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EPEIRUS or EPI´RUS (Ἤπειρος: Eth. Ἠπειρώτης, Eth. Epirotes: Adj. Ἠπειρωτικός, Epiroticus), was the name given to the country lying between the Ionian sea and the chain of Pindus, and extending from the Acroceraunian promontory and the boundaries of Illyria and Macedonia on the north to the Ambracian gulf on the south. The word ἤπειρος signified the mainland, and was the name originally given to the whole of the western coast of Greece from the Acroceraunian promontory as far as the entrance of the Corinthian gulf, in contradistinction to Corcyra and the Cephallenian islands. In this sense the word was used not only by Homer (Strab. x. p.451; Hom. II. 2.635, Od. 14.97), but even as late as the time of the Peloponnesian War. (Thuc. 1.5.) Epirus, in its more limited extent, is a wild and mountainous country. The mountains run in a general direction from north to south, and have in all ages been the resort of semi-civilised and robber tribes. The valleys, though frequent, are not extensive, and do not produce sufficient corn for the support of the inhabitants. The most extensive and fertile plain is that of Joánnina, in which the oracle of Dodona was probably situated, but even at the present day Joánnina receives a large quantity of its flour from Thessaly, and of its vegetables and fruit from the territory of Arta on the Ambracian gulf. Epirus has been in all times a pastoral and not an agricultural country. Its fine oxen and horses, its shepherds, and its breed of Molossian dogs, were celebrated in antiquity. (Pind. N. 4.82; “quanto majores herbida tauros non habet Epirus,” Ov. Met. 8.282; “Eliadum palmas Epiros equarum,” Verg. G. 1.57; “domus alta Molossis personuit canibus,” Hor. Sat. 2.6. 114; Verg. G. 3.405.) The Epirots were not collected in towns, as was the case with the population in Greece Proper. It is expressly mentioned by Scylax (p. 28) that the Epirots dwelt in villages, which was more suitable to their mode of life; and it was probably not till the time when the Molossian kings had extended their dominion over the whole country, and had introduced among them Grecian habits and civilisation, that towns began to be built. It is in accordance with this that we find no coins older than those of Pyrrhus.

Along the coast of Epirus southward, from the Acroceraunian promontory, a lofty and rugged range of mountains extends. [CERAUNII MONTES] Hence the Corinthians founded no colony upon the coast of Epirus at the time when they planted so many settlements upon the coast of Acarnania, and founded Apollonia and Epidamnus farther north. Of the mountains in the interior the names of hardly any are preserved with the exception of Tomarus or Tmarus above Dodona. [DODONA] Of the rivers the most important are: the ARACHTHUS flowing into the Ambracian gulf, and considered to form the boundary between Epirus and Hellas Proper; the CELYDNUS flowing into the Ionian sea between Oricum and the Acroceraunian, promontory, and forming probably the northern boundary of Epirus; and the THYAMIS, ACHERON, and CHARADRUS all flowing into the Ionian sea more to the south.

Epirus was inhabited by various tribes, which were not regarded by the Greeks' themselves as members of the Hellenic race. Accordingly Epirus was not a part of Hellas, which was supposed to begin at Ambracia. [HELLAS] Some of the tribes however were closely related to the Greeks, and may be looked upon as semi-Hellenic. Thucydides, it is true, treats both the Molossians and Thesprotians as barbaric (2.80); but these two tribes at all events, were not entirely foreign to the Greeks like the Thracians and Illyrians; and accordingly Herodotus places the Thesprotians in Hellas (ii; 56), and mentions the Molossian Alcon among the Hellenic suitors of Agarista (6.127). It would appear that towards the north the Epirots became blended with the Macedonians and Illyrians, and towards the south with the Hellenes.

The northern Epirots, extending from the Macedonian frontier as far as Corcyra, resembled the Macedonians in their mode of cutting the hair, in their language and dress, and in many other particulars. (Strab. vii. p.327.) Strabo also relates (l.c.) that some of the tribes spoke two languages,--a fact which proves the difference of the races in the country and also their close connection.

According to Theopompus, who lived in the fourth century B.C., the number of Epirot tribes was fourteen (ap. Strab. vii. pp. 323, 324). Their names, as we gather from Strabo, were the Chaones, Thesproti, Cassopaei, Molossi, Amphilochi, Athamanes, Aethices, Tymphaei, Parauaei, Talares, Atintanes, Orestae, Pelagones, and Elimiotae. (Strab. viii. pp. 324, 326, x. p. 434.) Of these, the Orestae, Pelagones, and Elimiotae were situated east of Mt. Pindus, and were subsequently annexed to Macedonia, to which they properly belonged. In like manner, the Athamanes, Aethices, and Talares, who occupied Pindus, were united to Thessaly in the time of Strabo. The Atintanes and Parauaei, who bordered upon Illyria, were also separated from Epirus.

