The Albanians and Greeks, descendants of the Illyrians and the ancient Hellenes, have lived in close proximity since prehistoric times. Throughout this time, there has been no defined ethnic lines between them, most likely due to the fact of being part of multi-ethnic empires, such as Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, during which time was also possible for tribes and ethnicities to move within political borders in search of new settlement grounds. Just as in other places, so in extended ethnic Albanian and Greek areas existed comingled populations. One such area was and continues to be the area called Epirus by the ancient Greeks and Cameri by the Albanians.
Millennia of cohabitation have not been marked with known conflicts between them. This is understandable, for the three multiethnic empires that ruled over them treated citizens as a source of fisking and religious gregariousness, not as nationalist militants.
This peaceful reality between the ethnicities changed with the rise of independent states in the Balkans, and the emergence of nationalist claims. This period of fermenting claims saw Greek nationalist circles put forth demands for annexation of Epirus and other parts of southern Albanian.
To enhance this unsustainable claim, the officials in Athens, backed by their historians, have devoted hundreds of publications to the history of Epirus and its various aspects. Of these publications, one with scientific pretensions, Epirus, 4000 years of Greek history and Civilization, M. B. Sakellariou, Athens, 1997, marks a concentrated effort to keep alive Greek claims to Albanian territory on the bases of claims that originated during the 19th century.
This “Epirus” differs from the previous publications on the subject in three aspects: it treats the history of Epirus integrally for the indicated time frame; second, in its preparation partook possibly the most distinguished of today’s Greek historians, third, that no the bases of scientific, political, and moral responsibility holds the approval of Athens Academy…
It is impossible to touch, in a short presentation, on all the factual and scientific methodological diversions about Epirus contained in this book. For this reason, only the major violation will be referred to here. This appraisal will focus on offenses on data relating to the ancient history of Epirus.
Interpretation of history on the bases of a nationalistic point of view is not new with Greek political and social circles. Since creation of the new Greece, from the start, these circles were nourished by two ideological tendencies: from nationalist, illuminist, democratic culture of ancient Greece, and the dogmatic, nationalist, theocratic culture of the Byzantine Empire. With the exception of the Greek language, there was no other commonality between the two ideologies, considering that one was pagan, liberal and democratic, while the other dogmatic Christian, and empire-minded.
Components of classical ideology were remote, one can say unknown to the generations that fought in the war of independence. Understandably, these generations rendered strong support for the components of Byzantine ideology. From the classical world only Homer’s poems about the battle of Troy were adapted. These poems became a second pedagogical bible and it was used to teach Greek generations that which can’t be won with bravery, could be won through a Trojan Horse, treacherously. The treacherous component of the Greek identity was immortalized by Virgil in his poem “Eneida” (11.49) with the line in which the Trojan priest, Laikon, advised his co-citizens not to accept the Greek Horse as a gift: “Beware of the Greek, even when he offers a gift”.
Greek political circles liked the preference of Katherine the Great who would better have Bosphorus ruled by “klimavkion” orthodox than sultan’s Islamic turban, thus encouraging young Greeks to dream for a medieval Byzantine with Constantinople as capital… But this dream did not achieve much. In reality, the history of the new state in this field was a series of failures. Constantinople was lost forever. After embarrassing military defeats, it abandoned its Asia Minor designs. Eastern Thrace could not be recovered. It could not take the desired northern Macedonia. It also failed in the annexation of Cyprus. Only in Epirus it had success in amputating its southern part.
Athens’ hunger for success became acute again now as it is overwhelmed by economic problems. The focus at this time has been on moral success to force Macedonia to change its name, and on a territorial success against Albania with the intention of ripping from it the autonomy of ”northern Epirus”.
As an argument for extraction of “northern Epirus” autonomy, it argues without facts that historic Epirus, which according to it covers also Korce and Gjirokaster, was from the beginning of history, and even currently, to be Greek territory. Toward this purpose, it has put and continues to put its contingent of historians on the move. The latest firing being the mentioned publication, Epirus: 4000 years of Greek History and Civilization, M. B. Sakellariou, Athens, 1997.
Greek historians, always proud of their history, have preferred to write their own “official” history themselves. This because, according to them, non-Greek historians do not are not capable of seeing from their bases of analysis, which considers Hellenism the essence of Greek history. This time they abandoned this tradition. The pre-historic, proto-historic and classical history was entrusted to G. L. Hammond, at that time a professor at the University of Bristol, England, and concurrently honorary professor at Janina University, Greece. Only after reading the references on Hellenism in Epirus, one can understand why the collective of Greek historians have preferred to entrust the job to the British historian. In his treatment of the history of ancient history of Epirus, N. G. L Hammond has gone further than the Greek historians in apologetic evaluation of Hellenism in Epirus.
We have known Hammond from close, from his 1972 visit in Albania. It was then very easy to understand his disinterest in the Albanian past and present history. He sought stubbornly any signs of Greek culture in Albania and refused to consider any evidence, even when it was abundant. When we suggested that he take a look at excavated Illyrian objects exhibited at our museums, he answered: “I am interested in Hellenic evidence not Illyrian objects.” To our retort as to how it is possible to evaluate an isolated Greek trace in midst of multiple Illyrian objects in the same place, he would repeat: “I am not interested in Illyrian objects, I am interested only in Greek culture.” This attitude is evidenced in every paragraph he has written in this publication.
