Modern historians about ancient Epirus – Ethnicity of ancient Epirotes

 

AncientMacedonianHistory1 Modern historians about ancient Epirus   Ethnicity of ancient Epirotes

 

“Speakers of these various Greek dialects settled different parts of Greece at different times during the Middle Bronze Age, with one group, the “northwest” Greeks, developing their own dialect and peopling central Epirus. This was the origin of the Molossian or Epirotic tribes.”

 E.N.Borza “In the shadow of Olympus; The emergence of Macedon” (revised edition, 1992), page 62

 

the western greek people (with affinities to the Epirotic tribes) in Orestis, Lyncus, and parts of Pelagonia;

“In the shadow of Olympus..” By Eugene Borza, page 74
 
 
 
 

 

We have seen that the “Makedones” or “highlanders” of mountainous western Macedonia may have been derived from northwest Greek stock. That is, northwest Greece provided a pool of Indo-European speakers of proto-Greek from which emerged the tribes who were later known by different names as they established their regional identities in separate parts of the country. Thus the Macedonians may have been related to those peoples who at an earlier time migrated south to become the historical Dorians, and to other Pindus tribes who were the ancestors of the Epirotes or Molossians. If it were known that Macedonian was a proper dialect of Greek, like the dialects spoken by Dorians and Molossians, we would be on much firmer ground in this hypothesis.”

E.N.Borza “In the shadow of Olympus; The emergence of Macedon” (revised edition, 1992), page 78

“When Amyntas became king of the Macedonians sometime during the latter third of the sixth century, he controlled a territory that included the central Macedonian plain and its peripheral foothills, the Pierian coastal plain beneath Mt. Olympus, and perhaps the fertile, mountain-encircled plain of Almopia. To the south lay the Greeks of Thessaly. The western mountains were peopled by the Molossians (the western Greeks of Epirus), tribes of non-Argead Macedonians, and other populations.

E.N.Borza “In the shadow of Olympus; The emergence of Macedon” (revised edition, 1992), page 98 

“As subjects of the king the Upper Macedonians were henceforth on the same footing as the original Macedonians, in that they could qualify for service in the King’s Forces and thereby obtain the elite citizenship. At one bound the territory, the population and wealth of the kingdom were doubled. Moreover since the great majority of the new subjects were speakers of the West Greek dialect, the enlarged army was Greek-speaking throughout.”
Certainly the Thracians and the Illyrians were non-Greek speakers, but in the northwest, the peoples of Molossis {Epirot province}, Orestis and Lynkestis spoke West Greek. It is also accepted that the Macedonians spoke a dialect of Greek and although they absorbed other groups into their territory, they were essentially Greeks.”
 Robert Morkot, “The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece”,
Penguin Publ., 1996
“Still, Olympias, a Greek from Epirus married to a king of Macedon”
Paul Catledge “The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization 2000″, Chapter 14, page 213
Olympias, it seems, though Greek by birth…”
Paul Catledge “The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization 2000″, Chapter 14, page 216
EPIRUS (“Hpeiros”, Mainland)North-west area of Greece, from Acroceraunian point to Nicopolis, with harbours at Buthrotum and Glycys Limen (at Acheron’s mouth); bordered on south by gulf of Ambracia, and on east by Pindus range with pass via Metsovo to Thessaly.Three limestone ranges parallel to the coast and the Pindus range enclose narrow valleys and plateaux with good pasture and extensive woods; alluvial plains were formed near Buthrotum, Glycys Limen, and Ambracia.Epirus had a humid climate and cold winters. In terrain and in history it resembled Upper Macedonia. Known in the ‘Iliad’ only for the oracle of Dodona, and to Herodotus for the oracle of the dead at Ephyra, Epirus received Hellenic influence from the Elean colonies in Cassopaea and the Corinthian colonies at Ambracia and Corcyra, and the oracle of Dodona drew pilgrims from northern and central
Greece especially.