The three chief Epirot tribes were the Chaones, Thesproti, and Molossi. The Chaones, who were at one time the most powerful of the three, and who are said to have ruled over the whole country (Strab; vii. p. 324), inhabited in historical times the district upon the coast from the Acroceraunian country to the river Thyamis, which separated them from the Thesprotians (Thuc. 1.46). The Thesproti extended along the coast from the Thyamis beyond the Acheron to the confines of the Cassopaei, and in the interior to the boundaries of the territory of Dodona, which in ancient times was regarded as a part of Thesprotia. [DODONA] The Cassopaei, whom some writers called a Thesprotian tribe, reached along the coast, as far as the Ambracian gulf. The Molossi, who became subsequently the rulers of Epirus, originally inhabited only a narrow strip of country, extending from the Ambracian gulf between the Cassopaei and Ambraciotae, and subsequently between the Thesprotians and Athamanes, northwards as far as the Dodonaea. (Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iv. pp. 178, 179.) The Molossi subsequently obtained possession of the Cassopaea and the Dodonaea, and their country reached from the river Aous on the north to the Ambracian gulf on the south.

The most ancient inhabitants of Epirus are said to have been Pelasgians. Dodona is represented as an oracle of the Pelasgians. [DODONA] Chaonia is also called Pelasgian; and the Chaones are said, like the Selli at Dodona, to have been interpreters of the oracle of Zeus. (Steph. B. sub voce Χαονία.) There appears to have been an ethnical connection between [p. 1.832]the ancient inhabitants of Epirus and some of the tribes on the opposite coast of Italy. The Chones, on the gulf of Tarentum, are apparently the same people as the Chaones; and although we find no mention of the Thesprotians in Italy, we have there a town Pandosia, and a river Acheron, as in Epirus. There are good reasons for supposing that the Italian Oenotrians, to whom the Chonians belonged, were of the same race as the Epirots. (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. i. p. 57.) [OENOTRIA] If we were to accept the statement of Aristotle that Dodona was at one time inhabited by the people then called Graeci, but now Hellenes (Meteor. 1.14), Epirus must be regarded as the original abode of the Hellenes; but this statement is in opposition to the commonly received opinions of the Greeks, who place the original home of the Hellenes in Thessaly. It may be that the Pelasgians in Epirus bore the name of Graeci, and carried the name to the opposite coast of Italy; which would account for the Romans and Italians in general giving the name of Graeci to all the Hellenes, looking upon the Hellenes who subsequently founded colonies in Italy as the same people. (Niebuhr, vol. iii. p. 451.) But, however this may be, the inhabitants of Epirus exercised, at an early period, considerable influence upon Greece. Of this the wide spread reputation of the oracle of Dodona is a proof. The Thessalians, who conquered the country named after them, are represented as a Thesprotian tribe. [THESSALIA] According to the common tradition, Neoptolemus or Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, settled in Epirus after his return from Troy, accompanied by Helenus, son of Priam. He transmitted his dominions to his son Molossus, from whom the Molossian kings traced their descent. (Dict. of Biogr. s. vv. Neoptolemus and Molossus.

The chief Greek settlement in Epirus was the flourishing Corinthian colony of Ambracia, upon the gulf called after it. [AMBRACIA] At a later period, probably between the time of Thucydides and Demosthenes, some Grecian settlers must have found their way into Thesprotia, since Demosthenes mentions Pandosia, Buchetia, and Elaea, as Eleian colonies (de Halonn. p. 84).

The Epirot tribes were independent of one another, though one tribe sometimes exercised a kind of supremacy over a greater or a smaller number. Such a supremacy may have been exercised in ancient times by the Thesprotians, who possessed the oracle. In the Peloponnesian War the Chaonians enjoyed a higher reputation than the rest (Thuc. 2.80), and it is probably to this period that Strabo refers when he says that the Chaonians once ruled over all Epirus (vii. p. 323). The importance of the Chaonians at this period is shown by a line of Aristophanes (Aristoph. Kn. 78, with Schol.). It must not, however, be inferred that the Chaonians possessed any firm hold over the other tribes. The power of the Molossian kings, of which we shall speak presently, rested upon a different basis.

