Pelasgians

Body

Nomenclature

Greek Name: Πελασγός

Latin Name: Pelasgi

Toponyms: Pelasgia

Cultural Notes

"Herodotus generally uses the name “Pelasgian” for the oldest known population of Greece: cp. Hdt. 1.146; Hdt. 2.171  

Athenians and Pelasgians had conflict. Pelasgians ultimately handed Lemnos over to the Athenians. "I am not in a position to say for certain what language the Pelasgians used to speak, but if it is appropriate to judge by those Pelasgians who still exist today....the Pelasgians spoke a non-Greek language." "Neither the Crestonians nor the Placians [ed. note: these are Pelasgian settlements] speak the same language as any of their neighbours, but do speak the same language as each other, shows that they retained the form of language they brought with them when they moved to the places they now inhabit." "It is also my view that when the Pelasgians spoke a non-Greek language

Geographical Notes

From Arcadia. Lived on Lemnos. Now live in the town of Creston north of Tyrrhenia.

Citations in Herodotos

1.56 among foremost races of ancient times; 1.57 Pelasgian langauge different than Greek; 1.58 Hellenic stock seperation from Pelasgians; 1.146 at Miletus; 2.50 invented names of Gods; 2.171 women learn rite of Thesmophoria from Egyptian women; 2.51 customs from Egypt; 2.52 origins of gods' names; 4.145 crew of Argo driven out by Pelasgians; 5.26 Lemnos and Imbros taken by Otanes; 6.136 prosecution of Miltiades; 6.137 Miltiades takes possession of Lemnos; 6.138 Origin of "Lemnian crime" proverb; 6.139 Pelasgians seek penatly from the Athenians; 6.140 Miltiades takes Lemnos;  7.42 passage of Xerxes' army; 7.94 name of Ionians before Danaus and Xuthus arrived; 7.95 Greeks formerly called Pelasgian; 8.44 Athenians become known as Ionians

Key Passages in English Translation

[1.56] When he heard these verses, Croesus was pleased with them above all, for he thought that a mule would never be king of the Medes instead of a man, and therefore that he and his posterity would never lose his empire. Then he sought very carefully to discover who the mightiest of the Greeks were, whom he should make his friends. [2] He found by inquiry that the chief peoples were the Lacedaemonians among those of Doric, and the Athenians among those of Ionic stock. These races, Ionian and Dorian, were the foremost in ancient time, the first a Pelasgian and the second a Hellenic people. The Pelasgian race has never yet left its home; the Hellenic has wandered often and far. [3] For in the days of king Deucalion it inhabited the land of Phthia, then the country called Histiaean, under Ossa and Olympus, in the time of Dorus son of Hellen; driven from this Histiaean country by the Cadmeans, it settled about Pindus in the territory called Macedonian; from there again it migrated to Dryopia, and at last came from Dryopia into the Peloponnese, where it took the name of Dorian.

[1.57] What language the Pelasgians spoke I cannot say definitely. But if one may judge by those that still remain of the Pelasgians who live above the Tyrrheni1 in the city of Creston—who were once neighbors of the people now called Dorians, and at that time inhabited the country which now is called Thessalian— [2] and of the Pelasgians who inhabited Placia and Scylace on the Hellespont, who came to live among the Athenians, and by other towns too which were once Pelasgian and afterwards took a different name: if, as I said, one may judge by these, the Pelasgians spoke a language which was not Greek. [3] If, then, all the Pelasgian stock spoke so, then the Attic nation, being of Pelasgian blood, must have changed its language too at the time when it became part of the Hellenes. For the people of Creston and Placia have a language of their own in common, which is not the language of their neighbors; and it is plain that they still preserve the manner of speech which they brought with them in their migration into the places where they live.