 

 
Theopompus knew fourteen Epirote tribes, speakers of a strong west-Greek dialect, of which the Chaones held the plain of Buthrotum, the Thesproti the plain of Acheron, and the Molossi the plain of Dodona, which forms the highland centre of Epirus with an outlet southwards to Ambracia.

A strong Molossian state, which included some Thesprotian tribes, existed in the reign of Neoptolemos c.370-368 (“Arx.Ef”.1956, 1ff). The unification of Epirus in a symmachy led by the Molossian king was finally achieved by Alexander, brother-in-law of Philip II of Macedon. His conquests in southern Italy and his alliance with Rome showed the potentialities of the Epirote Confederacy, but he was killed in 330 BC.

Dynastic troubles weakened the Molossian state, until Pyrrhus removed his fellow king and embarked on his adventurous career.he most lasting of his achievements were the conquest of southern Illyria, the development of Ambracia as his capital, and the building of fortifications and theaters, especially the large one at Dodona.

His successors suffered from wars with Aetolia, Macedon, and Illyria, until in c.232 BC the Molossian monarchy fell.

An Epirote League with a federal citizenship was then created, and the meetings of its council were held probably by rotation at Dodona or Passaron in Molossis, at Gitana in Thesprotis, and at Phoenice in Chaonia.It was soon involved in the wars between Rome and Macedon, and it split apart when the Molossian state alone supported Macedon and was sackedby the Romans in 167 BC, when 150,000 captives were deported. Central Epirus never recovered; but northern Epirus prospered during the late republic, and Augustus celebrated his victory at Actium by founding a Roman colony at Nicopolis. Under the empire a coastal road and a road through the interior were built from north to south, and Buthrotum was a Roman colony.Ancient remains testify to the great prosperity of Epirus in Hellenistic times

N.G.L.Hammond, “Oxford Classical Dictionary,” 3rd ed. (1996), pp.546,547

The Molossians were the strongest and, decisive for Macedonia, most easterly of the three most important Epeirot tribes, which, like Macedonia but unlike the Thesprotians and the Chaonians, still retained their monarchy. They were Greeks, spoke a similar dialect to that of Macedonia, suffered just as much from the depredations of the Illyrians and were in principle the natural partners of the Macedonian king who wished to tackle the Illyrian problem at its roots.”

Malcolm Errington, “A History of Macedonia”, California University Press,  1990. 

The West Greek dialect group denotes the dialects spoken in: (i) the
northwest Greek regions of Epeiros
, Akarnania, Pthiotid Akhaia….

Johnathan M. Hall, “Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity”, Cambridge
University Press, 1997

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Alexander was King Philip’s eldest legitimate child. His mother, Olympias,came from the ruling clan of the northwestern Greek region of Epirus.

David Sacks, “A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World”, Oxford, 1995

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Epirus was a land of milk and animal products…The social unit was a small tribe, consisting of several nomadic or semi-nomadic groups, and these
tribes, of which more than seventy names are known, coalesced into large
tribal coalitions, three in number: Thesprotians, Molossians and Chaonians…We know from the discovery of inscriptions that these tribes
were speaking the Greek language (in a West-Greek dialect).

NGL Hammond, “Philip of Macedon”, Duckworth, London, 1994

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The molossians were the most powerfull people of Epirus, whose kings had extended their dominion over the whole country. They traced their descent back to Pyrrhus, son of Acchilles..

the Satyres by Juvenal, Page 225

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That the molossians, who were immediately adjacent to the Dodonaeans in the time of Hecataeus but engulfed them soon afterwards, spoke Illyrian or another barbaric tongue was nowhere suggested, although Aeschylus and Pindar wrote of Molossian lands. That they in fact spoke greek was implied by Herodotus’ inclusion of Molossi among the greek colonists of Asia minor, but became demonstranable only when D. Evangelides published two long inscriptions of the Molossian State, set up p. 369 B.C at Dodona, in Greek and with Greek names, Greek patronymies and Greek tribal names such as Celaethi, Omphales, Tripolitae, Triphylae, etc. As the Molossian cluster of tribes in the time of Hecataeus included the Orestae, Pelagones, Lyncestae, Tymphaei and Elimeotae,as we have argued above, we may be confindent that they too were Greek-speaking;
“The Cambridge Ancient History – The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C., Part 3: Volume 3″ by P Mack Crew, Page 284
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Inscriptional evidence of the Chaones is lacking until the Hellinistic period; but Ps-Scylax, describing the situation of c. 380-360 put the Southern limit of the Illyrians just north of the Chaones, which indicates that the Chaones did not speak Illyrian, and the acceptance of the Chaones into the Epirote alliance in the 330s suggest strongly that they were Greek-speaking

