the details.
In the middle section, the book gives an essential outline of the main
historical events: the conquest and occupation by Rome, the coming of
Christianity, Byzantine Macedonia, Sts Kiril and Metodi, Sts Kliment
and Naum, Tsar Samoil, the Ottoman occupation, Marko Krale, the Karposh
Uprising, the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the political instability
of the 19th century.
Although this section covers a long time span and covers most topics
briefly, it is full of interesting facts and colorful snippets about
the characters and events.
For example: "It was during the reign of Byzantine emperor Michael
III (842- 867) that Solun had definitely established itself as the religious
and philosophical centre of the empire. This was the time when Kiril
(Cyril) and Metodi (Methodius) set off on a series of missions to spread
the doctrines of Christianity to various places in Eastern Europe and
"I just want to mention here that, by the eighth century AD, the Macedonian
eparchy was controlled by a Macedonian Archbishopric with its centre
located in Solun and bishoprics existed in eighteen towns including
Lerin, Kostur, Voden and Serres."
Another example centuries later about the failed Karposh Uprising under
"Karposh was brought before Selim Giray who at the time was standing
on the Stone Bridge over the River Vardar. Selim used him for target
practice and impaled him with his Tartar lances. He then had his body
hurled into the Vardar River. Karposh died early in December of 1689
and with him the Karposh uprising.
For the rebels who survived the battles there was no salvation from
the Ottoman backlash except to leave Macedonia. Many fled north beyond
the Sava and Danube Rivers. Some even went as far north as Russia and
joined the Russian military. There they formed the "Macedonian regiment"
which became part of the regular Russian army. The failed Karposh uprising
depleted the local population of northwestern Macedonia, opening the
way for large scale Albanian immigration.
"Just as the Karposh revolt was winding down in Macedonia, on April
6, 1690, Leopold I issued a manifesto inviting "all peoples of Albania,
Serbia, Mysia, Bulgaria, Silistria, Illyria, Macedonia and Rashka to
join the Austrians in taking up arms against the Ottomans". Then on
April 26, 1690 he issued a letter making Macedonia and her people his
protectorate. It has been said that Leopold acted on the advice of Macedonians
Marko Krajda of Kozhani and Dimitri Georgija Popovich of Solun. Among
other things the letter stated that "we graciously accept the Macedonian
people, in its entirety in every respect, under our imperial and regal
protection". Another letter was issued on May 31, 1690 extending Austria's
protection to Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. Unfortunately, all these
good gestures were too little too late for Macedonia which by 1690 was
back under tight Ottoman control."
There are plenty other of these sort of easy-to-read and informative
snapshots of history. Many, like the last two, also re-affirm the historical
existence of the Macedonian people.
When we get to the start of the Ilinden Uprising and the Macedonian
struggle for freedom, the book and the narrative contain so much information
that again I get the feeling that, like many Macedonians, myself included,
this is a period of Macedonian history in which the author is particularly
interested. This also comes out in his biographical treatment of some
of the key Macedonian revolutionaries - Damian Gruev, Gotse Delchev,
Krste Misirkov, Nikola Karev, Yane Sandanski, and Dimo Hadzhi-Dimov.
This detailed interest continues with the discussion of the division
of Macedonia in the First and Second Balkan Wars, the impact of the
First and Second World Wars, the founding of the Republic of Macedonia,
and the Greek Civil War. There is also a very good account of Macedonian
leader and freedom fighter Mirka Ginova, and the evacuation of the child
refugees from Greece.
The book ends with the independence of the Republic of Macedonia from
Yugoslavia and the continuing struggle for recognition and human rights
in Greece and Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Albania.
Overall, as a short history of a land with a very long history, the
author has picked the right points of history to discuss. All the main
events, characters and themes are here.
Another good feature of the narrative is that the author sticks to
information and facts. The little commentary that accompanies it is
usually short, relevant and credible.
This contrasts with histories of Macedonia written by some non-Macedonians,
such as the Greeks and many Oxford-Cambridge University academics. The
book is free of the history-by-assertions, history-by-cliches, and history-by-slogans
that the Greeks are so good at. Examples are "Philip united the Greeks"
and "Alexander spread Hellenism". There is none of that debatable propaganda
A final example. While the modern Greeks are committing cultural genocide
against the modern Macedonians by asserting "There were no Macedonians
in Macedonia" and "There is no Macedonian minority in Greece", their
British academic accomplices are committing cultural genocide against
the ancient Macedonians by writing them out of history. Instead of using
terms like "Macedonian Empire" or "Macedonian Period", they use "Hellenistic
Period" even though the term "Hellenistic" was coined less than 200
years ago, that is, nearly 2,000 years after the end of the Macedonian
If you said to Alexander the Great that he left behind not a "Macedonian
Empire", not a "Macedonian Period", not an "Alexandrian Empire", not
even a "Post-Alexandrian Period", but a "Hellenistic Period" he would
not know what you were talking about. Given that Alexander founded a
large number of cities and named almost all of them after himself and
none after anything in Greece or anything Greek, it is unlikely that
he would have named his legacy to mankind after anything but himself.
He would certainly not have named it a "Hellenistic Period", that is,
a "Greekish Period".
There is none of that politically motivated cultural genocide here.
This is not a Greek history of Macedonia, not a Bulgarian history of
Macedonia, not a British ivory tower history of Macedonia. It is a Macedonian
history of Macedonia. This book is a strong affirmation of the unique
history and identity of Europe's first nation state and its much-loved
Short History of Macedonia can be purchased from the Macedonian
Literary Association Grigor Prlichev by contacting Dushan Ristevski
on firstname.lastname@example.org and phone 0425 231 335.
Published in Australian Macedonian Weekly, 30 September 2008
© Copyright, September 2008