Evidence contradicts his basic assumptions about ancient Epirus, being that this period is the focus of this particular presentation. The earliest archeological traces of human life in the area of Greece and Albania take us to the end of Middle Paleolithic era, more specifically at the end of so-called Mousterian era. The common opinion in historiography is that for thousands of years the population of the area consisted of pastoral and nomadic tribes which moved in search of pastures. This pastoral and nomadic tribal life continued into the Late Paleolithic era. As long as these tribes were migratory, ascribing them an ethnicity is speculative and wrong.
During Neolithic era this population evolved into a sedentary life. By the end of this era, that is about 6000 years ago, as tribal life evolved, one might say also commences the historic civilization in ancient Epirus. As to who were the early inhabitants of Epirus, what language they spoke, and to which ethnicity they held, nothing can be said with certainty.
We can speculate that most likely the population was part of the great population that populated northern Mediterranean shores during the last Neolithic millennium. From the historical annals are referred tribal or population names like Lelegs, Carian, Phrygians, Iberian, Tirenian, Oske, Umbre, etc. Traces of this Mediterranean civilization in today’s Albania have been discovered in Maliq Lake. There is no evidence as to which population of this group inhabited Albania and Epirus at this time period.
At about 2500 B.C., human life in all of the southern Balkans was impacted by new settlers, who some say came from the sea and others from through land. It is thought that their original place was the area between Black Sea and Caspian Sea, the area from which sprung the great ethno-linguistic family of Indo-European people. The first people to split away were the Hittites, who moved southward and settled in Asia Minor, in close proximity to Mesopotamian civilization. The second separation took people west and ended-up settling the Balkan Peninsula close to the Aegean civilization. These are the first indo-europeans, also referred as the proto-europeans. Their settlement in Epirus is proven, amongst other things, by a new burial ritual, known as tumular, also called Kurgan, discovered chiefly in southwest and western areas of the Balkan Peninsula…
At the beginning of the second millennium, the southern Balkans was impacted by a second wave of indo-european settlements. This is evidenced by a new burial ritual practiced by the new settlers. They did not practice tumbler burial, but burial in cist or pit. These new settlers are identified as Hellenic tribes, expanded in Pelasgic areas, later into Aegean archipelago and even further into Asia Minor. As Bronze Age was coming to an end, the tribes to the north of Hellenic tribes were referred to as Illyrian.
For sometime now, many historians and linguists of modern times have referred to the early porto-european tribes that settled the area of Greece, Epirus, Albania, and Macedonia, as Pelasgian. In fact, this appellate was used thousand of years before by ancient Greek writers, and afterwards by the Roman writers, who clearly distinguished the Greeks and the Illyrians from them.
But one would expect that Hellenes have cohabited with the Pelasgians, and have borrowed cultural elements from them, as have the Pelasgians assimilated previous Mediterranean populations. Assimilation entails adaptation of cultural elements, not ethnic identification. It is well known that in a clash of two cultural identities, one of it will predominate.
It is about the outcome of this cultural encounter that Hammond distorts in the mentioned publication about Epirus. He does not treat Pelasgians as being of a separate and a different ethnicity. According to him, the Pellasgians are genuine Hellenes. In light of this erroneous identification, he has concocted the conclusion that Hellenes have not settled in the Balkans at the beginning of the Bronze Age, not even five centuries earlier when the Porto-Europeans settled there, but are the original historic inhabitants of the Greek land. Thus according to him, the Hellenes have been the continuous inhabitants in the Balkans, and the epitaph that Homer gives to the Pelasgians as “devine” pertains without doubt to the Hellenes. Naturally, Hammond extends this speculative view to also include Epirus. He does not reject the information conveyed by classical literature about the presence of the Pellasgians in Epirus, but at the same time maintains that Hellenes have been in Epirus since the appearance of tumular burials, which proved the existence of Pelasgians in Epirus.
