Epirus, currently located in the south of Albania and north-west of Greece, was inhabited by Epirotes in ancient times. They were isolated with regard to the rest of Greek people (Acarnanian, Boeotian, Spartan…) during many centuries due to the mainland geography: the Pindus Range was a formidable natural barrier. By sea, however, it was possible to communicate between both regions, and in fact some colonies were founded along the coast of Epirus. Nevertheless, inland villages scarcely contacted with those who we call “Greeks”. In the IVth century this situation changed drastically. Philip II, King of Macedon, got married with an Epirote princess (Molosian, exactly), called Olympias. Since then, Epirus entered the international framework of Greece.
There is a great debate around the question of the “greekness” of Epirotes. Ancient authors have had different opinions. Herodotus defends that Dodona, a famous sanctuary located there, was Greek. Thucydides, however, defines those populations as barbarians. According to Aristotle, the mythical figure of Deucalion, who was considered the origin of Greeks, lived there. On the other hand, Strabo describes the different Epirotan tribes and explains that they were similar to barbarian populations like Illyrians and Thracians. Pausanias, who wrote an enormous work describing all Greece, did not include Epirus in it.
Modern scholars are also divided. There are many pros and cons around this aspect. For example, all the epigraphy of Epirus is written in Greek language and they venerated identical gods. But this argument may not be convincing, owing to the fact that sharing the language does not imply to belong to the same culture.
Therefore, it is very difficult to give a concrete answer. Neither white nor black. But is it really important? Why do we need to know if these people were or not Greek? If they weren’t, does it mean that they are less important? We must avoid political influence, specially nationalism, if we want to reach a correct knowledge of cultures and civilizations that existed long time ago. Furthermore, nowadays, when we think of Ancient Greece, we are usually remembering Athens and Sparta. But those poleis were a minor part of the whole Greek civilization. Traditionally we have studied specially them because they played a leading role in the majority of the great events, as for instance the Greco-Persian Wars and the Peloponesian War. But also because they represent the values that we want to be reflected in our current society. Athens with its “democracy” and advanced culture; Sparta with its brave military ideals. Fortunately, in the last decades new investigation lines are focusing in less known matters. And Epirus, which can be seen as a semi-Hellenic area, is not less relevant because of its later development, but equal to Athens and Sparta. All of them are our past.
Diego Chapinal (this is a fragment of a Master thesis called “Epirus and Dodona. Routes and communications around the sanctuary”)