English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920. Retreived from <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu>

Key Passages in Greek

[1.56] τούτοισι ἐλθοῦσι τοῖσι ἔπεσι ὁ Κροῖσος πολλόν τι μάλιστα πάντων ἥσθη, ἐλπίζων ἡμίονον οὐδαμὰ ἀντ᾽ ἀνδρὸς βασιλεύσειν Μήδων, οὐδ᾽ ὦν αὐτὸς οὐδὲ οἱ ἐξ αὐτοῦ παύσεσθαι κοτὲ τῆς ἀρχῆς. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἐφρόντιζε ἱστορέων τοὺς ἂν Ἑλλήνων δυνατωτάτους ἐόντας προσκτήσαιτο φίλους, [2] ἱστορέων δὲ εὕρισκε Λακεδαιμονίους καὶ Ἀθηναίους προέχοντας τοὺς μὲν τοῦ Δωρικοῦ γένεος τοὺς δὲ τοῦ Ἰωνικοῦ. ταῦτα γὰρ ἦν τὰ προκεκριμένα, ἐόντα τὸ ἀρχαῖον τὸ μὲν Πελασγικὸν τὸ δὲ Ἑλληνικὸν ἔθνος. καὶ τὸ μὲν οὐδαμῇ κω ἐξεχώρησε, τὸ δὲ πολυπλάνητον κάρτα. [3] ἐπὶ μὲν γὰρ Δευκαλίωνος βασιλέος οἴκεε γῆν τὴν Φθιῶτιν, ἐπὶ δὲ Δώρου τοῦ Ἕλληνος τὴν ὑπὸ τὴν Ὄσσαν τε καὶ τὸν Ὄλυμπον χώρην, καλεομένην δὲ Ἱστιαιῶτιν: ἐκ δὲ τῆς Ἱστιαιώτιδος ὡς ἐξανέστη ὑπὸ Καδμείων, οἴκεε ἐν Πίνδῳ Μακεδνὸν καλεόμενον: ἐνθεῦτεν δὲ αὖτις ἐς τὴν Δρυοπίδα μετέβη καὶ ἐκ τῆς Δρυοπίδος οὕτω ἐς Πελοπόννησον ἐλθὸν Δωρικὸν ἐκλήθη.

[1.57] ἥντινα δὲ γλῶσσαν ἵεσαν οἱ Πελασγοί, οὐκ ἔχω ἀτρεκέως εἰπεῖν. εἰ δὲ χρεόν ἐστι τεκμαιρόμενον λέγειν τοῖσι νῦν ἔτι ἐοῦσι Πελασγῶν τῶν ὑπὲρ Τυρσηνῶν Κρηστῶνα πόλιν οἰκεόντων, οἳ ὅμουροι κοτὲ ἦσαν τοῖσι νῦν Δωριεῦσι καλεομένοισι (οἴκεον δὲ τηνικαῦτα γῆν τὴν νῦν Θεσσαλιῶτιν καλεομένην), [2] καὶ τῶν Πλακίην τε καὶ Σκυλάκην Πελασγῶν οἰκησάντων ἐν Ἑλλησπόντῳ, οἳ σύνοικοι ἐγένοντο Ἀθηναίοισι, καὶ ὅσα ἄλλα Πελασγικὰ ἐόντα πολίσματα τὸ οὔνομα μετέβαλε: εἰ τούτοισι τεκμαιρόμενον δεῖ λέγειν, ἦσαν οἱ Πελασγοὶ βάρβαρον γλῶσσαν ἱέντες. [3] εἰ τοίνυν ἦν καὶ πᾶν τοιοῦτο τὸ Πελασγικόν, τὸ Ἀττικὸν ἔθνος ἐὸν Πελασγικὸν ἅμα τῇ μεταβολῇ τῇ ἐς Ἕλληνας καὶ τὴν γλῶσσαν μετέμαθε. καὶ γὰρ δὴ οὔτε οἱ Κρηστωνιῆται οὐδαμοῖσι τῶν νῦν σφέας περιοικεόντων εἰσὶ ὁμόγλωσσοι οὔτε οἱ Πλακιηνοί, σφίσι δὲ ὁμόγλωσσοι: δηλοῦσί τε ὅτι τὸν ἠνείκαντο γλώσσης χαρακτῆρα μεταβαίνοντες ἐς ταῦτα τὰ χωρία, τοῦτον ἔχουσι ἐν φυλακῇ.

