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European Kingdoms

Eastern Mediterranean

 

Leleges (Greece)

The term 'Leleges' was used by the Classical Greeks to denote one fairly specific group of pre-Hellenic people in Greece and beyond, in ancient south-eastern Europe. They spoke a language which was identifiably non-Greek at the time, and could perhaps be termed 'barbaric'.

Traditionally they were thought of as a people who predated the Mycenaeans in part of Greece, that part generally being Laconia, later location of the city and city state of Sparta. They were already identifiable by the time of the Trojan War, when several contingents fought in support of Troy.

Greek mythology, which begins with the late Mycenaeans, grows during the subsequent dark age period, and reaches its peak during Classical Greece, includes a king of the Leleges whose descendants intermarried with Mycenaeans to create Sparta. His story, largely mythical, can be seen as a way of describing the integration of Mycenaeans with the Leleges, and then their joint blending into later-arriving Dorian rulers of the city.

The pre-Mycenaean occupants of Greece and the islands gained between 62% and 86% of their DNA from people who had introduced farming from Anatolia as part of the Neolithic cultures of 'Old Europe' - starting in Greece itself with the Sesklo culture. Modern Greek DNA includes them in its overall mixture.

By the time of the Mycenaean arrival they were experienced farmers and potters, shepherds and fishers. However, to date, the question of whether the Leleges really were pre-Mycenaean Greeks, or were related to them in some way, has not been answered.

More than one ancient Greek writer links them to the Carians in Anatolia. Indeed, they seem to have been the original inhabitants of Miletus, and also the city of Pedasus and several others in the region. However, writers are also careful to distinguish them from the Carians themselves, which intimates a colony of Leleges people rather than this being their native homeland.

General confusion does exist regarding whether the Leleges were actual Carians, or perhaps even Pelasgians. Herodotus provides what could be the best answer by stating that they were inhabitants of the Aegean islands, which easily explains potential colonisation both eastwards (into Caria to escape later Dorian dominance) and westwards (into Laconia).

Various studies have been conducted, seemingly without widely-accepted success, to try and find identifiable non-Indo-European language elements. However, little is known about the native Leleges language, making such investigations extremely difficult. A tentative conclusion is that they (and similarly the Pelasgians) were heavily influenced by the Mycenaeans, but not necessarily part of their culture, to start with at least.

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the John De Cleene Archive, from The Iliad, Homer (Translated by E V Rieu, Penguin Books, 1963), from the Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius (3rd century BC Greek epic poem), from Hammond Historical Atlas (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1963), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from The Rise of the Greeks, Michael Grant (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987), from The Early Greeks, R J Hopper (Barnes & Noble Books (NY), 1976), and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Greeks really do have near-mythical origins, ancient DNA reveals (Science), and Explore Crete, and Deipnosophists, Athenaeus (early third century AD, and available online at Attalus).)

fl c.1280s? BC

Lelex

King of Lelegia (Laconia).

The birth of Lelex is traditional ascribed to the gods, and specifically Poseidon or Helios. Whatever oral history preserves his name therefore has not retained his parentage. He is described as a Leleges ruler, a pre-Mycenaean group in Greece.

Pavlopetri
Modern computer graphics show a reconstructed Pavlopetri - a possible Pelasgian city - based on surviving ruins and remnants of the street plan, all of which still exist about three metres under the sea

1200s BC

The city of Miletus predates the arrival of Greeks in Anatolia. It begins as a Neolithic settlement of the Leleges people, but in the 1200s BC they are largely displaced or absorbed by Indo-European Luwian speakers.

However, preceding Minoan settlement into 'Milatos' as it is known at this date may already have spelled the end of the Leleges as a recognisable group (at least, one which is not enslaved). After this period, late Mycenaean settlement creates the kingdom of Ahhiyawa in this region.

c.1200 - 1140 BC

Mycenaean power is gradually eroded by the Dorians who are migrating in from the Balkans, with domination coming by 1140 BC. The surviving Ionic-speaking Mycenaeans gather and flourish in Athens or perhaps in conquered Levantine territories which probably include Phillistia, or in new colonies which have been founded well away from the Dorians.

Map of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Greece 1900-1650 BC
The proto-Mycenaeans seem to have been amongst the last of the western Indo-European centum-speakers to take to the road, following a path which had been trodden by related tribes for the past thousand years (click or tap on map to view full sized)

These include Epirus in north-western Greece and Pamphylia in Anatolia, but it also seems likely that Mycenaeans form groups within the Sea Peoples who ravage the eastern Mediterranean in this period.

All Mycenaean palaces and fortified sites are destroyed and a major proportion of other sites are abandoned. The population of the Peloponnese appears to decline by about seventy-five percent. Mycenae itself remains occupied, but is burned twice in succession and survives in a much-reduced state and size, never again to hold the reins of power.

Once the Hittites had been destroyed around 1200 BC, and the Mycenaeans had themselves (probably) smashed Troy, the colonisation of the western coast of Anatolia could begin (the possibility that the earlier Ahhiyawa may also be a Mycenaean colony notwithstanding).

Hittite pottery of an Ahhiyawan?
Shown here is a representation on Hittite pottery of an Anatolian warrior of about 1350 BC, possibly representing an Ahhiyawan

This would seem to be the most likely - and popular - avenue of Mycenaean escape from the mainland. Once there they form or take over states or regions such as Caria, Lycia, and Maeonia, and perhaps Pamphylia, between about 1100 to 900 BC. Those states themselves usually survive until they are conquered by the later great empires.

fl 1180s BC

Altes

King of the Leleges of Pedasus in Caria.

c.1193 - 1183 BC

As detailed in Homer's Iliad, Agamemnon of Mycenae amasses the forces of his allied Achaean kingdoms and sails from Greece, determined to attack Troy.

In response, Troy gathers together its own allies, including those of Dardania, the Halizones, the Hyrtacidae, Karkissa, Kolonae, Larissa, Lycia, Maeonia, Mysia, Paphlagonia, Percote, Phrygia, Thrace, and Zeleia, along with the Leleges, and also Pelasgians from several locations in western Anatolia (and especially from the Troad region around Troy itself).

Artist's impression of Troy
This illustration is another artist's impression of an unspecified version of Troy, although it is believed to be based on the city which existed around the time of the Trojan War, shortly before its defeat and destruction

All of these disparate units are commanded by Hector and Paris of Troy. The allied contingents speak a multitude of languages, so orders have to be translated by each contingent's commander. The Leleges city of Pedasus is sacked by Achilles of Phthia.

The single, ten year war is probably Homer's collecting together of an ongoing conflict, as at one point a Hittite letter to a Mycenaean king briefly waves aside the Wilusa 'problem' and states that the two kings are friends again.

c.400s BC

Many later references exist regarding the Leleges in classical Greece. Philippus of Theangela in the fourth century BC refers to them as serfs of the 'true Carians' while, even later, Strabo attributes a distinctive group of deserted forts and tombs in Caria to the Leleges.

Mycenaean cups
Mycenaean one-handled cups such as these examples appeared on Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age, when Achaean culture dominated parts of the eastern Mediterranean

Plutarch is less direct, but he implies the historic existence of Leleges serfs at Tralles (today's Aydın in Turkey). The Leleges clearly survive as a recognisable group, mainly in Anatolia, until they, like the similar Pelasgians are gradually absorbed into the general Greek population towards the start of the Roman period.

 
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