“The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 6, the Fourth Century BC” by D M Lewis, Martin Ostwald, Simon Hornblower, John Boardman
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however, in central Epirus the only fortified places were in the plain of Ioannina, the centre of the Molossian state. Thus the North-west Greek-speaking tribes were at a half-way stage economically and politically, retaining the vigour of a tribal society and reaching out in a typically Greek manner towards a larger political organization.
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In 322 B.C when Antipater banished banished the anti-Macedonian leaders of the Greek states to live ‘beyond the Ceraunian Mountains’ (plut. Phoc. 29.3) he regarded Epirus as an integral part of the Greek-speaking mainland.

Page 443

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The chaones as we will see were a group of Greek-speaking tribes, and the Dexari, or as they were called later the Dassarete, were the most northernly member of the group.

Page 423

Molossi (Μολοσσοί), a people in Epirus, who inhabited a narrow slip of country, called after them Molossia (Μολοσσία) or Molossis, which extended from the Aous, along the western bank of the Arachthus, as far as the Ambracian Gulf. The Molossi were Greek people, who claimed descent from Molossus, the son of Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus) and Andromache, and are said to have emigrated from Thessaly into Epirus, under the guidance of Pyrrhus himself. In their new abodes they intermingled with the original inhabitants of the land and with the neighbouring illyrian tribes of which they were regarded by the other Greeks as half barbarians. They were, however, by far the most powerful people in Epirus, and their kings gradually extended their dominion over the whole of the country. The first of their kings, who took the title of King of Epirus, was Alexander, who perished in Italy B.C. 326. The ancient capital of the Molossi was Pasaron,but Ambracia afterward became their chief town, and the residence of their kings. The Molossian hounds were celebrated in antiquity, and were much prized for hunting.

A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography” by William Smith

That they [Dorians] were related to the North-West Dialects (of Phocis, Locris, Aetolia, Acarnania and Epirus) was not perceived clearly by the ancients

History of the Language Sciences: I. Approaches to Gender II. Manifestations By Sylvain Auroux, page 439
 
 

Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was himself simply a military adventurer. He was none the less a soldier of fortune that he traced back his pedigree to Aeacus and Achilles 

 

 

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he was the first Greek that met the Romans in battle. With him began those direct relations between Rome and Hellas, on which the whole subsequent development of ancient, and an essential part of modern, civilization are based.
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this struggle between Rome and Hellenism was first fought out in the battles between Pyrrhus and the Roman generals;

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But while the Greeks were beaten in the battlefield as well as in the senate-hall, their superiority was none the less decided on every other field of rivalry than that of politics; and these very struggles already betokened that the victory of Rome over the Hellenes would be different from her victories over Gauls and Phoenicians, and that the charm of Aphrodite only begins to work when the lance is broken and the helmet and shield are laid aside.

