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Alexander of Molossis
, 370 - 331
King of Molossis (350-331), uncle of Alexander the Great, known
for his invasion of Italy in 334.
Alexander was born as the first son of Neoptolemus, the king of the
Molossians, one of the greatest tribes in Epirus.
They lived in the neighborhood of modern Ioannina
in Greece. During Neoptolemus'
reign, the tribe became more sedentary; urbanization started and we hear about
scribes and other administrative officials. From now on, the Molossis was the
most important part of Epirus.
When Neoptolemus died (c.360 BCE), his brother Arybbas became king.
He strengthened his position by a treaty with the new king of Macedonia, Philip
II (359-336). The alliance was cemented by a diplomatic marriage: Neoptolemus'
daughter Olympias became queen of Macedonia. Her younger brother Alexander was
sent to Macedonia as well, to receive a Greek education.
In 350, Philip invaded Molossis and installed Alexander as king. Arybbas
fled to Athens, where he
died peacefully in 342. Since it would be irresponsible to make a boy king, we
may infer from the date of Alexander's accession that he was born about 370.
Hardly anything is known about his reign, except for the fact that
he subdued the other Epirote tribes and offered asylum to Olympias when she had
fallen into disgrace in 337. Alexander was not very steadfast, however: when Philip
offered him the hand of Cleopatra, his daughter by Olympias, he agreed to the
marriage, allowing Olympias to become very isolated. The death of Philip in October
336 prevented that he had to extradite his sister.
The new Macedonian king was Alexander the Great, who set out to conquer
the east. In 334, Alexander of Molossis decided to intervene in the west, where
the divided Greek colonies in Italy were threatened by the federation of mountain
tribes that is known as the Samnites. They were formidable warriors who had, in
the preceding century, conquered several Greek towns. Usually, the Italian Greeks
hired mercenaries in the mothercountry to help them. For example, king Archidamus
of Sparta had campaigned
in Italy between 343 and 338.
Support of the Greeks in Italy was probably not the only motive for
Alexander's actions on the other side of the Adriatic. The struggle against pirates
must have been an additional motive.
Our most important source for Alexander's campaign is the Roman historian
Titus Livy (59 BCE - 17 CE), who describes it in book eight of the History of
Rome from its foundation, chapter 24. He states that Alexander accepted an invitation
from the Tarentines. His most important motive was, according to Livy, that there
was an oracle that told him that he would be killed near the Acheron,
a river in western Greece. But, as it turned out, in order to escape his destiny,
he ran at it.
He conquered Heraclea
(a Greek town that had been captured by the Italian tribes), took Sipontum (one
of the pirate's ports), and captured Consentia
and Terina. The tribes were
defeated several times, and Alexander opened negotiations with the leading power
in Central-Italy, Rome, which feared war with the Samnite federation as well.
He seemed to be in control of the situation, when his army was unexpectedly
attacked near Pandosia. Although he was able to cut the losses and kill the enemy
leader, it was a severe setback. When he tried to bring his army in safety by
crossing a river, he was murdered by one of his allies. As it turned out, the
river was called Acheron, just like the river in western Greece.
Livy dates the death of Alexander in the consulship of Gaius Poetelius
Libo Visolus and Lucius Papirius Cursor. They were consuls from July 323 to June
322 BCE (the common identification with the year 326 is wrong; click here for
chronological note). This must be a confusion with the date on which the news
of the death of the other Alexander, the Macedonian conqueror of Persia, reached
Rome. But Livy also offers
another date: he says it happens at the time of the foundation of Alexandria.
That happened in the first weeks of 331, and this must be more or less right.
Alexander's campaign gave the Greeks in southern Italy some respite
and weakened the Italian tribes. They fell victim to the Romans. Their war against
the Samnite federation lasted -with a brief pause between 303 and 298- from 322
until 290. After that, war between the Italian Greeks and Romans was inevitable.
