Leleges - Greece and The Aegean

Greece and The Aegean

A single passage in the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue of Women places "Leleges" in Deucalion's mythicized and archaic time in Locris in central Greece. Locris is also the refuge of some of the Pelasgian inhabitants forced from Boeotia by Cadmus and his Phoenician adventurers. But not until the 4th century BCE does any other writer place Leleges anywhere west of the Aegean. But the confusion of the Leleges with the Carians (immigrant conquerors akin to Lydians and Mysians) which first appears in a Cretan legend (quoted by Herodotus, but repudiated, as he says, by the Carians themselves) and is repeated by Callisthenes, Apollodorus and other later writers, led easily to the suggestion of Callisthenes, that Leleges joined the Carians in their (half legendary) raids on the coasts of Greece.

Herodotus (1.171) says that the Leleges were a people who in old times dwelt in the islands of the Aegean and were subject to Minos of Crete (one of the historic references that led Sir Arthur Evans to name the pre-Hellenic Cretan culture "Minoan"); and that they were driven from their homes by the Dorians and Ionians, after which they took refuge in Caria and were named Carians. Herodotus was a Dorian Greek born in Caria himself.

Meanwhile, other writers from the 4th century onwards claimed to discover them in Boeotia, west Acarnania (Leucas), and later again in Thessaly, Euboea, Megara, Lacedaemon and Messenia. In Messenia, they were reputed to have been immigrant founders of Pylos, and were connected with the seafaring Taphians and Teleboans, and distinguished from the Pelasgians. However, in Lacedaemon and in Leucas they were believed to be aboriginal and Dionysius of Halicarnassus mentions that Leleges is the old name for the later Locrians. These European Leleges must be interpreted in connection with the recurrence of place names like Pedasus, Physcus, Larymna and Abae, both in Caria, and in these "Lelegian" parts of Greece. Perhaps this is the result of some early migration; perhaps it is also the cause of these Lelegian theories; perhaps there was a widespread pre-Indo-European culture that loosely linked these regions, a possibility on which much modern hypothesis has been constructed.

Aryan Indo-European theorists of the 19th century who inspired modern heirs:

  • H. Kiepert. "Über den Volksstamm der Leleges", (in Monatsberichte Berliner Akademie, 1861, p. 114) asserted that the Leleges were an aboriginal people and linked them to Illyrians.
  • K. W. Deimling. Die Leleger (Leipzig, 1862), places their origins in southwest Asia Minor, and brings them thence to Greece, essentially repeating the classical Greek view.
  • G. F. Unger. "Hellas in Thessalien," in Philologus, supplement. ii. (1863), made them Phoenician.
  • E. Curtius. History of Greece, (vol. i) even distinguished a "Lelegian" phase of nascent Aegean culture.

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