Macedonia lies at the crossroads of human development between the Aegean and the Balkans. The earliest signs of human habitation date back to the palaeolithic period, notably with the Petralona cave in which was found the oldest yet known European humanoid,
Archanthropus europaeus petraloniensis. In the Late Neolithic period (c. 4500 to 3500 BC), trade took place with quite distant regions, indicating rapid socio-economic changes. One of the most important innovations was the start of copper working.
The expansion of ancient Macedonian kingdom up to the death of Phillip II
According to Herodotus, the history of Macedonia began with the Makednoi tribe, among the first to use the name, migrating to the region from Histiaeotis in the south. There they lived near Thracian tribes such as the Bryges who would later leave Macedonia for Asia Minor and become known as Phrygians. Macedonia was named after the Makednoi. Accounts of other toponyms such as Emathia are attested to have been in use before that. Herodotus claims that
a branch of the Macedonians 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 politics was minimal, even before the rise of Athens. The Macedonians claimed to be Dorian Greeks (Argive Greeks) and there were many Ionians in the coastal regions. The rest of the region was inhabited by various Thracian and Illyrian tribes as well as mostly coastal colonies of other Greek states such as Amphipolis, Olynthos, Potidea, Stageira and many others, and 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 Thucidydes. Many Macedonian cities were allied 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 reorganised 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 carrying the title of Hegemon of League of Corinth started his long campaign towards the east.
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 by the Romans in the hope that this would make revolts more difficult, but this manoeuvre failed. Then in 148 BC, Macedonia was fully annexed by the Romans. The northern boundary at that time ended at Lake Ohrid and Bylazora, a Paeonian city near the modern city of Veles. Strabo, writing in the first century AD places the border of Macedonia on that part at Lychnidos, Byzantine Achris and presently Ochrid. Therefore ancient Macedonia did not significantly extend beyond its current borders (in Greece). 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 present geographical boundary between the two administrative districts of Greece.
The Acts 16:9-10) records a vision in which the apostle Paul is said to have seen a 'man of Macedonia' pleading with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us". The passage reports that Paul and his companions responded immediately to the invitation.
Subsequently the provinces of Epirus and Thessaly as well as other regions to the north were incorporated into a new Provincia Macedonia, but in 297 AD under a
Diocletianic reform many of these regions were removed and two new provinces were created: Macedonia Prima and Macedonia Salutaris (from 479 to 482 AD Macedonia Secunda). Macedonia Prima coincided approximately with Strabo's definition of Macedonia and with the modern administrative district of Greece and had Thessalonica as its capital, while Macedonia Salutaris had the Paeonian 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 Slavic, Avar, Bulgarian and Magyar invasions in the 6–7th centuries devastated both provinces with only parts of Macedonia Prima in the coastal areas and nearer Thrace remaining in Byzantine hands, while most of the hinterland was disputed between the Byzantium and Bulgaria. The Macedonian regions under Byzantine control passed under the tourma of Macedonia to the province of Thrace.
View of the interior of the Roman-era Rotunda
in Thessaloniki with remnants of the mosaics
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 region of 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.
Familiarity with the Slavic element in the area led two brothers from Thessaloniki, Saints 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. It was subdued by the co-founder of the Greek Despotate of Epirus, Theodore Komnenos Doukas in 1224, when Greek Macedonia and the city of Thessalonica were at the heart of the short-lived Empire of Thessalonica. Returning to the restored Byzantine Empire shortly thereafter, Greek Macedonia remained in Byzantine hands until the 1340s, when all of Macedonia (except Thessaloniki, and possibly Veria) was conquered by the Serbian ruler Stefan Dušan. Divided between Serbia and Bulgaria after Dušan'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.
The capture 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:
"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, Murad marched against Thessalonica and, as it has been written, captured it."
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 Mademochoria" was governed by a locally appointed council due to privileges obtained on account of its wealth, coming from 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, 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 klepht 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.
Greece gained the southern parts of region with Thessaloniki from the Ottoman Empire after the First Balkan War, and expanded its share in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria. The boundaries of Greek Macedonia were finalized in the Treaty of Bucharest. In World War I, Macedonia became a battlefield. The Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, favoured entering the war on the side of the Entente, while the Germanophile King Constantine I favoured neutrality. Invited by Venizelos, in autumn 1915, the Allies landed forces in Thessaloniki to aid Serbia in its war against Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, but their intervention came too late to prevent the Serbian collapse. The Macedonian Front was established, with Thessaloniki at its heart, while in summer 1916 the Bulgarians took over Greek eastern Macedonia without opposition. This provoked a military uprising among pro-Venizelist officers in Thessaloniki, resulting in the establishment of a "Provisional Government of National Defence" in the city, headed by Venizelos, which entered the war alongside the Allies. After intense diplomatic negotiations and an armed confrontation in Athens between Entente and royalist forces the King abdicated, and his second son Alexander took his place. Venizelos returned to Athens in June 1917 and Greece, now unified, officially joined the war on the side of the Allies.
In World War II Macedonia was occupied by the Axis (1941–44), with Germany taking western and central Macedonia with Thessaloniki and Bulgaria occupying and annexing eastern Macedonia.
From the 1870s, Slavic speaking communities of northern Greece split into two hostile and opposed groups with two different national identities - Greek and Bulgarian. By the Second World War and following the defeat of Bulgaria, another further split between the Slavic group occurred. Conservatives departed with the occupying Bulgarian Army to Bulgaria. Leftists began identifying as Macedonians (Slavic), joining the communist-dominated rebel Democratic Army of Greece. At the conclusion of the Greek Civil War (1946–49), most Macedonians of Slavic background left Greece and settled in the Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Some also migrated to Canada or Australia.