EPIRUS, or Epeirus, an ancient district of Northern Greece extending along the Ionian Sea from the Acroceraunian promontory on the N. to the Ambracian gulf on the S. It was conterminous on the landward side with Illyria, Macedonia and Thessaly, and thus corresponds to the southern portion of Albania (q.v.). The name Epirus signified "mainland," and was originally applied to the whole coast southward to the Corinthian Gulf, in contradistinction to the neighbouring islands, Corcyra, Leucas, etc. The country is all mountainous, especially towards the east, where the great rivers of north-western Greece - Achelous, Arachthus and Aous - rise in Mt Lacmon, the back-bone of the Pindus chain. In ancient times Epirus did not produce corn sufficient for the wants of its inhabitants; but it was celebrated, as it has been almost to the present day, for its cattle and its horses. According to Theopompus (4th cent. B.C.), the Epirots were divided into fourteen independent tribes, of which the principal were the Chaones, the Thesproti and the Molossi. The Chaones (perhaps akin to the Chones who dwelt in the heel of Italy) inhabited the Acroceraunian shore, the Molossians the inland districts round the lake of Pambotis (mod. Jannina), and the Thesprotians the region to the north of the Ambracian gulf. In spite of its distance from the chief centres of Greek thought and action, and the barbarian repute of its inhabitants, Epirus was believed to have exerted at an early period no small influence on Greece, by means more especially of the oracle of Dodona. Aristotle even placed in Epirus the original home of the Hellenes. But in historic times its part in Greek history is mainly passive. The states of Greece proper founded a number of colonies on its coast, which formed stepping-stones towards the Adriatic and the West. Of these one of the earliest and most flourishing was the Corinthian colony of Ambracia, which gives its name to the neighbouring gulf. Elatria, Bucheta and Pandosia, in Thesprotia, originated from Elis. Among the other towns in the country the following were of some importance. In Chaonia: Palaeste and Chimaera, fortified posts to which the dwellers in the open country could retire in time of war; Onchesmus or Anchiasmus, opposite Corcyra (Corfu), now represented by Santi Quarante; Phoenice, still so called, the wealthiest of all the native cities of Epirus, and after the fall of the Molossian kingdom the centre of an Epirotic League; Buthrotum, the modern Butrinto; Phanote, important in the Roman campaigns in Epirus; and Adrianopolis, founded by the emperor whose name it bore. In Thesprotia: Cassope, the chief town of the most powerful of the Thesprotian clans; and Ephyra, afterwards Cichyrus, identified by W.M. Leake with the monastery of St John 3 or 4 m. from Phanari, and by C. Bursian with Kastri at the northern end of the Acherusian Lake. In Molossia: Passaron, where the kings were wont to take the oath of the constitution and receive their people's allegiance; and Tecmon, Phylace and Horreum, all of doubtful identification. The Byzantine town of Rogus is probably the same as the modern Luro, the Greek Oropus.
History. - The kings, or rather chieftains, of the Molossians, who ultimately extended their power over all Epirus, claimed to be descended from Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, who, according to legend, settled in the country after the sack of Troy, and transmitted his kingdom to Molossus, his son by Andromache. The early history of the dynasty is very obscure; but Admetus, who lived in the 5th century B.C., is remembered for his hospitable reception of the banished Themistocles, in spite of the fact that the great Athenian had persuaded his countrymen to refuse the alliance tardily offered by the Molossians when victory against the Persians was already secured. Admetus was succeeded, about 429 B.C., by his son or grandson, Tharymbas or Arymbas I., who being placed by a decree of the people under the guardianship of Sabylinthus, chief of the Atintanes, was educated at Athens, and at a later date introduced a higher civilization among his subjects. Alcetas, the next king mentioned in history, was restored to his throne by Dionysius of Syracuse about 385 B.C. His son Arymbas II. (who succeeded by the death of his brother Neoptolemus) ruled with prudence and equity, and gave encouragement to literature and the arts. To him Xenocrates of Chalcedon dedicated his four books on the art of governing; and it is specially mentioned that he bestowed great care on the education of his brother's children. One of them, Troas, he married; Olympias, the other niece, was married to Philip II. of Macedon and became the mother of Alexander the Great. On the death of Arymbas, Alexander the brother of Olympias, was put on the throne by Philip and married his daughter Cleopatra. Alexander assumed the new title of king of Epirus, and raised the reputation of his country abroad. Asked by the Tarentines for aid against the Samnites and Lucanians, he made a descent at Paestum in 332 B.C., and reduced several cities of the Lucani and Bruttii; but in a second attack he was surrounded, defeated and slain near Pandosia in Bruttium.
