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An Analysis Of The Impact Of 

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The history of the nation of Macedonia (formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia “FYROM”) is not widely known to most individuals. Macedonia is situated in the Balkan Peninsula of southeast Europe, situated between Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Throughout recent history, Macedonia has found itself in the middle of great conflicts, such as Nazi occupation during World War II, and also with occupation later in the 1940’s and 1950’s from the communist People’s Liberation Army of Macedonia. However, while the near term history of Macedonia is rich and dynamic, the true history of Macedonia stretches back thousands of years. Macedonia and its leaders have helped shape civilization as we know it, and have also greatly impacted the musical traditions of Silk Road nations along the way.  It is interesting to think that a country with such a large historical impact on the world is not well known by society today.

This document serves as a tool to understand not only the historical significance of Macedonia as a nation, but also to highlight how Macedonia has influenced nations along the Silk Road both musically and culturally. The modern day geography of the nation of Macedonia arose from several conflicts aging back to antiquity. Around 355 BCE, much of the land area of modern day Macedonia was occupied by the Kingdom of Paeonia. Paeonia is historically known as the ally of the Trojans in the Trojan War, as recorded in the ancient Greek Epic The Iliad. At this time, the Paeonians were ruled by King Agi, and the Kingdom of Macedonia was ruled by King Phillip II. In 355 BCE, King Agi died suddenly, leaving Paeonia vulnerable to invasion. This vulnerability was taken advantage of by King Phillip II, who then invaded Paeonia to expand the Kingdom of Macedon to include its modern day location. However, the popular history of Macedonia begins with arguably its greatest ruler, Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great (formally known as King Alexander III of Macedon) is known as one of the greatest political leaders, military strategists, scholars, and men in history. He was the son of King Phillip II, who is credited for the successful invasion of Paeonia, as mentioned above. Born in July of 356 BCE, Alexander was raised to be a king. King Phillip II sought to develop in Alexander immense leadership capabilities and advanced knowledge in the fields of mathematics, politics, and philosophy. Alexander studied under a private tutor in his childhood, paid for and encouraged by King Phillip II. This tutor was the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle. Under the influence of some of the greatest minds of the time, including military generals, Alexander quickly became a powerful and influential prince. He led the Macedon army to victory in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE at the young age of 18 years. These experiences, coupled with an immense fascination with the characters of the epic stories from his youth, led him to believe he was related to the gods.

He often claimed that he was “the son of Zeus”, and these ideas were perpetuated by his associates who claimed Alexander resulted from a virgin birth. Regardless, Alexander was set up to be an impactful figure on the world stage. Alexander adorned the crown after the abrupt death of his father King Phillip II in 336 BCE. For many years, King Phillip II had been planning a campaign to unite the Hellenic communities outside of the Balkan region. In short, this meant a full on invasion and conquest of the Persian Empire. Alexander sought to complete his father’s vision, and rallied the Hellenistic armies once he assumed the throne. He started by engaging in small battles in Asia Minor. His major victories in this region included Baalbek and Ephesos. However, these minor victories were not enough, as Alexander’s true mission was to see the entire Persian Empire fall, just as his father had envisioned. The envoy of Greek and Macedon soldiers moved eastward towards the heart of the Persian Empire (modern day Iran).

At this point, they had various battles with the royal troops of King Darius III, the king of Persia. Through many hard-fought battles, Alexander eventually saw King Darius III retreat, giving him victory over all of Persia. The Kingdom of Macedon now stretched from the Balkans to the Indus River Valley. This conquest was not just focused on Persia. Alexander’s conquest stretched southward into Africa, where his armies conquered most of Egypt, and where he founded the city of Alexandria. Alexander now ruled over the largest Kingdom in the world for that time. However, Alexander lived a life of violence, conquest, and intense travel. During all of this, Alexander drank heavily, leading some to believe he was, to some degree, and alcoholic. This lifestyle of conquest caught up to him, and he died at age 32 in 323 BCE. Some speculate that he was murdered, and the assassin used a slow acting poison in his wine to kill him. Other scientists speculate he died of bowel inflammation or an infection of the stomach lining from his heavy drinking habits. Alexander the Great is remembered as a fierce warrior and a decisive leader who lived a fast and furious life for the betterment of his kingdom and his people.

