Epirus (ancient state)

Epirus (ancient state)

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Epirus was an ancient Greek state, located in the geographical region of Epirus
Epirus
The name Epirus, from the Greek "Ήπειρος" meaning continent may refer to:-Geographical:* Epirus - a historical and geographical region of the southwestern Balkans, straddling modern Greece and Albania...

, in the western Balkans
Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

. The homeland of the ancient Epirotes was bordered by the Aetolian League
Aetolian League
The Aetolian League was a confederation of tribal communities and cities in ancient Greece centered on Aetolia in central Greece. It was established, probably during the early Hellenistic era, in opposition to Macedon and the Achaean League. Two annual meetings were held in Thermika and Panaetolika...

 to the south, Thessalia and Macedonia to the east and Illyrian tribes to the north. For a brief period (280-275 BC), the Epirote leader Pyrrhus
Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus or Pyrrhos was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house , and later he became king of Epirus and Macedon . He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome...

 managed to make Epirus the most powerful state in the Greek world, and his armies marched against Rome
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 during an unsuccessful campaign in Italy
Italian Peninsula
The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula is one of the three large peninsulas of Southern Europe , spanning from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula's shape gives it the nickname Lo Stivale...

.

Prehistory


Epirus has been occupied since at least Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 times, when hunters and shepherds inhabited the region and constructed large tumuli to bury their leaders. Mycenean tombs present in the region indicate an ancestral link between Epirus and the Mycenean civilization. Certainly, Mycenean remains have been found in Epirus, especially at the most important ancient religious sites in the region, the Necromanteion
Necromanteion
The Necromanteion or Nekromanteion was an ancient Greek temple of necromancy devoted to Hades and Persephone. According to tradition, it was located on the banks of the Acheron river in Epirus, near the ancient city of Ephyra. This site was believed by devotees to be the door to Hades, the realm...

 (Oracle of the Dead) on the Acheron
Acheron
The Acheron is a river located in the Epirus region of northwest Greece. It flows into the Ionian Sea in Ammoudia, near Parga.-In mythology:...

 river, and the Oracle of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 at Dodona
Dodona
Dodona in Epirus in northwestern Greece, was an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione, who was joined and partly supplanted in historical times by the Greek god Zeus.The shrine of Dodona was regarded as the oldest Hellenic oracle,...

.

The Dorians invaded Greece from Epirus and Macedonia at the end of the 2nd millennium BC
2nd millennium BC
The 2nd millennium BC marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age.Its first half is dominated by the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and Babylonia. The alphabet develops. Indo-Iranian migration onto the Iranian plateau and onto the Indian subcontinent propagates the use of the chariot...

 (circa 1100 BC-1000 BC), though the reasons for their migration are obscure. The region's original inhabitants were driven southward into the Greek mainland by the invasion and by the early 1st millennium BC
1st millennium BC
The 1st millennium BC encompasses the Iron Age and sees the rise of many successive empires, and spanned from 1000 BC to 1 BC.The Neo-Assyrian Empire, followed by the Achaemenids. In Greece, Classical Antiquity begins with the colonization of Magna Graecia and peaks with the rise of Hellenism. The...

 three principal clusters of Greek-speaking tribes had emerged in Epirus. These were the Chaonians
Chaonians
The Chaonians were an ancient Greek tribe that inhabited the region of Epirus located in the north-west of modern Greece and southern Albania. On their southern frontier lay another Epirote kingdom, that of the Molossians, to their southwest stood the kingdom of the Thesprotians, and to their...

 of northwestern Epirus, the Molossians
Molossians
The Molossians were an ancient Greek tribe that inhabited the region of Epirus since the Mycenaean era. On their northeast frontier they had the Chaonians and to their southern frontier the kingdom of the Thesprotians, to their north were the Illyrians. The Molossians were part of the League of...

 in the centre and the Thesprotians
Thesprotians
The Thesprotians were an ancient Greek tribe of Thesprotis, Epirus, akin to the Molossians. The poet Homer frequently mentions Thesprotia which had friendly relations with Ithaca and Doulichi. On their northeast frontier they had the Chaonians and to the north the kingdom of the Molossians...

 in the south.

Molossian expansion (470-330 BC)


The Molossian Aeacidae
Aeacidae
Aeacidae refers to the descendants of Aeacus, most notably Peleus, son of Aeacus, and Achilles, grandson of Aeacus. Neoptolemus was the son of Achilles and the princess Deidamea. The kings of Epirus and Olympias, mother to Alexander the Great, claimed to be members of this lineage.Aeacus of Greek...

 dynasty managed to create the first centralized state in Epirus from about 370 BC onwards, expanding their power at the expense of rival tribes. The Aeacids allied themselves with the increasingly powerful kingdom of Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

, in part against the common threat of Illyrian
Illyrians
The Illyrians were a group of tribes who inhabited part of the western Balkans in antiquity and the south-eastern coasts of the Italian peninsula...

 raids, and in 359 BC the Molossian princess Olympias
Olympias
Olympias was a Greek princess of Epirus, daughter of king Neoptolemus I of Epirus, the fourth wife of the king of Macedonia, Philip II, and mother of Alexander the Great...

