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Dodona and Neoptolemus:

Heroic Genealogies and Claims of Ethnicity

Sanna-IlarIa KIttelä

1. Introduction

In a famous passage in his Histories, Herodotus described Greek ethnicity as being constituted of com- mon blood, language, temples and rituals, and common customs. 1 It is fascinating to notice how the crite- ria of ethnic identity developed within the past few decades by modern scholars are essentially the same as those applied by Herodotus to the Hellenes of the 5th century BC. In 1986, Anthony D. Smith in his book The Ethnic Origins of Nations established six traits that ethnic groups use to distinguish themselves from each other: a collective name, a common myth of descent, a shared history, a distinctive shared culture, an association with specific territory and, finally, a sense of communal solidarity. 2 However, as useful as Smith’s typology is, not all of these characteristics have to be present in order to identify an ethnic group: in his study of ancient ethnic identity, Jonathan Hall argues that a connection with a specific territory and a common myth of descent are the most distinctive characteristics of an ethnic group. 3 It has to be stressed, though, that common descent may not have been an intrinsic value for the Greeks; in fact, ethnic identity based on origin frequently plays a secondary role and is introduced and underlined for political motives. 4 The present study will concentrate on the myth of shared descent, 5 which in defining ancient ethnic identities is obviously connected with mythic ancestral genealogies. More precisely, I will examine the in- fluence of the heroic ancestral genealogy deriving from Achilles’ son Neoptolemus to the ethnic conscious- ness of ancient Molossians, a people inhabiting the plain of Molossia in Epirus in northwestern Greece. Along with Neoptolemus, I will consider Achilles, whose influence in Molossia was clearly related to that of Neoptolemus, as well as Helenus, the Trojan seer, whose role in Molossian ethnic strategies grew in im- portance in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Throughout, I shall pay particular attention to the religious centre of the Molossians, the oracle of Zeus in Dodona. Well-known sacred places like Dodona were con-

1 Hdt. 8, 144.

2 SMith 1986, 21-31. In 1995, Carlo Tullio-Altan introduced five symbolic entities as criteria of ethnicity that were based on Smith’s typology: epos, ethos, logos, genos, topos (tullio-altaN 1995, 19-32). Cf. luraghi 2008, 10.

3 hall 2000, 25-6. MalkiN (2001b, 10-2) questions the importance of mythic genealogies, especially the emphasis on written reconstructions such as the Catalogue of Women (6th century?).

4 oSBorNe 2012. For the criteria of ancient Greek “ethnicity”, cf. also ruBy 2006.

5 The notion of shared descent might seem to connect a genetic approach to ethnicity. However, as Hall stresses, the term “shared blood” is not to be taken literally: the genealogical reality of a claim of shared descent is irrelevant, instead members of an ethnic group recognize a putative shared ancestry. Therefore, the notion of shared blood as a marker of ethnic identity is flexible in nature, meaning a consensually agreed claim to a shared descent rather than actual blood relations (hall 2000, 25-6). MciNerNey (2001, 57) has also pointed out that although Herodotus (8, 144) defined consanguinity as one of the markers of ethnicity, it was a feature that could refer to imagined as well as actual blood-ties even in antiquity.




nected with heroes and ancestral genealogies by means of mythic stories and thus had a great influence on the ethnic perceptions of ancient Greeks and Romans. The following examines how the myths concerning Neoptolemus were related to Dodona, and how the Molossian people used them to shape their (ethnic) identity in both the Greek and Roman contexts from the late archaic age to the Roman era. In particular, I shall trace the attitudes towards and opinions about the Molossians and their ethnicity as presented by the ancient authors. The Molossians provide a particularly interesting case for this sort of study, since they began to claim Neoptolemus as their ancestor quite early on, in the late sixth century BC, along with the establishment of the political influence of Molossia, and this claim grew even stronger during the classical period when the distinction between Greeks and foreigners, or barbarians, began to gain importance in the Greek world. Given its geographical position, the attitudes of the ancient authors were somewhat ambivalent regarding Epirus and the ethnic identity of its population, that is, whether the Epirotes were Greek or not could be called into question. 6 Yet Dodona, situated in the heartland of Molossia, was regarded as the oldest Greek oracle, 7 and its history was intertwined with the origins of the Panhellenic ideas of Hellas and Hellenes. In the literary tradition, the oracle had a strong connection with renowned mythic heroes such as Achilles, Neoptolemus, Odysseus and other prominent figures of the nostoi, that is, stories about the return of heroes from the Trojan War. A central issue is the relationship between myth, history and genealogy. As Irad Malkin stresses, eth- nicity does not write itself arbitrarily. It is dependent on myths, memories and values that often relate to an idea of a beginning and a place of origin. Although often politically motivated, ethnic genealogies of heroes and ancestors had a fundamental role both in shaping the identities of the Greeks and in their relation to non- Greeks: genealogies were adaptable and applied to non-Greeks as well. 8 Genealogical myths were frequent- ly converted to “historical” ones, when they were applied to group identities and territories. 9 In antiquity, a heroic genealogy was often introduced to explain a shared descent. But it could also be manipulated and used by conflicting claims, with the consequence that it was capable of both differentiating between nations and at the same time establishing their relationship to each other. In Malkin’s words, it “depends on the func- tion of the genealogy, whether it is accepted and by whom, and whether it remains the exercise of an erudite, disregarded by those to whom it is supposed to apply or accepted and used to substantiate claims”. 10 Perceptions of ethnic identity in antiquity can be broadly divided into three phases: in the archaic period, an aggregative perspective that emphasized the mythic genealogies and ancestors of a group of peo- ple was common. At the beginning of the classical period, and at least partly as a consequence of the Persian invasion, a shift of focus took place when an oppositional concept of ethnicity, that is, the way Greeks saw themselves as opposed to other ethnic groups they called barbarians, grew to be the most important indica- tor of ethnic identity. 11 In the Hellenistic era, when people’s consciousness of the ever expanding known world underwent rapid change, and different ethnic groups became more easily assimilated with each other, Panhellenic ethnic identity became even more important to the peoples of the Hellenic world. Finally, dur- ing the Roman era, the oppositional way of shaping ethnic identity gave way to a more intellectual point of view: people that were Greek by origin were now politically and socially part of the Roman Empire.

6 E.g., Thuc. 1, 5; 2, 68, 5; 2, 80; 3, 94, 4-5. Cf. MalkiN 1998, 144-5.

7 Hdt. 2, 52.

8 MalkiN 2001b, 9, 16.

9 MalkiN 1998, 7.

10 MalkiN 1998, 61.

11 hall 2000, 47-8; MalkiN 2001b, 7.




Greekness was no longer a feature restricted to peoples of certain territories or ethnic origins. Instead, Greek identity was more like “a state of mind”, a mark of a learned and civilized person. Rather than Panhellenic or oppositional views, Greek ethnic identity was now defined by collective memory and common cultural heritage. 12 Although the focus on the way of perceiving ethnic identities shifted from time to time, along with the lines of the above-mentioned modern constructions of the different phases in ancient ethnic thinking, the importance of heroic ancestral genealogies continued to preserve their importance as prominent indicators of ethnic identities throughout. Such genealogies were typically cultural reconstructions of the past, being commonly introduced from the eight century BC onwards as a means of giving legitimacy to the present rule and order as well as of creating links to other cities and communities. The following discussion will consider all of the above-mentioned phases, but the focus remains on the role of genealogies in defining Molossian (ethnic) identity. I begin with an outline of the history of Molossia and Dodona (with a few words on Selloi/ Helloi and Hellenes), and then move on to the question of Molossian ethnicity. The subsequent discussion of Neoptolemus and other significant heroes that appear in Molossian contexts in the literature will be fol- lowed by an examination of the genealogical strategies applied by the Molossians to themselves during the classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.

