(Ἤπειρος). A country to the west of Thessaly, lying along the Adriatic. The Greek term, which answers to the English word mainland, appears to have been applied at a very early period to that northwestern portion of Greece which is situated between the chain of Pindus and the Ionian Gulf and between the Ceraunian Mountains and the river Achelosthis name being probably used to distinguish it from the large, populous, and wealthy island of Corcyra, which lay opposite to the coast. It appears that, in very ancient times, Acarnania was also included in the term, and in that case the name must have been used in opposition to all the islands lying along the coast ( Homer Od.xiv. 100).
The inhabitants of Epirus were scarcely considered Hellenic. The population in early times had been Pelasgic. The oracle at Dodona was always called Pelasgic, and many names of places in Epirus were also borne by the Pelasgic cities of the opposite coast of Italy. But irruptions of Illyrians had barbarized the whole nation; and though Herodotus speaks of Thesprotia as a part of Hellas, he refers rather to its old condition, when it was a celebrated seat of the Pelasgians, than to its state at the time when he wrote his history. In their mode of cutting the hair, in their costume, and in their language, the Epirotes resembled the Macedonians, who were an Illyrian race. Theopompus, cited by Strabo, divided the inhabitants of Epirus into fourteen different tribes, of which the most renowned were the Chaonians, Thesprotians, and Molossians. The Molossians claimed descent from Molossus, son of Neoptolemus and Andromach. Tradition reported that the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus or Pyrrhus, as he is also called, having crossed from Thessaly into Epirus on his return from the siege of Troy, was induced, by the advice of an oracle, to settle in the latter country, where, having subjugated a considerable extent of territory, he transmitted his newly formed kingdom to Molossus, his son by Andromach, from whom his subjects derived the name of Molossi.
The history of Molossia is involved in great obscurity until the period of the Persian invasion, when the name of Admetus, king of the Molossi, occurs from the circumstance of his having generously afforded shelter to Themistocles when in exile and pursued by his enemies, although the influence of that celebrated statesman had previously been exerted against him in some negotiations which he had carried on at Athens ( Thuc.i. 136). Admetus was succeeded by his son Tharybas or Tharymbas, who appears to have been a minor towards the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, when we find his subjects assisting the Ambraciots in their invasion of Acarnania. Tharybas is represented by Plutarch ( Pyrrh.) as a wise and able monarch, and as encouraging science and literature. His successor is not known; but some years after, we hear of a prince called Alcetas, who was dethroned by his subjects but restored by Dionysius of Syracuse (Pausan. i. 11). Neoptolemus, his son, reigned but for a short time and left the crown to his brother Arybas, together with the care of his children. Alexander, the eldest of these, succeeded his uncle, and was the first sovereign of Epirus who raised the character and fame of that country among foreign nations by his talents and valour. His sister Olympias had been married to Philip of Macedon before his accession to the throne of Epirus, and the friendship thus cemented between the two monarchs was still further strengthened by the union of Alexander with Cleopatra , the daughter of Philip. It was during the celebration of their nuptials at Edessa [p. 611]
that the king of Macedon was assassinated. Alexander of Epirus seems to have been an ambitious prince, desirous of conquest and renown. There is good reason for believing that he united the Chaonians, Thesprotians, and other Epirotic clans, together with the Molossians, under his sway, as we find the title of king of Epirus first assumed by him ( Diod. Sic.xvi. 72). Having been applied to by the Tarentines to aid them against the attacks of the Lucani and Bruttii, he eagerly seized this opportunity of adding to his fame and enlarging his dominions. He therefore crossed over into Italy with a considerable force, and, had he been properly seconded by the Tarentines and the other colonies of Magna Graecia, the barbarians, after being defeated in several engagements, must have been conquered. But Alexander, being left to his own resources and exertions, was at length surrounded by the enemy and slain (B.C. 326) near Pandosia in the Bruttian territory (Livy, viii. 24). On the death of Alexander the crown devolved on his cousin Aeacides, the son of Arybas, the former king, of whom little is known, except that, having raised an army to assist Olympias against Cassander, his soldiers mutinied and deposed him; not long after, however, he appears to have been reinstated. His brother Alcetas, who succeeded him, was engaged in a war with Cassander, which proved disastrous; for, being defeated, his dominions were overrun by the forces of his victorious enemy, and he himself was put to death by his rebellious subjects. The name of Pyrrhus, who now ascended the throne, gives to the history of Epirus an importance it never would otherwise have possessed. (See Pyrrhus.) Alexander, the eldest son of Pyrrhus, succeeded his father, whom he sought to emulate by attempting afresh the conquest of Macedon. On this occasion Antigonus Gonatas was again vanquished and driven from his dominions. But Demetrius, his son, having raised another army, attacked Alexander and presently compelled him to evacuate the Macedonian territory ( Just.xxvi. 3). At the expiration of two other insignificant reigns, the royal line of the Aeacidae becoming extinct, the Epirots determined to adopt a republican form of government, which prevailed until the subjugation of Macedon by the Romans. Having been accused of favouring Perseus in the last Macedonian War, they became the objects of the bitterest vengeance of the Romans, who treated them with unusual severity. Aemilius Paullus destroyed seventy of their towns and sold 150,000 of the inhabitants into slavery. Epirus, having lost its independence, was then annexed as a province to the Roman Empire. See Merleker, Darstellung des Landes und der Berwohner von Epeiros (Knigsberg, 1841); and Bowen, Athos, Thessaly, and Epirus (London, 1852).