1902 Encyclopedia > Macedonia


MACEDONIA, when that name is taken in its widest signification, is the country between Thrace on the east and Illyria on the west, bounded on the S. by Thessaly and the iEgean Sea, and on the N. by the lands which belong to the basin of the Danube. The most definite limit in its physical geography is that towards Illyria, where the Scardus range, which still bears the name of Sc/utr, forms a continuous barrier between the two countries ; on the side of Thessaly also, Mount Olympus and the Cambunian mountains constitute a well-marked frontier. In the other two directions its natural limits are less clearly defined. Towards the east, during the greater part of its history, the river Strymon was regarded as its proper boundary ; but after the foundation of the city of Philippi it encroached on Thrace, and extended as far as the river Nestus, or even Mount Rhodope. With regard to the features of the country immediately to the north of Macedonia a misconception long prevailed, which has only of late years been dispelled by geographical research. Owing to a misinterpretation of a passage in Strabo (vii. fragm. 10 ; cf. vii. 5, 1), it was long believed that the country between the Danube and the iEgean was divided in the middle by a lofty range of mountains, which formed a continuation of the main chain of the Alps as far as the Euxine ; and this mistake is perpetuated in many of our maps at the present day. But since this district has been explored, first by Grisebach, and afterwards by Von Hahn, it has been known that along one important portion of this supposed line, directly to the north of Macedonia and south-east of the modern principality of Servia, the hills do not rise to any considerable elevation, and that affluents of the Margus (Morava), which flows into the Danube, and of the Axius (Vardar), which runs to the iEgean, rise close together in the upland plain of Kossova, the scene of the great battle in which the Servian monarchy was overthrown by Sultan Amurath I. in 1389. This watershed may be regarded as the northern boundary of Macedonia. But the extended limits which have here been given did not belong to the district that bore that name in early times. The original Macedonia was confined to the inland region west of the Axius, between that river and the Scardus mountains, and did not include the northern portion which was known as Pseonia, or the coast-land which, together with the eastern districts, was inhabited by Thracian tribes, and was regarded by the Greeks at the time of the Peloponnesian war as part of Thrace. The people of this country were not Hellenic, though its rulers ultimately succeeded in claiming that title for themselves, at the time when Alexander I. was admitted as a com-petitor at the Olympic games. The same thing may be said of the land itself, the appearance of which presents many points of contrast to that of Greece proper. Instead of the delicate, bright, and varied scenery of that country, with its clear atmosphere and sharp outlines, we find in Macedonia broad masses of mountains, extensive sweeps of lowland, and uniformity of colour. The climate of the inland regions also is severe, so that the cypress and other trees which flourish in Greece will not grow there.

The river Axius divides Macedonia into two parts, the eastern of which resembles the neighbouring country of Thrace in the irregularity of its surface; but in the western part there is a succession of valley-plains, generally elevated themselves, though deeply sunk among the rocky walls that surround them. These lie under the flanks of Mount Scardus, and differ in a still more striking manner from the country of Illyria on the further side of that chain, which is made up of a number of irregular, and usually narrow, river-valleys, separated from one another by rugged mountains. The characteristics of these valley-plains are the well-defined basins in which they lie, their rich alluvial soil, and the river which waters each of them respectively, and in each case makes Its exit through a narrow passage, which is its only means of escape. The northernmost and smallest of these is now called the Tettovo, and from it the main stream of the Axius issues. At the southern extremity of this a branch detaches itself from the Scardus, and bending southward forms an import-ant secondary chain, which is continued until, under the nime of Bermius, it approaches Mount Olympus. This branch, in the upper part of its range, forms the eastern boundary of the second and most important valley-plain, that of Pelagonia (now the plain of Monastir), from which the Erigon (Czerna) forces its way to join the Axius. This plain, which is 40 miles in length by 10 in breadth, and 1500 feet above the sea, was one of the primitive seats of the Macedonian race, and was suited for developing a hardy yet thriving population which might afterwards become a great people. Here is laid the scene of the story of the foundation of the Macedonian monarchy, which Herodotus has related (viii. 137, 138). According to this, three brothers of the family of the Temenidas of Argos, having entered the service of the king of the country, and having been defrauded by him of their wages, made their escape in a romantic manner, the narrative of which contains numerous fabulous incidents, and ultimately conquered all Macedonia. The southern part of this plain was called Lyncestis, and was the scene of the encounter between Brasidas and the Illyrians, which Thucydides has described (iv. 124-28); the famous retreat of that general was made by the pass at its southeastern extremity.

Between Lyncestis and the lowlands, near the coast, is a lake district of somewhat inferior elevation, which bore the name of Eordaea. Again, to the southward of Pelagonia is another extensive plain, from which the Haliacmon (Vistritza) draws its waters ; that river ulti-mately breaks through the Berrnian range behind Berrhoea (Verria), and flows into the Thermaic Gulf. The coast district between the Haliacmon and Olympus, as well as the sea-slopes of that mountain, formed Pieria, the original home of the Muses. The chief cities of Pieria were Pydna, where Perseus, the last king of Macedon, was defeated by the Romans, and Dium. From this neigh-bourhood to the head of the Thermaic Gulf a vast maritime plain extended, which was intersected by the Lydias and the Axius, as well as the Haliacmon.

