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The Locrians ( ) were an ancient Greek tribe in Greece. The Locrians spoke the Locrian dialect, a Doric-Northwest dialect, and this indicates that they must have been relatives of the Dorians. They inhabited the ancient region of Locris in Central Greece.

The prehistoric residents of Locris were Leleges and the latter were replaced by Locrians, when the Greek tribes started to arrive in Southern Greece. However, Dionysius of Halicarnassus does not separate them, mentioning that Locrians is the later name of the Leleges, in the way other ancient historians identify Hellenes with the peoples who preceded them in Greecemarker. Aristotle and other writers supposed the name of the Locrians to be derived from Locrus, an ancient king of the Leleges. (Aristot.; Hes. ap. Strabo vii. p. 322; Scymnus Ch. 590; Dicaearch. 71; Plin. iv. 7. s. 12.) According to some traditions, Deucalion, the founder of the Hellenic race, is said to have lived in the Locrian town of Opus or Cynus. (Pind. Ol. ix. 63, seq.; Strab. ix. p. 425.)

History and distribution

The Locrians are said to have arrived in southern Greece in the late 2nd millennium BC from their homeland on Pindusmarker, when the Greek tribes moved southwards. In historical times the Locrians were divided into two distinct tribes, differing from each other in customs, habits and civilization. Of these the eastern Locrians, called the Opuntian and Epicnemedian, dwelt upon the eastern coast of Greece, opposite the island of Euboeamarker, while the western Locrians, called Ozolian or Esperian, dwelt upon the Corinthian gulfmarker and were separated from the former by Mount Parnassus and the whole of Dorismarker and Phocis. (Strab. ix. p. 425.)

It is likely that the Locrians at one time extended from sea to sea, and were torn asunder by the immigration of the Phocians and Dorians. (Niebuhr, Lectures on Ancient Ethnography, vol. i. p. 123.) The most famous colony of the Locrian tribe was the city of Epizephyrian Locrimarker, founded in the 7th century BC in Magna Græcia, which exists until today as Locri. According to Strabo the founders were the Ozolian Locrians, from the region of Amphissamarker.

In the 6th century BC, the Locrians had a series of conflicts with the neighbouring tribes. Only the Opuntian Locrians are mentioned by Homer; they were the more ancient and the more civilized. The Ozolian Locrians, who are said to have been a colony of the former, are not mentioned in history until the time of the Peloponnesian War, and are even then represented as a semi-barbarous people. (Thuc. i. 5.) That was the last mention of the Ozolian Locrians, as they suffered the defeat from Corinth later and they stopped having a distinct identity in the 4th century BC. The Opuntian Locrians, who are mentioned to have taken part in the battle of Thermopylaemarker between the Greeks and the Persians, were attacked by various tribes which devastated their country and only some of their towns preserved the Locrian identity in the 3rd century BC.


The Locrians around Thermopylaemarker were the first to have been called Hellenes and later the name expanded to the other Greek tribes through the Amphictionia of Delphimarker, to which they belonged, and their religion. The most famous of their heroes were Ajax the Locrian, best known as Ajax the Lesser, son of Oileus, and Patroclus, son of Menoetius and best friend of Achilles. Elements of Ajax worship have been found in Euboeamarker, Pontus, the Aegean islands, Asia Minormarker, Peloponnesusmarker, Kerkyramarker, Epirus, southern Italymarker and northern Africa, which means that the Locrian civilization was widely extended in the ancient Greek world. In the Greek mythology, the Locrians are closely related to the Phociansmarker and Eleans.

James M. Redfield, professor of Classics at the University of Chicagomarker, in his book The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy, states that the Locrians of Epizephyrian Locri had a special way to treat the sex difference. Although the Locrians hardly viewed men and women as equals, women held special religious rights, which men could gain access to only by marrying them. Locrian women became the vehicles for the transmission of status, and marriage maintained the social order of a traditional oligarchy.

Ajax the Lesser

Ajax raping Cassandra from the Palladium.
Side A of an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 540 BC.
From Vulci.
The national hero of the Locrians was Ajax the Locrian, who led the 40 Locrian ships to Troymarker, to take part in the Trojan War. Locrians respected him so much, that after his death they kept a place for him in their phalanx, thinking that he will always fight with them. On the other side, Ajax's actions resulted in his death according to Greek mythology, while the Locrian tribe suffered from the anger of the gods. After the fall of Troy, he raped Cassandra in the temple of Athena, where she had taken refuge as a supplicant. For this crime, Poseidon wrecked the ship of Ajax on the coast of Euboea and Ajax was killed by a lightning bolt.

The curse

According to Lycophron, in his work Alexandra, for this crime of their national hero, the Locrians had to send two unmarried maidens to the temple of Athena at Ilionmarker of Athensmarker for 1,000 years, where they should live until they died. After their death, they would not be given a decent burial, while for each maiden who died, another one must be sent into the temple by night, and she would be stoned to death if seen.

The goddess is referred to as "Athena Ilias", a name not necessarily derived from Ilion, but maybe from the family deity Oileus, the father of Ajax and the ancestral hero of the Locrians. She could have protected the maidens during their period of initiation

Callimachus mentions that the curse fell upon Locris three years after the Trojan war, which led to the beginning of the tribute at the command of the Delphic oracle. According to Apollodorus, after the command of the Delphic oracle, two maidens were sent to Ilion, and their duty was to clean the temple. After their death, they were replaced, while the tribute ended after a thousand years with the end of the Phocian War, which destroyed Naryca, the town that supplied the maidens. Aelian says that the plague, fell upon Locris after the Locrians failed to send the yearly tribute that the oracle demanded. Demetrius of Scepsis knows that the maidens were sent for the first time "when the Persians were already in control", so after 547 BC.

Locrian maidens had the appearance of a Greek mourner, as they went to Ilion barefoot, wearing only one garment and their hair was loose or cut. Cut hair symbolizes maturity for both sexes and plays a part in marriage rituals, while loosened or cut hair are required in other cults such as to Demeter and Dionysus, and bare feet in other as well. In addition to these, loosened hair and bare feet are signs of a witch.

These maidens were not given proper burials, as most of them were burnt on a pyre of barren branches and the ashes were thrown to the sea. This kind of pyre was used in Greece to burn criminals and the barren trees were used to burn portents and prodigies, while criminals were hanged from these trees. Locrian maidens were seen as marginal beings and scapegoats, separated from normal life, a feature of rites of passage. The three stages of rites of passage are separation, marginalization and reincorporation, and according to this, the maidens left for Ilion, spent a year there and returned home. In Epizephyrian Locri, maidens were prostituted as a reminder and punishment for a certain act. Ancient basis for prostitution was that girls would marry earlier than their coevals and foreigners would complete the rites. The completion of the rites enhances the status of girls.

In the middle of the 6th century, this cult became more epic focused and centered on the expiation for the crimes of Ajax. As a result, later generations forgot its significance and put an end to this tribute.

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