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Some notice must be taken of those barbarous or non-Hellenic nations who formed the immediate neighbors of Hellas, west of the range of Pindus, and north of that range which connects Pindus with Olympus, as well as of those other tribes, who, though lying more remote from Hellas proper, were yet brought into relations of traffic or hostility with the Hellenic colonies.

Between the Greeks and these foreign neighbors, the Akarnanians, of whom I have already spoken briefly in my preceding volume, form the proper link of transition. They occupied the territory between the river Achelous, the Ionian sea, and the Ambrakian gulf: they were Greeks, and admitted as such to contend at the Pan-Hellenic games, yet they were also closely connected with the Amphilochi and Agraei, who were not Greeks. In manners, sentiments, and intelligence, they were half-Hellenic and half-Epirotic, like the Italians and the Ozolian Lokrians. Even down to the time of Thucydides, these nations were subdivided into numerous petty communities, lived in unfortified villages, were frequently in the habit of plundering each other, and never permitted themselves to be unarmed : in case of attack, they withdrew their families and their scanty stock, chiefly cattle, to the shelter of difficult mountains or marshes. They were for the most part light-armed, few among them being trained to the panoply of the Grecian hoplite; but they were both brave and skillful in their own mode of warfare, and the sling, in the hands of the Akarnanian, was a weapon of formidable efficiency.

Notwithstanding this state of disunion and insecurity, however, the Akarnanians maintained a loose political league among themselves, and a hill near the Amphilochian Argos, on the shores of the Ambrakian gulf, had been fortified to serve as a judgment-seat, or place of meeting, for the settlement of disputes. And it seems that Stratus and Oeniadae had both become fortified in some measure towards the commencement of the Peloponnesian war. The former, the most considerable township in Akarnania, was situated on the Achelous, rather high up its course, the latter was at the mouth of the river, and was rendered difficult of approach by its inundations. Astakus, Solium, Palaerus, and Alyzia, lay on or near the coast of the Ionian sea, between Oeniadae and Leukas : Phytia, Koronta, Medeon, Limnaea, and Thyrium, were between the southern shore of the Ambrakian gulf and the river Achelous.

The Akarnanians appear to have produced many prophets. They traced up their mythical ancestry, as well as that of their neighbors the Amphilochians, to the most renowned prophetic family among the Grecian heroes; Amphiaraus, with his sons Alkmaeon and Amphilochus : Akarnan, the eponymous hero of the nation, and other eponymous heroes of the separate towns, were supposed to be the sons of Alkmaeon.  They are spoken of, together with the Aetolians, as mere rude shepherds, by the lyric poet Alkman, and so they seem to have continued with little alteration until the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, when we hear of them, for the first time, as allies of Athens and as bitter enemies of the Corinthian colonies on their coast. The contact of those colonies, however, and the large spread of Akarnanian accessible coast, could not fail to produce some effect in socializing and improving the people. And it is probable that this effect would have been more sensibly felt, had not the Akarnanians been kept back by the fatal neighborhood of the Aetolians, with whom they were in perpetual feud, a people the most unprincipled and unimprovable of all who bore the Hellenic name, and whose habitual faithlessness stood in marked contrast with the rectitude and steadfastness of the Akarnanian character. It was in order to strengthen the Akarnanians against these rapacious neighbors, that the Macedonian Cassander urged them to consolidate their numerous small townships into a few considerable cities. Partially, at least, the recommendation was carried into effect, so as to aggrandize Stratus and one or two other towns; but in the succeeding century, the town of Leukas seems to lose its original position as a separate Corinthian colony, and to pass into that of chief city of Akarnania,  which is lost only by the sentence of the Roman conquerors.

Passing over the borders of Akarnania, we find small nations or tribes not considered as Greeks, but known, from the fourth century BC downwards, under the common name of Epirots. This word signifies properly, inhabitants of a continent, as opposed to those of an island or a peninsula, and came only gradually to be applied by the Greeks as their comprehensive denomination to designate all those diverse tribes, between the Ambrakian gulf on the south and west, Pindus on the east, and the Illyrians and Macedonians to the north and north-east. Of these Epirots, the principal were, the Chaonians, Thesprotians, Kassopians, and Molossians, who occupied the country inland as well as maritime along the Ionian sea, from the Akrokeraunian mountains to the borders of Ambrakia in the interior of the Ambrakian gulf. The Agraeans and Amphilochians dwelt eastward of the last-mentioned gulf, bordering upon Akarnania : the Athamanes, the Tymphaeans, and the Talares, lived along the western skirts and high range of Pindus. Among these various tribes it is difficult to discriminate the semi-Hellenic from the non-Hellenic; for Herodotus considers both Molossians and Thesprotians as Hellenic, and the oracle of Dodona,as well as the Nekyomanteion, or holy cavern for evoking the dead, of Acheron, were both in the territory of the Thesprotians, and both, in the time of the historian, Hellenic. Thucydides, on the other hand, treats both Molossians and Thesprotians as barbaric, and Strabo says the same respecting the Athamanes, whom Plato numbers as Hellenic.