2. Epirus, Molossia and the oracle of Dodona

Theopompus of Chius 13 records that there were fourteen Epirote tribes. The most important of these were the Chaones, who inhabited the plain near Buthrotum in the northern part of Epirus; the Molossians who had control over the middle Epirus and Dodona; and, in the south, the Thesprotians, who resided in the plain of Acheron. All these tribes, or at least their royal houses, cultivated ancestral genealogies deriving from nos- toi stories. The Chaones claimed a descent from Helenus, the Trojan seer and brother of Hector. The royal house of the Molossians, the Aeacids, regarded Neoptolemus, son of Achilles and great-grandson of Aeacus, as their ancestor. The Thesprotians, for their part, connected themselves with the tales of Odysseus. The evidence for the history of Epirus is fragmentary, which means that the chronology of the histor- ical events is frequently unclear. 14 The first Hellenic people in the region, the Thesprotians, may have arrived in Epirus as early as the beginning of the second millennium BC. Later, the migration of north-western tribes to the south ca. 1200 BC obviously had a great effect in Epirus, with new Hellenic tribes such as the Molos- sians settling in the area and forcing the Thesprotian inhabitants to move to the south and east. 15 Less is also known about Epirus for the period generally known as the “Dark Ages” in Greek history (ca. 1200/1100-700 BC). It has been assumed that during this period Epirus was isolated from the rest of the Greek world, but this must remain uncertain. 16 However, at least from the end of the eighth century BC, connections with southern Greek populations existed.

12 See koNStaN 2001, 41-3.

13 FGrH 115 F 382 (Str. 7, 7, 5).

14 carNey 2006, 9. For a concise history of Epirus, see haMMoNd 1967.

15 dakariS 1971, 16; dieterle 2007, 16.

16 Based on the archaeological evidence, dakariS (1971, 17-8) opted for an isolation. haMMoNd (1967, 399-400), on the other hand, believed that it was precisely during this period that the fame of Dodona spread around the rest of the Greek mainland as a result of contacts between the Epirotes and other Greeks. Also MalkiN (1998, 148) assumed that during the Dark Ages Dodona was a religious centre whose prominence stretched far beyond its local borders. As dieterle (2007, 16) has pointed out, such contacts cannot be ruled out on the basis of archaeology, since the finds of this period are still largely unpublished.




The oracle of Dodona was situated in the plain of Molossia in mid-Epirus, about 20 kilometres south of the modern city of Ioannina. The god worshipped at the shrine was Zeus Naïos, accompanied by Dione Naïa, a goddess whose presence in Dodona has been connected with early Mother Earth cults. Dodona seems to have remained under Thesprotian rule until the end of the fifth century BC, when the Molossians took over the sanctuary. It is not known when oracular activity at the shrine started, but Herodotus states that Dodona was “the most ancient place of divination in Hellas”, 17 and it is mentioned in Homer and Hesiod. 18 The means of divination in Dodona are unclear. It is traditionally assumed that the will of Zeus was originally interpreted through the rustling of the leaves and the creaking of the branches of the sacred oak, or from the cooing of two sacred doves living in the tree. 19 Odysseus already claimed to have gone to Dodona to hear Zeus’ will from the oak. 20 By the 5th century BC, however, divination in the sanctuary was apparently performed by three prophetesses. 21 The preserved questions put to them, ranging from the 6th to the 2nd centuries BC and usually concerning private matters of the consultants, were written on small lead tablets. 22 During the archaic age, the economy in Epirus was still based mostly on cattle herding, but in the 6th and 5th centuries BC the Epirotes came into closer contact with the poleis of the southern Greek world, and through different alliances became more engaged in interstate politics. In the first years of the Peloponnesian War, the Molossians formed an alliance with Sparta, 23 but the situation changed, as the Molossians under the lead of the pro-Athenian king Tharyps allied with Athens, which brought a strong Athenian political and cultural influence to the area. At the beginning of the 4th century BC, the Molossians founded the first Molossian State (ca. 400-330/325 BC), which included ten and later fifteen Molossian tribes. During this period, the cattle-breeding communities of Epirus became urbanized. 24 The practices of the cult in Dodona were also radically changed, and the first cult building, a small temple of Zeus, was erected ca. 400 BC. Shortly before 331 BC, Olympias, the wife of King Philip II of Macedonia, settled in her native country, Molossia, and took great interest in the affairs of the Dodonaean oracle, 25 and it was probably Olympias herself who convinced her son Alexander the Great to rebuild the sanctuary. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Epirote league (ca. 232-170 BC) was a particularly flourishing period in the history of Dodona. In 219 BC, however, the Aetolians invaded Epirus and sacked Dodona, but in response the next year, the Epirote and Macedonian armies with Philip V of Macedonia

17 Hdt. 2.52.

18 Il. 2, 748-55; 16, 225-50; Od. 14, 327-30; 19, 296-99; Hes. frr. 240, 319 (M-W).

19 E.g., Hdt. 2, 55. In his description of the Dodonaean cult, Herodotus (2, 52-57; 9, 93) tells a story about two sacred doves that he had heard from three local priestesses (also called “doves”). The birds had flown from Thebes in Egypt, one to Dodona (settling on an oak) and the other to Libya. The doves then ordered in human speech the founding of oracles at both places, for Zeus in Dodona and for Ammon in Libya respectively (the latter site was also sacred to Zeus). The historian does not believe this story, but reasons that the “doves” must have been captive Egyptian women who acted as priestesses in Dodona. In his view, the story of the speaking doves originated from the strange language spoken by the women on their arrival, which to the local people would have sounded like the cooing of birds.

20 Od. 14, 327-30; 19, 296-99.

21 Hdt. 2, 55; Paus. 10, 12, 10; Str. 7, 7, 12; Pl. Phdr. 244b.

22 For the history, archaeology and oracular practice at Dodona, see, e.g., Parke 1967; haMMoNd 1967; dakariS 1971; dieterle 2007. Oracular tablets: lhôte 2006; eidiNow 2007, 72-138; verSNel 2011, 45-7 (esp. 45 n. 79). Thousands of questions have been discovered, but there are very few responses. The Greek edition by S. Dakaris(†) et al., Corpus des lamelles oraculaires de Dodone I (CLOD) apparently still awaits publication.

23 Thuc. 2, 80, 6; carNey 2006, 9.

24 dakariS 1971, 21.

25 Hyper. Eux. 24-26. For honorary decrees of the Molossians from Dodona (before 330 BC), cf. SEG XXVI 698.




marched into Aetolia, razing the federal capital Thermum to the ground. With the war booty, Philip rebuilt the sanctuary at Dodona. Later, in 148 BC, Epirus became part of the Roman province of Macedonia. Dur- ing the second half of the 2nd century BC, a league under the rule of Elean colonists was formed in Epirus, with Dodona as its centre. In 86 BC, the Thracians under the command of Mithridates invaded Epirus and destroyed the Dodonaean sanctuary. The site remained deserted and almost in ruins until it was revived by Augustus. 26 Later, among other evidence, dedications from Nicopolis show that Hadrian was venerated as Zeus Dodonaios. It may be that he not only visited the sanctuary (in AD 132) but also contributed to guar- anteeing its functioning. 27 A prominent feature of the cult in Dodona was the annual Naïa festival, which was still celebrated in the middle of the 3rd century AD. 28 The oracle was active until at least AD 362, when the emperor Julian consulted it before his campaign against the Persians. Some decades later, presumably in the aftermath of the order of AD 395 by Theodosius the Great to ban divination and close all pagan temples, the oracle ceased to function and the sacred oak was cut down. Dodona then became a bisphopric, but the sanctuary was gradually deserted as it lacked protection from the successive attacks of the Goths. After the invasion of Epirus by Totila in AD 562, Dodona was presumably abandoned for good. 29

In Book XVI of the Iliad, 30 Achilles makes an invocation to the Dodonaean Zeus, mentioning also the Selloi, the mysterious interpreters of the will of the Pelasgian Zeus, who slept on the ground and went with unwashed feet. Hesiod (fr. 240 M-W) is also probably referring to them when he speaks of “those who live on earth” (ἐπιχθόνιοι) and fetch the god’s prophecies from the sacred oak. The nature of these prophets and their function in Dodona led to speculation from antiquity onwards. It seems that the divination was performed already quite early in historical time by three priestesses, for there is no mention of the Selloi even in the Odyssey. Strabo took them to be barbarians because of their habits. 31 However, interestingly, their name is connected with the origin of the Panhellenic appellation of the Greek people, the Hellenes, which is a noteworthy detail, given the ambivalent attitude of the ancient writers towards the ethnicity of the Epirotes. Strabo (7, 7, 10) mentions the alternative form Helloi used by Pindar 32 for Selloi, and Hesiod calls the land where Dodona is situated Hellopia (fr. 240 M-W). Although the etymology of Selloi is ob- scure, it is possible that the denomination Selloi/Helloi is linguistically related to Hellenes. 33 Both Parke and Hammond have pointed out that the ending -enes was typical of tribal names in general but especially so in northwestern Greece. 34 Aristotle also mentions the Selloi and says that ancient Hellas was situated around Dodona and the river Acheloos: “here dwelt the Selloi [Zeus’ priests at Dodona] and the people then called Greeks [Graikoi] and now called Hellenes.” 35 Ancient sources thus connect Dodona with the Hellenes, and Hammond saw

26 Cf. SEG XXIII 472, an honorary dedication to Livia.

27 SEG XXXV 674 = XXXVII 521; XLIII 343. Cf. dakariS 1971, 25-6; dieterle 2007, 23.

28 According to SEG XXXVII 512, Poplios Memmios Leon, a priest of the Actia festival, organized the Naia in Dodona during the 68th Actiad, that is, AD 241/2.