The Scardus chain, which has been spoken of as separating Macedonia from Illyria, is the northern continuation of Pindus, and the two together form a well-defined backbone, which may be compared to the spina of an ancient circus. At its northern extremity, where it rises from the plain of Kossova, stands a lofty peak, which, to carry out the comparison, may be called the meta or goal of the circus. This summit, which reaches a height of between 7000 and 8000 feet, had no name in antiquity, but is now known by the Slavonic appellation of Liubatrin, or the " Lovely Thorn." The mountain wall which starts from it presents a most impos-ing appearance from every point of view, and is broken through at only one point, where the river now called Devol, rising on its eastern side, divides it to its base as it flows to the Adriatic. Here the chain of Scardus ends, and that of Pindus commences. Northward of this it is crossed by two passes,'—one near the headwaters of the Axius, between the modern towns of Prisrend and Calcandele; the other farther to the south, leading from the head of the Lacus Lychnitis (Lake of Ochrida) into the Pelagonian plain. At the southern end of this plain another chain diverges from Scardus, and takes an easterly direction through Macedonia; in the region between the Strymon and Nestus this was called Orbelus, and between It and the sea lies Mount Pangseus, which was famed for ts gold and silver mines.
The rivers of this country, notwithstanding that they ire larger than any that are found in Greece proper, can hardly be called navigable, though barges are floated down them at the present day. The Axius, which is the most important, is celebrated by Homer, on account of its fertilizing water, as " the fairest stream that flows in all the earth " (//., ii. 850), and the valley in which it runs must always have formed a line of communication between the barbarous districts of the interior and the sea. The point of demarcation between the uplands and the lowlands is marked by the Stena, or, as it is now called, the Iron Gate (Demir Kapu) of the Vardar. Here the river cuts through at right angles the mountains that join the Scardus and Orbelus ranges, and forms a deep ravine, through which it rushes in rapids for the distance of la quarter of a mile, beneath steep cliffs that rise to the height of 600 or 700 feet above; and traces of groovings in the rocks are visible, where a passage has been made in ancient times. At the point in its upper course where it receives its northern tributaries, and begins to bend towards the south', stood the town of Scupi, the name of which was changed by the Byzantines into Scopia, or " the look-out place," and has now been corrupted into Uskiub. The importance of this consisted in its neighbourhood to the pass over the Scardus, by which the barbarian tribes to the west used to descend into the more level and fertile country, and in its commanding the principal line of traffic. Between Scupi and the Stena, at the confluence of the Axius and the Erigon, was Stobi, the ruins of which have recently been discovered by M. Heuzey, of the French " Mission de Macedoine." This town was in Roman times the meeting-point of four great roads—one from the Danube by Scupi; another from Sardica, near the modern Sophia, to the north-east; a third from Heraclea (Monastir) to the south-west; and a fourth from Thessalonica. The Strymon (Struma) follows a direction nearly parallel to the Axius in eastern Macedonia, and, after passing through the chain of Orbelus, enters the rich plain of Serrhse (Seres), and flows into the Lake of Prasias or Cercinitis, shortly after emerging from which it reaches the sea. On the shores of the Lake Prasias were a number of lacustrine habitations which Herodotus has described, corresponding in their general features to those of which so considerable remains have recently been discovered in Switzerland and elsewhere. At the point where the Strymon leaves the lake was built the important town of Amphipolis, which was surrounded on three sides by the river, thus occupying a very strong position. It was founded by the Athenians in 437 B.C., and was valuable on account of its neighbourhood to the mines of Pangosus, and as furnishing a large supply of timber. Its port, at the mouth of the Strymon, was called Eion. The ancient capital of Macedonia, iEgse or Edessa (Vodena), stood at the point where the passes from Lyncestis and Eordsea emerge into the lower country. Its situa-tion seems to suggest dominion; for, while it has at its back all the resources of the richest districts, the view from it embraces the wide maritime plain, the mighty mass of Olympus, and a portion of the Thermaic Gulf. The site, which resembles that of Tivoli, is one of ex-treme beauty, for below the level table of land on which the city is built the rock falls some 200 feet in steep precipices, and the river which passes through it, a tributary of the Lydias, divides into a number of smaller streams, which plunge at various points in cascades down the cliffs. When Philip of Macedon transferred the seat of government to Pella, Edessa continued to be the national hearth of the race, and the burial-place of their kings. Pella, the later capital, occupied a much inferior position, being on low hills at the edge of an extensive marsh in the middle of the maritime plain. This was naturally an unhealthy site, and its only strength lay in its swampy surroundings ; so that its nearness to the sea must have been its chief recommendation. The place is now deserted, but the name of Pel is still attached to its vicinity. In Roman times Thessalonica became the chief centre of these parts, which at all times it deserves to be, for it is admirably placed for purposes of communication and trade, as it lies on the innermost bay of the Thermaic Gulf, and forms the natural point of transit for exports and imports. Its appearance recalls that of Genoa, from the way in which the houses rise from the water's edge, and ascend the hill-sides behind. This city was the terminus of the Via Egnatia, the great Roman road which joined the Adriatic and the iEgean, and formed the main line of com-munication between the West and the East. Starting from Dyrrhachium, it threaded the defiles of Illyria, and, passing the Lacus Lychnitis, crossed the Scardus by the southern-most of its two passes, which descends on Heraclea; thence it traversed Lyncestis and Eordaea, till it reached Edessa, and finally crossed the plain to Thessalonica.

