Learn about Macedonia

Macedonia (/ˌmæsɨˈdoʊniə/ Greek: Μακεδονία, Makedonía[maceðoˈnia]) is a geographical and historical region of Greece in Southern Europe. Macedonia is the largest and second most populous Greek region. The region and that of Thrace (and sometimes Epirus and Thessaly) are often together referred to informally as Northern Greece.

Today it incorporates most of the territories of ancient Macedon, a kingdom ruled by the Argeads whose most famous members include Alexander the Great and his father Philip II. The name Macedonia was later applied to identify various administrative areas in the Roman and Byzantine Empires with widely differing borders. Under the Ottomans, the name disappeared altogether.

Even before the establishment of the Modern Greek state in 1830, Macedonia was identified as a Greek province, albeit without clearly defined geographical borders. By the mid 19th century, the name was becoming consolidated informally, defining more of a distinct geographical, rather than political, region in the southern Balkans. At the end of the Ottoman Empire most of the region known as Rumelia (from Ottoman TurkishRumeli, “Land of the Romans”) was divided by the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, following the Ottoman defeat in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Greece, SerbiaBulgaria each took control of portions of the Macedonia (region), with Greece reclaiming the largest portion. A small section was also given to Albania. The region was a single administrative subdivision of Greece until the administrative reform of 1987, when the Macedonia was divided into two regions: One that included  West Macedonia and Central Macedonia and another that included part of East Macedonia and Thrace. The latter also contained the whole of Thrace.


Macedonia lies at the crossroads of human development between the Aegean and the Balkans. The earliest signs of human habitation date back to the Paleolithic period. In the Late Neolithic period (c. 4500BC to 3500 BC), trade took place from quite distant regions, indicating rapid socio-economic changes. One of the most important changes was the start of the use of copper.

Ancient History

For more details on this topic, see Macedonia (ancient kingdom).

According to Herodotus, the history of Macedonia began with the Makednoi tribe (makednos means “tall” in Greek), among the first to use the name, migrating to the region from the south area of Histiaeotis. There they lived near Thracian tribes such as the Bryges who would later leave Macedonia for Asia Minor and become known as PhrygiansMacedonia was named after the Makednoi. Accounts of other toponyms such as Emathia are verified to have been in use prior to that time. A branch of the Macedonians may have invaded Southern Greece towards the end of the second millennium B.C. Upon reaching the Peloponnese the invaders were renamed Dorians, triggering the accounts of the Dorian invasion. For centuries the Macedonian tribes were organized in independent kingdoms, in what is now Central Macedonia, and their role in internal Hellenic (Greek) politics was minor, even before the rise of Athens to a superpower. The rest of the region was inhabited by various Thracian and Illyrian tribes mixed with many mostly coastal colonies of other Greek states such as Amphipolis, Olynthos, Potidea, Stageira.  To the north another tribe dwelt, called the Paeonians. During the late 6th and early 5th century BC, the region came under Persian rule until the destruction of Xerxes at Plataea. During the Peloponnesian War, Macedonia became the theatre of many military actions by the Peloponnesian League and the Athenians, and saw incursions of Thracians and Illyrians, as attested by Thucydides. Many Macedonian cities were allies to the Spartans (both the Spartans and the Macedonians were Dorian, while the Athenians were Ionian), but Athens maintained the colony of Amphipolis under her control for many years. The kingdom of Macedon, was reorganized by Philip II and achieved the union of Greek states by forming the League of Corinth. After his assassination, his son Alexander succeeded to the throne of Macedon and after claiming the title of “General of Greece”, he became one of the most famous people to which this land ever gave birth.

Roman period

See also: Macedonian Wars and Macedonia (Roman province)

Macedonia remained an important and powerful kingdom until the Battle of Pydna (June 22, 168 BC), in which the Roman general Aemilius Paulus defeated King Perseus of Macedon, ending the reign of the Antigonid dynasty over Macedonia. For a brief period a Macedonian republic called the “Koinon of the Macedonians” was established. It was divided into four administrative districts. That period ended in 148 BC, when Macedonia was fully annexed by the Romans. The northern boundary at that time ended at the Ochrid Lake and Bylazora, a Paeonian city (modern Titov Veles). Strabo – a Greek geographer and historian – writing in the first century AD places the border of Macedonia on that part at Lychnidos,[13] Byzantine Achris and presently Ochrid. Therefore ancient Macedonia did not significantly extend beyond its current borders (in Greece). This was reiterated by 370 modern day academics in a letter to US president Barack Obama.[14] To the east, Macedonia ended according to Strabo at the river Strymon, although he mentions that other writers placed Macedonia’s border with Thrace at the river Nestos, which is also the geographical boundary between the two present day administrative districts of Greece.

