The origin of “Greeks” in Epirus 

Ancient authors had clearly noted in their writings the non-Hellenic character of the Epiriotans. Strabo (64 BC-24 AD) summarized the southern fringes of barbarian peoples during his time:
“…and even to the present day the Thracians, Illyrians, and Epeirotes live on the flanks of the Greeks (though this was still more the case formerly than now); indeed most of the country that at the present time is indisputably Greece is held by the barbarians–Macedonia and certain parts of Thessaly by the Thracians, and the parts above Acarnania and Aetolia by the Thesproti, the Cassopaei, the Amphilochi, the Molossi, and the Athamanes–Epeirotic tribes. (Strabo- Book 7.7.1)
“The Amphilochians are Epeirotes; and so are the peoples who are situated above them and border on the Illyrian mountains, inhabiting a rugged country–I mean the Molossi, the Athamanes, the Aethices, the Tymphaei, the Orestae, and also the Paroraei and the Atintanes, some of them being nearer to the Macedonians and others to the Ionian Gulf… But the Illyrian tribes which are near the southern part of the mountainous country and those which are above the Ionian Gulf are intermingled with these peoples; …in earlier times these peoples were ruled separately, each by its own dynasty..”. (Strabo 007.007.008)
As we can see Epiriotes are referred as barbarian tribes, as non-Hellenic, as non-Hellenic as the Thracians and the Illyrians. Thucydides had much earlier indicated that the language of Epirios was different from Greek. In referring to Amphilochi who lived near northern confines of Greece, he would say that some Amphilochi had learned Greek from Ambriciots they had invited to settle in their area, while “the rest of Amphilochians speaking a language of their own…”. (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 2.69.1)
While Strabo (007.007.008) makes clear the differences between the Greeks and the Epiriots, he has not pointed out to any differences between the Illyrians and the Epirotes. To the contrary he states that they intermingled, which would infer that they must have been similar in language and manners.
Centuries later, Stephanus Byzantinus (6th century AD) inferred the non-Greek character of Athamania, a region situated south-east of Epirus/west Thessaly, by indicating that it is a place in Illyria (Ethnica, p. 33). This refernce could have not been an accident, but only an affirmation of the survival of the Illyrian population in Epirus.
The non-Greek character of Epirus during this period is also confirmed by another source. The  Albanian historian, Christo Frasheri has referred to Procopius of Caesarea (c. AD 500 – c. AD 554) “Buildings of Justinian” This important source lists the names of castles that Emperor Justinian (527-565) had built or rebuilt in Epirus Vetus and Epirus Nova. He indicated that It is easily observable that among the 37 castle names in Epirus Vetus and 58 castle names in Epirus Nova that existed in the VI century the number of castles with Hellenic or Roman toponyms is meager compared to toponyms thought to belong to the local language, that is Illyrian or pre-Illyrian.
A period of darkness ensued the Slavic onslaught in the southern Balkans. By the beginning of the new millenia, the autochthonous population, ceased to be identified, as Illyrian, Epiriotic or on the bases of tribal names with the emerges of the name Arber, apparently assuming the name of an Illyrian tribe situated in the northeast of Durres, Albania.
George Akropolites Γεῶργιος Ἀκροπολίτης (1217 – 1282) (Translated by Ruth Macrides, Oxford University Press, 2007) confirms the non-Hellenic character of the population of Epirus. He sates that border between Epirus and “our Hellenic land” to be Pindos mountains (p.82). In addition he makes an ethnic distinction between the Epiriots and other Romans, indicating that “the Epiriotes are not Romans; ‘they are the western race’ ( P. 95). In another passage, . Akrop. Expresses a contrast between ‘Nicaea’ and ‘Epiros’ on the bases of ‘us’ from ‘them’: ‘ours’, ‘our men’, ‘our Hellenic land’, as opposed to the ‘western race’… (p.358).
Anonymous Panegyric of Emperors Manuel and John VIII Paleologos (1392–1448), is more specific on the ethnic population of Epirus, “clearly describes the cities of Arta and Ioannina as peopled by Greeks, while the Albanians occupy the rest of Epirus.” (Brendan Osswald, The Ethnic Composition of Medieval Epirus, 2005, p. 10) “Greekness” of Arta and Ioannina is explained by the fact that Arta was a religious and trading center that attracted Greek speaking religious and trading groups, while Ioannina had seen many settlers from Constantinopole in early 1200’s.
It was necessary to recapitulate information that testifies for the survival of the non-Greek, that is Epiriotan/Illyria, population in Epirus. Assumptions that Illyrians/Albanians are intruders have no bases of support. To the contrary, as the case of Ioannina and Arta shows, it is the Greeks and the Hellenic culture that has intruded in Epirus.
Greek historians have been categorical on maintaining that Epiriots were ethnicly Greek from the start and that all contradictory data in their thinking has no validity.  It is this oblivious attitude that has guided Greek nationalist circles and historians about the ‘Epiriotens’ after the Greek Independence.
