Molossians (Ancient Greek: Μολοσσοί,
translit. Molossoi) were an ancient Greek tribe and kingdom that
inhabited the region of
Epirus since the Mycenaean era. On their
north frontier, they had the
Chaonians and on their southern frontier
the kingdom of the Thesprotians. The
Molossians were part of the
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
2 Ancient sources
3 Molossian royalty
5 List of Molossians
6 See also
According to Greek mythology, the
Molossians were the descendants of
Molossus, one of the three sons of Neoptolemus, son of
Deidamia. Following the sack of Troy,
Neoptolemus and his armies
Epirus where they joined with the local population.
Molossus inherited the kingdom of
Epirus after the death of Helenus,
Hecuba of Troy, who had married his erstwhile
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
Coin of Molossi, 360–330/25 BC. Obverse: Vertical thunderbolt on
shield, ΜΟΛΟΣΣΩΝ (of Molossians) around shield. Reverse:
Thunderbolt within wreath.
According to Strabo, the Molossians, along with the
Thesprotians, were the most famous among the fourteen tribes of
Epirus, who once ruled over the whole region. The
Epirus at an earlier time, and afterwards the
Molossians controlled the region. The Thesprotians, the Chaonians, and
Molossians were the three principal clusters of Greek tribes that
had emerged from
Epirus and were the most powerful among all other
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
Ancient Greek πελός pelos meant "grey". Their senators
were called Peligones (Πελιγόνες), similar to Macedonian
The most famed member of the Molossian dynasty was Pyrrhus, who became
famous for his
Pyrrhic victory over the Romans. According to Plutarch,
Pyrrhus was the son of Aeacides of
Epirus and a Greek woman from
Thessaly named Phthia, the daughter of a war hero in the Lamian War.
Pyrrhus was a second cousin of Alexander the Great. In the 4th century
BC, they had adopted the term for office of prostatai (Greek:
προστάται) literally meaning "protectors" like most Greek
tribal states at the time. Other terms for office were grammateus
(Greek: γραμματεύς) meaning "secretary", demiourgoi (Greek:
δημιουργοί) literally meaning "creators", hieromnemones
(Greek: ἱερομνήμονες) literally meaning "of the sacred
memory" and synarchontes (Greek: συνάρχοντες) literally
meaning "co-rulers" An inscription from the 4th century stated
(referring to Alexander I of Epirus):
When King was Alexandros when of Molossoi prostatas was Aristomachos
Omphalas secretary was Menedamos Omphalas resolved by the assembly of
the Molossoi; Kreston is benefactor hence to give citizenship to
Kteson and descent line
The shrine of
Dodona was used for the display of public decisions.
Despite having a monarchy, the
Molossians sent princes to Athens to
learn of democracy, and they did not consider certain aspects of
democracy incompatible with their form of government.
Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, was a member of this
celebrated sovereign house.
In 385 BC, the Illyrians, aided by Dionysius of Syracuse, attacked the
Molossians, attempting to place the exile Alcetas on the throne.
Dionysius planned to control all the Ionian Sea.
Sparta intervened and
Illyrians who were led by Bardyllis. Even
with the aid of 2,000 Greek hoplites and 500 suits of Greek armour,
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
Arybbas) evacuated his non-combatant population to
Aetolia and let the
Illyrians loot freely. The stratagem worked, and the
upon the Illyrians, who were encumbered with booty, and defeated
List of Molossians
Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great
Epirus (318–272 BC) most prominent Epirote king.
Neoptolemus son of
Achilles and Deidamia (Aeacid dynasty till 231 BC).
Molossus son of
Neoptolemus and Andromache.
Alcon (6th century BC) suitor of Agariste of Sicyon.
Admetus, who gave asylum to Themistocles.
Eidymmas prostates, secretary Amphikorios gave citizenship το
Philista, wife of Antimachos from Arrhonos, under King Neoptolemos I
Tharyps theorodokos in
Epidauros 365 BC.
Olympias mother of
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great circa 376–316 BC.
Arybbas winner in
Tethrippon Olympics 344 BC.
Aristomachos prostates, secretary Menedamos gave citizenship to Simias
of Apollonia, resident at Theptinon, under King Alexander I
Deidamia II of
Epirus (died circa 233 BC) last surviving
representative of the royal Aeacid dynasty.
Kephalos, Antinoos sided with Perseus against the Romans (Third
Macedonian War) circa 170 BC.
Pyrrhus of Epirus
^ Lewis & Boardman 1994, pp. 430, 433–434; Wilkes 1995,
p. 104; Errington 1990, p. 43; Borza 1992, pp. 62, 78,
98; Boardman & Hammond 1982, p. 284; Hammond 1998;
Encyclopædia Britannica ("Epirus") 2013.
^ Hornblower, Spawforth & Eidinow 2012, p. 966: "Molossi, common
name of tribes forming a tribal state (koinon) in Epirus, which
originated in northern Pindus including the Orestae, FGrH 1 F 107) and
expanded southwards, reaching the Ambraciote Gulf (see AMBRACIA) c.370
^ a b Plutarch. Parallel Lives, "Pyrrhus".
^ Liddell & Scott 1889: πελός.
^ Liddell & Scott 1889: πελιγᾶνες.
^ Horsley 1987, p. 243; Hornblower 2002, p. 199.
^ Lewis & Boardman 1994, p. 431.
^ Brock & Hodkinson 2000, p. 250.
^ Brock & Hodkinson 2000, p. 257.
^ Alcock & Osborne 2007, p. 392.
^ Brock & Hodkinson 2000, p. 256.
^ Hammond 1986, p. 479.
^ Diodorus Siculus. Library, 15.13.1.
^ Hammond 1986, p. 470.
^ a b c Lewis & Boardman 1994, p. 428.
^ Diodorus Siculus. Library, 14.92, 15.2, 16.2.
^ Cabanes, L'Épire 534,1.
^ IG IV²,1 95 Line 31.
^ Woodbury 1979, pp. 95–133.
^ Cabanes, L'Épire 540,4.
^ Smith 1844, p. 191: "ANTI'NOUS (Άντίνους), a chief
Molossians in Epeirus, who became involved, against his own
will, in the war of Perseus, king of Macedonia, against the Romans."
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