Subsequently the provinces of Epirus and Thessaly as well as other regions to the north were incorporated into a new Provincial Macedonia, but in 297 AD under a Diocletian reform many of these regions were removed and two new provinces were created: Macedonia Prima and Macedonia Salutaris (from 479-482 AD Macedonia Secunda). Macedonia Prima coincided approximately with Strabo’s definition of Macedonia and with the modern administrative district of Greece[12]and had Thessalonica as its capital, while Macedonia Secunda had the Dardanian city of Stobi (near Gradsko) as its capital. This subdivision is mentioned in Hierocles’ Synecdemon (527-528) and remained through the reign of emperor Justinian.

The SlavicAvarBulgarian and Magyar invasions in the 6-7th centuries devastated both provinces [15] with only parts of Macedonia Prima in the coastal areas and nearer Thrace remaining in Byzantine hands, while most of the inner land was contested between the Byzantium and Bulgaria. The Macedonian regions under Byzantine control passed under the tourma of Macedonia to the province of Thrace.

A new system of administration came into place in 789-802 AD, following the Byzantine Empire’s recovery from these invasions. The new system was based on administrative divisions called Themata. The region of Macedonia Prima (the territory of Modern Greek administrative district of Macedonia) was divided between the Thema of Thessalonica and the Thema of Strymon, so that only the area from Nestos eastwards continued to carry the name Macedonia, referred to as the Thema of Macedonia or the Thema of “Macedonia in Thrace”. The Thema of Macedonia in Thrace had its capital in Adrianople.[16][17][18]

Medieval history

See also: Macedonia (theme) and Kingdom of Thessalonica Familiarity with the Slavic element in the area led two brothers from ThessalonikiSaints Cyril and Methodius, to be chosen to convert the Slavs to Christianity. Following the campaigns of Basil II, all of Macedonia returned to the Byzantine state. Following the Fourth Crusade 1203–1204, a short-lived Crusader realm, the Kingdom of Thessalonica, was established in the region, but it was subdued by the Greek Despotate of Epirus in 1224. Returning to the restored Byzantine Empire shortly thereafter, the area remained in Byzantine hands until the 1340s, when all of Macedonia (except Thessaloniki, and possibly Veria) was conquered by the Serbian ruler Stefan Dusan.[19] Divided between Serbia and Bulgaria after Dusan’s death, the region fell quickly to the advancing Ottomans, with Thessaloniki alone holding out until 1387. After a brief Byzantine interval in 1403–1430 (during the last seven years of which the city was handed over to the Venetians), Thessalonica and its immediate surrounding area returned to the Ottomans.[20

The fall of Thessalonica threw the Greek world into consternation, being regarded as the prelude to the fall of Constantinople itself. The memory of the event has survived through folk traditions containing fact and myths. Apostolos Vacalopoulos records the following Turkish tradition connected with the capture of Thessalonica:[22]

While Murad was asleep in his palace at Yenitsa, the story has it that, God appeared to him in a dream and gave him a lovely rose to smell, full of perfume. The sultan was so amazed by its beauty that he begged God to give it to him. God replied, “This rose, Murad, is Thessalonica. Know that it is to you granted by heaven to enjoy it. Do not waste time; go and take it”. Complying with this exhortation from God, Murad marched against Thessalonica and, as it has been written, captured it.

Ottoman Rule

Thessaloniki became a centre of Ottoman administration in the Balkans. While most of Macedonia was ruled by the Ottomans, in Mount Athos the monastic community continued to exist in a state of autonomy. The remainder of the Chalkidiki peninsula also enjoyed an autonomous status: the “Koinon of Mademiou” was governed by a locally appointed council due to privileges obtained on account of its wealth, a result of the gold and silver mines in the area.

There were several uprisings in Macedonia during Ottoman rule, including an uprising after the Battle of Lepanto that ended in massacres of the Greek population.  Examples include the uprising in Naousa of the “armatolos” Zisis Karademos in 1705, a rebellion in the area of Grevena by a Klepht called Ziakas (1730–1810) and the Greek Declaration of Independence in Macedonia by Emmanuel Pappas in 1821, during the Greek War of Independence. In 1854 Theodoros Ziakas, the son of the “klepth” Ziakas, together with Tsamis Karatasos, who had been among the captains at the siege of Naousa in 1821, led another uprising in Western Macedonia that has been profusely commemorated in Greek folk song.