29 dakariS 1971, 25-6.

30 Il. 16, 233-35.

31 Str. 7, 7, 10-11.

32 Pind. fr. 59, 3.

33 chaNtraiNe 2009, 341.

34 Parke 1967, 7-8; haMMoNd 1967, 372-3.

35 Mete . 352b1 (transl. H. D. P. l ee , Loeb. ed. 1952).




this as a proof that the “real” origins of the Greeks were in fact Epirote. 36 Malkin, in turn, has observed that of the three comprehensive names for the Greeks – Graikoi, Hellenes and “Ionians” – the first two were as- sociated with Dodona and Epirus. The denomination Graikoi (Lat. Graeci) has been connected with Boeo- tian Graia, but this assumption has now been discarded. Malkin suggests that the Graikoi were a northwest- ern people, who inhabited the area around the oracle. From early on, Dodona would have been a religious centre whose influence and reputation extended far beyond its locality, and thus the Graikoi were probably known across the Ionian and Adriatic seas: both the Illyrians and Messapians knew them by that name, and it would have been in this way that the name Graikoi reached Latium in Italy. The names Graikoi and Hellenes were variously used of Greeks in antiquity; as Malkin notes, “since the Hellenes were similarly connected with Dodona, either as occasional residents or through its priesthood (the Helloi), external (Graikoi) and self (Hellenes) appellations of the “Hellenic people” could, exceptionally, overlap.” 37 Linguistic and onomastic evidence, then, combined with ancient sources, seem to suggest that the origins of the Hellenes could be somehow connected with the northwestern populations of the Greek mainland.

3. The question of Molossian ethnicity

The ethnic identity of the Molossians, as that of all Epirotes, was an ambiguous matter for people of the ancient world. 38 A debate over the ethnicity, namely the Greekness, of the Molossians clearly existed: Thu- cydides explicitly states that the Chaones, Thesprotians and Molossians were barbarians. 39 However, Thu- cydides’ criteria in ethnic questions are far from consistent, for sometimes he outlines the common Greek language as the factor that made a population Greek, while in other cases a barbaric nature was marked by habits that differed from those of “proper Greeks” (for Herodotus’ view, see above n. 1). 40 The Molossians spoke Greek, or at least it was their cultural and administrative language. However, in their case, language is more a question than an answer to their ethnicity: 41 in the northern parts of Epirus, Illyrian was spoken; in the south, the language was Greek; and some parts of the region were bilingual. 42 The Greek that the Molossians used was a northwestern dialect, which is attested by the decrees regarding the organization of the Molossian State that were stored in Dodona. The earliest of these documents are from 370-368 BC, but it is probable that they date back to the reign of King Tharyps (ca. 430-385 BC). He received his education in Athens around 429/8-424 BC, during which stay he was also granted an honorary citizenship. According to later sources, it was him who introduced “a system of Greek customs, rules and regulations of a humane kind” to the Molossian State. 43 In any case, Dodona, the religious and later also administrative centre of the Molossian State, was considered a Greek sanctuary, and the language used by the oracle to communicate with enquirers was Greek. It seems, then, that language was a minor issue in defining the Greekness of the Epirotes; what was more important was that the common habits of the peoples of Epirus, no matter what language they spoke, were foreign to the inhabitants of southern Greek poleis such as Athens. The Epirotes

36 haMMoNd 1967, 370. Cf. Parke 1967, 8.

37 MalkiN 1998, 148-9; MalkiN 2001c, 199-200.

38 For a detailed discussion of the ethnic identity of the Epirotes, see MalkiN 1998, 140-50; MalkiN 2001c.

39 Thuc. 2, 80, 5-6.

40 Thuc. 2, 83, 5; 3, 94, 4-5; MalkiN 1998, 145.

41 See MalkiN 1998, 140.

42 caBaNeS 1979, 196, 292-4; cf. MalkiN 1998, 142-3; MalkiN 2001c, 201.

43 Plut. Pyrrh. 1; cf. Paus. 1, 11, 1; Iustin. 17, 3, 11-13. Athenian citizenship: rhodeS oSBorNe no. 70 (343/2 BC). See also haM- MoNd 1967, 507-8.




could be regarded as barbarians, because they distinguished themselves from the polis populations in various ways: in political organization and pastoral economy as well as in the physical character of their land. 44 On one hand, the Molossians were a people living at the border of the Greek world, their habits dif- fered greatly from those of the Athenians and the Greek they spoke was a heavy dialect. On the other, they were not the “absolute other”, since they were not barbarians as obviously as the Scythians, for example. Furthermore, their ancestral genealogy derived from the undoubtedly Greek heroes, Achilles and Neoptole- mus, and the religious centre of their land, the oracle of Dodona, was connected with the tradition of the very origins of Hellas and Hellenes. The Epirote royal houses emphasized heroic genealogies, shared blood and kinships in their self-definition, and these consequently served as “proof” of their Greekness once Panhel- lenic definitions of “Greek” became vital in the 5th century BC. Heroic ancestries were naturally applied to members of the royal houses, but how far (and how early) they affected the population as a whole is not clear, as the communal aspects of heroic descents were not straightforward.

4. Epic background

Genealogies deriving from the heroes of the nostoi began to gain “ethnic” significance in Molossia in ear- ly classical times. It is possible, however, that they already had importance in shaping the identities of the Epirote tribes during the archaic age, before the distinction between Greeks and barbarians emerged. Epic poetry makes clear that Achilles and Neoptolemus were connected with Molossia in the early archaic period. 45 In the Iliad, Achilles sends his Myrmidons to the battle by performing a libation to Zeus from a spe- cial cup from which only he is allowed to drink and from which only libations to Zeus may be poured. With a unique invocation, the hero prays to “Lord Zeus, Dodonaean, Pelasgian Zeus; you that live far away and rule over wintry Dodona, surrounded by your prophets the Helli, who leave their feet unwashed and sleep on the ground”. 46 Three issues in this brief passage have provoked discussion from antiquity onwards: the Selloi, the epithet ‘Pelasgian’ that Achilles uses of Zeus, and Achilles’ connection with Dodona. 47 Achilles’ invocation to “the Pelasgian, Dodonaean Zeus” suggests that the hero had a significant connection with Dodona. This bond is related to the emerging of the appellations Hellas and Hellenes, which together with the concept of Panhellenes occur as early as the Iliad. But these names did not yet

44 MalkiN 1998, 143-4.

45 Another Homeric hero connected with Epirus was Odysseus, whom the Thesprotians considered as their progenitor. Although Odysseus was not directly included in Molossian genealogies, he had a significant role in the myths related to Dodona, which was under Thesprotian rule until the late 6th or early 5th century BC, cf. lePore 1962, 63-4; MalkiN 1998, 129-31. Dodona is mentioned three times in the Odyssey (14, 327-30; 19, 296-99; 16, 402-5; cf. Str. 7, 7, 11), and the close connections between Ithaca and main- land Epirus, especially Thesprotia, are manifest in the poem. Odysseus was also associated elsewhere with Thesprotia: Pausanias (8, 12, 5-6) mentions a 7th-century poem called Thesprotis dedicated to the hero and Thesprotia, and Clemens of Alexandria (strom. 6, 2, 25) claims that Eugammon of Cyrene, the author of Telegony (mid-sixth cent. BC), had stolen an entire book of Musaeus’ Thesprotis, which probably was written in the 7th century BC, see MalkiN 1998, 126. The existence of such poems not only reflects the tradition that connected Odysseus with Thesprotia, but also alludes to Odysseus’ position as the ancestor of the Thesprotian royal house.

