History Files


European Kingdoms

Ancient Greece




Epirus (Molossians)

North-western Greece has been occupied since the Neolithic period by hunters and shepherds in the mountainous inland regions, and by fishermen along the coast. The peoples here were of the same Indo-European stock as the Mycenaeans, and it was nomadic tribes like this that went on to settle the rest of Greece during the third millennium BC. The kingdom of Epirus spanned the modern border between Greece and Albania, in the northern centre of ancient Greece. It lay immediately west of Macedonia, from which it was separated by the Pindus Mountains. The region is mountainous and rugged, and the ancient Epirotes probably resembled their Macedonian neighbours in their rough-and-ready style of living - and seem to have been similarly regarded as barbarians by their counterparts in southern Greece. Modern Greek Epirus is divided between the administrative divisions of the Periphery of Epirus and Thessaly (the easternmost section).

Epirus was originally dominated by three Greek tribes. The Molossians were said to be descended from Molossos, and were classed by Strabo as the most famous of the fourteen tribes of Epirus. To their north were the Chaonians, who appear to have been dominant prior to the arrival of Neoptolemus, and to the south-west was the kingdom of the Thesprotians, on the coast. All three tribes formed the most powerful elements of the previous smaller tribes in the region. At first, it seems that the (semi-legendary) early kingdom of Epirus formed by Mycenaeans probably equated only to the central regions of the later Epirote kingdom, the region held by the Molossians themselves.

Intriguingly, the Chaonian name is remarkably similar to that of the Chaones, or Chones, of Iron Age Italy. The dominant Chaonians seem to have been usurped in the lower Balkans by the arrival of the Mycenaean Greeks in the twelfth century, which is perhaps a century before many Illyrians migrated from the southern Balkans into south-eastern Italy. Greek authors thought these Illyrians had a Greek origin, so the possibility is suggested that the Italic Chones may have been Epirote Chaonians who migrated out of the lower Balkans in the eleventh or tenth century, after losing their domination.


Renowned for his brutality. Overthrown by Neoptolemus?

c.1183 BC

Following the conclusion of the Trojan War and the sack of Troy, Neoptolemus and his Phthian followers settle in Epirus, far to the north of the growing chaos caused by the Doric invasion of Greece and the collapse of Mycenaean civilisation. There they found the city of Buthrotum and interbreed with the local inhabitants, becoming part of the population. Neoptolemus brings with him Andromache, the widow of Hector of Troy and now his own concubine, and Elenos, a brother of Hector, as a slave.

Epirote mountains
The mountainous landscape of all but coastal Epirus required a hardy inhabitant

Archaeologists have found large tumuli containing shaft graves and remains that are almost certainly the bodies of former leaders. These graves are similar to those of the Mycenaeans, clearly indicating a link between the two, but whether it is the arrival of Mycenaean refugees at the end of the Trojan War that introduces these practises, or they existed because of a shared cultural background beforehand is unknown.

c.1183 - ? BC

Neoptolemus / Neoptolemos

Son of Achilles of Phthia. Murdered at Delphi.

After the death of Neoptolemus, Elenos marries Andromache and rules the kingdom with her alongside him. His friend or brother from Troy, Chaon, is probably an invention by later Greeks to give the neighbouring Chaonians an air of legitimacy in their claim to be a Greek or Trojan peoples. Chaon gives his own life to save his followers so when Elenos gains the kingdom he names part of his after Chaon in his honour.

Elenos / Helenus

Son of Priam of Troy.


Friend or brother of Elenos. Eponymous founder of Chaonians.

After the death of Elenos, Andromache retires to Pergamum to live with her son, King Pergamus. Her son Molossos, the eponymous founder of the tribe into which the Mycenaean contingent under Neoptolemus has already settled, gains the Epirote throne.


Son of Neoptolemus and Andromache.


fl c.1125 BC


Legendary king who fought Brutus of Latium.

