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Epirus (ĕpīˈrəs), ancient country of Greece, on the Ionian Sea and W of Macedon and Thessaly, a region now occupied by NW Greece and S Albania. At the time of Homer, Epirus was known as the home of the oracle of Dodona. It was inhabited from very early times by Epirote tribes, barely known to the Greeks.

The tribes were molded into a state under the hegemony of one of them (the Molossi), whose chiefs became the paramount rulers in the 4th cent. B.C. A Molossian ruler, Neoptolemus, married his daughter to Philip II of Macedon, who placed Neoptolemus' son Alexander on the throne of Molossia (most of Epirus). Alexander died on an invasion of Italy, but the kingdom persisted and grew. It reached its height in the 3d cent. B.C. under Pyrrhus, who achieved great renown. However, Pyrrhus' exploits and the unsuccessful attempts of his successor, Alexander II (d. 240 B.C.), to take Macedon ruined the state.

A republic was set up with its capital at Phoenice. The Epirotes sided with Macedon in the wars against Rome, and Epirus was sacked (167) by Aemilius Paullus, who took away many thousands of captives. The country passed under Roman dominion. Octavian (later Augustus) built (31 B.C.) a new capital at Nicopolis.

Epirus was a more-or-less-neglected portion of the Byzantine Empire. After the Crusaders had conquered Constantinople, the despotate of Epirus, larger than ancient Epirus, was set up. At the end of the 18th cent. Ali Pasha, the pasha of Yannina (see Ioánnina), set up an independent state in Epirus and Albania.


See study by N. G. L. Hammond (1967) of the geography and ancient remains of the area.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a historical region in northwestern Greece, along the Ionian Sea. Epirus includes the areas of Arta, Preveza, Thesprotia, and Joannina, covering an area of 9,200 sq km. Population, 310,300 (1971). The chief city is Joannina. Most of the area is occupied by the Pindus Mountains, which rise to a maximum elevation of 2,633 m.

Epirus, a predominantly agricultural region, has crops of wheat, oats, tobacco, and cotton, which are cultivated on the plain, as well as vineyards and olive groves. Livestock, chiefly sheep and goats, is raised in mountain pastures. Forestry is practiced, and citrus groves are cultivated along the coast. Fishing is also a means of livelihood. Epirus has no railroads; the main highway leads from Joannina to Preveza.

It is thought that Epirus was the original area from which the Greek tribes spread over the Balkan Peninsula and the islands of the Aegean Sea. In historical times, Epirus was inhabited by the Chaones, Molossians, and other tribes. During the reign of the Molossian king Pyrrhus (late fourth—early third centuries B.C.), Epirus was united as a single state. After this period the entire population were known as Epirotes.

In 168 B.C., Epirus was conquered by the Romans, who destroyed more than 70 cities and enslaved approximately 150,000 Epirotes. Under Augustus the territory of Epirus was made part of the Roman province of Achaea. During the reign of Trajan, in the second century B.C., Epirus was joined with Acarnania to form the province of Epirus. In the fourth century it became part of Byzantium, and in the 13th and 14th centuries the territory was part of the Epirote State. In the mid-15th century, Epirus came under Turkish rule. In 1881 the Arta region was annexed to Greece, and after the Balkan Wars (1912–13) all of Epirus became part of Greece.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a region of NW Greece, part of ancient Epirus ceded to Greece after independence in 1830
2. (in ancient Greece) a region between the Pindus mountains and the Ionian Sea, straddling the modern border with Albania
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