Lelegians: Plutarch on Greek Trallians’ treatment of indigenous peoples (early second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Lelegians: Plutarch on Greek Trallians’ treatment of indigenous peoples (early second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 24, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=20935.

Ancient authors: Plutarch, Greek Questions 46 (link).

Comments: In this passage of his series of questions and potential answers about Greeks, Plutarch refers to legendary peoples that were supposed to have inhabited Caria and Phrygia in the early days, namely Minyans and Lelegians. In the process he sketches some episodes of ethnic relations, having the indigenous peoples ousting the Greek settlers of Tralles only to be largely expelled or exterminated themselves. The idea is that the offering of a certain “purifying” legume to the family of the murdered Lelegian or Minyan would absolve the Greek of pollution from murder. The law established a situation where Greeks murdering remnants of the indigenous populations was essentially justified in this scenario. For more on the somewhat legendary Lelegians, see Strabo (link) and the Carian Philip of Theangela (link).


Why is it that the people of Tralles [in Phrygia, Turkey] call the bitter vetch legume (orobos) “purifier” and make special use of it for expelling pollution and for purifications?

Is this because of the following?: In the old days, the Lelegians (Leleges) and Minyans (Minyai), drove the Trallians [i.e. Greek settlers at Tralles] out and took possession of their city and their land. Later the Trallians returned and prevailed. Since many of the Lelegians that had not been killed or had not fled away but had been left behind there because of their lack of resources and weakness, the Trallians did not care whether the remaining Lelegians lived or died. They established a law that any Trallian who killed a Minyan or a Lelegian should be free from pollution when he had measured out a bushel of the bitter vetch legume to the relatives of the murdered man.


Source of translation: F.C. Babbitt (d. 1935), H.N. Fowler (d. 1955), W.C. Helmbold (d. 1969), Plutarch: Moralia, volumes 1-6, 10, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1927-1936), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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