46 Il. 16, 233-35 (transl. E. V. Rieu, Penguin ed. 1950).

47 For the Selloi, see above at nn. 28-35. The origin of the Pelasgians was widely debated already in antiquity, because in classical times there was no tribe or country in the Greek world whose members called themselves Pelasgians. Already by the time of Hero- dotus, writers had identified the Pelasgians with various different peoples, Greek and non-Greek. They were said to have lived in many different parts of the Greek world, but a particularly strong connection was made between the Pelasgians and Thessaly, though the term was also applied to Cretans, Argives, Dorians, Athenians and Epirotes. Later authors also saw the Pelasgians as a mythic pre-(or proto-)Greek population of the Ur-people of Aegean origin. Cf. Parke 1967, 3-8, 53; MalkiN 1998, 146-9.




have the general meaning later assigned to them, but instead somehow referred to Achilles and his realm, which was traditionally situated in southern Thessaly. The adjacent areas of Achilles’ land were Phthia and Hellas. In the Catalogue of the Ships, Achilles has three groups of followers, the Hellenes, Myrmidons and Achaeans. 48 The Hellenes most likely came from Hellas just as the Myrmidons, 49 which would make the Achaeans come from Phthia. Hammond connects Achilles’ prayer to the Dodonaean and Pelasgian Zeus with the Pelasgian Argos 50 of Achilles’ realm, and draws the conclusion that the terms Hellas, Hellenes and ‘Pelasgian’ in the Iliad, and especially in Achilles’ prayer, refer both to Dodona and the realm of Achilles. 51 The epithets used of Zeus by Achilles in his invocation – Dodonaean, Pelasgian – would be proof of Achil- les’ and the Hellenes’ recent departure from Dodona. Further, Hammond argued that the cult of the Pelasgian Zeus was local to that area, and that the transfer of the epithet to the Argos of Achilles’ realm was a token of his Dodonaean origin. 52 A similar interpretation of Achilles’ invocation is offered by Richard Janko, who proposes that Achilles is actually praying to Zeus Herkeios, the god of the home and of one’s deepest roots. 53 In Janko’s opinion, Achilles’ prayer proves that, in Homer, the roots of Peleus, Achilles’ father, are in Dodona. Although it was Achilles’ son Neoptolemus that the Molossians emphasized most in their heroic ancestries, the passage of the Iliad shows that the father, because of his Dodonaean connection, could also conceivably have been included in early Molossian genealogies. The oracular sanctuary appears in the Homeric epic as a link that connects the world of Achilles with that of the nostoi and the heroes of these stories. Achilles is the only Homeric hero who prays to the Zeus of Dodona. His son Neoptolemus moves be- tween Phthia and the oracle, and Neoptolemus’ nostos links him with Odysseus as well. 54 Connections with Homeric heroes undeniably underline Dodona’s position as a Greek sanctuary, for although in Homer the Greeks did not exist as an ethnic category, during the following centuries the epic heroes came to represent the true Greek nature. And as Dodona became the most important sanctuary of the Molossians, the “ethnic” image assigned to it naturally applied to the Molossians as well. Next follows a brief survey of Neoptolemus and other mythic heroes appearing in Dodonaean con- texts, that is, in the traditions on which the Molossians drew in making their genealogical claims.

5. Molossian heroes in myth and literature

Neoptolemus, also known as Pyrrhus, was the son of Achilles and Deidamia. Represented in the myths as the slayer of King Priam, and though responsible for the killing of Astyanax, Hector’s and Andromache’s baby-son, 55 he was nevertheless a renowned hero of the nostoi. 56 Neoptolemus was also one of the Achaeans who returned safely from Troy, bringing the Myrmidons back home, presumably by sailing to Phthia, their own land in Thessaly. In Euripides’ Trojan Women (1122-31), Neoptolemus leaves Troy by sea with Hec- tor’s widow Andromache as his captive spear-bride, a relationship that is also attested in the Little Iliad and

48 Il. 2, 681-85.

49 Il. 16, 595.

50 Il. 2, 681.

51 haMMoNd 1967, 370-2.

52 haMMoNd 1967, 371-2.

53 jaNko 1992, 348, lines 231-33.

54 MalkiN 1998, 149-50.

55 For Neoptolemus’ return from Troy and his later life, see gaNtz 1993, 687-94.

56 Odysseus in Hades describes him as the perfect warrior and an ideal son: Od. 11, 505-37; cf. BurNett 2005, 188-9.




in the Ilioupersis. 57 In the Nostoi, however, it is told that Neoptolemus travelled to Greece overland, because Thetis (his grandmother) had warned him of the dangers awaiting the Achaeans at sea. 58 Gantz observes that this version is contradicted by Tzetzes’ quotation from the Little Iliad concerning ship boarding, 59 but, as he also points out, perhaps the warning of Thetis was given after the departure, and Neoptolemus only decided to travel by land later. 60 This version of the course of events is further supported by the account of Eustathius, 61 who says that Neoptolemus only burned his ships in Thessaly according to Thetis’ advice, and proceeded to travel by land to Epirus, the final destination announced to him by the seer Helenus. Helenus, the progenitor of the Chaones, was one of the fifty sons of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. His prophetic gift (which is significant from the Dodonaean perspective) is attested in the Iliad only once (6, 76), but elsewhere his status as a seer is certainly on record; in Cypria, Helenus foretells the fate of Paris and Helen, 62 and in the Little Iliad, after Odysseus has made him captive, he gives a prediction which makes Diomedes sail to Lemnos to fetch Philoctetes to Troy. 63 Moreover, in a dithyramb of Bacchylides, Helenus had reportedly prophesied that Troy would not fall without the bow of Heracles, which resulted in Philoctetes coming to Troy. 64 In Apollodorus’ version, however, this prediction is made by Calchas, since the sequence of events requires Helenus’ presence in Troy: after Philoctetes has killed Paris, Helenus and Deiphobus, another son of Priam, contend for Helen’s hand. When Deiphobus wins Helen’s hand, the an- gry Helenus leaves Troy for Ida, but is captured by Odysseus after receiving Calchas’ advice, and provides some predictions about the fall of Troy. 65 After the Trojan War, Helenus ended up in Greece presumably in the company of Neoptolemus. None of the preserved epics actually mention Helenus travelling with Ne- optolemus, but this may have been a detail that the poets did not regard as particularly important or worth recording. However, as Helenus is mentioned in several later accounts regarding Neoptolemus, it seems safe to assume that he did indeed come to Greece with the son of Achilles. In myths concerning Epirus, the fates of Helenus and Neoptolemus become entwined again after the latter’s death (see below). If we return to the nostos of Neoptolemus, we find that he is located in Epirus in Pindar’s Nemean 7 (30-50). In this ode, it is said that Neoptolemus missed Skyros on his return from Troy, ending up in Ephyra in Molossia, where he ruled as a king for a while (38-39). Then, Pindar goes on to describe Neoptolemus’ death at Delphi. While in Pindar, Neoptolemus’ visit to Molossia is only temporary, other sources claim that Molossia was his proper home, 66 which coincides with the interpretation of the Dodonaean land as Achilles’ original home (see above). In the Nostoi, as we have seen, Neoptolemus travels by land, meeting Odysseus at Maroneia in Thrace, in the territory of the Cicones. From there Neoptolemus continues his journey to Molossia, where his grandfather Peleus recognizes him. In Dictys’ version, however, Neoptolemus is only visiting Molossia before going to Thessaly to help his grandfather Peleus, who is in trouble after being ex-

57 Schol. Lyc. Alex. 1268 (Little Il.); PEG I p. 89, Il. exc. arg. (Procl. chrest. 239 Seve).

58 PEG I p. 95, Nost. arg. (Procl. chrest. 277 Seve).

59 PEG I, Il. parv. fr. 21.

60 gaNtz 1993, 688.