At the same time there have been individual historians who have not followed blindly this claim. Evangelia Balta on a study titled The Ethnic and Religious Composition of Ottoman Thesprotia in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries, published by  Suomen Ateenan-Instituutin säätiö (Foundation of the Finnish Institute at Athens), Helsinki 2011, has dealt with the question of ethnicity of Epirus. The study is based on research of Ottoman defters of tax payers, specifically the ethnic affiliation of names of household heads of villages. Data was available for Paramithia, Philates and Margariti areas, as they are known today, for the period right after the Turkish takeover.
Originally it was the Albanian researcher, Ferid Duka, that had reported about apparent ethnicity of Thesprotia/Cameria’s population, based on the names of households heads, as shown on the Ottoman defters in 15th and 16th centuries, after Turkish takeover. According to Duka, these defters contain an overwhelming number of households heads with Albanian names, names such as,
Gjin Jorga, Gjin Gjoni, Gjin Kemerxhiu, Gjin Steri, Gjin Nikolla, Gjin Moçare, Gjin Gjurka, Gjin Nika, Gjin Mirali, Gjinaq Tupe, Gjin Todri, Tupe Gjin Todri, Gjin Ngjevi, Ngjevi Gjini, Deda Gjini, Nika Gjini, Martin Gjini, Gjin-lala Marushi, Martin Gjin Lala, Llaq Gjini, Niko Gjini, Gjin Lapa, Gjin Dhimaqi, Gjin Jani, Dhimo Gjini, Nika Gjini, Thanas Gjini, Gjin Andria, Ahmed Gjini, Hasan Gjini, Osman Gjin-Leka, etc., in Adjonat and Mazrek.
Same type of finding is revealed for the area further north, the Sanxhak of Delvina (1431-1432) in Vurg, which today has some Greek speaking villages, had only four villages, Finiki, Vurgo, Jeromi dhe Krajna, with few inhabitants. Evident in this area are Albanian names as Gjin Reçi, Gjin Panariti, Gjin Zagorino, Gjin Krali, Leka Gjini, Kozha Gjini, Gjin Vija, Zhupa Gjin, Gjini Spiri, Gjin Andrea, Gjon Dorza, Gjon Zhurmo, Meksh Gjoni, Polimer Gjoni, Gjin Ilia, Gjin Pelegri, Gjin Kasnesi, Gjon Pelegri, Dhimo Gjini, Gjon Martini, Martin Gjoni, Deda Gjoni.
More or less the same onomastics picture is revealed in the 1583 defters for the area. For Finik are shown names as Nikë Gjoni, Gjoni Duka, Dhimo Gjoni, Qirjak Gjoni, Gjero Gjoni, Jani Gjoni, Gjon Nikolla, Ilia Gjoni, Gjin Nika, Gjin Dhimo, Jani Gjini etc. At the same time it should be pointed out at this time many names of Greek influence appear, names such as Jani, Jorgo, etc.
The same reality is shown for the area to the west, the seashore strip, in the defters of 1583. In Himara, for the 137 registered household names, the Albanian name Gjin appears 19 times, Todor Gjini, Gjin Gjon Aleksi, Gjin Gjorzaj, Gjin Todori, Gjin Meksi, Gjok Dhim Gjini, Gjok Gjini, Todor Gjin Gjoni, Dhimo Gjin Dhima, Gjok Gjin Petri, Nika Gjini, Martin Gjini; ndërsa emri Gjon (Gjokë) 17 herë: Gjon Palloshi, Gjon Pavllari Mëhilli, Gjon Leondari, Gjon Menika, Gjoka Boga, Gjoka Dhamo, Gjoka Nika, Gjok Gjini, Gjoka Jorgo, Gjok Menkuli, Petri Gjoni, Mark Gjoni, Gjika Gjoni, Dhimo Gjon Vllasi, Kond Gjoni, Nikolla Gjoni.
It is interesting to note the findings for the area which today is populated by the Greek minority in Albania. The Ottoman registration for Sanxhak of Vlora 1519-1520 defters, include the names of the heads of households for the Dropull Valley, specifically for villages  Goranxi e Sipërme, Qestorat, Asharat, Goranxi e Poshtme, Vodhinë, Korshovicë, Jorgucat, Bodrishtë (together with the Karasili neighborhood), Terihat, Lugari, Goricë, Grapsh, Dhuvjan, Llovinë, Krinë, Derviçan, Haskovë, Vanishë dhe Sofratikë (19 villages in all).
The household heads of these villages bear characteristically Albanian personal names such as Gjon, Gjin, Gjergj, Leke, Pale, etc., but Greek versions of these names also appear.
