Arybbas of Epirus: An exiled king honored by Athens
Arybbas was king of the Molossians and Epirus circa 360-350 B.C.E. He was the son of Alcetas I (r. 389-388; 385-370) and brother of Neoptolemus I (r. 370-360). Arybbas was a Molossian (the largest tribe in Epirus) and a member of the royal house of the Aeacidae. He likely co-ruled Epirus or specific regions of it during the reign of his brother Neoptolemus.
Securing a firm rule over Epirus
Alcetas gained sole kingship in circa 350s. To seal his sole authority over Epirus, Arybbas married Troas (his niece), the daughter of Neoptolemus. As a result, Arybbas became guardian over the two other children of Neoptolemus, Olympias of Epirus and Alexander I the Molossian. As such, Arybbas prevented contests for his throne while maintaining internal stability.
External threats, however, Alcetas had to endure by force. In his first accession years, king Bardylis of Illyria launched a major assault on Epirus. Considering Illyrian superiority in open battle, Alcetas had to rely on stratagems and a scourged-land strategy to cope with the attack. He first evacuated the non-combatant population (elders, women, children) into the neighboring Aetolia. Then, he let the Illyrians progress deep and distract themselves into looting. Once the Illyrian forces dissolved into separate, smaller, and unlinked units, Alcetas struck. The combined arms strategy of Barlylis and the brute Illyrian force failed. After the troops of Alcetas killed many enemies, the Illyrians retreated from Epirus.
A disappointing alliance
According to Justin (7.6.10-12), circa 357, Arybbas arranged the marriage of his niece Olympias with Philip II of Macedon. Olympias and her (likely teenage) brother, Alexander the Molossian, moved to the Macedonian court in Pella. Such a marriage happened after Philip had also overcome the initial difficulties of his reign. The arrangement initially served both leaders. Philip had his back secured to expand southeast. Arybbas could rely on an ally that could keep hostile Illyrians in check. However, after some time, Philip deemed Arybbas a threat rather than an ally.
Philip used his brother-in-law to contest the authority of Arybbas. According to Justin (8.6.4), Philip “corrupted the morals of Alexander, and when he reached the age of 20, handed over to him the kingdom of Arybbas”. So, in about 350, Philip intervened in Epirus, likely by force, and expelled Arybbas from his kingdom. The dethroned Arybbas sought asylum in Athens. In summer 349, Demosthenes confirms Arybbas’s expulsion in his First Olynthiac speech.
Arybbas in the Hellenic context
Arybbas, as his predecessors (Alcetas I and grandfather, Tharypas), was a pro-Athenian. His consistent pro-Athenian stance caused the final rift between him and Philip II. Also, Arybbas likely encouraged the Hellenization process across Epirus initiated by his grandfather. An honorary decree discovered in 1840 in Athens (the tallest ever found there – the EM 13291) celebrates Arybba’s participation and victories in the Pythian (or Delphic games) and Olympic games (likely those held respectively in 360 and 352). The Epirote ruler was victorious in the chariot race (tethrippon), at least in the one held at Delphi.
The same inscription celebrating the chariot triumphs reveals the privileges Arybbas enjoyed as an exile in Athens from 350-342. The Athenians granted Arybbas Athenian citizenship, the highest honor given to a non-Athenian. With that citizenship right, he enjoyed legal protection, the right to own land and a residence in Athens, complete access to Athenian assemblies, and tax relief. In this manner, Athens confirmed to Arybbas the same rights his father and grandfather enjoyed.
Diodorus (16.72.1) is the one who registered the latest event related to Arybbas. The historian records the demise of Arybbas in exile in the year of the archon Sosigenes (342/341). The monarch from Epirus left behind his son Aeacides, father of Pyrrhus. We can disregard one Aryptaios who appears as a Molossian leader in the Lamian War (323-322).
Acropolis Museum. Honorary decree for Arybbas, King of the Molossoi of Epirus. Inventory number: EM 13291. Retrieved from: https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/honorary-decree-arybbas-king-molossoi-epirus.
Diodorus. Bibliotheca Historica.
Errington, R. M. (1975). Arybbas the Molossian. Philipps-Universität, Marburg/Lahn. August, 1974.
Frontinus. The Strategemata.
Justin Frontinus. Epitome.
Treves, P. (1942). The Meaning of Consenesco and King Arybbas of Epirus. The American Journal of Philology. Vol. 63, No. 2, pp. 129-153.