61 Ad Od. 3, 189 (p. 1463).

62 PEG I p. 39, Cypr. arg. (Procl. chrest. 80 Seve).

63 PEG I p. 74, Il. parv. arg. (Procl. chrest. 206 Seve).

64 Schol. Pind. Pyth. 1, 100. Bacch. fr. 7 S-M.

65 Apollod. epit. 5, 9-10.

66 Note that in Pindar’s Paean 6 (112-17), Phthia is regarded as Neoptolemus’ homeland, because Apollo had vowed in his anger that the slayer of Priam would never reach his (real) home.




pelled from his kingdom. 67 This story is also given as the reason for Neoptolemus’ hurried departure from Troy in Euripides’ Trojan women, 68 and in the Odyssey there is a hint of Peleus’ troubles with his neighbours during Achilles’ absence. 69 In Dictys’ story, Neoptolemus restores the kingdom of Thessaly to Peleus, so that the Aeacidae are able to return to their rightful land. In Apollodorus, Neoptolemus is accompanied by Helenus when he returns from Troy. 70 In this ver- sion, Neoptolemus stays on Tenedus for two days following Thetis’ advice, and then goes on to journey by land with Helenus. A battle follows in Molossia, after which Neoptolemus becomes king. He has a son by Andromache, who is named Molossus. 71 Helenus, on the other hand, marries Neoptolemus’ mother Deida- mia and founds a city of his own. Neoptolemus then returns to Phthia to rule the country after his grandfather Peleus has died. Pausanias, too, has Helenus and his prophecies guiding Neoptolemus to Molossia where Neoptolemus and Andromache have three sons: Molossus, Pielus and Pergamus. After Neoptolemus’ death in Delphi, Andromache and Helenus become married and have a son, Cestrinus. 72 In the Aeneid, Aeneas tells that Helenus received Andromache as his wife and also succeeded Pyrrhus to the Epirote throne. 73 Servius explains that this happened because Helenus had warned Neoptolemus from travelling by land instead of sailing, and thus Helenus was granted Andromache after her master’s death. 74 Euripides in his play Andromache was probably the first writer to introduce the story of Andromache and Helenus’ marriage after Neoptolemus’ death. A further invention of his was to present Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, as Neoptolemus’ murderer. 75 In the literary tradition, Neoptolemus dies in Delphi, usually after he has gone there supposedly to appease or to contradict Apollo, or just to consult the oracle. Pindar in Paean 6 depicted Apollo as Neoptolemus’ killer, because the god was angry with King Priam’s murderer. By contrast, the laudatory tone of Nemean 7 does not hint at any such wrath, instead a ran- dom stranger kills the innocent hero. In the lost Hermione of Sophocles, 76 Neoptolemus is slain in Delphi by a man called Machaireus, who had sought approval for his act from Apollo. 77 In Pherecydes, Neoptolemus goes to Delphi to consult the god about his prospects for a child by Hermione, proceeding then to commit suicide with a butcher’s knife (machaira). 78 As the murderer in Sophocles’ play was called Machaireus, it seems probable that the name of the murderer had at some point been connected with the weapon. However, Euripides’ Andromache presents a different version of the story, which from the perspective of ethnicity is probably the most interesting one (see below). Let us have a brief look at the story of this play. The play begins with Andromache, Neoptolemus’ slave concubine, as a suppliant in the shrine of Thetis in Phthia. Her master has gone to Delphi to apologize to Apollo for his earlier disrespectful behaviour towards the god. In the absence of the master of the house, Neoptolemus’ wife Hermione, daughter of Mene-

67 Dict. 6, 7-9.

68 Tr. 1123-28.

69 Od. 12, 494-504.

70 Epit. 6, 12-13.

71 Hyg. fab. 123 names the son Amphialus.

72 Paus. 1, 11, 1.

73 Verg. Aen. 3, 294-99.

74 Serv. Aen. 3, 297; gaNtz 1993, 689-90.

75 In Eur. Or. 1653-57, the god Apollo is held responsible for the death of Neoptolemus.

76 For a summary of the plot, see Schol. Gr. Od. 4, 5 (Pontani).

77 Also Str. 9, 3, 9 and Apollod. epit. 6, 14 follow this tradition concerning Neoptolemus’ death. Pausanias has him killed either by a priest of Apollo (10, 24, 4) or by the Delphians on the orders of Pythia (1, 13, 9).

78 FGrH 3 F 64a.




laus and Helen of Sparta, is planning with her father the murder of Andromache and the son 79 she has had with Neoptolemus. The reason for the plotting is Hermione’s jealousy towards the slave concubine, who in spite of her inferior position outranks the legal wife in every regard. Moreover, Andromache has a son with Neoptole- mus, while Hermione remains childless, which she blames on Andromache and her foreign magic. Menelaus and Hermione succeed in capturing Andromache and her son, but at a crucial moment Peleus arrives and saves them. Menelaus flees back to Sparta and Hermione is terrified at the prospect of meeting her husband after

her secret plan to kill his son. At this point, very conveniently for Hermione, her cousin (and former fiancé) Orestes arrives in Phthia on his way to Dodona. Orestes tempts Hermione to run away with him, and after Hermione has agreed, he reveals that actually Neoptolemus is probably already dead, because Orestes himself has planned his murder at Delphi. After this, Neoptolemus’ body is brought home, and his grandfather Peleus

is devastated by his death and the end of his family line. However, the play ends happily as the nymph Thetis,

Peleus’ former wife and Achilles’ mother, appears. She announces that Peleus should bury Neoptolemus in Delphi and then give Andromache to Helenus as a wife. Andromache and Neoptolemus’ son should succeed Helenus as the ruler of Molossia. This way both the line of the Aeacids and the Trojan royal house would con- tinue to exist. As for Peleus, he is made immortal and is destined to live in the Ocean with Thetis.

6. The Molossians and the poleis of the classical period

The Molossian claim to be descended from Achilles and Neoptolemus in the early classical period coincides with the Molossians’ rising social and political importance. This is attested particularly well in Pindar’s Nemean 4 and Nemean 7 written for Aiginetan winners. The poet naturally referred to Delphi and Olympia, but his interest in Dodona and Molossia may have been even greater, for apart from these epinikian odes praising the Aeacid ancestry and thus focusing attention on Dodona and Molossia, Pindar also wrote a poem, possibly a hymn, to Dodona. 80 In Nemean 4, Neoptolemus rules “over the far reaching mainland where high cattle-grazing forelands

descend, beginning from Dodona, to the Ionian sea”, 81 whereas in Nemean 7, the poet makes Neoptolemus the first Molossian ruler, which is an honour that his line still holds. 82 Then, Pindar describes Neoptolemus’ death at Delphi. Although some other sources, as well as Pindar’s own Paean 6, took Neoptolemus’ death as a punishment for the sacrilege he committed in killing King Priam, in Nemean 7 there is no hint of such

a thing. As Burnett notes: “Neoptolemos in this telling is the son who, endowed by his father with heroic

qualities, finishes what his parents began and fulfils the splendid fate of an Aiakid lord”. 83 The context of Nemean 7 is exciting, as it might explain Pindar’s interest in Epirus: lines 64-67 suggest that the ode is meant to compliment a visitor who has come to Aegina from Molossia where Neoptolemus’ descendants still rule. 84 It may well be that Pindar was himself a proxenos of the Molossians, although the matter remains

debatable. 85

79 The child is never named in the play; he is called Molottus in some sources.

80 Cf. frr. 57, 59, 60 S-M. All these fragments might be from the same one poem in praise of Dodona; horNBlower 2004, 175-6.

81 Nem. 4, 51-3 (transl. horNBlower 2004, 177).

82 Nem. 7, 38-39.

83 Nem. 7, 44; BurNett 2008, 50.

84 “If any Achaian man is nearby, one dwelling beyond the Ionian Sea, he will not blame me; I also trust in my host’s hospitality (‘proxeny’), and among his townsmen my gaze is bright, since I have not been excessive, but have removed everything forced from my path” (transl. horNBlower 2004, 177); cf. BurNett 2005, 194-6; BurNett 2008, 50-1.

85 horNBlower 2004, 177-80 (see esp. 178 n. 191 on a scholiast’s note).




