Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Elizabeth A. Meyer, The Inscriptions of Dodona and a New History of Molossia. Heidelberger althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien (HABES), 54​. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2013. Pp. 201. ISBN 9783515103114. €39.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Philip J. Smith, McGill University (

Version at BMCR home site


[The reviewer apologises for the lateness of this review.]

Elizabeth Meyer has established for herself an ambitious plan of rewriting the history of Molossia in the 4th-2nd centuries BC. In her very brief Introduction (p. 11), she states that although accounts of Molossian history in this period pay tribute to its greatest monarch—Pyrrhus—and all of the successes in the third century, they focus more on the development of the Molossian (and Epirote) state, which itself is based heavily upon the inscriptional evidence from the major sanctuary at Dodona. Accepting that, she informs the reader that she will attempt to rewrite the generally accepted history of this important period in Molossia (and Epiros), on the basis of a major reassessment of that very epigraphic evidence from Dodona.

The first chapter ("The Established View", pp. 13-17) briefly and concisely outlines what has been the accepted version over the last few decades of this region's history.

The second chapter ("The Dating of Inscriptions from Dodona", pp. 18-45) centres on the epigraphic evidence which in turn serves as the main source, used together with the limited literary references, to reconstruct this established view. Meyer proceeds through a close examination of several pivotal inscriptions to suggest re-dating these to a century later than previously accepted, i.e. from the 4th to the 3rd century BC. She does so on the basis of both "strong" and "weak" criteria for dating. Strong dating is defined by Meyer as

dating formulae that clearly refer to one or another epoch in Molossian/Epirote political history: dating by Aeacid kings; dating by strategos of the (koinon of the) Epirotes (after the extermination of the monarchy in 232); and dating by other officials, like agonothetes or naiarchs, only known (or thought to have existed) at certain times… and dating by the identification of persons named in the inscriptions when they are otherwise known from historical sources like Polybius and Livy.

Weak dating is defined as dating by letter-form alone, which she explains as quite problematic at the Dodona sanctuary.

The types of inscriptions that she utilizes are the "political" ones consisting of grants of privileges, dedications, and manumissions. Meyer begins with what she terms the "king Alexander" inscriptions. These comprise seven inscriptions—4 awarding privileges, 2 manumissions, and 1 dedication—in which a King Alexander is mentioned. The accepted view has been that this is King Alexander I (343-331 BC),1 and Meyer argues for them to be dated to the reign of King Alexander II (272-242 BC). She employs both the strong and weak criteria to show, convincingly in this reviewer's opinion, that these inscriptions should be dated to Alexander II. She illustrates this with drawings of the inscriptions together with re-reading of the text (it's a nice touch that a visual aid is provided to the reader), and summarizes her arguments into three main points:

a) Isopoliteia is not present in the Greek epigraphical record anywhere prior to the third century BC.2
b) Mix of letter-forms suit the 3rd century BC better.
c) One of these Alexander inscriptions (SGDI 1334) has a hole for posting and "the earliest securely dated plaque with what appears to be a hole for posting is…dated to King Neoptolemus, son of Alexander (d. 295..." (p. 33)).

She succinctly concludes her argument on the King Alexander inscriptions by stating that these are the work of third-century masons on the basis of third-century parallels found elsewhere in the Greek world, and says "…these seven inscriptions anchor the transition from the age of Pyrrhus to the age of the new Epirote koinon" (p. 35). As further support for her case with regard to letter-forms, she also provides a useful chart of the development of letter forms (pp. 39-41) as well as a side-by-side chart of Cabanes' accepted dating and her suggested re-dating (pp. 42-44).

The third chapter ("Seven Points of Difference", pp. 46-113) serves as the core to the revised history, in which she applies the re-dating effects to seven main points for the epoch, which she identifies as:

a) Molossian 'State' and Molossian Kings in the Fourth Century
b) Molossian Expansion in the Fourth Century
c) What if anything occurred between 330 and 328 BC?
d) Epirote and Molossian Identity in the Late Fourth and Early Third Centuries
e) 'The Molossians' in the Third Century
f) What does re-dating mean for Molossian Expansion in the Third Century?
g) What is the Molossian Relationship with Thesprotia and Chaonia in the Third Century?

In each of these categories Meyer shows how the re-dating addresses the Molossian reality. Although I cannot provide examples of all of these points, a couple of samples should suffice to illustrate her arguments.

