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Situated on the Adriatic coast of Greece, the ancient region of Epirus is an ancient land which typifies most of Greece - a land of mountains close to the seas. As such, unlike the rest of the Greek country Epirus is a harsh and cold land, with agricultural activity in the region concentrated on the coastline. By the end of the 7th century BCE, Epirus was dominated by a trio of tribes - the Chaonians, the Thesprotians and the Molossians - the latter eventually establishing a monarchy in the region over the course of three centuries thereafter. Although they hung aloof from most other city-states, the Epirotes were one-etime allies of the Macedonians and often embroiled in wars in Italy due to their close proximity to the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia. This eventually brought them in conflict with Rome, which eventually saw the destruction of the Epirote kingdom and the loss of their independence as well.
Kings of the MountainsEdit
Being the home of humans ever since the earliest days of man, the hills of Epirus were home to a host of tribes. By the 7th century, however, three tribes eventually became dominant: the Molossians, who claimed descent from the hero Achilles; and the tribal confederacies of the Chaonians and the Thesprotians. Because of the poor soil of the mountainous lands, the Epirotes did not live in citadels or poleis, but instead lived in villages scattered throughout the highlands of the interior. The most notable cities of this land were Ephyra and Dodona — the latter becoming the capital of the Epirote league in the last days of independence in the Classical Era.
Although many considered the Epirotes little better than barbarians, Epirus itself still retained strong cultural significance for the Greeks, with associations with Zeus and Hades. The Ancient Greeks believed that Epirus was where the entrance to Hades, the land of the dead, was located near the Acheron river — eventually a shrine to Hades and Persephone was built where this river was thought to merge with two other rivers thought to flow through the underworld at the town of Ephyra, specialising in necromantic rites. Zeus, however, was not neglected either — a shrine to Zeus was founded at Dodona whose specialty, like the temple at Ephyra, was in divination; this temple also had its own oracle and even boasted a sacred grove (although the number of trees in this grove would dwindle down to a single oak by Roman days). It was thought that Thesseus, the captain of the Argo, had used timber from this sacred grove to build his ship, the Argo, giving her the ability to commune with the Gods for guidance.
Whatever cultural significance the region of Epirus had for the Greeks, however, its relative isolation from the rest of Greece meant that it remained somewhat on the periphery of the Greek world. Cut off from the Attic plain and the Peloponnese, and sandwiched between the Macedonians in the east and the Illyrian barbarians to the north and west, Epirus was mostly left to its own devices.
The Phyrric ExpeditionEdit
Epirus as a power in the Helladic peninsula drew prestige from two events: the first was its connections to the now-rising power of Macedon. Long friends to its neighbour to the east, the links between Epirus and Macedon were cemented further in the 4th century BCE with the marriage of an Aeacid princess, Olympias, to Phillip II. Olympias was to become the mother of Alexander III, now know to us as "o Megas" or "the Great" for his subjugation of the Persian Empire and the northern Middle East. The second was that because it was cut off by geography from the rest of Greece, Epirus thus tended to expand its influence in the one direction where there were no true rivals - west into Italy. By the time Alexander the Great passed away while travelling home through Mesopotamia from India, the Greeks like the Phoenicians had established colonies throughout the Western Mediterranean, with notable ones such as the cities of Masillia (now modern Marseilles, France), Neapolis (present-day Naples), Sirakusa (Syracuse, Sicily) and Emporion (near present-day Girona in Spain). Like the Phoenicians, the Greek colonies however were not united and were involved in commercial and military conflict with one another.
This conflict between the many Greek colonies (with varying degrees of loyalty to their sponsors back in Greece) led to intervention from the many other larger powers - the Greek city-states in Hellas, as well as the largest city-state in Italy - Syracuse. Further interference also came from a group of barbarians who dwelled in the southern seas, called the Carthaginians who had already established colonies on Corsica and Sardinia and relations with the many Etruscan overlords in central Italy. The Epirote king, Alexander the Molossian, sailed to southern Italy in 334BCE at the invitation of the city-state of Taras (now present-day Taranto) to aid them against the Italian tribes of the area. Battle was joined against them and by 333BCE, he managed to take Heraclea and Terina, but was betrayed by his new Lucanian subjects and killed at Pandosia in 331BCE. On his deathbed, it was said that Alexander denounced his now more famous cousin (Alexander III of Macedon), saying that compared to the Italians, the Persians were "women".
The next (and undoubtedly more famous) Eiprote expedition into Italy was led by a distant relative of Alexander's named Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus was a skilled commander, but as a man had mercurial habits which led him to having a short attention span. Following the consolidation of his power in 297BCE, Pyrrhus subsequently conquered Thessaly and Macedon, but was driven out in 291BCE. This led to Pyrrhus to accepting a request for military aid from Taras once more - this time against an upstart group of barbarians who called themselves Romans. Following advice from the Oracle at Delphi, Pyrrhus made peace with the Macedonians, obtained help from the Egyptians girded his weapons and sailed across the Ionian to Italy. Although he managed to defeat the Romans many times, the cost to Pyrrus' army was immense, and he was said to have commented after defeating the Romans near Asculum in 279BCE, "another more victory like this, and we will be ruined!" this, however did not dissuade Pyrrhus from staying on: much later, the Siracusans, facing the allied powers of Rome and Carthage, called for help, but got more than what they bargained for - Pyrrhus not only defeated the Carthanginians, but also began planning to annex Sicily into the Epirote kingdom as a fief for his own children. This, along with his preference to negotiate for peace with the Sicilians, soon alienated the Syracusans who then decided to negotiate an alliance with the Carthaginians against Pyrrhus. Simultaneously, the Romans had amassed another army and overran Epirote positions on the Italian peninsula, forcing Pyrrhus to go home. Defeated and bankrupt, Pyrrhus tried to intervene in Sparta and enrich his coffers while doing so, but was killed in Argos 272BCE following a failed sneak attack.
Fall of the MonarchyEdit
Once Pyrrhus was dead, the Epirote state's fate was also sealed. Flush out of funds and weakened by its confrontations with the Romans, the Epirote kingdom was now wracked with court intrigue and rebellion - the same fate also awaited many of the Greek nations, including the great Egyptian and Seleucid empires. The last ruler, Deidamia II, was overthrown in 233BCE and despite holding out for a while, was defeated in battle. Trying to escape, she however could not evade capture and was subsequently executed.
A new republic, the Epirote League was set up. In the wake of the fall of the Aeacid monarchy, Epirus was shorn of several territories, with some of its southern cities having been seized by the Aetolians. The Epirote League tried to stay together, but the social divisions between the three tribes of Epirus soon made this impossible. When the Third Macedonian War broke out, the Chaonians and Thesprotians sided with Rome. Unlike the spirited resistance given by the Macedonians, the Molossians were swiftly brushed aside by the Romans, and like the many other races who had fallen victim to them, were subsequently rounded up and sold off as slaves.
Although life would go on as normal for the survivors, the independence of Epirus had come to an end. Following the invasions of the Serbs in the 15th century, Epirus was briefly resurrected as an independent state, this time under Franco-Italian rule, but it was an ill-fated time to be independent: much later, the Turks would conquer Epirus and retain it as part of the Ottoman millet of "Western Rumelia", this part then rebelled to form modern Greece, and Epirus has remained as part of the Greek nation ever since.