Aeacides, the son of Arymbas II., succeeded Alexander. He espoused the cause of Olympias against Cassander, but was dethroned by his own soldiers, and had hardly regained his position when he fell in battle (313 B.C.) against Philip, brother of Cassander. He had, by his wife Phthia, a son, the celebrated Pyrrhus, and two daughters, Deidamia and Troas, of whom the former married Demetrius Poliorcetes. His brother Alcetas, who succeeded him, continued unsuccessfully the war with Cassander; he was put to death by his rebellious subjects in 295 B.C., and was succeeded by Pyrrhus (q.v.), who for six years fought against the Romans in south Italy and Sicily, and gave to Epirus a momentary importance which it never again possessed.
Alexander, his son, who succeeded in 272 B.C., attempted to seize Macedonia, and defeated Antigonus Gonatas, but was himself shortly afterwards driven from his kingdom by Demetrius. He recovered it, however, and spent the rest of his days in peace. Two other insignificant reigns brought the family of Pyrrhus to its close, and Epirus was thenceforward governed by a magistrate, elected annually in a general assembly of the nation held at Passaron. Having imprudently espoused the cause of Perseus (q.v.) in his ill-fated war against the Romans, 168 B.C., it was exposed to the fury of the conquerors, who destroyed, it is said, seventy towns, and carried into slavery 150,000 of the inhabitants. From this blow it never recovered. At the dissolution of the Achaean League (q.v.), 146 B.C., it became part of the province of Macedonia, receiving the name Epirus Vetus, to distinguish it from Epirus Nova, which lay to the east.
On the division of the empire it fell to the East, and so remained until the taking of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204, when Michel Angelus Comnenus seized Aetolia and Epirus. On the death of Michel in 1216, these countries fell into the hands of his brother Theodore. Thomas, the last of the direct line, was murdered in 1318 by his nephew Thomas, lord of Zante and Cephalonia, and his dominions were dismembered. Not long after, Epirus was overrun by the Samians and Albanians, and the confusion which had been growing since the division of the empire was worse confounded still. Charles II. Tocco, lord of Cephalonia and Zante, obtained the recognition of his title of Despot of Epirus from the emperor Manuel Comnenus in the beginning of the 15th century; but his family was deprived of their possession in 1431 by Murad (Amurath) II. In 1443, Scanderbeg, king of Albania, made himself master of a considerable part of Epirus; but on his death it fell into the power of the Venetians. From these it passed again to the Turks, under whose dominion it still remains. For modern history see Albania.
AUTHORITIES - Nauze, "Rech. hist. sur les peuples qui s'établirent en Epire," in Mém. de l'Acad. des Inscr. (1729); Pouqueville, Voyage en Morée, etc, en Albanie (Paris, 1805); Hobhouse, A Journey through Albania, etc. (2 vols., London, 1813); Wolfe, "Observations on the Gulf of Arta" in Journ. Royal Geog. Soc., 1834; W.M. Leake, Travels in Northern Greece (London, 1835): Merleker, Darstellung des Landes und der Bewohner von Epeiros (Königsberg, 1841); J.H. Skene, "Remarkable Localities on the Coast of Epirus," in Journ. Roy. Geog. Soc., 1848; Bowen, Mount Athos, Thessaly and Epirus (London, 1852); von Hahn, Albanesische Studien (Jena, 1854); Bursian, Geog. von Griechenland (vol. i., Leipzig, 1862); Schäfli, "Versuch einer Klimatologie des Thales von Jannina," Neue Denkschr. d. allgem. schweizer. Ges. f. Naturw. xix. (Zürich, 1862); Major R. Stuart, "On Phys. Geogr. and Natural Resources of Epirus," in Journ. R.G.S., 1869; Guido Cora, in Cosmos; Dumont, "Souvenirs de l'Adriatique, de l'Epire, etc." in Rev. des deux mondes (Paris, 1872); de Gubernatis, "L'Epiro," Bull. Soc. Geogr. Ital. viii. (Rome, 1872); Dozon, "Excursion en Albanie," Bull. Soc. Geogr., 6th series; Karapanos, Dodone et ses ruines (Paris, 1878); von Heldreich, "Ein Beitrag zur Flora von Epirus," Verh. Bot. Vereins Brandenburg (Berlin, 1880); Kiepert, "Zur Ethnographie von Epirus," Ges. Erdk. xvii. (Berlin, 1879); Zompolides, "Das Land und die Bewohner von Epirus," Ausland (Berlin, 1880); A. Philippson, Thessalien und Epirus (Berlin, 1897).
(J. L. M.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)