An interesting fact about Alexander’s conquest of Persia was his tolerance of the traditions of Persia, and their way of life. It was common for him to order his troops to not harm any civilians who were practicing a different religion, or who were speaking a different language. Normally in massive conquests, the conquering nation will impose upon the conquered nations their way of life, including their language, culture, and music. The Macedon conquest of Persia was not similar at all in this respect. Rather, Alexander the Great refused to impose his religion, philosophy, or culture on the societies that he and his armies conquered. This does not mean he was a benevolent conqueror; he was known for violently shutting down all forms of resistance. Yet it shows a type of progressive mindset not typically seen in the ancient world, which allowed for a unique blending of cultures among Greeks and Persians alike. Alexander admired the Persian legal structure of an absolute monarchy, and modeled the remaining portion of his reign in this fashion, much to the disapproval of his advisors. Music is an important part of any culture. Music allows us to express ourselves, and can be useful in many practical situations (like in communicating a message). Music can be very soft and light-hearted, such as a harp playing in a nursery.

Music can also be very abrasive, such as the violent drumming of a battalion marching into battle. In the case of Macedonia during its conquest of Persia, the music was typically abrasive, used in combat to communicate strategy. This type of music is called martial music, which can be defined as music used to announce military events or to communicate instructions during battle (or any activity requiring a specific formation). The Hellenic armies had perfected the use of martial music, making them a deadly fighting force with the ability for the general to communicate with infantrymen across large distances to make quick changes in strategy and positioning. Alexanders’ army made such efficient use of martial music that they were often able to outflank any opponent due to their superior battlefield communication capabilities. For example, one of the most important instruments for the Macedonians in their conquest of Persia was the zurna. The zurna is a small woodwind instrument resembling a small flute or horn that has a double reed. The zurna is a very loud, piercing instrument that is very effective for communicating sounds over long, wide-open spaces such as an ancient battlefield.

Naturally, the Hellenic armies used this to communicate instructions to their battalions, such as when to flank and when to retreat/advance. An interesting aspect of this instrument is the Persians had a very similar version of the zurna themselves. They called it the karna. The karna is very similar in shape and sound to the zurna, and it as well had military applications due to its loud sound. The karna varies slightly from the zurna. The zurna traditionally has a narrower opening than the karna, which gave them slightly different sounds. Obviously, the karna and zurna are two closely related versions of the same instrument. It is speculated that their common ancestor originated in Asia Minor, and the karna and zurna evolved separately in their own respective geographic regions. The conflict with Hellenic forces allowed the Persian people to adapt their musical applications in combat to more closely match the more advanced Macedon army. This is where we start to see the effects of Macedonian influence on Persian culture, particularly in regard to war strategy. Again, Alexander the Great was known for his unprecedented acceptance of and even support for Persian culture. Alexander admired the absolute monarch style of the Persian Empire, and sought to bring back elements of Persian culture to Macedonia.

This tolerance for Persian culture included Persian music. The topic of this paper is the influence of Macedonia on Persia, but it is important to highlight as well the reciprocal impact the Persian Empire had on Macedonian culture and music. For example, the tompak is a traditional Persian goblet drum. Its construction consists of a piece of carved wood for the body (sometimes constructed out of marble), with some sort of animal skin covering the body to form the head (usually sheepskin or goatskin). It is commonly accepted that the Greek drum toubeleki was based off of the tombak. It is speculated that because Alexander the Great heavily promoted Persian culture in the Balkan region, over time the Hellenic communities adopted the tombak, making slight variations throughout history to arrive at a very similar and related instrument, the toubeleki. Without this conflict between Macedonia and Persia, the Hellenic region of Europe may have never been exposed to the design of the tombak until much later, which further highlights the impact of global conflicts on the spreading of musical traditions. This example also sheds light onto the musical impact that Silk Road nations had on the Kingdom of Macedonia, as opposed to the musical impact that the Kingdom of Macedonia had on Silk Road Nations.