The Theban Pindar was not the only poet to write in a favourable tone about Molossia. It is known that during the Peloponnesian War, Athens formed a political alliance with the Molossian state and King Tharyps. The Athenians also clearly valued the oracle of Dodona, for they consulted it on several occasions, such as before the expedition to Sicily in 415 BC. But they misunderstood the oracular response: whilst the oracle ordered them to colonize Sicily, which according to Pausanias is a small hill near Athens (8, 11, 12), they conducted a disastrous overseas expedition against Syracuse. Dodona clearly had an institutionalized position in the Molossian state, and the attested consultations as well as the fact that Tharyps was granted Athenian citizenship in the 420s BC (above at n. 43) suggest that the general attitude in Athens was favour- able towards the Molossians. The Athenians probably regarded them as Greeks – or at least this applied to the royal house. In any case, the Aeacid ancestry of the Molossians undoubtedly made it easier for the Athenians to accept Molossia as their ally. A further example of pro-Molossian attitudes is Euripides’ Andromache from ca. 425 BC (cf. at nn. 75-9). This play is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it shows a connection between Neoptolemus and Helenus, who were respectively held as progenitors of two Epirote tribes, the Molossians and the Chaones. It also suggests that a vivid tradition about the mythic and noble ancestors of Molossians already existed during the last half of the 5th century BC. Euripides depicts the Molossians in a very positive light: the Tro- jans, Helenus and Andromache in particular, are shown as good and respectable people, worthy of continu- ing the line of the (Greek) Aeacids. Neoptolemus’ dubious acts in the past are also dampened, and instead he is depicted as a tragic hero, whose death – the result of plotting by Orestes – is portrayed as a terrible in- justice. The ancestors of the Molossians unmistakably represent nobility: whether Trojan or Greek, they are civilized Hellenes as opposed to barbarians. Significantly, the villains are all Argives: the Spartans Menelaus and Hermione, and Orestes. In earlier research, the play has been taken as an anti-Spartan comment, 86 but this view seems to be based mainly on Andromache’s embittered and furious remark about the wretched- ness of the Spartans after Menelaus has decided to kill her son. 87 Rather than anti-Spartan, Andromache is a pro-Epirote text. 88 It is not known where this play was first performed. 89 A scholiast’s note on line 455 claims that it did not happen in Athens (οὐ δεδίδακται γὰρ Ἀθήνησιν), but this is a late and uncertain tes- timony. Because of its non-Attic topic, the play might have been better suited to the international Dionysia festival than a rural venue. Yet the praising tone of both Molossian and Thessalian heroes does not rule out the idea that the first performance took place among the Molossi (or in Thessaly). In any case, it is plausi- ble that the audience of Andromache included some influential Molossians and/or Thessalians, for the play clearly compliments both people for their heroic ancestry. 90 However, there may be yet another possibility:

perhaps the play was produced by the Athenians as an honorary piece for the young king Tharyps, who saw the performance in the theatre of Dionysus. As the Athenians of the time were clearly interested in Molos- sia for political reasons, an honorary performance would certainly explain the laudatory tone in which the Molossian heroic genealogy is presented in the play, and the Thessalian connections in Andromache would be justified through Achilles’ importance in Molossian genealogy. Despite the fact that during the Peloponnesian War Molossia sided more with Athens than Sparta, the latter continued to maintain relations with Molossia. It is known, for example, that Lysander consulted

86 E.g., kitto 1961.

87 Eur. Andr. 445-65.

88 Cf. haMMoNd 1967, 505; carNey 2006, 5 n. 4.

89 For different views, see allaN 2000, 150-1.

90 Thus also hall 1989, 181 and allaN 2000, 152-3, 158; cf. Mitchell 2012, 15.




the oracle of Dodona right after the war in 404/3 BC, and a military alliance between Molossia and Sparta was formed in 368 BC, when the Molossians fought the Illyrians. The Aeacid ancestry of the Molossians probably meant the same for the Spartans as it did for the Athenians, namely, confirmation of the Hellenic status of their allies. The Spartans were known for their reliance on oracular advice from the gods. 91 In a consultation of 404/3 BC, for example, Lysander tried to win the support of Dodona (as well as of the oracles of Ammon and Delphi) for a change in the rules governing Spartan kingship. 92 Another case is the amusing anecdote of how a pet-ape of the Molossian king Alcetas intervened during a Spartan oracular consultation by casting the lots all over the sanctuary. 93 The story was obviously renarrated many times, for Cicero finds it annoy- ing that of the many Spartan consultations this was the one most frequently related by Greek historians. 94 Why the Spartans were eager to consult the oracle of Dodona was probably because this site had a strong connection with Heracles. 95 The myths of the Heraclidae were fundamental for the formation of Spartan ethnic identity, as the Spartans defined themselves (and were universally regarded) as direct descendants of Heracles. 96 The close ties the Spartans maintained with Dodona through their ancestral hero clearly suggest the importance of genealogies for the poleis of the time. The bond between Dodona and Heracles is interestingly described by Sophocles in his Trachiniae, the tragic action of which mostly takes place around the oracle of Zeus. The play is about Heracles’ wife Deianira, who waits in distress for her husband to return home. She has learned from him about a prophecy given by the oracle of Dodona: after a fifteen-month journey, Heracles would either perish or live a happy life and never die. Time passes and Heracles returns, but with a concubine, Iole. Deianira uses a potion in an attempt to win back Heracles’ love, but instead the potion kills him. When Heracles is dying, he tells about another prophecy related to the earlier one: he has heard from the Selloi in Dodona that he would lead a prosperous life; however, now the dying hero realizes that this simply means his death – for no man is happy until he is dead, as is the common message of many Greek tragedies. The connection between Heracles and Dodona has been interpreted as a conscious choice of the poet to emphasize the savage nature of Heracles. Consequently, Sophocles’ play has been taken as an account of Dodona’s wild and primitive, almost barbaric reputation. This is hardly true, as the savage nature of Heracles is an integral part of the hero’s myth, underlining the border between the violent world of Heracles’ labours and the civilized society of his present, as well as the distinction between the mortal hero and his later divine status. 97 Moreover, the connection between Heracles and Dodona is also found in Euripides, who made the Heraclidae consult the oracle of Dodona on important matters. 98 Most importantly, Sophocles’ status as an Athenian writer does not suggest that there was an intentional anti-Spartan tone to the play, for Trachiniae was produced well before the Peloponnesian conflict. It seems best, then, not to speculate about Sophocles’ alleged negative

91 Cic. div. 1, 43; cf. Diod. Sic. 14, 13, 3. For the relationships between Sparta and Dodona, cf. now PicciNiNi (2011a, 692-9), who correctly underlines the uncertainty regarding the chronology of Spartan consultations.

92 Diod. Sic. 14, 13, 1-8; Plut. Lys. 25, 1. For Lysander’s motives, see PicciNiNi 2011a, 693-6.

93 Cic. div. 1, 34.

94 Cic. div. 2, 32.

95 The Corinthians also claimed descendance from Heracles, their ancestry being connected with Dodona through the actions of the progenitor Aletes, the great-great-grandson of the hero. While the other Heraclidae had sought sanction from Apollo in Delphi for their claims to land, Aletes took Corinth in agreement with Zeus of Dodona, cf. hall 2000, 58-9.

96 hall 2000, 56-65; MalkiN 1998, 135-6. For a comprehensive study of Spartan ethnic identity, see MalkiN 1994.

97 PaPadoPoulou 2005, 1-8, 190-4.

98 Arch. 15-25; fr. 228a.




treatment of Heracles, but to focus instead on what is interesting from the perspective of ethnic identity, that is, that Sophocles’ play connects Heracles, the ancestral hero of the Spartans, very closely with the oracle of Dodona, and hence, with Molossia.

7. Neoptolemus and Hellenistic Molossia

The Hellenistic history of Molossia is eventful so that the chronology in this period remains tentative at best. 99 The Molossian State came to its end around 330/325 BC, to be succeeded by the Epirote Alliance (ca. 330/325-232 BC) after the death of King Alexander. The rulers of neighbouring Macedonia now began to interfere in Molossian affairs, with King Philip II taking an interest in the region, probably encouraged by his wife Olympias, who was of Molossian origin. Olympias’ son, Alexander the Great, started a considerable renovation programme in Dodona, presumably again persuaded by his mother. During the existence of the Epirote alliance, the Molossians actively intervened in Greek international affairs, especially through the actions of King Pyrrhus. Significantly, the Molossians now strongly emphasized their position as descend- ants of Achilles and Neoptolemus, and completed the massive cultural programme started by Alexander to support their claims. However, after Pyrrhus’ death in 272 BC, Epirus was forced to withdraw within its own borders. The last of the Aeacidae was overthrown in 232 BC, after which most of the Epirote tribes entered into a new alliance named the Epirote State. 100 During this tumultuous period, the role of Dodona became essential for claims of ethnicity. Two figures turn out to be particularly interesting: Olympias, mother of Al- exander the Great, and Pyrrhus, King of Epirus. Both had a prominent role in Molossian politics, and both strongly emphasized their Aeacid ancestry. 101 But they also had very close ties with the oracular sanctuary of Dodona, a connection that was to a great extent politically motivated. The following section surveys the role of Olympias and Pyrrhus in Hellenistic Molossia and Dodona.