Alexander's great-nephew Pyrrhus helped the Greeks, but in vain: in 272, Tarente
was forced to conclude a peace treaty.
In the end, the campaigns of Alexander served no real purpose. The
Italian Greeks were doomed. However, they were not subjected by the Samnites,
but by the Romans. The Mediterranean world was bound to become a unity, but in
331 it was not obvious that Rome would be the leading power. Alexander helped
to pave the way.
His wife Cleopatra returned to Macedonia and played a role in the
wars of the Diadochi, the successors of Alexander the Great.
Jona Lendering, ed.
This text is cited July 2003 from the Livius Ancient History Website URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks.
Arribas, Arrybas, Arymbas or Tharrytas
Arribas, Arrybas, Arymbas or Tharrytas, a descendant cf Achilles, and one of the early kings of the Molossians in Epeirus. When he came to the possession of the throne, he was yet very young, and being the last surviving member of the royal family, his education was conducted with great care, and he was sent to Athens with this view. On his return he displayed so much wisdom that he won the affection and admiration of his people. He flamed for them a code of laws, and established a regular constitution, with a senate and annual magistrates. The accounts of this king cannot, of course, be received as historical, and he must be looked upon as one of the mythical ancestors of the royal house of the Molossians, to whom they ascribed the foundation of their political institutions (Justin, xvii. 3; Plut. Pyrrh. 1; Paus. i. 11.1). The grandfather of Pyrrhus also bore the name of Arymbas. (Diod. xvi. 72)
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Admetus (Admetos), king of the Molossians in the time of Themistocles, who, when
supreme at Athens, had opposed him, perhaps not without insult, in some suit to
the people. But when flying from the officers who were ordered to seize him as
a party to the treason of Pausanias, and driven from Corcyra to Epirus, he found
himself upon some emergency, with no hope of refuge but the house of Admetus.
Admetus was absent; but Phthia his queen welcomed the stranger, and bade him,
as the most solemn form of supplication among the Molossians, take her son, the
young prince, and sit with him in his hands upon the hearth. Admetus on his return
home assured him of protection; according to another account in Plutarch, he himself,
and not Pthia enjoined the form as affording him a pretext for refusal : he, at
any rate, shut his ears to all that the Athenian and Lacedaemonian commissioners,
who soon afterwards arrived, could say; and sent Themistocles safely to Pydna
on his way to the Persian court. (Thuc. i. 136, 137; Plut. Them. 24)
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Sep 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
- Admetus+Molossians: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
Olympias (4th century BC)
King Philip II of Macedonia's wife, mother of Alexander the Great and sister of
the king of Epirus,
Olympias was known both for her beauty as well as her dark character.
She was suspected of murdering Philip after he had divorced her to marry the young
Cleopatra, and it was rumoured she ran through the forests at night, orgiasticaly
honouring the god Dionysus and his mysteries.
After Alexander's death, Olympias took on his young wife Roxane and
her son Alexander, who had been born a few months after his fathers' death. Olympias
had allied with the general Polysperchon against Antipatros' son Cassandros. She
had many of Philips' friends, mistresses and children murdered, as well as Alexander's
wife Statira and her sister.
When Polysperchon was defeated by Cassandros' army, Olympias fled
with Roxane and Alexander. Polysperchon captured them soon, and Olympias was excecuted
after a trial her victims' families held. Roxane and Alexander were also killed,
as well as other family members of Alexander the Great.
This text is cited Sept 2003 from the In2Greece URL below.
Aeacides. A patronymic used of any descendant of Aeacus, such as Peleus, Telamon, Phocus, Achilles, Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, and Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, who claimed descent from Achilles.
Molossi grew to still greater power, partly because of the kinship of their kings, who belonged to the family of the Aeacidae, and partly because of the fact that the oracle at Dodona was in their country, an oracle both ancient and renowned. (Perseus Project - Strabo, Geography 7.7.5)
- Perseus: Strabo, Geography