Macedonia’s long, turbulent history began well over two millennia ago and as a result of their position in the heart of the Balkans, has seen numerous empires come and go. As a result, Macedonia is home to a number of different ethnicities, all of which have contributed to its rich heritage and the development of Orthodox Christianity and Islam.
The region now known as the Republic of Macedonia was first settled by various tribes including the Thracians and Illyrians. By 356 BC, the country was ruled by Philip of Macedon, whose son Alexander the Great created his magnificent empire by conquering land as far north as the Danube basin. The region’s Roman era began around 146 BC and continued for almost 400 years, with Latin joining Classical Greek as the dominant language. After the fall of Rome, the rise of the Byzantine Empire encompassed Macedonia and by 836 AD, Macedonia was a part of the First Bulgarian Empire.
During the Medieval period, the entire region known as the Balkans saw invasions, conquests and incursions by barbarians from the north as well as regional conflicts. Countries changed hands frequently between conquerors and Slavic influences, and Christianity became paramount due to the saints Methodius, Clement and Cyril. By the late 10th century, much of Macedonia was the Bulgarian Empire’s cultural and political center, with the religious hub of Ohrid the home of the Bulgarian patriarch.
War with the resurgent Byzantine Empire followed quickly after and by 1018, the Bulgarian Empire lands were under Byzantine rule. Civil unrest continued for centuries, with short periods of Serbian and Bulgarian control until the Ottomans arrived in force in the 15th century, staying for 500 years until the First Balkan war in 1912. From the 18th century onwards, Macedonian nationalism was on the rise, peaking in the late 19th century.
Following WWI, Macedonia became part of Serbia until 1929 when it became a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, losing even its name. During the interbellum, calls for freedom became louder, but were ignored by the Great Powers, resulting in insurgency becoming the norm across the country. The Axis Powers occupied Yugoslavia during WWII, with membership of the Communist Party spurred on by harsh treatment from the Nazi forces. By 1944, with the German Army in retreat, the People’s Republic of Macedonia (as part of the Yugoslavian federal republic) was declared and communism took over.
By 1991, a semblance of normality and democracy had returned, and Macedonia, finally at peace, gained independence to become the Republic of Macedonia, although the Kosovo war in 1999 saw almost half a million Albanian refugees fleeing Kosovo for Macedonia. Although most returned home after the end of the war, armed Albanian nationalists caused conflict in the west and north in 2001 until a NATO ceasefire. Since then, Macedonia has concentrated on its development as a nation, and has applied to be part of the European Union and NATO. As to that strange initial abbreviation; FYROM, complaints from the Greek province of Macedonia forced the newly independent country to initially call itself the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, which has since been shed.
The culture of Macedonia is intricately linked to the Orthodox Church, founded by the Byzantine missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius, as well as the numerous empires which occupied the land over two millennia. Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Greek, Ottoman and Serbian cultures all play a part in the rich heritage of literature, arts, music, cuisine, and architecture in the land, forming a modern yet traditional culture totally unique to the newly independent country.
Traditions are based on the country’s rural past, although almost 40 percent of Macedonians now live in towns and cities. Architecture plays a strong part, with urban single-story houses built around a central courtyard, emphasizing the importance of close family ties. Macedonians are intensely proud of their land, and their nationalistic fervor is especially noted in the works of writers and poets, many of which have been translated into other European languages and published across the Western world.