Theodor Mommsen History of Rome, From the Abolition of the Monarchy in Rome to the Union of Italy, The Historical Position Of Pyrrhus

That the molossians, who were immediately adjacent to the Dodonaeans in the time of Hecataeus but engulfed them soon afterwards, spoke Illyrian or another barbaric tongue was NOWHERE suggested, although Aeschylus and Pindar wrote of Molossian lands. That they in fact spoke greek was implied by Herodotus’ inclusion of Molossi among the greek colonists of Asia minor, but became demonstranable only when D. Evangelides published two long inscriptions of the Molossian State, set up p. 369 B.C at Dodona, in Greek and with Greek names, Greek patronymies and Greek tribal names such as Celaethi, Omphales, Tripolitae, Triphylae, etc. As the Molossian cluster of tribes in the time of Hecataeus included the Orestae, Pelagones, Lyncestae, Tymphaei and Elimeotae,as we have argued above, we may be confindent that they too were Greek-speaking;Inscriptional evidence of the Chaones is lacking until the Hellinistic period; but Ps-Scylax, describing the situation of c. 380-360 put the Southern limit of the Illyrians just north of the Chaones, which indicates that the Chaones did not speak Illyrian, and the acceptance of the Chaones into the Epirote alliance in the 330s suggest strongly that they were Greek-speaking.

“The Cambridge Ancient History – The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C., Part 3: Volume 3″ by P Mack Crew ,page 284.

The Epirotes, who may fairly be considered as Greeks by blood, long maintained a rugged independence under native chiefs, who were little more than leaders in war.

A Manual of Greek Antiquities
Book by Percy Gardner, Frank Byron Jevons; Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895, page 8

After the Mycenaean civilization declined, Epirus was the launching area of the Dorian invasions (1100–1000 BC) of Greece. The region’s original inhabitants were driven southward by the Dorians, and out of the ensuing migrations three main clusters of Greek-speaking tribes emerged in Epirus: the Thesproti of southwestern Epirus, the Molossi of central Epirus, and the Chaones of northwestern Epirus. They lived in clusters of small villages, in contrast to most other Greeks, who lived in or around city-states.In the 5th century Epirus was still on the periphery of the Greek world. To the 5th-century historian Thucydides, the Epirotes were “barbarians.” The only Epirotes regarded as Greek were the Aeacidae, who were members of the Molossian royal house and claimed descent from Achilles. From about 370 BC on, the Aeacidae were able to expand the Molossian state by incorporating tribes from the rival groups in Epirus. The Aeacidae’s efforts gained impetus from the marriage of Philip II of Macedon to their princess, Olympias. In 334, while Alexander the Great, son of Philip and Olympias, crossed into Asia, his uncle, the Molossian ruler Alexander, attacked southern Italy, where he was eventually checked by Rome and killed in battle in about 331. Upon Alexander the Molossian’s death, the Epirote tribes formed a coalition on an equal basis but with the Molossian king in command of their military forces. The greatest Molossian king of this coalition was Pyrrhus (319–272); he and his son Alexander II ruled as far south as Acarnania and to central Albania in the north. Pyrrhus’ military adventures overstrained his state’s military resources, but they also brought great prosperity to Epirus. He built a magnificent stone theatre at Dodona and a new suburb at Ambracia (now Árta), which he made his capital.

[Encyclopedia Britannica, edition 2007, abstract from Epirus]

Whereas this did not happen with the Persians or the Egyptians, it did wit the Molossians (who were probably ethnically/linguistically Greek-see bellow). In other words what may have begun as poetic or erudite inventions caught on. For the Molossians, for example, Greek heroic origins ceased to be merely a matter for Greek-centered erudite Ethnography of the Other” but were incorporated and adopted y that other.

“The Return of Odysseus: Colonization and ethnicity” by Irad Malkin

but what language did the Epirotes speak?The answer to this question became apparent, when D. Evangelidis published two inscriptions from Dodona. They showed beyond dispute that the tribes which made up the Molossian state not only recorded decisions in Greek language and with Greek technical terms but also had Greek personal names and ethnic forms in the period 370-368 B.C. Since the personal names of men who were adult then had been given to them c. 420 B.C., the conclusion was unavoidable that these tribes were speaking Greek at the very time when Thucydides was labelling them as barbaroi. This ceases to be a paradox, if one realizes that the contrast in the term barbaros was not linguistic but cultural.