Geoffrey of Monmouth expands on a story recorded by Nennius for his twelfth century AD work, History of the Kings of Britain. He covers the founding of Celtic Britain by reciting the story of Brutus, who is exiled from Italy and finds his way to Greece. There, he finds the descendants of fellow Trojans who are slaves under Pandrasus, 'King of the Greeks'. The two go to war to decide the fate of the slaves and Brutus wins. He marries the king's daughter, Imogen and takes his new followers to Britain, which they occupy as their own.



11th century BC

Epirus fades from view as far as oral tradition is concerned. Nothing more is known of the kingdom until the fifth century BC, at which point it appears to have continued to survive, possibly continuously.

c.770 BC

According to the Chronicon by Eusebius, Caranus takes his followers north from Argos to aid the king of the Orestae, who is at war with his neighbours, the Eordaei. The Orestae are possibly an Epirote tribe who occupy a location in central northern Greece, to the north-east of Epirus itself and immediately north-west of Mount Olympus.

The king promises Caranus half his territory in return for his successful aid. The Orestae are indeed successful and the king keeps his promise, probably giving Caranus the eastern half of the territory where he founds the Macedonian kingdom. The Macedonians appear to enjoy close and friendly relations with the Epirotes from the very beginning, which supports the idea that the Orestae themselves are Epirotes.

fl c.560 BC


King? A suitor for Agariste of Sicyon.

5th century BC

By this time, the Molossians of Epirus appear to have largely absorbed or merged with the Chaonians to the north and the Thesprotians to the south. This absorption probably serves to form the territory that is ruled as part of Epirus as it is known to the emerging Classical Greeks. It seems to be little more than a political absorption, however, as all three tribes are able to separately dictate their fate at the formation of the Epirote League in 325 or 320 BC.

The Epirotes live a less advanced life than do their Hellenic cousins further south. The city or polis is unknown here, with most people living in small villages instead. The region remains a frontier territory, forever fending off the Illyrians to the north, but the existence of the oracle at Dodona makes Epirus a much more important state that it might otherwise be, as the oracle is second only to Delphi in its importance.


c.469 - 450 BC

Admitos / Admetos

468 - 459 BC

Admitos opposes Themistocles, who is in effective control of Athens, but the two do not come to blows over the issue.

c.450 - 423 BC


Name unknown.

c.423 - 395 BC


c.395 - 370 BC

Alcetas I

First Aeacid king.

385 BC

The Molossians are attacked by Illyrians, part of a plot which has been instigated and supported by Dionysius of Syracuse. He wants to place Alcetas on the Epirote throne as part of his plan to control the entire Ionian Sea. Sparta intervenes and expels the Illyrians after defeating them in battle, although the Illyrians are reputed to kill 15,000 Molossians and ravage the region before this happens.

c.370 - 360 BC

Neoptelemus I

Son. Numbering seems to ignore Neoptolemus of c.1183 BC.

370 BC

Neoptelemus begins the consolidation of the Epirote kingdom at the expense of neighbouring tribes, although just how centralised his kingdom becomes is open to debate given the apparently semi-independent nature of the three main Epirote tribes in later years. Some sources claim that Neoptelemus and his brother, Arybbas, agree to divide the kingdom upon the death of their father and the two are able to rule their respective territories in peace. The kingdom is reunited under Arybbas following the death of his brother.

360 - 342 BC

Arybbas / Arymbas

Brother. Deposed by Philip II of Macedonia.

360 BC

A further attack by Illyrians sees Arybbas pull all non-combatants out of the region, evacuating them to Aetolia. The Illyrians, freely looting Epirus, are surprised by the Epirote troops while weighed down with their booty and are easily defeated.

359 BC

Olympias, the niece of Arybbas, marries Philip II of Macedonia. The union is partly to combine resources to ward off the dangerous Illyrian tribes to the north-west, but it also cements an alliance between the two kingdoms that helps to forge an empire, as Olympias gives birth to Alexander the Great in 356 BC.

