Pelasgians: Strabo on a legendary migrating people (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Pelasgians: Strabo on a legendary migrating people (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 23, 2024,

Ancient author: Strabo, Geography 13.3 and 5.2.4 (link)

Comments: Continuing with his discussion of now gone peoples in western Asia Minor (just after Lelegians and Kilikians), Strabo moves on to the Pelasgians and their migrations, with a variety of locales claiming to have been Pelasgian settlements. Strabo places a main hub of Pelasgians in Larisa near Kyme.

I have also now added Strabo’s earlier digression on Pelasgians when outlining Italic peoples, where he discusses Ephoros’ views as well (5.2.4).


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion on Trojans, Lelegians, and Kilikians, go to this link].


(2) It is also a matter of reasoning from probabilities if one inquires as to the exact bounds to which the poet means that the Kilikians extended, and the Pelasgians, and also the Keteians, as they are called, under the command of Eurypylos, who lived between these two peoples. Now, as for the Kilikians and the peoples under the command of Eurypylos, all has been said about them that can be said and that their country is, in a general way, bounded by the region of the Kaikos river.

As for the Pelasgians, it is reasonable, both from the words of Homer and from history in general, to place them next in order after these peoples, for Homer says as follows: “And Hippothoos led the tribes (phylai) of the Pelasgians that rage with the spear, them that lived in fertile Larisa. These were ruled by Hippothoos and Pylaios, descendent of Ares, the two sons of Pelasgian Lethos son of Teutamos” [Homer, Iliad 2.840].​ By these words, he clearly indicates that the number of Pelasgians was considerable, for he says “tribes,” not “tribe” and he also specifies their abode as “in Larisa.”

Now there are many places called Larisa, but we must interpret him as meaning one of those that were near, and best of all, one might rightly assume the one in the neighbourhood of Kyme [Larisa Phrikonis or Phrykonis, near Menemen, Turkey]. For of the three Larisas, the one near Hamaxitos was in plain sight of Ilion and very near it, within a distance of two hundred stadia. Therefore it could not be said with plausibility that Hippothoos fell in the fight over Patroklos “far away from” this “Larisa.” Instead, this is the Larisa near Kyme, for the distance between the two is about a thousand stadium-lengths. The third Larisa is a village in the territory of Ephesos in the Kayster plain. It is said to have been a city in earlier times, containing a temple of Larisaian Apollo and being situated closer to mount Tmolos than to Ephesos. It is one hundred and eighty stadium-lengths away from Ephesos and might therefore be under the control of the Maionians. But the Ephesians, having grown in power, later cut off for themselves much of the territory of the Maionians, whom we now call Lydians. So this could not be the Larisa of the Pelasgians either, but rather the one near Kyme. In fact, we have no strong evidence that the Larisa in the Kayster plain was already in existence at that time, for we have no such evidence as to Ephesos either. However, all Aiolian history, which arose just shortly after Trojan times, bears testimony to the existence of the Larisa near Kyme.

(3) For it is said that the people who set out from Phrikion, the Lokrian mountain above Thermopylai [Thermopýles, Greece], put in at the place where Kyme now is. Finding the Pelasgians in bad conditions because of the Trojan War but still in possession of Larisa (which was about seventy stadium-lengths distant from Kyme), they built on their frontier what is still called Neon Teichos (New Wall)​ thirty stadium-lengths from Larisa. After having captured Larisa, they founded Kyme and settled there the survivors. And Kyme is called Kyme Phrikonis after the Lokrian mountain, and likewise, Larisa is called Larisa Phriconis, but Larisa is now deserted.

That the Pelasgians were a great people (ethnos) is said also to be the testimony of history in general. Menekrates of Elaia, at any rate, in his work On the Founding of Cities, says that the whole of what is now the Ionian coast, beginning at Mykale, as also the neighbouring islands, were in earlier times inhabited by Pelasgians. But the inhabitants of Lesbos say that their people were placed under the command of Pylaios, the man whom the poet calls the ruler of the Pelasgians​ and that it is from him that the mountain in their country is still called Pylaios. The Chians also say that the Pelasgians from Thessaly were their founders. But the Pelasgian people, always wandering and quick to migrate, greatly increased and then rapidly disappeared, particularly at the time of the migration of the Aiolians and Ionians to Asia.