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The dialect of the Greek language which these tribal groups spoke was not the Doric of Corinth and her colonies but a form of west Greek, as is becoming clear from the dececipherment of questions asked by local enquirers, which have been preserved on lead strips at Dodona. Their dialect may well have been retarded and therefore not easy for southern Greeks to understand, just as the dialect of the Makedones proper was unfamiliar to the Greeks on their coast.

[Epirus :4000 years of Greek history and civilization, the entry of Epirus into the Greek world, page 60 ]

Epirus, though mostly held by people of Grecian speech and lineage, had an intermixture of those called barbarians; Illyrians, and perhaps others. Herodotus however, among earliest, and Plutarch, among late ancient historians, clearly reckon the Molossians a Grecian people. Some expressions of Thucydides and Strabo may perhaps be construed either way. But, as it has been formerly observed, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Strabo concur in showing that all Greece was of mixed population; and how the distinction of Greek and barbarian, unknown to Homer, arose, and what at last it was, always remained uncertain. Strabo however, clearly acknowledging the Macedonian for a Greek nation, assures us that the general language of the Epirots was the Macedonian dialect of the Greek; that where another language, probably the Illyric, was in use, the people commonly spoke both, and that, in habits and manners, most of the Epirots hardly differed from the Macedonians.
The governments of the Epirot states were, some Republican with annual chief magistrates, as at Athens, Thebes, and Rome; others monarchal. That of Molossis, from earliest tradition, was monarchal; and whether the people may have been more or less allowed the always questionable dignity of pure Grecian blood, yet the claim of the royal family to the oldest and noblest Grecian origin, resting on tradition, but asserted by Straho and Plutarch, with Aristotle’s assent implied, is not found anywhere controverted. They reckoned themselves direct descendants ofNeoptolemus Pyrrhus, son of Achilles; who, it was said, ‘” after the Trojan war, migrating from Thessaly, be¬came king of Molossis, Whatever credit may be due to this lofty pretension, that the Molossian sceptre remained in one Greek family, from times beyond certain history till after Aristotle’s age, appears satisfactorily testified.
By advantage of situation and constitution, exempt from great troubles, Molossis, had it had historians, probably afforded little for general interest. Nevertheless we learn from the father of Grecian history that, some generations before his time, it was esteemed respectable among Grecian states. The tale wherein this appears, like many of that writer, somewhat of a romantic cast, nevertheless may have been true in all its parts; and for the information it affords of an important change of manners and policy among the Greeks, and of the florishing condition of several republics about the age of the Athenian legislator Solon, some destroyed before the historian wrote, others little heard of since, while Molossis apparently remained unshaken, it maybe reckoned of considerable historical value.
Clisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon, under whose rule that little state was eminent among those of Peloponnesus,’ desiring, the historian says, to marry his daughter to a man of the greatest consideration and highest worth of all Greece, opened his house for any who, from personal dignity and the eminence of their countries, might have pretensions; that so he might have oppor¬tunity to estimate their merits. Thirteen guests, rivals for his favor, are thus described. There came from the Greek colonies in Italy, then florishing extraordinarily, Smindyrides of Sybaris and Damas of Siris. The former was remarked for going beyond all of his time in the luxury for which Sybaris was renowned. Damas was son of that Samyris who was distinguished by the epithet of the Wise. Am-phimnestus came from Epidamnus, on the coast of the Ionian gulf. Males was of jjEtolia, brother of Titormus, esteemed the strongest man in Greece, but who had withdrawn from the society of men to reside in the farthest part of yEtolia.3 Lcocedes was son of Phi don, tyrant of Argos; that Phidon, says the historian, who established uniformity of weights and measures throughout Peloponnesus, and, together with his power, (so far, it may seem, bene¬ficially exerted,) was remarked for an arrogance un¬equalled among the Greeks; for, depriving the Eleans of the presidency of the Olympian festival, he assumed it himself. Two came from Arcadia, Amiantus of Trapezus, and Laphanes of Pafos. The father of the latter, Euphorion, was celebrated for his extensive. hospitality, and had the extraordinary fame of having entertained the gods Castor and Pollux. Lysanias came from Eretria in Eubcea, then greatly florishing; Onomastus from Elea: Megacles and Hippoclides were of Athens; the latter esteemed the richest Athenian of his time, and the handsomest: Diac-tondes was of Cranon and Scopada? in Thessaly; Alcon was of Molossis. This simple description of Alcon, combined with what has preceded, enough marks that the Molossians were esteemed a Grecian people, and Molossis then considerable among the Grecian states. One of the Athenians, Megacles, was the successful suitor.