8. Olympias

Olympias, the daughter of King Neoptolemus I of Molossia, was born around 373 BC, perhaps from a Chao- nian princess, with the birth name of Polyxena, recalling that of the youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy. 102 She spent her youth in Molossia and after her father’s death was brought up there in the court of her uncle Arybbas. Following her (political) marriage with Philip II in 357 BC, Olympias moved to Macedonia and bore a son, Alexander III (i.e., the Great). As long as her husband was alive, Olympias led a politically quiet life, but after Philip’s death in 336 BC, Olympias became more and more involved in state affairs. Her daughter Cleopatra was married to Alexander I of Molossia, Olympias’ brother. After the latter’s death in 331 BC, Olympias returned to her homeland where she acted as regent for the baby king Neoptolemus II (her grandson) and was politically active in Molossian affairs. In 317 BC, after Cassander invaded Macedo- nia, Olympias returned there to offer resistance, but was forced to surrender and executed. Olympias was the first woman who had real political influence throughout the Greek peninsula. From our point of view, the most interesting feature is her devotion to her homeland Molossia and her per-

99 Despite the many and variously named Epirote alliances during this era, my focus is on the area of Molossia.

100 haMMoNd 1967, 558-65; dakariS 1971, 20-2; dieterle 2007, 18-9.

101 Cf. recently PatterSoN 2010, 88-9.

102 For a full biography of Olympias, see carNey 2006. The children of Neoptolemus I were all named after Trojan royal figures:

Olympias’ brother was named Alexander and her sister Troas. They were all great-grandchildren of King Tharyps, cf. carNey 2006, xiii, 5, 16. For Olympias’ political and religious position, see now Mitchell 2012, 3-5.




sistent claim of her alleged heroic ancestry. As Carney points out, many royal women during antiquity mar- ried foreign rulers and never saw their homeland again. Olympias, however, returned to Molossia and lived there for many years, with remarkable political influence. However, what obviously meant even more to her than her Molossian identity was her status as an Aeacid, and the pride provided by this famous lineage. Her Aeacid ancestry shaped her life and public actions in many ways. 103 That Olympias derived her genealogy from Achilles and Neoptolemus was natural, as she was the daughter of an Aeacid king. However, an inte- resting aspect in the development of Molossian ethnic identity is that she claimed to have originated from Helenus as well, through a son given to the seer by Andromache. This new insertion in Molossian ancestral genealogy may well go back to Euripides’ Andromache. 104 During the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the choice of Molossian dynastic names indicates a growing emphasis on heroic genealogies (there were kings and royals called Neoptolemus and Pyrrhus, and a son of the great Pyrrhus was called Helenus). A wife in ancient Greek marriage maintained her connections with her original family, and in case of divorce or the death of a husband, the wife usually returned to her relatives. In royal marriages, it was com- mon that a woman from a royal house who was married to another acted as a sort of ambassador between the two families. The birth family could also protect the woman’s interests if several wives were involved. As Olympias was the fourth among Philip’s wives, she understandably stressed her heroic genealogy and consequently passed on this ancestral pride to her son Alexander. No doubt, Olympias was the main reason for Alexander’s fascination with Achilles, as is recorded by many ancient sources. However, she apparently made her son respect his maternal (Trojan) ancestry as well, if we may trust a story reported by Arrian about Alexander offering a sacrifice at Priam’s tomb, asking him not to be angry with the family of Neoptolemus, his other ancestor. 105 A Trojan connection may have been of special importance to Olympias, because her life – and her status as a “tragic queen” – bore a striking resemblance to that of Homeric tragic females such as Hecuba, Andromache and Polyxena. These figures may well have served as her models, and she may have identified herself with them, even in her death, which was considered heroic even in accounts of her life that were otherwise hostile towards her. 106 Olympias’ character and the way she stressed her heroic ancestry interestingly connects her own ethnic origin to the sanctuary of Dodona. Olympias was actively involved in the affairs of the oracle, the re- ligious centre of the Molossian state, and it was probably on her initiative that Alexander decided to rebuild the sanctuary, which cost the huge sum of 1500 talents. 107 Although Olympias was said to have been highly interested in religious matters, her concern for Dodona cannot have been just spiritual in nature, as she must have realized that the sanctuary counted politically as well. The religious activity of royal women would indeed have often played a role in international politics, as becomes apparent in a speech of Hyperides regarding Athenian relations with Dodona. 108 Hyperides reports on a dispute between Olympias and Athens: in answer to a consultation made for unknown reasons, the oracle had ordered the Athenians to honour or decorate the statue of Dione in Dodona. Accordingly, the Athenians had a beautiful face constructed for the goddess’s statue, adding some decorations, and sent them to Dodona

103 carNey 2006, 3; Mitchell 2012, 15.

104 haMMoNd 1967, 505.

105 Arr. 1, 11, 8. Cf. carNey 2006, 5-6 (and n. 10), pointing out that Alexander’s apparent emphasis on his maternal line is unu-


106 carNey 2006, 6.

107 Diod. Sic. 18, 4, 4; dieterle 2007, 129.

108 Eux. 24-26. This passage also shows that relations between Athens and the sanctuary (and, obviously, the Molossians) contin- ued to be vital during the 4th century BC.




with a sacrifice. Olympias reacted with angry letters, stating that the land of Molossia and thus the shrine of Dodona belonged to her and that the Athenians had no right to intervene in Dodona. Hyperides argues that if Olympias is allowed to adorn Athenian temples, they should be allowed to act in the same way in Dodona, especially as the god had ordered them to do so. Her accusations would be justified only if the Athenians had refused Olympias’ recent gift to an Athenian shrine of Hygieia. This incident clearly had a political context, as it probably took place around 330 BC, soon after Olympias’ return to Molossia. The episode probably also coincides with the building of Dione’s temple in Dodona, and possibly also with the formation of the Epirote Alliance that rivalled the hegemony of the Molossians in the area, which perhaps suggests a rift between the Aeacids and the alliance. Prohibiting the Athenians from following the orders of the oracle may indicate that all this happened during a change in regime, and possibly that the order had been given to Athens before Olympias came to Molossia. 109 The Athenians obviously had their reasons for maintaining contacts with the oracle; looking for allies in northwestern Greece against Macedonia would explain the gifts to the Dodonaean Dione. 110 As for Olympias, she was probably trying to advance her and her family’s power and prestige in central and southern Greece. 111 By pronouncing her authority over the oracle, Olympias politicized the status of Dodona, making it look like an exclusively Aeacid sanctuary. Although the political importance of Dodona had already started to grow before, it was Olympias who brought this development to its logical conclusion:

the regent queen imposed an unmistakable ethnic and political label on the sanctuary.

9. Pyrrhus

After Alexander’s unexpected death in 323 BC, Olympias’ attention turned to the power struggle between Molossia and the Epirote Alliance. Dynastic rifts weakened Molossia at the end of the century, and it was not until Pyrrhus, the great-nephew of Alexander, acceded to the throne that peace was restored in the region. He reigned over Molossia as a minor from 307/6 to 303/2 BC, after which he was forced to leave Epirus. However, with the support of Ptolemy I, whose daughter Antigone he married, Pyrrhus was able to return to Molossia as joint king with Neoptolemus II. But he soon removed Neoptolemus and became the sole ruler, “hegemon of the Epirotes and king of the Molossians”, remaining in power until his death in 272 BC. Under Pyrrhus’ reign, Molossia pursued aggressive expansionist policies by force of arms and by alliances (many of which were confirmed by the king’s own marriages). What is of interest here is that Pyr- rhus clearly stressed his Aeacid ancestry and his concern for the sanctuary of Dodona. The fact that he made Ambracia his capital did not reduce his interest in Dodona, where he continued to carry out the renovations started by Olympias and Alexander. Like Alexander before him, Pyrrhus produced an effective method of self-representation by identifying himself with Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, whose connection with Dodona is attested from Homer’s times (above). 112 There should be no doubt that the Hellenization process in Epirus, with massive building projects such as the theatre of Dodona, 113 underlined the Aeacid, and hence Greek, ancestry of the Molossians. Moreover, Aeacid ancestry may well have been an instrument for Pyr- rhus to explain his politics to his people and to encourage them to side with him. 114

109 carNey 2006, 91-2.

110 Parke 1967, 142-3; cf. carNey 2006, 92 n. 35.

111 carNey 2006, 92.

