Cultures > Molossians

Molossians

Background

The Molossians (Ancient Greek: Μολοσσοί, translit. Molossoi) were an ancient Greek tribe and kingdom that inhabited the region of Epirus since the Mycenaean era.[1][2] On their north frontier, they had the Chaonians and on their southern frontier the kingdom of the Thesprotians. The Molossians were part of the League of Epirus until they sided against Rome in the Third Macedonian War (171–168 BC). The result was disastrous, and the vengeful Romans enslaved 150,000 of its inhabitants and annexed the region into the Roman Republic.

According to Greek mythology, the Molossians were the descendants of Molossus, one of the three sons of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles and Deidamia. Following the sack of Troy, Neoptolemus and his armies settled in Epirus where they joined with the local population. Molossus inherited the kingdom of Epirus after the death of Helenus, son of Priam and Hecuba of Troy, who had married his erstwhile sister-in-law Andromache after Neoptolemus's death. According to some historians, their first king was Phaethon, one of those who came into Epirus with Pelasgus. According to Plutarch, Deucalion and Pyrrha, having set up the worship of Zeus at Dodona, settled there among the Molossians.[3]

According to Strabo, the Molossians, along with the Chaonians and Thesprotians, were the most famous among the fourteen tribes of Epirus, who once ruled over the whole region. The Chaonians ruled Epirus at an earlier time, and afterwards the Thesprotians and Molossians controlled the region. The Thesprotians, the Chaonians, and the Molossians were the three principal clusters of Greek tribes that had emerged from Epirus and were the most powerful among all other tribes.[3]The Molossians were also renowned for their vicious hounds, which were used by shepherds to guard their flocks. This is where the canine breed Molossoid, native to Greece, got its name. Virgil tells us that in ancient Greece the heavier Molossian dogs were often used by the Greeks and Romans for hunting (canis venaticus) and to watch over the house and livestock (canis pastoralis). "Never, with them on guard," says Virgil, "need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back."Strabo records that the Thesprotians, Molossians, and Macedonians referred to old men as πελιοί pelioi and old women as πελιαί peliai (PIE *pel-, "grey"). Cf. Ancient Greek πέλεια peleia, "pigeon", so-called because of its dusky grey color. Ancient Greek πελός pelos meant "grey".[4] Their senators were called Peligones (Πελιγόνες), similar to Macedonian Peliganes (Πελιγᾶνες).[5]

In 385 BC, the Illyrians, aided by Dionysius of Syracuse, attacked the Molossians, attempting to place the exile Alcetas on the throne.[12] Dionysius planned to control all the Ionian Sea. Sparta intervened and expelled the Illyrians who were led by Bardyllis.[13][14][15] Even with the aid of 2,000 Greek hoplites and 500 suits of Greek armour, the Illyrians were defeated by the Spartans (led by Agesilaus) but not before ravaging the region and killing 15,000 Molossians. In another Illyrian attack in 360 BC, the Molossian king Arymbas (or Arybbas) evacuated his non-combatant population to Aetolia and let the Illyrians loot freely. The stratagem worked, and the Molossians fell upon the Illyrians, who were encumbered with booty, and defeated them.[15][16]

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