, niece of Arybbas of Epirus, married King Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

. She was to become the mother of Alexander the Great. On the death of Arybbas, Alexander the Molossian, uncle of Alexander the Great of Macedon, succeeded to the throne with the title King of Epirus.

In 334 BC, the time Alexander the Great crossed into Asia, Alexander I the Molossian lead an expedition in southern Italy in support of the Greek cities of Magna Graecia
Magna Graecia
Magna Græcia is the name of the coastal areas of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf that were extensively colonized by Greek settlers; particularly the Achaean colonies of Tarentum, Crotone, and Sybaris, but also, more loosely, the cities of Cumae and Neapolis to the north...

 against the nearby Italian tribes and the emerging Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

. After some successes on the battlefield, he was defeated by Rome and killed in battle c. 331 BC.

Unified Kingdom of Epirus (330-231 BC)



In 330 BC, upon Alexander the Molossian’s death, the term 'Epirus' appears as a single political unit in the ancient Greek records for the first time, under the leadership of the Molossian dynasty. Subsequently, the coinages of the three major Epirote tribal groups came to an end, and a new coinage was issued with the legend 'Epirotes’. After Alexander's I death, Aeacides of Epirus
Aeacides of Epirus
Aeacides , king of Epirus , was son of Arymbas and grandson of Alcetas I. He succeeded to the throne of Epirus on the death of his cousin Alexander, who was slain in Italy. Aeacides married Phthia, the daughter of Menon of Pharsalus, by whom he had the celebrated Pyrrhus and two daughters, Deidamia...

, who succeeded him, espoused the cause of Olympias against Cassander
Cassander
Cassander , King of Macedonia , was a son of Antipater, and founder of the Antipatrid dynasty...

, but was dethroned in 313 BC.

Aeacides' son Pyrrhus
Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus or Pyrrhos was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house , and later he became king of Epirus and Macedon . He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome...

 came to throne in 295 BC. Pyrrhus, being a skillful General, was encouraged to aid the Greeks of Tarentum
History of Taranto
The history of Taranto dates back to the 8th century BC when it was founded as a Greek colony, known as Taras.-Foundation and splendour:Taranto was founded in 706 BC by Dorian immigrants as the only Spartan colony, and its origin is peculiar: the founders were Partheniae, sons of unmarried Spartan...

 and decided to initiate a major offensive in the Italian peninsula
Italian Peninsula
The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula is one of the three large peninsulas of Southern Europe , spanning from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula's shape gives it the nickname Lo Stivale...

 and Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. Due to its superior martial abilities, the Epirote army defeated the Romans in the Battle of Heraclea
Battle of Heraclea
The Battle of Heraclea took place in 280 BC between the Romans under the command of Consul Publius Valerius Laevinus and the combined forces of Greeks from Epirus, Tarentum, Thurii, Metapontum, and Heraclea under the command of King Pyrrhus of Epirus....

 (280 BC). Subsequently, Pyrrhus' forces nearly reached the outskirts of Rome, but had to retreat to avoid an unequal conflict with a more numerous Roman army. The following year Pyrrhus invaded Apulia
Apulia
Apulia is a region in Southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its most southern portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises , and...

 (279 BC) and the two armies met in the Battle of Asculum where the Epirotes won the original Pyrrhic victory
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

, at a high cost.

In 277 BC, Pyrrhus captured the Carthaginian
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 fortress in Eryx
Eryx (Sicily)
Eryx , was an ancient city and a mountain in the west of Sicily, about 10 km from Drepana , and 3 km from the sea-coast...

, in Sicily. This prompted the rest of the Carthaginian-controlled cities to defect to Pyrrhus. Meanwhile, he had begun to display despotic behavior towards the Sicilian Greeks and soon Sicilian opinion became inflamed against him. Though he defeated the Carthaginians in battle, he was forced to abandon Sicily.

Pyrrhus' Italian campaign came to an end following the inconclusive Battle of Beneventum (275 BC). Having lost the vast majority of his army, he decided to return to Epirus which finally resulted in the loss of all his Italian holdings. Because of his costly victories, the term 'Pyrrhic victory
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

' is often used for a victory with devastating cost to the victor.

The Epirote League (231-167 BC)


In 233 BC, the last surviving member of the royal house, Deidamia
Deidamia II of Epirus
Deidamia or Deidameia or Laodamia was a princess, daughter of Pyrrhus II of Epirus, king of Epirus. She had a sister, Nereis, who married Gelo of Syracuse. During a rebellion in Epirus her sister send her 800 mercenaries from Gaul. Part of the Molossians supported her, and with the aid of the...