In Goranxi të Sipërme (with 170 household heads), Gjon appears 30 as first name or last: Gjon Sima, Gjon Braili, Gjon Petra, Gjon Martini, Gjon Guma, Gjon Tupe, Gjon Gjini, Gjon Brati, Gjon Thanasi, Gjon Nika, Gjon Pali, Gjon Leka, Dhima Gjoni, Leka Gjoni, Deda Gjoni, Kava Gjoni, Guma Gjoni, Sima Gjoni, Martin Gjoni, Zoja Gjoni, Vreto Gjoni, Stamad Gjoni, Gjin Gjoni, Gjika Gjoni.
Albanian names are present also for the other half of the name Gjin: Gjin Leka, Gjin Dedushi, Gjin Dhima, Gjin Gjoni, Gjin Isheri, Gjin Muzhaqi, Gjin Martini, Gjin Deda, Gjin Boga, Gjin Kondi, Lush Gjini, Gjon Gjini, Leka Gjini, Deda Gjini, Stoja Gjini, Nika Gjini, Andre Gjini, Dhima Gjini, Kond Gjini, Shtin Gjini…
Also in Derviçan, which appears fairly Hellenized, are encountered characteristically Albanian names, such as, Jani Gjini, Gjin Spato, Gjon Jorgji, Jorgo Gjoni, Nako Bard(h)i, Jorgo Babi, Mano Çuni, Dartho Çuni, Jani Çuni, Kosta Lula, Mano Shpata, Lluka Prushi, Dhimo Prushi, Jani Dragoi etj. *
This information confirms the validity of the information conveyed in Anonymous Panegyric of Emperors Manuel and John VIII Paleologos that Epirus was Albanian inhabited. As of now there is no data to support the Greek contention that Epirus had been originally, or ever, inhabited by the Greeks.
The study mentioned above, The Ethnic and Religious Composition of Ottoman Thesprotia in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries. Makes the following conclusion about the ethnicity of area’s population:
“With the help of the Ottoman sources, we have followed the development of the area and population of Chamouria from the mid-fifteenth until the seventeenth century when, gradually, it passed into Ottoman domination. The settlements of the three kazas of Aydonat (Paramythia), Parakalamo (Filyat) and Mazaraki (Margariti) constituted, during this period, a dense and, by and large, highly populated network, as shown by the numbers of recorded tax-payers. The taxable inhabitants of the towns and villages recorded in the older records were exclusively Christian until the early sixteenth century when Muslims appeared in some of the settlements. The origin of these Muslims should be attributed to conversions, but also to the settlement of Muslim Albanian nomadic tribes, as well as Christian nomadic tribes, because otherwise it is not possible to explain the continuation of either the region’s urban density or the demographic size of the settlements, since there was at the same time a strong wave of Christian inhabitants migrating to Venetian territory.” (p. 367)
“It is nearly impossible to attain a clear understanding from the Ottoman tax registers of the ethnic and cultural groups which constituted the region’s population, in other words to distinguish the Albanians, Sarakatsani and Vlachs. By studying the personal names from some settlements, such as Agia, we have confirmed that already in the early seventeenth century the population was densely Albanian. The picture which emerges from the tax registers of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries complements evidence from eighteenth-century Ottoman documents, as well as material from Venetian and Greek sources. Furthermore, it also indicates the imposition of leaders from clans of Albanian converts to Islam and the process by which land was divided up into private estates, the typical land arrangement of the nineteenth century.” (p.368)
Based on the summary submitted above indicating the non-Greek character of Epirus, and as Anonymous Panegyric of Emperors Manuel and John VIII Paleologos clearly evidences that the area was Albanian inhabited in the XIV century, one can’t escape from concluding that the area was historically an Albanian ethnic area.
There is no doubt, as the Albanian historians indicate, about the predominance of ethnic Albanian names in the area. But Balta chooses to be vague and indirect.  She states, ” The taxable inhabitants of the towns and villages recorded in the older records were exclusively Christian…” Correct, but the names have Albanian ethnic affiliation, and these “Christians” were Albanian. For sure she would have noted if the names were of Greek affinity.
In an intended way, she accepts the Albanian ethnic affiliation of the population, but refrains from challenging the Greek nationalist claim and states that “by studying the personal names from some settlements, such as Agia, we have confirmed that already in the early seventeenth century the population was densely Albanian.” She makes the fallacious statement “that already in the early seventeenth century”, thus allowing for the baseless assumption that Epirus was Greek originally, but was Albanized during the Ottoman period. For this conclusion, for which opinion she finds no support whatsoever in her research. The earliest data from the Ottoman defters indicate that Epirus was a compact part of Albanian inhabited territories at the time of Turkish takeover.
camuriaethnicThe origin of modern Greeks in Epirus has to be explained with-in this context. Being that Epirus was historically an Albanian ethnic territory, it is the Greek ethnicity that is non-native. By all indications the bulk of “Greeks” in Epirus are a product of a originally religious and later ethnic assimilation process. This conclusion does not exclude the possibility of minor population movements and settlements over the centuries on both of today’s state border.
*These findings are summarized by Shaban Demiraj in Epiri, Pellazgët, Etruskët dhe Shqiptarët, Infbotues, Tiranë 2008


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