As the Epirots were confounded with the Hellenic communities towards the south, so they become blended with the Macedonian and Illyrian tribes towards the north. The Macedonian Orestea, north of the Cambunian mountains and east of Pindus, are called by Hekataeus a Molossian tribe; and Strabo even extends the designation Epirots to the Illyrian Paroraeia and Atintanes, west of Pindus, nearly on the same parallel of latitude with the Orestae. It must be remembered, as observed above, that while the designations Illyrians and Macedonians are properly ethnical, given to denote analogies of language, habits, feeling, and supposed origin, and probably acknowledged by the people themselves, the name Epirots belongs to the Greek language, is given by Greeks alone, and marks nothing except residence on a particular portion of the continent. Theopompus (about 340 BC) reckoned fourteen distinct Epirotic nations, among whom the Molossians and Chaonians were the principal. It is possible that some of these may have been semi-Illyrian, others semi-Macedonian, though all were comprised by him under the common name Epirots.

Of these various tribes, who dwelt between the Akrokeraunian promontory and the Ambrakian gulf, some, at least, appear to have been of ethnical kindred with portions of the inhabitants of southern Italy. There were Chaonians on the gulf of Tarentum, before the arrival of the Greek settlers, as well as in Epirus; we do not find the name Thesprotians in Italy, but we find there a town named Pandosia, and a river named Acheron, the same as among the Epirotic Thesprotians : the ubiquitous name Pelasgian is connected both with one and with the other. This ethnical affinity, remote or near, between Oenotrians and Epirots, which we must accept as a fact without being able to follow it into detail, consists at the same time with the circumstance, that both seem to have been susceptible of Hellenic influences to an unusual degree, and to have been molded, with comparatively little difficulty, into an imperfect Hellenism, like that of the Aetolian and Akarnanians. The Thesprotian conquerors of Thessaly passed in this manner into Thessalian Greeks, and the Amphilochians who inhabited Argos on the Ambrakian gulf, were Hellenized by the reception of Greeks from Ambrakia, though the Amphilochians situated without the city, still remained barbarous in the time of Thucydides : a century afterwards, probably, they would be Hellenized, like the rest, by a longer continuance of the same influences, as happened with the Sikels in Sicily.

To assign the names and exact boundaries of the different tribes inhabiting Epirus, as they stood in the seventh and sixth centuries BC, at the time when the western stream of Grecian colonization was going on, and when the newly established Ambrakiots must have been engaged in subjugating or expelling the prior occupants of their valuable site, is out of our power. We have no information prior to Herodotus and Thucydides, and that which they tell us cannot be safely applied to a time either much earlier or much later than their own. That there was great analogy between the inland Macedonians and the Epirots, from Mount Bermius across the continent to the coast opposite Kerkira, in military equipment, in the fashion of cutting the hair, and in speech, we are apprized by a valuable passage of Strabo; who farther tells us, that many of the tribes spoke two different languages, a fact which at least, proves very close intercommunion, if not a double origin and incorporation.

Wars, or voluntary secessions and new alliances, would alter the boundaries and relative situation of the various tribes. And this would be the more easily effected, as all Epirus, even in the fourth century BC, was parcelled out among an aggregate of villages, without any great central cities; so that the severance of a village from the Molossian union, and its junction with the Thesprotian (abstracting from the feelings with which it might be connected), would make little practical difference in its condition or proceedings. The gradual increase of Hellenic influence tended partially to centralize this political dispersion, enlarging some of the villages into small towns by the incorporation of some of their neighbors; and in this way, probably, were formed the seventy Epirotic cities which were destroyed and given up to plunder on the same day, by Paulas Emilius and the Roman senate. The Thesprotian Ephyre is called a city, even by Thucydides. Nevertheless, the situation was unfavorable to the formation of considerable cities, either on the coast or in the interior, since the physical character of the territory is an exaggeration of that of Greece, almost throughout, wild, rugged, and mountainous. The valleys and low grounds, though frequent, are never extensive, while the soil is rarely suited, in any continuous spaces, for the cultivation of corn : insomuch that the flour for the consumption of Janina, at the present day, is transported from Thessaly over the lofty ridge of Pindus, by means of asses and mules; while the fruits and vegetables are brought from Arta, the territory of Ambrakia.