Originally each tribe was governed by a king. In the time of the Persian wars the Molossians were governed by a king called Admetus, who was living with the simplicity of a village chief when Themistocles came to him as a suppliant. (Thuc. 1.136.) Tharyps, also called Tharypas or Arrhybas, the son or grandson of Admetus, was a minor at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, and was educated at Athens: he is said to have been the first to introduce among. his subjects Hellenic civilisation. (Thuc. 2.80; Paus. 1.11.1; Justin, 17.3; Plut. Pyrrh. 1.) The kingly government always continued among the Molossians, probably in consequence of their power being very limited; for we are told that the king and people were accustomed to meet at Passaron, the ancient Molossian capital, to swear obedience to the laws. (Aristot. Pol. 5.11; Plut. Pyrrh. 5.) But among the Chaonians and Thesprotians the kingly government had been abolished before the Peloponnesian War: the chief magistrates of the Chaonians were selected from a particular family (ἐκ τοῦ ἀρχικοῦ γένους, Thuc. 2.80). After the Peloponnesian War the power of the Molossians increased, till at length Alexander, the brother of Olympias, who married Philip of Macedon, extended his dominion over most of the Epirot tribes, and took the title of king of Epirus. (Diod. 16.72, 91; Strab. vi. p.280.) Alexander, who died B.C. 326, was succeeded by Aeacides, and Aeacides by Alcetas, after whom the celebrated Pyrrhus became king of Epirus, and raised the kingdom to its greatest splendour. He removed the seat of government from Passaron to Ambracia, which was now for the first time annexed to the dominions of the Epirot kings. Pyrrhus was succeeded in B.C. 272 by his son, Alexander II., who was followed in succession by his two sons, Pyrrhus II. and Ptolemy. (For the history of these kings, see the Dict. of Biogr.) With the death of Ptolemy, between B.C. 239 and 229, the family of Pyrrhus became extinct, whereupon a republican form of government was established, which continued till the conquest of Macedonia by the Romans, B.C. 168. Having been accused of favouring Perseus, the Roman man senate determined that all the towns of Epirus should be destroyed, and the inhabitants reduced to slavery. This cruel order was carried into execution by Aemilius Paulus, who, having previously placed garrisons in the 70 towns of Epirus, razed them all to the ground in one day, and carried away 150,000 inhabitants as slaves. (Polyb. ap. Strab. vii. p.322; Liv. 45.34; Plut. Aem. 29.) From the effects of this terrible blow Epirus never recovered. In the time of Strabo the country was still a scene of desolation, and the inhabitants had only ruins and villages to dwell in. (Strab. vii. p.327.) Nicopolis, founded by Augustus in commemoration of his victory off Actium, was the chief city of Epirus under the Roman empire. Both this city and Buthrotum had the dignity of Roman colonies. Epirus formed a province under the Romans, and in the time of Ptolemy was separated from Achaia by the river Achelous. (Ptol. 3.14.) Epirus now forms part of Albania. The Albanians are probably descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who took possession of the depopulated country under the Roman or the early Byzantine empire. On the conquest of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204, a member of the celebrated Byzantine family of Comnenus established an independent dynasty in Epirus; and the despots of Albania, as they were called, continued for two centuries only second in power to the emperors of Constantinople. The last of these rulers, George Castriot, resisted for more than 20 years the whole forces of the Ottoman empire; and it was not till his death in 1466 that Albania was annexed to the Turkish dominions.

The chief towns in Epirus were,:--


In Chaonia. Upon the road near the coast from N. to S.: PALAESTE; CHIMAERA; PHOENICE; BUTHROTUM; CESTRIA, also called Ilium or Troja, in the district Cestrine. [CESTRINE] West of this road, upon the coast ONCHESMUS; CASSIOPE. [p. 1.833]East of the road in the interior: PHANOTE; HELICRANON.


In Thesprotia. Upon the road leading from Cestria southwards: EUROEA (?); PANDOSIA, on the Acheron; ELATREIA or ELATEIA; CASSOPE; NICOPOLIS. West of this road, upon the coast: SYBOTA; CHEIMERIUM; TORYNE: BUCHAETIUM; ELAEA. Between this road and the coast: GITANAE; EPHYRA, afterwards called Cichyrus. In the interior: EURYMENAE (?); ISSORIA; BATIAE(?).



In the annexed coin the heads on the obverse are those of Zeus and Hera: the ox on the reverse may have reference either to the excellence of the Epirot oxen, or to its being the victim sacred to Zeus. On all coins we find the name of the people in the Doric form ΑΙΙΕΙΡ*ΩΤΑΝ and not ΗΙΙΕΙΡ*ΩΤΩΝ. (Eckhel, vol. ii. p. 160, foil.) (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. iii. p. 450, seq.; Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. iii. p. 549, seq.; Merleker, Histor. geogr. Darstellung des Landes und der Bewohner von Epiros, Königs. 1841; Leake, Northern Greece; Bowen, Mount Athos, Thessaly, and Epirus, 1852.)


hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Aristophanes, Knights, 78
    • Aristotle, Politics, 5.1313a
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.72
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.91
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.11.1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.136
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.5
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.80
    • Homer, Odyssey, 14.97
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.46
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 8.282
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.57
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.405
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 34
    • Plutarch, Aemilius Paullus, 29
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 1
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 5
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.14
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