– History of Macedonia 2 –
Middle ages and Renaissance
This is the second part of my history of the Macedonians. I will try to focus on the formation of the modern Macedonian nation, the coming of the Slavic tribes to the Balkans and the different states they create in the geographical region of Macedonia.
After the defeat of the last Macedonian king, Andriscus, in 149 BC the Roman province of Macedonia is established and the Macedonians are soon after completely hellenized. Only the name of the province and the stories about the achievements of Alexander the Great and the glory his empire keep the memory of the ancient people. Throughout the antiquity and the middle ages, the novel about Alexander is one of the most popular books. The borders of the province have been changed several times during the Roman and Byzantine era.
Macedonia in the Middle ages
I think it is important to note once again, that in history, we have two distinct nations who bear the same name. The ancestors of modern Macedonians are of South-Slavic origin and speak a Slavic language which has a unique grammar and is closely related to Bulgarian. In the 5th Century AD the Eastern Roman empire has control over the Balkans, north to the Danube river and the province (thema in Greek) of Macedonia now includes the lands of what is today referred to as Aegean Thrace, with Adrianopolis as capital.
This is when the empire is invaded by Slavic tribes and the Bulgars. Together, in a period of only a few hundred years they manage to conquer large territories of the Byzantine empire and establish new kingdom of Bulgars and Slavs.
It is hard to speak in a neutral manner about many moments of the Macedonian history, because the nations of the Balkans have lots of disputes when it comes to, for an example, the nationality of common heroes and kings. Macedonia during the 1st Bulgarian kingdom is a centre of culture. When the holy brothers from Thessaloniki, Cyril and Methodius created the Glagolitic alphabet, needed for the adoption of Orthodox Christianity in the 9th century, two main educational centres are established within the Bulgarian kingdom – The Ohrid and the Preslav (capital city of Bulgaria) literary schools. The education was focused mostly on religion, but among the many biblical writings, we find original poetry and scientific essays on astronomy and the human body from the 10th century.
In the end of the 10th century Bulgaria is weakened by the ongoing wars with the Byzantine empire and attacks by the Hungarians, Pechenegs and the military campaigns of the Russian prince Svetoslav. The capital city of Preslav is taken over and when Bulgaria loses its eastern territories, the dynasty of the Cometopuli, take the power in their hands to preserve the remaining Bulgarian lands to the west. With Tzar Samuel ahead of the state, they manage to withstand the attacks of the Romans for more than 40 years.
The end of his reign is in 1014 AD when his army is defeated at Klyuch or Kleidion village by emperor Basil II. The vicious Byzantine emperor blinded all captured soldier, leaving one in every 100 with a single eye to lead them back to the capital. When Samuel saw his crippled army, he couldn’t stand the sight and died. Soon after his death, all the remaining Bulgarian lands are taken over by Byzantium. The numerous revolts in the next 170 years have little or no success and leave the lands of Bulgaria and Macedonia under Byzantine rule.
The early history of the modern Macedonians is closely related to the History of Bulgaria.To avoid disputed topics I will move on the modern history and Renaissance of Macedonia. After the uprising of the Assenevtsi dynasty in 1185, Macedonia soon becomes again part of the restored Second Bulgarian kingdom, until the 14th century, when the Ottomans began their conquest of the Balkans.
One of the last Christian states resisting the Ottomans was the Prilep Kingdom of Prince Marko in the lands of modern Macedonia. His father, who a successor of the Serbian king Stefan Urosh V, leads 60.000 men against the Ottomans, but is defeated at Chernomen by them – they attack his army in the night.
I see a lot of controversy in Marko as a historical figure, since after Vulkashin’s death, the Prilep kingdom becomes a vassal state of the Ottoman empire and along with other Serbian despots is actually obligated to fight on the side of the Turks against Wallachia (modern-day Romania). Although Marko fought against another Christian nation, he was remembered by his people as a protector and bringer of justice as the legends about him tell.
The Renaissance of Macedonia
The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans was the beginning of a period of Dark ages on the Balkans for all Christian nations. The new rulers of the Balkans were Muslims and this was one of the factors that made the lives of the locals harder – the Asian culture that the Turks brought was profoundly different, their justice system and laws had double standards, especially when it comes to followers of any religion other than Islam. However, the rebellion against the powerful empire was impossible, leaving all efforts with no result.
In the 17th century as the Ottoman empire had started to weaken and trade with the developed European countries was bringing in modern education and historical knowledge to Christian population. One of the triggers for the rebellion of the Christians in the empire was the worsening of their living conditions after the Crimean war, as taxes were raised and the burden of war expenses and supplies for the Ottoman army is upon the shoulders of the Christians.
I am, like all people of the Balkans, proud with the heroes who fought against the Ottomans to achieve the long-awaited freedom. The first fights for rights of the Bulgarians and the Macedonians were for independence from the Greek Orthodox church. After the 16th century, the Greek Orthodox church receives authority over all Christian monasteries and churches in the Ottoman empire, which means that all monks and priests are replaced with Greeks. The majority of Slavic-speaking people was frustrated by the attempts of the Greek monks to hellenize them and this was the first major fight for civil rights. This triggers a National Renaissance, and the organization of rebellion in Macedonia and Bulgaria, whit the Russo-Turkish liberation war of 1877 as an end result.
Liberation and recent history
The history of this period has a different version for each of the Balkan nations – as I previously stated, I would like to keep my writings neutral. After the Russo-Turkish war Macedonia is initially intended to be part of the new Bulgarian kingdom, however, after the Berlin Congress, Macedonia is left under Ottoman rule, the local population suffers the wrath of the defeated Turks and it is just a matter of time before war breaks out again. On the political map of the Balkans are now three restored countries – Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria and they all have territorial claims in the south-west.
The people of Macedonia didn’t rely on help from the Great powers, so the Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization is created for the purpose of organizing rebellion and the achievement of autonomy. The Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising broke out in August 1903 in Macedonia and Thrace. The rebels relied on getting outside support, and especially from Bulgaria, but support does not come, while the Turkish government sends its entire military force in the suppression of the uprising. As a result, thousands are killed, the Turks burned 12.000 houses and forced the people from hundreds villages to flee to Bulgaria.
In the beginning of the 20th century the countries on the Balkans are constantly in conflict and even become one of the reason for WWI. Macedonia liberated from Ottoman rule in 1913 when it becomes part of the Kingdom of Serbia, which is later renamed to Yugoslavia. In the years of socialism 1944-1991 the region is developing fast – The Macedonian nation is officially recognized by the authorities in Yugoslavia and the Macedonian language is official in the now Socialist republic of Macedonia.