Epirus is essentially a pastoral country : its cattle as well as its shepherds and shepherd’s dogs were celebrated throughout all antiquity; and its population then, as now, found divided village residence the most suitable to their means and occupations. In spite of this natural tendency, however, Hellenic influences were to a certain extent efficacious, and  it is to them that we are to ascribe the formation of towns like Phoenike, an inland city a few miles removed from the sea, in a latitude somewhat north of the northernmost point of Corcyra, which Polybius notices as the most flourishing of the Epirotie cities at the time when it was plundered by the Illyrians in 236 BC. Passaron, the ancient spot where the Molossian kings were accustomed on their accession to take their coronation-oath, had grown into a considerable town, in this last century before the Roman conquest; while Tekmon, Phylake, and Horreum also became known to us at the same period. But the most important step which those kings made towards aggrandizement, was the acquisition of the Greek city of Ambrakia, which became the capital of the kingdom of Pyrrhus, and thus gave to him the only site suitable for a concentrated population which the country afforded.

If we follow the coast of Epirus from the entrance of the Ambrakian gulf northward to the Akrokeraunian promontory, we shall find it discouraging to Grecian colonization. There are none of those extensive maritime plains which the gulf of Tarentum exhibits on its coast, and which sustained the grandeur of Sybaris and Kroton. Throughout the whole extent, the mountain-region, abrupt and affording little cultivable soil, approaches near to the sea, and the level ground, wherever it exists, must be commanded and possessed, as it is now, by villagers on hill-sites, always difficult of attack and often inexpugnable. From hence, and from the neighborhood of Corcyra, herself well situated for traffic with Epirus, and jealous of neighboring rivals, we may understand why the Grecian emigrants omitted this unprofitable tract, and passed on either northward to the maritime plains of Illyria, or westward to Italy.

In the time of Herodotus and Thucydides, there seems to have been no Hellenic settlement between Ambrakia and Apollonia. The harbor called Glykys Limen, and the neighboring valley and plain, the most considerable in Epirus, next to that of Ambrakia, near the junction of the lake and river of Acheron with the sea, were possessed by the Thesprotian town of Ephyre, situated on a neighboring eminence; perhaps also, in part, by the ancient Thesprotian town of Pandosia, so pointedly connected, both in Italy and Epirus, with the river Acheron. Amidst the almost inexpugnable mountains and gorges which mark the course of that Thesprotian river, was situated the memorable recent community of Suli, which held in dependence many surrounding villages in the lower grounds and in the plain, the counterpart of primitive Epirotic rulers in situation, in fierceness, and in indolence, but far superior to them in energetic bravery and endurance.

It appears that after the time of Thucydides, certain Greek settlers must have found admission into the Epirotic towns in this region. For Demosthenes mentions Pandosia, Buchetia, and Elaea, as settlements from Elis, which Philip of Macedon conquered and handed over to his brother-in-law the king of the Molossian Epirots; and Strabo tells us that the name of Ephyre had been changed to Kichyrus, which appears to imply an accession of new inhabitants.

Both the Chaonians and Thesprotians appear, in the time of Thucydides, as having no kings : there was a privileged kingly race, but the presiding chief was changed from year to year. The Molossians, however, had a line of kings, succeeding from father to son, which professed to trace its descent through fifteen generations downward, from Achilles and Neoptolemus to Tharypas about the year 400 BC; they were thus a scion of the great Aeakid race. Admetus, the Molossian king to whom Themistocles presented himself as a suppliant, appears to have lived in the simplicity of an inland village chief. But Arrybas, his son or grandson, is said to have been educated at Athens, and to have introduced improved social regularity into his native country : while the subsequent kings both imitated the ambition and received the aid of Philip of Macedon, extending their dominion over a large portion of the other Epirots : even in the time of Skylax, they covered a large inland territory, though their portion of sea-coast was confined.

From the narrative of Thucydides, we gather that all the Epirots, though held together by no political union, were yet willing enough to combine for purposes of aggression and plunder. The Chaonians enjoyed a higher military reputation than the rest, but the account which Thucydides gives of their expedition against Akarnania exhibits a blind, reckless, boastful impetuosity, which contrasts strikingly with the methodical and orderly march of their Greek allies and companions. We may here notice, that the Kassopaeans, whom Skylax places in the south-western portion of Epirus between the Acheron and the Ambrakian gulf, are not noticed either by Herodotus or Thucydides : the former, indeed, conceives the river Acheron and the Thesprotians as conterminous with the Ambrakiotic territory.

To collect the few particulars known respecting these ruder communities adjacent to Greece, is a task indispensable for the just comprehension of the Grecian world, and for the appreciation of the Greeks themselves, by comparison or contrast with their contemporaries. Indispensable as it is, however, it can hardly be rendered in itself interesting to the reader, whose patience I have to bespeak by assuring him that the facts hereafter to be recounted of Grecian history would be only half understood without this preliminary survey of the lands around.