Pelasgians (Gr. ), a people spoken of by the ancient Greeks as the early inhabitants of the Grecian peninsula, the islands and coasts of the AEgean, and portions of Asia Minor and Italy. Our knowledge about them is very vague and contradictory. Several Egyptologists, including Lenormant and Oha-bas, suppose they find in the Egyptian inscriptions detailed accounts of the Pelasgic race. According to them the Pelasgians were, even earlier than the 15th century B. 0., a mighty people in possession of the northern coasts of the Mediterranean. They carried on an extensive commerce both by sea and land, and had a navy large enough to venture on a war with Egypt. They formed a confederation with the Libyans, Tyrrhenians, and Achseans during the reign of Eameses II., which nearly conquered Lower Egypt, and at one time advanced beyond Memphis. (See Libyans.) