History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 0

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Eastern Mediterranean

 

Pelasgians (Greece)
Incorporating Pelasgiotis, plus the Aegialian Pelasgians & Cranai

The term 'Pelasgian' (or Pelasgoi) was used by the Classical Greeks to denote pre-Hellenic peoples in Greece, Crete, and beyond, in ancient south-eastern Europe. They spoke a language or languages which were identifiably non-Greek at the time, and could be termed 'barbaric'.

Traditionally they were thought of as peoples who predated the Mycenaeans throughout a large part of Greece, these parts generally being in the east of the country which had been attributed to speakers of ancient East Greek, otherwise known as Ionians. They were already identifiable by the time of the Trojan War, when several contingents fought in support of Troy.

By the classical period, various enclaves of Pelasgians could be found in Greece, the Aegean islands, western Anatolia and, according to legend at least, on the island of Crete. Greek mythology, which begins with the late Mycenaeans, grows during the subsequent dark age period, and reaches its peak during Classical Greece, includes a line of Pelasgian rulers who are eventually subjugated by Greeks.

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 Pelasgians really were pre-Mycenaean Greeks, or were related to them in some way, has not been answered.

Various studies have been conducted, seemingly without widely-accepted success, to try and find identifiable non-Indo-European language elements, while some archaeological digs (notably on Lemnos) identify weaponry which is clearly different from that of the Classical Greeks, but which preserves many elements of Mycenaean weaponry. A tentative conclusion is that the native Pelasgians (and similarly the Leleges) were heavily influenced by the Mycenaeans, but not necessarily part of their culture.

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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 Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), 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.)

c.3000 - 2800 BC

The city of Pavlopetri is founded on the south-eastern coastal tip of the Peloponnese, in southern Laconia (land of the Leleges). Pavlopetri's inhabitants later copy Cretan and mainland styles, making exact ceramic copies of high status Cretan bronze jugs, in effect making cheap copies of expensive exotic goods in much the same way that desirable designer brands are copied today.

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

But the early city is neither a Minoan colony nor a Mycenaean settlement - it predates both peoples in the area, making it more likely to be a Pelasgian settlement which is later subject to heavy Minoan influence or control in the second millennium BC before being absorbed by the Mycenaeans towards the later part of the millennium.

The city flourishes, reaching a peak of sophistication around 2000 BC, by which time it is certainly a Minoan-led city, the Mycenaeans seemingly not yet having arrived even in northern Greece.

fl c.1270s? BC

Pelasgos / Pelasgus

Eponymous ancestor of Pelasgoi. Father of Lycaon of Arcadia.

fl c.1260s? BC

Chloros

Son of Pelasgos and Menippe.

The descendants of the mythical Pelasgos are claimed by Hellicanus of Lesbos as the kings of Pelasgiotis in Thessaly. Pelasgos also has a son named Lycaon, who becomes ruler of Arcadia. Lycaon has four sons of his own: Iapyx, Daunius, Oenotrus, and Peucetius.

Map of Crete
The Bronze Age on Crete began around 3000 BC, quickly leading to the start of the 'Early Minoan Period' and eventual greatness in the second millennium BC

Their names, first recorded in part by Homer around the eighth century BC, have already been thoroughly Hellenised, leaving no trace of their original nature (if the bearers of those names had existed at all, of course - and the mythical Hellen of Phthia himself seems to be guilty of absorbing Pelasgians into Mycenaean culture).

They lead their people across the Adriatic Sea from Illyria (thereby integrating them into historical migrations of Illyrian tribes) into south-western Italy, where they settle, mixing in with the native population which is probably formed of Italics. More Pelasgians arrive on Crete.

The main group in Italy fragments into at least five segments: the Dauni, Iapyges, Messapii, Oenotri, and Peucetii. Ancient authors also suggest a similar origin for the Itali, Morgetes, and Siculi.

fl c.1240s? BC

Phrastor

Brother. First king of Pelasgiotis?

fl c.1230s? BC

Amyntor

Son.

fl c.1210s? BC

Teutamides / Teutamus

Son.

fl c.1200 BC

Nasas / Nanas

Son. Last Pelasgian king of Pelasgiotis.

Hellicanus of Lesbos writes for a fifth century BC audience. He states that the Pelasgian subjects of Nasas, king of Pelasgiotis in Thessaly (dated due to his Trojan War connection which is detailed below), rise up against the Hellenes, suggesting that the latter have conquered Thessaly and made Nasas a vassal.

First Theatre of Larissa
The ruins of the third century BC theatre of Larissa are not Pelasgian as such, as there is little remaining which could categorically be attributed to them

The Pelasgians depart for Italy where they take Crotona and subsequently found Tyrrhenia, placing them as ancestors of the Etruscans. While this is unlikely, the possibility exists that the Pelasgians settle alongside and are later absorbed by the Etruscans.

There are clearly many other Pelasgian populations around Greece and the Aegean. Herodotus mentions those who remain 'above the Tyrrheni in the city of Creston', and others who formerly inhabited Placia and Scylace on the Hellespont.

These latter two 'came to live among the Athenians' as the Cranai, although they clearly retain their own language at the time. They are later resettled by the Athenians on Lemnos, coming to be known as the Hellespontine Pelasgians, and having to be reconquered by Athens.

Aegeus and the Oracle
Aegeus, grandson of the semi-mythical King Erichthonius of Athens, consults the Oracle at Delphi for advice regarding his lack of a male heir despite two marriages

The Ionians of the Peloponnesus are known as the Aegialian Pelasgians. Many other towns with Pelasgian residents and names are later renamed by Hellenic newcomers, including those on Lemnos and Imbros, and perhaps Corinth too.

12th century BC

Larissa is a common name for Pelasgian towns or cities wherever they settle. There are examples in Argos, on the border of the plain of the Caystrus, in Cuma, the territory of Ephesus, near Tralles (which itself is a Pelasgian town), in Thessaly, and in the Troad, while Lesbos itself is so thoroughly Pelasgian that it is even known as Pelasgia (according to Strabo).

c.1183 BC

As Mycenae declares war on Troy, Priam of Troy musters his multinational swathe of allies, many of whom do not even speak the same tongue. These include contingents of Pelasgians from several locations in western Anatolia including Larissa.

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

Two such Pelasgian heroes are Hippothous and Pylaeus, sons of Lethus whose own brother is Nasus, last Pelasgian king of Pelasgiotis. Hippothous is killed by Ajax during the fight for the body of Patroclus, and Pylaeus seemingly alongside him.

In the Iliad, the Achaeans beach their ships in the final year of the conflict and set up camp near the mouth of the River Scamander (modern Karamenderes, five kilometres further inland than today, pouring into a bay).

The city of Troy itself stands on a hill, across the plain of Scamander, which is where the battles of the Trojan War take place. After fighting to a stalemate, the Mycenaeans finally enter and sack Troy.

5th century BC

Some Pelasgian colonies still exist, especially it seems in Arcadia in the Peloponnese. Another territory on the north-western Aegean coast is Pelasgiotis, which lies immediately to the south of Pieria. The helots of Sparta may also be Pelasgians.

Aigai
The ruins of Aigai (Aegae, modern Vergina), which was originally within the 'country of the Illyrians' according to Herodotus but which became the original capital of the early Macedonian kingdom

This location would seen to make it the same colony as that of the legendary Pelasgiotis of Phrastor and his descendants (see above). The name and Pelasgian culture of its inhabitants has clearly survived the fall of its native kings.

Now it is conquered - around 500 BC - by the growing Macedonian kingdom. From this date onwards the Pelasgians are gradually absorbed into the general Greek population.

 
Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.