On pages 48-53, there is a discussion of a solidly 4th century BC inscription found in the sanctuary at Dodona, in which politeia was granted to two women and their children. In the inscription several officers are mentioned, in addition to the king, who in this case is Neoptolemus, son of Alketas. Specifically they are prostatas, grammateus, and damiorgoi. Meyer focusses on the damiorgoi, and the fact that, in this particular inscription, these individuals do not have a clearly defined role, i.e. as the proposers of the grant of citizenship, and that there has been much emphasis placed on the ethnics of these 10 men, and that these ethnics reflect a Molossian koinon.3 She offers a new and better explanation for the presence of these damiorgoi: "One common type of damiorgoi elsewhere in the early Greek world was a member of a board of officials with oversight, sometimes judicial, of religious matters and sanctuary practices: and this fits Dodona very well" (p. 54). She follows this by concluding that the most important change in Molossia in the period 430 to 370 BC was that they assumed oversight of the Zeus sanctuary at Dodona. As an aid to the king, a board of officials was instituted "not to restrain the king, but to assist and support him, and in that case wholly chosen by the king himself" (p. 56).

Meyer nicely outlines, via inscriptional evidence, the development of the Molossian 'state' as below, but she emphasizes that the dominant form of government, until the extinction of the monarchy in 232 BC, was a "dynamic monarchy" (p. 90) and that it was the king who drove the institutions therein.

In the 4th century BC, the officers of government were: king, prostatas, grammateus, and a board of 10 damiorgoi
At the end of the 4th century BC, they were: king, prostatas, grammateus, and a board of 9 hieromnamones
In the 3rd century BC, they were: king, prostatas, grammateus, and a board of 15 synarchontes, as well as an ekklesia 4

On the basis, therefore, of the development of the Molossian state (including the use of allies) proposed by her re-dating of the key epigraphic evidence from the sanctuary of Dodona, Meyer describes Molossia as it appeared in the third century BC thus:

The heartland remained Molossia, governed by its king, its citizens now calling themselves collectively 'Molossians' or a koinon; the next zone was that of the neighbors of Dodona, many of whom had sat on its board since the fourth century; the third was that of the allies, unincorporated and unfederated, neither insiders nor outsiders, but valued partners;5 and beyond them were enemies, and friends to be rewarded. (pp. 103-104)

The fourth chapter ("A New History of Molossia", pp. 114-135) is a crisp, well-argued rewriting of the history of Molossia from the 5th to the 2nd centuries BC, utilizing her re-dated inscriptions and the altered nuances which the re-dating engenders. It flows well and is equally plausible, if not more, as the currently accepted view.

The fifth chapter ("Epigraphical Appendix", pp. 136-165) provides clearly the epigraphically evidence that is utilized, with full lemmata as well as drawings (and in some cases photographs). She has done an additional great service to readers by providing translations of these inscriptions. This appendix is followed by the sixth chapter ("List of Maps and Figures", pp. 166-167), seventh chapter ("Abbreviations", pp. 168-169), eighth chapter ("Works Cited", pp. 170-180), ninth chapter ("Index Locorum", pp. 181-187), and tenth chapter ("Index", pp. 188-201). The production of the volume is of quite high quality and I noticed very few typographic errors (e.g. p. 103 n.285 "Several problems remains…"). It would have been preferable, however, to have had more than a single general index.

I highly recommend this book not only for its fascinating rewriting of the history of a region of ancient Greece that has not had as much attention as some other areas, but also for its extensive reliance on, and masterful use of, the epigraphic evidence. This volume shows how great is the impact of using the inscriptional evidence available to drive the writing of ancient history; other books of this ilk are to be strongly encouraged.


1.   E.g. N.G.L. Hammond, Epirus. The Geography, the Ancient Remains, the History and the Topography of Epirus and Adjacent Areas (Oxford, 1967), p. 535 and P. Cabanes, L'Epire de la mort de Pyrrhus à la conquête romaine (272-167 av. J.C.) (Paris-Besançon, 1976), p. 160.
2.   E.g. P. Gauthier, "Sur les institutions de l'Epire hellénistique", Revue de Philologie n.s. 3.53 (1979), p. 123, reinforced by Meyer's own PHI search in 2011.
3.   Damiorgoi elsewhere had several roles, e.g. giving their names to years, religious duties as relating to behaviour in sacred areas, supervisors of community activities, and financial oversight at cult centres, cf. C. Veligianni-Terzi, Damiurgen. Zur Entwicklung einer Magistratur (diss. Heidelberg, 1977) pp. 4-62; W.K. Pritchett, Greek Archives, Cults, and Topography (Amsterdam, 1996), pp. 37-38; P.J. Smith, The Archaeology and Epigraphy of Hellenistic and Roman Megaris, Greece(Oxford, 2008).
4.   After 232 BC, the king was replaced (perhaps significantly) by a strategos Apeiroton.
5.   Amongst this group would be the Thesprotians and Chaonians. ​

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