Another famous Persian instrument is the barbat. The barbat is a form of lute developed in the ancient Persian region. The barbat consists of a large wooden body with a large cavity for resonation and a short neck, and typically includes ~11 strings. This instrument is extremely similar to the oud, which is another famous lute instrument common throughout the Silk Road region, as well as the Balkan region. It is theorized that the oud was developed from the barbat, facilitated by the Persian Empire’s conflict with the Hellenic armies. The barbat was typically an instrument of the people. It was not used in war, and was rather used to express culture amongst everyday citizens in the Persian Empire. Naturally, Alexander the Great’s positive treatment of Persian culture in the Balkans led to the barbat being transitioned into Hellenic communities. Again, when instruments are brought from their original regions into new regions, slight differences in design and sound begin to appear. The barbat was blended with Greek, Macedonian, and Turkish cultures to develop into the oud, which has been one of the most popular instruments in all of southeastern Europe and Central Asia.

This is a perfect example of how the Macedonian conflict with the Persian Empire led to the development and influence of music in Silk Road nations. In general, the conflict between the Kingdom of Macedon and the Persian Empire led to many great cultural and musical changes throughout the Balkan region as well as the Persian region. Each respective culture had their own infleunces on the other, and the result is best described as a merging of two cultures fostered by optimisim from the area’s most powerful ruler, Alexander the Great. To this day, many are afraid of other cultures. Many people think their way of doing things is the best, and are hesitant to adopt other apects of different cultures, both politically and socially. But because Alexander the Great was such a tolerant leader, he allowed for the blending of Hellenic and Persian culture, which led to the development and evolution of some of the most influential musical instruments known from the Silk Road.

Whether it is the adoption of martial music by the Persian armies, or Hellenic communities adopting traditional Persian insturments like the tombak and barbat and making slight modifications over time, each of these nations affected the other in some way. Without this original vision of the conquest of Perisa by King Phillip II, the world might not have been able to enjoy some of the best musical instruments in history. Today, Macedonia may seem like an insignificant country. Many people are probably unaware of its existance. But, Macedonia has had an extremely large and formative impact on the world, and all people should take a step back and appreciate the contributions this small nation has made to the development of music. Macedonia was responsible the blending and further refining of many famous silk road instruments, and also for shaping the way those instruments were used in Silk Road nations (such as with the example of the Persian Army adapting the karna to martial music). We must continue to encourage cross-cultural collaboration in modern times to carry on the example provided by our ancient relatives (in a peaceful way, not through war). This way, the idea of tolerance for and blending of different cultures will live on.

Works Cited

  1. Anthony. “The Parts of an Acoustic Guitar and Their Functions.” Spinditty, Spinditty, 20 Apr. 2016, spinditty.com/instruments-gear/The-Parts-of-a-Guitar-What-Theyre-Called-and-Used-For. electricpulp.com.
  2. “Encyclopædia Iranica.” RSS, www.iranicaonline.org/articles/greece-ii. Mark, Joshua J. “Alexander the Great.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 6 Dec. 2018, www.ancient.eu/Alexander_the_Great/. Nasehpour, Nasrollah.
  3. “Impact of Persian Music on Other Cultures and Vice Versa.” Nasehpour, www.nasehpour.com/tonbak/impact-of-persian-music-on-other-cultures-and-vice-versa.html. Ozkok, Bora. “Mysterious Old-Age Zurna.”
  4. History of the Armenian Dance, June 1979, www.socalfolkdance.com/articles/mysterious_age_old_zurna_ozkok.htm. “The Music of War.” HistoryNet, 4 Aug. 2016, www.historynet.com/the-music-of-war.htm.
  5. “Traditional Music Instruments.” Macedonia Timeless, macedonia-timeless.com/ger/things_to_do/senses/sound/traditional_musicinstruments/.
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