Notwithstanding the fact that there are historians who do not identify tumular burials with Pelasgians, an appellate which is, currently, conventionally used to refer to porto-europeans who inhabited Balkan Peninsula prior to the “Greeks” and the “Illyrians”. Ancient historians and geographers) maintain that the earliest inhabitants of Epirus were the Pelasgians. One of them, Plutarch (II century) indicates that the early Pelasgians that inhabited Epirus were named Thessalians. According to him, the Pelasgians came to Epirus soon after the mythological flood (Pyrrhus 1,1), which according to the Bible, took place in prehistoric time. Plutarch also indicates that one of the accomplishments of the early Pelasgians when they came to Epirus was the construction of Oracle of Dodona. Its Pelasgic establishment in Epirus is mentioned for the first time by Homer who says,”King Zeus, lord of Dodona, god of the Pelasgi, who dwellest afar, you who hold wintry Dodona in your sway, where your prophets the Selloi dwell around you.” (Homer, Iliad book 16,233-235)
Strabo, II AD geographer, gives more information about Epirus than any other ancient writer; many of these writers have referred to Epiriotic tribes as being Pelasgic. (Book V. 2,4) Strabo writes “The oracle of Dodona, according to Ephorus, was built by the Pelasgians. It is believed that the Pelasgians were the earliest of the people that have inhabited Hellada. Hesiod indicates that Dodona and Lisi were Pelasgic centers. Strabo adds that the inhabitants around Dodona were barbarian, meaning non-Greek. According to him, Dodona was later referred as being part of Mollossia and then Thesprotia -the two Epiriotic tribes, which as we will see were of Illyrian ethnicity. The latter view is reinforced Skimni (III-II B.C.), who writes “in Molossia is situated Dodona,/ Oracle of Zeus/established by Pellasgians/ In the interior amalgamate barbarians/ for whom is said inhabit around the oracle”. (V, 448)
Herodotus, the first historian of ancient Greece (V B.C.) writes that in the beginning the Pelasgians worshiped their gods, who they did not identify by name. When they learned that in Egypt gods had specific names, they also decided to baptize their own gods with individual names…according to Herodotus, later the Hellenes took these names from the Pelasgians.
A review of references in ancient literature about Epirus lead to the conclusions: none of the ancient Greek authors indicate that the ancient Epiriots were Greek; that the Pelasgians and Greeks consisted of two different ethnicities; that the main spiritual Pelasgic center, Dodona Oracle, was situated within the Epiriotic area; that the practice of baptizing gods with specific names, Greeks took from the Pelasgians. In short, the Pelasgians inhabited Epirus before the appearance of the Greek and the Illyrian ethnicities.
grc3aAlthough the presence of the Hellenes in Epirus historically can not be proven, the Greek historians for some time now are fixated on the view that the Greeks have lived there since the dawn of history. Among the pre-war we can refer to K. Gerojani, who concisely represents the vision of Greek historiography about Epirus during the period during WW’s. He insisted that Dodona oracle was Greek, following on the assumption that the Greeks descended from the Pelasgians. As a result, the presence of Pelasgians he identifies with the presence of Greeks in Epirus, contrary to available evidence. The identification of Pelasgians with Hellenes, as is known, was concocted by Greek nationalist expansionist circles after the Greek independence.
Gerojanis’ second main contention that the ancient authors had maintained that inhabitants around Dodona were of the “Hylloi” tribe was built on erroneous premises. His attempt to connect the name “Hylloi” with the name Hellene is hasty. According to the students of historic linguistics, this connection is artificial. They see in this name an Illyrian appellative, the root word “yll” =star, which itself has also links with the Albanian word “hyjni” (god). In short, information from antiquity has been erroneously used to support the claim that “Epiriots have always been and never ceased to be Greek”. The claim is a rhetorical declaration which has no logical or documentary backing. ( M.E.E. vol. XII, f. 326)
Unfortunately, Hammond follows Gorojani’s approach on the history of Epirus. One would have expected from him serious arguments about the population of Epirus during the second millenium, but unfortunately we are presented with speculative assumptions. At one point he indicates that the language of tumulus or Kurgan population, that is the porto-european language that would have covered Epirus at the end of III century B.C. or beginning of the II century B.C. could have been Illyrian or Greek. There is no doubt, he added, that to the far north Kurgan leaders spoke an early form of Illyrian, but in Epirus, he pointed out, their language was “possibly” Greek. (Thus according to him, people of the same ethnicity spoke two languages!) Then, after all this uncertainty, he speaks as if he was certain that the Kurgan leaders were Greek speaking. As he refers to tumulus burrials relating to Middle Helladic (1900-1600 B.C.) period discovered in some areas of today’s central Greece and Peloponnesus, to quote exactly, he indicates “it was the Kurgan leaders of Albania and Leukas who brought tumulus-burial to southern Greece and founded many of the Mycenaean centers which , as we know from the decipherment of Linear B tablets used Greek as the language of the ruling class. According to Hammond, this language pertains to Kurgan leaders and not the general populace. (Epirus, p. 36)
A proof for his assumption that Greek speaking people appeared in Epirus in 2100 B.C. are war holed stone swords discovered at Maliq. Thus, this sward would be enough proof, according to him, to establish that the population where Maliq is situated, at the end of III B.C. was Greek speaking. It is also hard to understand his view that Mycenaean objects, which were discovered in Epirus at the end of Early Helladic, were produced by early Greek speaking tribes who, according to him, as indicated by archaeological evidence, had settled peacefully! Hammond also espouses the view, with no supporting evidence, that the tumulas leaders expanded Hellenism from Macedonia to southern Epirus, and then from southern Epirus to northern Epirus, which is known to be characterized rough mountains. He reaches a totally speculative opinion that as of Middle Helladic was extended to Epirus from where it was never to be ousted. (Epirus, f. 36)
Again it is hard to accept the view that Kurgan population expanded from south to north when history indicates the contrary. It is well known that population movements during pre-history, porto-history, and antiquity, at least in the Balkan Peninnsula, have been characteristically from north to south.
But, for Hammond, this is the time when the uninterrupted 4000-year history of Hellenism in Epirus commences.