Other Testimonia

Aeschylus, Suppliant Women: cards 323, 348, 600, 1018

Apollodorus, Epitome (ed. Sir James George Frazer): Book E, Chapter 6

Apollodorus, Library: Book 1, Chapter 9; Book 2, Chapter 1

Diodorus Siculus, Library: Book 11, Chapter 60; Book 14, Chapter 113

Euripides, Orestes: cards 844, 931, 1246

Pausanias, Description of Greece: Book 1, Chapter 28; Book 3, Chapter 20; Book 4, Chapter 36; Book 7, Chapter 2; Book 8, Chapter 4

Strabo, Geography: Book 5, Chapter 2; Book 8, Chapter 3; Book 8, Chapter 6; Book 9, Chapter 2; Book 9, Chapter 5; Book 12, Chapter 3; Book 12, Chapter 8; Book 13, Chapter 3; Book 14, Chapter 2

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: Book 4, Chapter 109

P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses: Book 12, Card 580; Book 13, Card 1; Book 14, Card 527

P. Vergilius Maro, Aeneid (ed. Theodore C. Williams): Book 8, Card 585

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History (ed. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.): Book 4, Chapter 37

Other Commentary

David Asheri, Alan Lloyd, Aldo Corcella, A Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV (2007)

Perseus Encyclopedia: Pelasgian, a name applied by Herodotus to the oldest known inhabitants and remains in Greece

W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotos: Book 1, Chapter 56; Book 1, Chapter 57; Book 1, Chapter 66; Book 1, Chapter 171; Book 2, Chapter 51; Book 2, Chapter 171; Book 4, Chapter 145; Book 4, Chapter 146; Book 5, Chapter 26; Book 6, Chapter 34; Book 6, Chapter 137; Book 7, Chapter 42; Book 7, Chapter 170

HarryThurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898): Pelasgi,(Πελασγοί). A name given to the earliest (prehistoric) inhabitants of Greece. In Homer the name applied now to a people in Asia Minor dwelling near Ilium ( Il. ii. 840), and now to people inhabiting various parts of Greece. Thus, Argos is called Pelasgian (id ii. 681), and the god worshipped at Dodona is the “Pelasgian” Zeus (id. xvi. 233). Pelasgians are also spoken of as dwelling in Crete (Odyss. xix. 177). Herodotus tells us that the earliest name that Greece bore was Πελασγία, and ascribes a Pelasgic origin to some of the Greek peoples, as the Arcadians, Athenians, Aeolians, etc. (cf. Herod.i. 146; vii. 94, Herod., 95; viii. 44). He draws a definite distinction between the Pelasgi and the Hellenes proper, as being different in both race and language (i. 56, 58). Thucydides agrees with Herodotus, and goes a step further in identifying them with the Tyrrheni. He also mentions them as found in the island of Lemnos, on which see the article Etruria, p. 625.

Modern scholars, in general, regard the Pelasgi as a prehistoric people, probably non-Aryan in their racial affinities, and possibly to be identified with the same branch as the Etruscans, who came to Greece from Asia at a period earlier than that of the Indo-European migration. Still others use the name as designating the Indo-Europeans before the time of their separation into Greeks and Italians. To them are usually ascribed certain religious cults, which are in their origin non-Hellenic, such as that of the Cabeiri (q.v.) and of Zeus at Dodona; and also the architectural remains popularly called Cyclopean. The ancient authorities on the subject of the Pelasgi are collected by Bruck in his monograph Quae Veteres de Pelasgis Tradiderunt (1884). See also Eissner, Die Alten Pelasger (Leipzig, 1825); Hesselmeyer, Die Pelasgerfrage; Flor, Zur Geschichte der Pelasger (1859); and the articles Cyclopes; Hellas; Indo-European Languages; Mycenae.
 

 

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Disambiguation

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