The Other Alexander: Who Was Alexander of Molossia? | History Hit

The Other Alexander: Who Was Alexander of Molossia?

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In 359 BC, the Greek mainland was entering a period of great change. The ‘Golden Age‘ that had spanned most of the past 120 years – a time when powers such as Athens, Sparta and Thebes had reached their zenith – was at an end. No longer were these great cities all-powerful in the central Mediterranean. By 359 BC, they had become weak and divided; the military make-up of the Aegean was transforming.

Change was also taking place in the north, where more-peripheral Hellenic realms also started to transform. Their rise from relative obscurity was unprecedented. One such realm was the Kingdom of Molossia, and at its head would rise an unlikely leader.


Situated in the rugged region of Epirus in North-West Greece was the Kingdom of Molossia, the alleged home of the descendants of Achilles. Molossia had acted as a frontier region of the Greek world for centuries. The threat of barbarians descending from the north, hungry for plunder and booty, was a constant threat. The Molossians had sufferred from such raids for centuries and as a result were no strangers to war.

For many Greeks, Molossia was therefore merely a volatile frontier region. Its peoples’ suffering protected the more wealthy and ‘civilised’ Greek cities further south from the threat of pillaging barbarians. That along with harbouring the famed Oracle of Zeus at Dodona was as far as the region’s importance appeared to stretch. All this, however, was about to change.

Statue bust of the head of Philip II of Macedon

Image Credit: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The alliance

In 358 BC, an agreement was signed that would catapult Molossia to become one of the most powerful Greek kingdoms of the time. Arybbas, then King of Molossia, agreed to form an alliance with a neighbouring ambitious, young king to the North-East. His name was Philip II, ruler of the Kingdom of Macedonia and a man whose deeds would completely alter the Greek world.

Just as with Arrybas and his Molossians, Philip and his Macedonians had also been suffering from devastating barbarian incursions for decades. Both desired to be rid of it. They quickly realised the benefits of Molossian-Macedonian cooperation to combat this threat. Uniting their royal houses through blood, both kings agreed that Philip would marry Olympias, the beautiful, young niece of Arrybas. This new alliance affected Olympias’ future, but also that of her brother Alexander. Not to be confused with Alexander the Great, Alexander would also become closely associated with Philip and Macedonia following 358 BC. 

The alliance falters

Not long after the sealing of the marriage alliance, relations between Philip and Arrybas started to turn sour. A great quarrel quickly erupted (we do not know the cause) with no signs of calming. War between these two former allies appeared only a matter of time. Philip acted first.

Seeking to keep Arrybas in check, the Macedonian king invaded Molossia in 350 BC, seizing Alexander – who at that time was still only a teenager – as a royal hostage. With the young Alexander in tow, Philip returned to Macedonia, his main objective achieved. For the time being, Arrybas had been put back in check. Reaching Philip’s royal court at Pella, Alexander reunited with his sister Olympias and began his time as a hostage. Far from treating him poorly, however, Philip ensured his subjects treated his brother-in-law as his royal title deserved, providing him with a Greek education.

Alexander remained detained in Macedonia for the rest of his teenage years, observing and learning the art of charismatic and clever kingship firsthand from Philip and his greatest generals – men such as Parmenion, Coenus and Cleitus.

Alexander of Molossia

Image Credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

343 BC: upheaval in Molossia

Back in Molossia Alexander’s uncle, Arrybas, was in dire straits. The seizing of Alexander as a hostage by Philip had only temporarily calmed his quarrel with the Macedonian king. Soon enough relations turned toxic once more. In 343 BC, Arybbas found himself fighting against Philip for control of his kingdom. But to no avail. In 343 BC, Philip defeated the Molossian king, driving him into exile in Athens. Philip had ousted Arrybas; Molossia was his. But who could Philip entrust to manage this important kingdom? Fortunately, there was one young royal Molossian who was perfect for the role.

Alexander had come a long way from the young teenager he had been when he first arrived in Macedonia. Having witnessed the successes of Philip and his companions, the young Molossian had developed into a very capable leader. Not only did he have a very close (possibly even intimate) link with Philip, but Alexander had developed into a charismatic leader with a burning desire for conquest; his ethos had become very similar to that of Philip. He was ready to rule.

Tristan Hughes