Tharypas: The Competent King of the Molossians in Epirus
Tharypas was king of the Molossians in Epirus from at least 429 B.C.E. to 385 B.C.E. He was the son of king Admetus (whom he succeeded; the same one who sheltered Themistocles), and Phthia I. The reign of Tharypas marks a long period of alliance between Epirus and Athens, with the additional purpose of checking the rising power of Macedon. He also broke the supremacy of the Chaonians in favor of his tribe, the Molossians, across Epirus.
Youth in Athens
Thucydides is the first to mention Tharypas when relating events of 429. At that time, Molossians, dominated by the Chaonians, sent an anti-Athenian expedition against Stratus, a settlement in Acarnania. The young (probably infant) Tharypas was present as the king of the Molossian or Molossian League. Tharypas was so young at that time that someone named Sabylintus, his guardian or regent, conducted the royal affairs. The expedition failed, which prompted a change in foreign policy among the Molossians and the beginning of the reduced power of the Chaonians.
After Chaonians failed under the walls of Stratus, the Molossians approached Athens as their ally, as opposed to Sparta. For this reason, they sent their young king Tharypas to Athens to receive an Athenian education and, more importantly, to seal the friendship with Athens. In Athens, young Tharypas must have been impressed by the Greek culture, science, and political structure. He soon befriended the Athenian elite.
Alliance with Epirus was also valuable for Athens, beyond just checking Macedonian power (at the time insignificant). Through Epirus, Athens could maintain its influence over the prosperous region of Thessaly, a land the Athenians had befriended in 433. As such, the Athenians welcomed Tharypas and took care of his education.
Launch of a Hellenization Process Across Epirus
When Tharypas returned to his homeland, he was determined to spread the Athenian and Hellenic way of life across his domain. He started a policy of Hellenisation by first reimagining the ancestral story of his people. At this time, Euripides, the famous playwright, published his tragedy, Andromache. It told the story of the widow of Hector and her vicissitudes after the fall of Troy, including her relationship with her new husband, Neoptolemus, son of Achilles. The initial plot likely did not mention any connection between Neoptolemus and the Molossians. Being in Athens, Tharypas and his Athenian friends could influence a small but meaningful addition to the story. Notably, after the play, Thetis proclaims how the child of Andromache and Neoptolemus would establish a line of kings that would reign over the Molossians, on and on in continuous prosperity.
The edited Andromache allowed Tharypas to claim an origin from Achilles and prove his Greekness. Soon, the Athenians granted the reformed Tharypas Athenian citizenship. Ties with Athen and the Hellenic world secured Tharypas a strong position as a ruler in Epirus. Tharypas made sure to promote his heroic and royal ancestry to his subjects. At his royal palace at Passaron, he invited Euripides to stage his Andromache.
Administration, Urbanization, & Commerce
Tharypas initiated other state-backed Hellenistic practices. He introduced Greek letters and language into the aristocratic circles and state administration. The ruler also financed construction projects that improved urbanization across Epirus (though very limited in reach). Urban centers were developed in Greek fashion and based on Greek layout and architecture. Investment focused on Passaron, the royal seat of the Molossian ruler.
In about 400, the Molossian League became the first state to mint its coins in Epirus. Following the pro-Athenian policy of Tharypas, the coins carried a weight equalling those of Attica. Such minting stimulated the internal economy and eased the commercial exchanges with Athens. The Athenians had, by now, replaced Corinthians as the biggest trading partner of the Epirot tribes.
The Closing Remarks
Tharypas ruled up until 389 or 385. Alcetas I, his only attested son, succeeded him on the throne. Despite geopolitical difficulties shaking his throne in Molossia, Alcetas never abandoned the pro-Athenian policy initiated by his father.