It remains to speak of the maritime district of Macedonia, called Chalcidice, which projects like a trident into the north of the iEgean between the Thermaic and Strymonic Gulfs. When seen on the map, it strikingly resembles the Peloponuese in miniature, from its three southern promontories, with deep intervening bays, and the massive breadth of ground from which these spring. This resemblance is still further borne out in the form of the mountains and their vegetation ; and in most respects it corresponds so well to what the Greeks desired for their settlements that we cannot be surprised at finding its shores fringed with Hellenic colonies. Several of these were founded from Chalcis in Eubcea, which city gave its name to the district; but the important town of Potidsea was a Corinthian colony. The most eastern of the three peninsulas, that of Acte, is far the highest, and rises from its isthmus until it forms a steep central ridge, which gradu-ally attains the height of 4000 feet, and finally throws up 1 the vast conical peak of Mount Athos (6400 feet). The isthmus, which is about a mile and a half broad, still shows traces of the canal made by Xerxes for the passage of his fleet, in order to avoid the dangers of shipwreck on the rocks of Athos, which had destroyed the expedition of Mardonius. On the land side of the isthmus stood the city of Acanthus. Separated from Acte by the Singitic Gulf was the promontory of Sithonia, with the town of Torone; and still farther to the west, beyond the Toronaic j Gulf, was that of Pallene. The former of these, though of lower elevation than Acte, is intersected by a well-marked ridge; but the latter is almost level, and from the traces of volcanic action that are found there was called by the | Greeks Phlegra, and was said to have been the scene of the conflict between the giants and the gods. On the southern side of Pallene were the towns of Mende and Scione, and its isthmus was occupied by Potidasa, near which, at the head of the Toronaic Gulf, stood Olynthus. The Greek cities on this coast were a continual thorn in the side of the Macedonian monarchs, and caused them to take part against Athens during the Peloponnesian War. The northern part of Chalcidice is mountainous, and beyond these mountains is a considerable depression, in which lies the Lake of Bolbe.

Macedonia first comes into notice in history in the reign of Amyntas (about 500 B. c.) and in that of his son Alexander, who was king at the time of Xerxes's invasion of Greece. But whatever historical interest attaches to it is due rather to the great empire which sprang from it than to the importance of the country itself. During the Peloponnesian War we notice it chiefly as it affects the principal contending parties, but in the time of Demosthenes it attracts our attention as furnishing the keynote of the policy of that statesman, and being the proximate cause of the overthrow of Greek liberty. After the MACEDONIAN EMPIRE (q.v.) was subjugated by the Romans in 168 B.C., the country was left with a nominal autonomy, but lost its national unity by being divided into four districts, which were separated from one another by rigid political and social limita- tions. Before long it was reduced to the form of a province, and this, at the division of the provinces in the time of Augustus, was assigned to the senate. Thenceforward it followed the fortunes of the Roman empire, and, after the partition of that dominion, of the eastern branch of it. In the time of Alaric it was frequently plun- dered by the Goths, and in the interval which elapsed between Justinian I. and Heraclius a considerable part of it was colonized by Slavonians. During the prosperous period of the great Bulgarian monarchy in the 10th century a large portion of Macedonia was included in that kingdom. After that age extensive depopulation must have ensued, for in the 11th and 12th centuries colonies of various tribes of Asiatic origin—Uzes, Turks, and Patzinaks—were established there by the emperors of Constantinople. In the par- tition of the Eastern empire, which followed the capture of that city by the Latins at the time of the fourth crusade, in 1204, Mace- donia was assigned to Boniface, marquis of Monferrat, who assumed the title of king of Saloniki. This kingdom in turn was brought to an end in 1224 by the Greek despot of Epirus, Theodore I., and by him a Greek empire of Thessalonica was founded, which for a time seemed likely to become the heir of the Byzantine power, but afterwards was merged in that of Nierea, and on the recapture of Constantinople by Michael Palseologus once more formed part of a united Greek empire. In the latter half of the 14th century the greater part of Macedonia was in the possession of the Servians, whose kingdom was now at the height of its power ; but before the middle of the 15th it had passed into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, by whom it has been held ever since. At the present day the population of the inland part of the country is mainly composed of Bulgarian Christians, mixed with Turks, while the Greeks occupy the coasts, the whole of Chalcidice, the plain of Seres, and some other districts. (H. F. T.)

The above article was written by Rev. H. F. Tozer, M.A., author of Lectures on the Geography of Greece.

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