342 - 331 BC

Alexander I Molossus

Son of Neoptelemus. Killed in battle by Rome on Sicily.

334 - 331 BC

At the request of the embattled Greek colony of Taras, Alexander embarks with a force of Epirotes, Macedonians and Tarantines to Italy. He fights the Italic tribes of the Brutii and Lucani, and in 332 defeats an alliance of Lucani and Samnites near Paestum. In the same year he concludes a treaty with the Romans and continues battling against the other Italic peoples. He captures Heraclea from the Lucani and then Sipontum and Terina from the Brutii but, having been forced to accept battle at Pandosia (in Calabria), he is killed by a Lucani exile. The defeat is a significant one as it marks the end of any new Greek colonisation in Italy and teaches the Italians how to defeat the phalanx, which is completely outmanoeuvred on rocky ground by the fast-moving Italics.

331 - 323 BC

Neoptelemus II


325/320 BC

The Epirote League is formed. All three Epirote tribes, the Chaonians (in north-western Epirus), Molossians (in the centre of Epirus), and Thesprotians (in the south-west of Epirus, along the coast), elect to join the league, suggesting that although they might be united politically within the Epirote kingdom, they are still in charge of their individual fates. The three are now united in a loosely federated state under the control of the Molossian king that subsequently becomes a major regional power, and therefore marks itself as an obstacle to the growing power of republican Rome.

323 - 322 BC



322 - 317 BC


Son. Deposed and took refuge with the Illyrians.

319 - 315 BC

Polyperchon, regent of Macedonia, allies himself to Eumenes during the Second War of the Diadochi, but is driven from Macedonia by Cassander, and flees to Epirus with the infant king Alexander IV and his mother Roxana. The new regent, Cassander, captures Alexander IV and Roxana, and Eumenes is defeated in Asia and murdered by his own troops.

317 - 313 BC

Neoptelemus II

Restored, but apparently dominated by Macedonia.

313 BC


Restored by the people after Neoptelemus is deposed.

313 BC

In response to the restoration of Aeacides at the expense of his own compliant king in Epirus, Cassander of Macedonia sends an army into Epirus during the Third War of the Diadochi. Aeacides is defeated twice, and is killed during the second defeat.

313 - 307 BC

Alcetas II

307 - 302 BC

Pyrrhus I

Son of Aeacides.

Deidamia I

Sister. m Demetrius I Poliorcetes of Macedonia.

302 BC

Pyrrhus is dethroned by his enemy, Cassander of Macedonia, and the far more obedient Neoptelemus II is restored to the throne. However, Pyrrhus wins the support of Ptolemy I of Egypt and regains the throne in 297 BC.

302 - 297 BC

Neoptelemus II

Restored for the second time and murdered by Pyrrhus.

297 - 272 BC

Pyrrhus I

Restored. Also co-ruler of Macedonia (288-285 & 274-272 BC).

295 - 286 BC

Pyrrhus moves his capital to Ambrakia (now Arta) in 295 BC, and subsequently goes to war against his former ally and brother-in-law, Demetrius I Poliorcetes of Macedonia. By 286 BC he has conquered Macedonia for himself, although he is expelled by his former ally, Lysimachus, in 285 BC.

Pyrrhus I
Pyrrhus I was arguably the greatest king of Epirus

282 BC

The growing power of Rome has saved the Greek colony of Thurii from being overwhelmed by the Italics, but the colony of Tarentum intervenes, sinking some of the Roman ships. Rome declares war on Tarentum, and Pyrrhus declares for Tarentum, as do many of the southern Italic peoples, including the Brutii, Lucani, and Samnites.

277 - 275 BC

Pyrrhus conquers Syracuse in 277 BC, and holds it for two years, with support being given by the Italian tribe, the Messapii. His hard but costly fighting against Rome on the island brings the kingdom a brief sense of importance. It is also his costly victories which inspire the term 'pyrrhic victory', as a victory with such high loses is no real victory at all. When Pyrrhus leaves Sicily, one of his former generals, Hieron, is appointed commander-in-chief of the Syracusan armed forces and is made king in 270 BC.

