History & Culture

The history of Epirus is particularly interesting. The first evidence of habitation by homo sapiens during the Paleolithic Age (100,000-10,000 BCE) was found in Kastritsa, Ioannina, and in the Asprochaliko Cave in Preveza. The inhabitants of the time were hunter-gatherers and herders who built large tombs to bury their leaders, similar to those of the Mycenaeans. This constitutes evidence of a link between the Epirotes of the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages and the Mycenaeans of the Bronze Age. Around 1100-1000BCE, the three main tribes of Epirus first made their appearance, the Chaonians in the northwest, the Molossians in the central region, and the Thesprotians to the south. In contrast to other Greek tribes, those of Epirus lived in small villages. Their region held a particular religious value because of the Manteio, the Oracle of Dodona. The participation of the Molossians in the war between the Macedonians and the Romans had catastrophic consequences for Epirus.

The region was heavily pillaged and plundered, and it took 500 years for it to recover. With the Roman conquest it ceased to be independent, and became a Roman province. With the split of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, it became part of the Eastern Empire (Byzantium). When Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in 1204, Michael I Komnenos Doukas (latinized as Comnenus Ducas) took over Epirus and established the Despotate of Epirus, making Arta the capital. Despite constantly changing administrations and occupiers over the centuries, the cities and towns of Epirus were at least able to retain a primarily Greek population.

The Ottoman Period was particularly onerous for Epirus since cultivated areas were handed over to Muslims and many Epirotes were forced to leave the region in search of a better life elsewhere. There were however a few scattered areas along the coast which remained under Venetian control until the end of the 15th century, when the Ottoman conquest was finally complete. From the 17th century onwards, many merchants in Ioannina, Metsovo, Zagori , and other areas, became benefactors contributing to a cultural and spiritual revival in the region with the establishment of schools and libraries. As the Ottoman Empire gradually fell into decline in the 18th century, two founding members of the Society of Friends prepared the groundwork for the Revolution, in which the Epirotes were active participants. Once the Revolution was over (by 1830), Epirus was nevertheless not included in the newly-founded Greek nation, even though the support provided by Epirote benefactors to the new state had been substantial. The 1881 Treaty of Berlin handed over the region around Arta to Greece, but the rest of Epirus did not formally become part of Greece until after the Balkan Wars. After World War I, northern Epirus was ceded to Albania. During the period of occupation, Epirus first fell to the Italians, but after Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, it then became part of German-occupied territory. After the war, Epirus was one of the most economically neglected regions of the country, and many Epirotes left the region in search of a better life overseas.

The history of Epirus has left behind many important discoveries; historical and religious monuments of immense archaeological and historical value. Beginning with the first settlements of antiquity, the ancient theatre and the Oracle at Dodona, Ancient Nicopolis and its necromanteion, Ancient Gitanae and the Molossian settlement, continuing on to Byzantium, with the Byzantine castles of Ioannina and Arta, Byzantine churches and monasteries, traditional villages, stone bridges and sites where historic events took place, these are all relics of immense historical and cultural interest.

Apart from its history, Epirus is famous for the writers of belles-lettres who immortalised its beauty and history, and also for its benefactors, who by their works and generosity contributed in many ways to the cultural development, not only of Epirus but the entire country, and also provided much support for the region itself and its traditions.

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