(4) A peculiar thing happened in the case of the Larisaians, I mean the Kaystrian and the Phrykonian Larisaians and, third, those in Thessaly: they all held land that was deposited by rivers, by the Kayster, by the Hermos, and by the Peneios. It is at the Phryconian Larisa that Piasos is said to have been honoured. They say Piasos was ruler of the Pelasgians and fell in love with his daughter Larisa. Having violated her, he paid the penalty for the outrage because, observing him leaning over a cask of wine, they say, she seized him by the legs, raised him, and plunged him into the cask. Such are the ancient accounts.

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of Lydians, Maionians, Arimians, and Solymians, go to this link].


[Aside on Pelasgians, drawing on Ephoros]

[For the full context of the following passage in the discussion of Italic peoples, go to this link.]

(5.2.4) As for the Pelasgians, almost all agree, in the first place, that some ancient people of that name spread throughout the whole of Greece, and particularly among the Aiolians of Thessaly. Again, Ephoros says that he is of the opinion that, since they were originally Arkadians, they chose a military life, and that, in bringing many peoples to the same mode of life, they imparted their name to everyone, and thus acquired great glory, not only among the Greeks, but also among all other people wherever they happened to go. For example, they prove to have been colonisers of Crete, as Homer says. Anyways, Odysseus says to Penelope: “But one tongue with others is mixed; there dwell Achaians, there Cretans of the old stock, proud of heart, there Kydonians, and Dorians too, of waving plumes, and goodly Pelasgians.” And Thessaly is called “the Pelasgian Argos” (I mean that part of it which lies between the outlets of the Peneius river and Thermopylai as far as the mountainous country of Pindus), on account of the fact that the Pelasgians extended their rule over these regions. Further, Zeus of Dodona [in Epiros in northwestern Greece] is by the poet himself named “Pelasgian”: “O Lord Zeus of Dodona, Pelasgian.” And many have called also the peoples of Epiros “Pelasgian,” because in their opinion the Pelasgians extended their rule even as far as that. And, further, because many of the heroes were called “Pelasgians” by name, the people of later times have, from those heroes, applied the name to many of the peoples. For example, they have called the island of Lesbos “Pelasgia,” and Homer has labelled as “Pelasgians” the people that were neighbours to those Cilicians who lived in the Troad: “And Hippothous led the peoples of spear-fighting Pelasgians, those Pelasgians who inhabited deep-soiled Larissa.”

But Ephoros‘ authority for the statement that this race originated in Arkadia was Hesiod. Hesiod says: “And sons were born of god-like Lykaon, who, on a time, was begotten by Pelasgos.” Again, Aeschylus, in his Suppliants, or maybe his Danaan Women, says that the descent group (genos) of the Pelasgians originated in that Argos which is around Mycenae. And the Peloponnesos too, according to Ephoros, was called “Pelasgia.” And Euripides too, in his Archelaos, says: “Danaos, the father of fifty daughters, on coming into Argos, took up his abode in the city of Inachos, and throughout Greece he laid down a law that all people previously named Pelasgians were to be called Danaans.” And again, Antikleides says that they were the first to settle the regions around Lemnos and Imbros, and indeed that some of these sailed away to Italy with Tyrrhenos the son of Atys. And the compilers of the histories of The Land of Atthis give accounts of the Pelasgians, believing that the Pelasgians were in fact at Athens too, although the Pelasgians were by the Attic people called “Pelargians,” the compilers add, because they were wanderers and, like birds, resorted to those places where chance led them. (5.2.5) They say that the maximum length of Tyrrhenia – the coastline from Luna [modern Luni] as far as Ostia [port city of Rome] – is about two thousand five hundred stadium-lengths, and its breadth (I mean its breadth near the mountains) less than half its length. . . [omitted geographical details, outline of cities, and natural resources of the areas].


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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