112 Cf. Perret 1946, 5; carNey 2006, 5-6 (with n. 9).

113 See haMMoNd 1967, 582-3.

114 Cf. luraghi 2008, 9 n. 15.




Pyrrhus’ relationship with Dodona is also attested in the literature. Dio reports that before the Italian expedition, Pyrrhus consulted the oracle of Dodona, the response of which was: “You, if you cross into Italy, Romans shall conquer”. 115 Dio further says that Pyrrhus construed the phrase according to his own wish and proceeded with the campaign, because “desire easily deceives one”. However, the “Pyrrhic victory” appar- ently did not make the king lose confidence in the oracle. Pausanias tells how Pyrrhus returned to Epirus after the Italian campaign of 278-275 BC and declared war against Antigonus of Macedonia and his Celtic allies. To celebrate his victory, he dedicated “Celtic armour in the sanctuary of Itonian Athena between Pher- ae and Larisa, with this inscription on them: ‘Pyrrhus the Molossian hung these shields taken from the bold Gauls as a gift to Itonian Athena, when he had destroyed all the host of Antigonus. It is no great marvel. The Aeacidae are warriors now, even as they were of old’”. 116 This again makes apparent Pyrrhus’ pride in his great ancestors and their heritage. Significantly, however, Pausanias continues by saying that he dedicated the bucklers of his apparently more important enemy, the Macedonians, to Zeus of Dodona, with the fol- lowing inscription: “These once ravaged golden Asia, and brought slavery upon the Greeks. Now ownerless they lie by the pillars of the temple of Zeus, spoils of boastful Macedonia”. The dedication is noteworthy, as it evidently conveyed the importance of Dodona as the religious centre of the Molossians, implying also the significance of its Aeacid/Greek status as opposed to the “boastful” Macedonians.

10. Helenus and Roman Molossia

In the Roman period, the notion of Chaones being descendants of Helenus began to be given more impor- tance, though the idea went back to very early times. In the 5th century BC, but most probably even earlier, the Epirote tribe of Chaones had stressed their Trojan ancestry deriving from Helenus. As Malkin has noted, this was probably a response both to Thesprotian claims that Odysseus was their ancestor and to those concerning the Aeacid origin of the Molossians; 117 a nostos genealogy differing from that of other Epirotes would evidently have been useful for the Chaones in highlighting their importance. This sort of opposition between Greek and Trojan origins was probably a development of the 5th century, as may be suggested by, among other things, a mid-fifth-century dedication from Olympia set up by the Corinthian colony of Apol- lonia in Epirus in commemoration of their conquest of the land of Abantis and the city of Thronios. On this monument, Greek and Trojan heroes confront each other, which seems to indicate a new attitude underlining the opposition between Greeks and Trojans. Instead of an earlier equal pairing of Greek and Trojan heroes, the latter are now conceived as barbarians. 118 However, whereas the Greek colonists of Apollonia saw the distinction between Greeks and Trojans as one between Greeks and barbarians, to the Chaones a Trojan origin was not a negative feature, but more like a token of their heroic escape from Greek oppression. This opposition, then, seems to have preceded the Roman insistence on the Trojan (instead of “common” Greek- Trojan) origins of Rome. 119 The myth of Helenus as an Epirote ancestor had a direct connection with Rome for he was regarded as the founder of the Epirote city of Buthrotum, which became a Roman protectorate as early as 228 BC

115 Dio 9, 40, 6 (transl. E. Cary, Loeb ed. 1914).

116 Paus. 1, 13, 2-3 (transl. W. H. S. Jones, Loeb ed. 1918)

117 MalkiN 1998, 26, 133, 141, 154; MalkiN 2001c, 202-3.

118 SEG XV 251 (cf. LII 479); MalkiN 2001c, 191-4. The interpretation of this monument is controversial, however. For a fresh appraisal, see Piccinini (2011b, 240, 243), who, following Claudia Antonetti, argues for a compromise between the opposing views of Malkin and Pierre Cabanes (p. 240: “il monumento rappresenterebbe tanto gli Apolloniati quanto gli abitanti di Thronion”).

119 MalkiN 1998, 138-9.




and a veterans’ colony in 31 BC. Other connections between Helenus and Rome were more implicit: Hele- nus was a survivor of the Trojan War and the ancestor of the Chaones, and thus Helenus and the Chaones could be juxtaposed to Aeneas and the Romans. That the Romans felt affinity with the Chaones is further suggested by some literary references to Dodona. In Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, for example, the sacred oak of Dodona is named the servant of “Chaonian Jupiter” (1, 302+308), 120 this denomination replacing that of the Homeric “Pelasgian Zeus”. Another case may be found in the Little Iliad, a quotation from which by Tzetzes insists that on his departure from Troy Neoptolemus was accompanied not only by Andromache but also by Aeneas. 121 As Gantz points out, in the context of this epic, this seems an odd development of the story, for unlike Helenus, who was a seer, Aeneas was of no use to Neoptolemus himself. 122 As this version would not have served a particular purpose before Aeneas became firmly linked with Rome, it may be a later addition with relevance to the bonds between Rome and the Chaonians. The most important literary example of this is, of course, Virgil’s Aeneid. As the epic represented Augustan ideology, the connection between Aeneas and Epirus is significant from the perspective of ge- nealogical claims. In Aeneid III, the hero visits Epirus, a part of which is named the “Chaonian harbour” (3, 292-3). Aeneas comes to shore at Buthrotum, where he hears that Helenus is now king of Chaonia and is married to Andromache. Soon Aeneas meets Hector’s widow, who is still longing for her dead husband. Andromache tells how she had born a son to Neoptolemus, but after Neoptolemus had married Hermione, she was given to Helenus. Orestes then murdered Achilles’ son out of jealousy of Hermione, and so part of Neoptolemus’ realm fell to Helenus, who called his land Chaonia after the Trojan hero Chaon. Helenus then arrives and welcomes Aeneas’ party as his guests, offering them generous hospitality (3, 294-355). In Epi- rus, in a Pythian sanctuary, Aeneas also hears a prediction of his future given to him by Helenus under the inspiration of Apollo (3, 356-462). Before Aeneas’ departure, Helenus provides him with luxurious gifts to take with him to Italy, including “Dodona’s pride of brazen cauldrons” (3, 466). Andromache accompanies her husband to bid farewell to Aeneas and his companions. She expresses her undying friendship to her fel- low Trojans, which Aeneas answers with equal warmth, promising Andromache that if he ever reaches Italy, “hereafter of our sister cities and allied peoples, Hesperia allied to Epirus – who have the same Dardanus for ancestor and the same disastrous story – of these two we shall make one Troy in spirit” (3, 502-5, transl. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. by G.P. Goold, Loeb ed.). In this passage the depth of the relationship between Epirus and Rome becomes clear, as they are to form “one Troy in spirit”. Aeneas as the ancestor of the Romans and Helenus as that of the Chaonians share the same destiny as survivors and exiles of destroyed Troy. They are also “the good ones”, as opposed to the Greeks, the cruel victorious party of the war. It appears from Virgil that during the Roman era, Molossian and Thesprotian “identity” had lost in significance, and that being Epirote could mean the same as being Chaonian. Virgil also includes an important allusion to Dodona: among the gifts that Aeneas receives from Helenus and Andromache, there are the bronze cauldrons of Dodona (3, 466). This apparently suggests local craftsmanship, but also connects Dodona with the Chaonians. Virgil must have had his reasons not recording Dodona elsewhere in his epic, but, as Parke notes, he never mentions by name the oracles of Zeus, but only alludes to them. 123 Although Virgil made Helenus give his prediction to Aeneas in the sanctuary of Apollo (Augustus’ favourite god), other ancient sources locate this event in Dodona. Dionysius of Halicarnassus

120 Cf. Prop. 1, 9, 5, speaking of “Chaonian doves”; Verg. ecl. 9, 11 also styles the doves of Dodona as Chaonian.

121 PEG I, Il. parv. fr. 21.

122 gaNtz 1993, 688.

123 Parke 1967, 147-8.




has Aeneas meeting Helenus in Dodona, where the latter makes a prophecy. 124 Aeneas also dedicates various Trojan offerings to Zeus, including bronze mixing bowls bearing inscriptions; Dionysius claims that some of these are still in Dodona. These texts show that the common Trojan heritage of Romans and Epirotes (Chaonians) was under- lined by Roman writers. Obviously this also had importance in the discussion of Epirote ethnicity, though the emphasis had changed. It was no longer a question of the Greekness of the Epirotes, instead it was the Chaonians who were seen as Epirotes: they belonged to the Roman Empire and, more importantly, shared a Trojan origin with the Romans. It seems, then, that although the issue of the Epirotes’ Greekness never quite lost its ambiguity, their status as Romans was conceived of as more straightforward.

124 Ant. Rom. 1, 51, 1.