, was murdered. Her death brought the Epirote royal family to an abrupt extinction and a federal republic was set up, though with diminished territory, since western Acarnania
Acarnania
Acarnania is a region of west-central Greece that lies along the Ionian Sea, west of Aetolia, with the Achelous River for a boundary, and north of the gulf of Calydon, which is the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth. Today it forms the western part of the prefecture of Aetolia-Acarnania. The capital...

 had asserted its independence, and the Aetolians seized Ambracia, Amphilochia and the remaining land north of the Ambracian Gulf
Ambracian Gulf
The Ambracian Gulf, also known as the Gulf of Arta or the Gulf of Actium, and in some official documents as the Amvrakikos Gulf , is a gulf of the Ionian Sea in northwestern Greece. About long and wide, it is one of the largest enclosed gulfs in Greece...

. The new Epirote capital was therefore established at Phoenice
Phoenice
Phoenice or Phoenike was an ancient Greek city in Epirus and capital of the Chaonians. It was also the location of the Treaty of Phoenice which ended the First Macedonian War, as well as one of the wealthiest cities in Epirus until the Roman conquest. During the early Byzantine period, Phoenice...

, the political center of the Chaonians. The reasons for the swift fall of the Aeacid dynasty were probably complex. Aetolian pressure must have played a part, and the alliance with Macedonian may have been unpopular; in addition there were perhaps social tensions. However, Epirus remained a substantial power, unified under the auspices of the Epirote League as a federal state with its own parliament (or synedrion).

In the following years, Epirus faced the growing threat of the expansionist Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, which fought a series of wars with Macedonia. The League remained neutral in the first two Macedonian Wars but split in the Third Macedonian War
Third Macedonian War
The Third Macedonian War was a war fought between Rome and King Perseus of Macedon. In 179 BC King Philip V of Macedon died and his talented and ambitious son, Perseus, took his throne. Perseus married Laodike, daughter of King Seleucus IV Keraunos of Asia, and increased the size of his army...

 (171 BC-168 BC), with the Molossians siding with the Macedonians and the Chaonians
Chaonians
The Chaonians were an ancient Greek tribe that inhabited the region of Epirus located in the north-west of modern Greece and southern Albania. On their southern frontier lay another Epirote kingdom, that of the Molossians, to their southwest stood the kingdom of the Thesprotians, and to their...

 and Thesprotians
Thesprotians
The Thesprotians were an ancient Greek tribe of Thesprotis, Epirus, akin to the Molossians. The poet Homer frequently mentions Thesprotia which had friendly relations with Ithaca and Doulichi. On their northeast frontier they had the Chaonians and to the north the kingdom of the Molossians...

 siding with Rome. The outcome was disastrous for Epirus; Molossia fell to Rome in 167 BC, 150,000 of its inhabitants were enslaved and the region was so thoroughly plundered that it took 500 years for central Epirus to recover fully.

Organization



In antiquity, Epirus was settled by the same nomadic Hellenic tribes that went on to settle the rest of Greece. Unlike most other Greeks of the time, who lived in or around city-state
City-state
A city-state is an independent or autonomous entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as a part of another local government.-Historical city-states:...

s such as Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 or Sparta
Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

, the Epirotes lived in small villages and their way of life was foreign to that of polis
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

 of southern Greeks. Their region lay on the edge of the Greek world and was far from peaceful; for many centuries, it remained a frontier
Frontier
A frontier is a political and geographical term referring to areas near or beyond a boundary. 'Frontier' was absorbed into English from French in the 15th century, with the meaning "borderland"--the region of a country that fronts on another country .The use of "frontier" to mean "a region at the...

 area contested with the Illyrian peoples of the Adriatic coast and interior. However, Epirus had a far greater religious significance than might have been expected given its geographical remoteness, due to the presence of the shrine and oracle at Dodona - regarded as second only to the more famous oracle at Delphi
Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

.

Culture


The Epirotes, though apparently speakers of an epichoric Northwest Greek dialect, different from the Dorian of the Greek colonies on the Ionian islands, and bearers of mostly Greek names, as evidenced by epigraphy, seem to have been regarded with some disdain by some classical writers. The 5th century BC Athenian historian Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

 describes them as "barbarians", as does Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

. Other writers, such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.-Life:...

 Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

 and Eutropius, describe them as Greeks. Simon Hornblower
Simon Hornblower
Simon Hornblower is Professor of Classics and Ancient History in the University of Oxford and Senior Research Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.-Biography:...

 interprets the vague, and sometimes even antithetical, comments of Thucydides on the Epirotes as implying that they were neither completely "barbarian" nor completely Greek, but akin to the latter. N.G.L. Hammond opines that the principal social structure of the Epirotes was the tribe and that they spoke a West-Greek dialect.

Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 mentions an interesting cultural element of the Epirotes regarding Achilles. In his biography of King Pyrrhus
Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus or Pyrrhos was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house , and later he became king of Epirus and Macedon . He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome...

, he claims that Achilles "had a divine status in Epirus and in the local dialect he was called Aspetos" (meaning unspeakable, unspeakably great, in Homeric Greek
Homeric Greek
Homeric Greek is the form of the Greek language that was used by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey. It is an archaic version of Ionic Greek, with admixtures from certain other dialects, such as Aeolic Greek. It later served as the basis of Epic Greek, the language of epic poetry, typically in...

).

See also