272 BC

Pyrrhus goes to war against Antigonus of Macedonia for his lack of support during the war against Rome, but Pyrrhus finds himself trapped inside the walls of Argos with Antigonus surrounding him with superior forces. Trying to extricate himself, his unit of elephants is thrown into confusion and causes further chaos in which Pyrrhus is struck by a tile thrown by an old woman. Zopyrus, one of Antigonus' soldiers, kills the king. His entire veteran army goes over to the victorious Macedonian king, greatly increasing his power.

272 - c.260 BC

Alexander II

Son. m his sister, Olympias II.

c.260 - c.240 BC

Olympias II

Wife, and regent for her two sons, Pyrrhus II and Ptolemy.

c.260 - 237? BC

Pyrrhus II

Son. Gained his independence about 255 BC.

237? - 235 BC



248 - 233 BC

Deidamia II / Deidameia / Laodamia

Daughter of Pyrrhus II. Murdered in the Temple of Artemis.

235 - ?

Pyrrhus III

235 - 165 BC

Determined to rule themselves rather than remain under the rule of kings, the people of Epirus are governed by the republic which is formed about 235 BC, retaining the title of the Epirote League. The Aeacids are exterminated between 235 and about 233 BC. Perhaps the only survivor is Nereis, sister of Deidamia, who is married to Gelon II of Syracuse. The reasons for this sudden extermination are unclear, and may involve a possible unpopularity with the Macedonian alliance and pressure by the Aetolians. It certainly serves to gravely weaken Macedonia.

Epirus is somewhat reduced in territory, with the region of Acarnania in south-eastern Epirus declaring its independence, and the Aetolians seize Ambracia, Amphilochia and the remaining territory to the north of the Ambracian Gulf. A new capital is quickly established at Phoenice, to the north of Epirus.

228 BC

The Chaonian city of Bouthroton to the north of Epirus (now in the far south-west of Albania) becomes a Roman protectorate along with the island of Corfu which lays opposite it.

200 - 196 BC

The Epirote League remains uneasily neutral during the Second Macedonian War (as it did during the first war), in which Philip V of Macedonia is defeated at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC, while his general, Androsthenes, is defeated near Corinth.

172 - 168 BC

Perseus of Macedonia and Rome renew fighting in the Third Macedonian War. Epirus is split, with the Chaonians and Thesprotians siding with Rome and the Molossians allying themselves to Macedonia. The result is a disaster for Epirus, with the Chaonians being annexed by Rome in 170 BC. The sudden loss of a large portion of territory probably allows Harops to seize control as tyrant.

167 BC

The Roman army of Aemilius Paulus destroys the temple of Zeus at Dodona in Epirus. Presumably the temple is subsequently rebuilt by the Greeks, only for it to be destroyed again by the great Scordisci-led attack on Roman control in 88 BC.

165 - 159 BC



159 BC

The kingdom is conquered by Rome, with thousands of its inhabitants being enslaved and the region being plundered so thoroughly that it takes centuries to recover. Epirus remains within the Roman empire and its subsequent eastern division for the next seven hundred and fifty years or so. In 146 BC it is incorporated into the new province of Macedonia.

3rd century AD

Following reforms by Roman Emperor Diocletian at the end of the third century, Epirus Vetus is removed from the province of Macedonia. This area covers modern north-western Greece and a small part of southern Albania. Epirus Nova (Illyria Graeca) lies to its north (now forming much of the territory of Albania except the northernmost districts).

AD c.600 - 1204

Epirus is taken from the Eastern Roman empire by Slavic émigrés. It is retaken by Byzantium in 916 and lost again, to Bulgaria, in 988. Once again regained by Byzantium in 1014 it is held until the Fourth Crusade's invasion of the empire in 1204. Claimants to the Byzantine throne set up rival powerbases, including one centred on Epirus.