“The history of Greece”, by lord Redesdale By William Mitford

 

 

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He [Pyrrhus] has been compared to Alexander of Macedonia; and certainly the idea of founding a Hellenic empire of the west–which would have had as its core Epirus, Magna Graecia, and Sicily, would have commanded both the Italian seas, and would have reduced Rome and Carthage to the rank of barbarian peoples bordering on the Hellenistic state-system,like the Celts and the Indians–was analogous in greatness and boldness to the idea which led the Macedonian king over the Hellespont.

NGL Hammond, “Philip of Macedon”, Gerald Duckword & Ltd, London, 1994

“The particulars of these with Pyrrhus of the Greek kingdom of Epirus

The cavalry of the Roman republic: cavalry combat and elite reputations in the Middle and Late Republic. New York: Routledge. pp. 32

“At Asculum the Roman cavalry matched Pyrrhus’ Greek riders.” 

“The art of war in the Western world” by Jones, Archer (2001), Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 32

“the Greek adventurer king Pyrrhus 

Roma: the novel of ancient Rome”, Saylor, Steven (2007), New York: St. Martin’s Press. pp. 332

“of Italy by the Greek king Pyrrhus, when Roman affairs are directly involved with those of mainland Greece, in the person of a descendant of Achilles”

Caesar’s calendar: ancient time and the beginnings of history. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 25

“…before Pyrrhus no contact with Greece after Pyrrhus Rome and Greece in tandem

Caesar’s calendar: ancient time and the beginnings of history. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 38

“Pyrrhus king of Epirus invaded Italy with a formidable Greek profeesional hoplite army

Bernstein, Alvin H.; Murray, Williamson; Knox, MacGregor (1996). The Making of strategy: rulers, states, and war. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pyrrhus’ Greek troops were tactically superior to the Roman army and he was never defeated in battle.” 

Christopher Mackay (2004). Ancient Rome: a military and political history. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 49

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Want more of this? See these Posts:

  1. Modern Historians about ancient Epirus
  2. Pyrrhus of Epirus and the contradicting claims over his Ethnicity – Greek or Illyrian?
  3. Modern Historians write about the Greek Ethnicity of ancient Macedonians
  4. Ancient/Modern Historical sources on Epirus and the origins of Epirotans
  5. Historians Regarding the Greek Ethnicity of Ancient Macedonians
Comments
Attaleiates, 11th century AD says:

First of all, this is a hodgepodge of sources that I don’t like. Not because the views are erroneous (most of them are correct, especially about the Epirotes being Greek) but because you can prove almost anything that way. Even that Glaukias was an “Albanian” like our friend, here.

Instead, use a couple specialized (and recent, Smith is late 19th century for crying out loud!) sources that examine the matter in depth, e.g. the few studies on the Northwest Greek (including Epirus) dialects or of Epirotan (personal and tribal) onomastics.

Glaukias the Albanian says:

Your quote: “The Molossi were Greek people, who claimed descent from Molossus, the son of Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus) and Andromache, and are said to have emigrated from Thessaly into Epirus, under the guidance of Pyrrhus himself. In their new abodes they intermingled with the original inhabitants of the land and with the neighbouring illyrian tribes of which they were regarded by the other Greeks as half barbarians.”

Even if the source was 100% reliable, doesn’t this sound like the “original inhabitants” of Epirus were other than Greek?? And then, if “the Molossi” emigrated from Greece to Illyrian lands, how many of them emigrated? The whole Molossi tribe? Did they replace the original Illyrian inhabitants completely, or was it more like an assimilation of a smaller group of emigrants into a larger local population?