Pelasgians, Lelegians, and others: Hekataios of Miletos and Strabo on barbarians of Greece (sixth century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Pelasgians, Lelegians, and others: Hekataios of Miletos and Strabo on barbarians of Greece (sixth century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified June 3, 2024,

Ancient authors: Hesiod (eighth century BCE), Hekataios of Miletos (early fifth century BCE), FGrHist 1 F119 (link to FGrHist), and Aristotle (fourth century BCE), Communal Organizations, as discussed and amplified by Strabo (early first century CE), Geography 7.7.1-3 (link).

Comments: In this passage, Strabo cites the view of the fifth-century BCE author Hekataios of Miletos regarding the notion that the original inhabitants of (what would become) Greece were “barbarian” peoples. It is not clear whether (unlike Strabo) Hekataios was suggesting that the indigenous populations were barbarians or, like Strabo, that various barbarian populations had migrated to the land that would become Greece. Anyways, Strabo expands on the latter idea and emphasizes a variety of migrations, including those of Pelasgians and Lelegians. But many other peoples come into the picture as well. Hekataios may or may not have identified specific peoples in his own narrative, now lost. Herodotos’ does cite another passage from Hekataios’ work that expressly deals with Pelasgians specifically (F127 in Herodotos, Histories 6.137link), and at least one other citation of Hekataios also has him dealing with Lelegians (F372).


[Various “barbarian” peoples inhabiting Greece before the Greeks]

Now Hekataios of Miletos says of the Peloponnesos that before the time of the Greeks it was inhabited by barbarians. Yet one might say that in the ancient times all of Greece was a settlement of barbarians, if one reasons from the traditions themselves: Pelops​ brought over peoples​ from Phrygia to the Peloponnesos that received its name from him. Danaos​ did the same from Egypt. Whereas the Dryopians, the Kaukonians, the Pelasgians, the Lelegians, and other such peoples, distributed among themselves the parts that are inside the isthmus, as well as the parts outside. For Attica was once held by the Thracians who came with Eumolpos,​ Daulis in Phokis was held by Tereus, ​Kadmeia​ was held by the Phoenicians who came with Kadmos, and Boiotia itself was held by the Aonians, Temmikians and Hyantians.

According to Pindar,​ “there was a time when the Boiotian people (ethnos) was called ‘syas‘ (‘swine’)”. Moreover, the barbarian origin of some is indicated by their names: Kekrops, Kodros, Aiklos, Kothos, Drymas, and Krinakos. Even to the present day the Thracians, Illyrians, and Epeirians live on the flanks of the Greeks (though this was still more the case formerly than now).

Actually, most of the country that at the present time is indisputably Greece is held by the barbarians: Macedonia and certain parts of Thessaly are held by the Thracians and the parts above Akarnania and Aitolia by the Thesprotians, the Kassopaians, the Amphilochians, the Molossians, and the Athamanians, namely Epeirian peoples.

[More on Lelegians]

Regarding the Pelasgians, I have already discussed them (link). Regarding the Lelegians, some guess that they are the same as the Carians and others guess that they were only fellow-inhabitants and fellow-soldiers of the Carians. This, they say, is why, in the territory of Miletos, certain settlements are called settlements of the Lelegians, and why, in many places of Caria, tombs of the Lelegians and deserted forts, known as “Lelegian forts,” are called that. However, all of what is now called Ionia used to be inhabited by Carians and Lelegians. Yet the Ionians themselves expelled them and took possession of the country, even though in still earlier times the captors of Troy had driven the Lelegians from the region around mount Ida that is near Pedasos and the Satniois river. So then, the very fact that the Leleges made common cause with the Carians might be considered a sign that they were barbarians.

[Citation of Aristotle on the Lelegians]

Furthermore, in Aristotle‘s Communal Organizations (Politeiai),​ he also clearly indicates that the Lelegians led a wandering life, not only with the Carians, but also apart from them, and from earliest times. For instance, in his discussion of the communal organization of the Akarnanians he says that the Kouretes held a part of the country, whereas the Lelegians and then the Teleboans held the western part. Also, in the discussion of the communal organizatino of the Aitolians (and likewise in that of the Opuntians and the Megarians) he calls the Lokrians of today Lelegians and says that they took possession of Boiotia too. Furthermore, in the discussion of the communal organization of the Leukadians Aristotle names a certain indigenous person named Lelex and also a Teleboas, the son of a daughter of Lelex, and twenty-two sons of Teleboas. He says that some of them lived in Leukas.​

[Citation of Hesiod on Lelegians]

But in particular one might believe Hesiod when he says concerning them: “For verily Lokros was chieftain of the peoples (laoi) of the Lelegians, whom once Zeus the son of Kronos, who knows eternal devices, gave to Deukalion — peoples​ (laoi) picked out of earth.” By way of etymology​, Hesiod seems to me to hint that from earliest times they were a mixture of populations and that this was why the descent group (genos) disappeared. And the same might be said of the Kaukonians, since now they are nowhere to be found, although in earlier times they were settled in several places.

[Obscured boundaries between peoples]

Now although in earlier times the peoples (ethnē) in question were small, numerous, and obscure, still, because of the density of their population and because each of them lived under its own king, it was not at all difficult to determine their boundaries. However, now that most of the country has become depopulated and the settlements, particularly the cities, have disappeared from sight, it would do no good, even if one could determine their boundaries with strict accuracy, to do so, because of their obscurity and their disappearance. This process of disappearing began a long time ago, and has not yet entirely ceased in many regions because the people keep revolting. In fact, the Romans, after being set up as masters by the inhabitants, encamp in their very houses.​ Be this as it may, Polybios [Histories 30, F16] says that Paulus,​ after his subjection of Perseus and the Macedonians, destroyed seventy cities of the Epeirians (most of which, he adds, belonged to the Molossians),​ and reduced to slavery one hundred and fifty thousand people. Nevertheless, I will attempt, in so far as it is appropriate to my description and as my knowledge encompasses, to traverse the several different parts, beginning at the seaboard of the Ionian gulf — that is, where the voyage out of the Adrias ends. . . [omitted following sections].


Source of translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Harland.

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