In his book, The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions, and History, N.G.L. Hammond makes an astounding error. He argues that Macedonia had no aristocracy (much less landed aristocracy) and that claims to the contrary mistakenly superimpose medieval feudalism on the Macedonian kingdom. Instead, his theory is that the Macedonian king was effectively all powerful and the royal family was the only aristocracy. The king had a monopoly on material resources, land and so on, and that there were no hereditary posts or lands, but people rose and fell on the whim of the Argead king. Each king then chose from a pool of eligible “hetairoi” or companions to supply advisers, officers and so on. Lucky hetairoi had their children at the head of the list for acceptance into the paides (royal pages), who then were educated with the royal princes and may have had a leg up for higher office under the next king.
Ignoring the consensus of EVERYONE other than Hammond and that his several paragraphs nullifies at least one dissertation, I am going to explain why Hammond is wrong.
1) The Argead kings ruled Macedonia for over 200 years by the time of Alexander, so even if the Argead family were the only aristocracy initially, their family had to marry outside of it. Of course many of these marriages would have been with Greeks, Illyrians, Upper Macedonians and Thracians, but some would have been Macedonians (Philip II had a Macedonian wife). Presumably the royal family would have married people in some way distinguished and not the shepherd’s daughter. Further, after 200 years, even with the royal family being the only aristocracy, they would have been a broad group that would have constituted a broad aristocracy on their own.
2) The strength of Macedonia was it’s cavalry. In ancient warfare, cavalry was a distinct sign of nobility as people had to supply their own equipment. In “Greece” one had to supply their own arms and armour and the same was true in Macedonia, or it would not have been as big a deal that Philip II reformed the army in part so that the cost was less and in part by supplying some of the equipment, allowing for the rise of the pike phalanx. Still, the greatest cost of this warfare was borne by the soldiers themselves. If this was true for the infantry, it could have been no less true for the cavalry, and only the aristocracy could afford the cost of weapons, armor and a horse. Since horses also required large amounts of land to breed on, the aristocracy probably also owned land.
3) In promoting some people over others, an imbalance was automatically created in the system. Since there were no assurances that someone would easily step down from his post when asked to by the new king and many are recorded serving more than one king, this by nature creates powerful families.
4) The Macedonian aristocracy *loved* hunting. Hunting was an activity only available to people who had free time, which probably meant that the aristocracy owned land. True, some of this is accounted by the king providing for his companions, but with the all encompassing nature of hunting for all hetairoi (they could not recline at meals until they had slain a boar), it is probable that they all owned land.
5) If land was redistributed under each king, there would have been even greater upheaval. A system that operated by regularly disenfranchising some while enfranchising others could not have lasted. Further, if this were true, then Philip taking the land around Amphipolis would not have been such a big deal. This land he distributed to hetairoi, including making new companions, but he did not redistribute huge amounts of land withing Macedonia proper.
6) Upper Macedonia had its own set of royal houses, but when the cantons merged with Lower Macedonia, the Lower Macedonian hetairoi still held a higher position than did these royals. The only way to explain this was that the hetairoi were an aristocracy and that the royalty from Upper Macedonia joined their ranks in the merge.
The paides were an institution for young nobles, an education and exposure to the Argead princes, but to enter the children had to be from families of some importance. The king was still the first amongst these nobles, but they had to have existed. Before the Persian campaign, Alexander gave away all the royal land, which was an enormous amount, but was not the entire kingdom. To think otherwise it utter nonsense. To call the system a form of feudalism is somewhat anachronistic, but yet is quite apt. The aristocracy owed an oath of fealty to the king and it was kept to with surprising regularity, but these men were far from tame.
I will go on more later, but words are escaping me. For now I will put my ego back in the box and let this simmer for a while in my head.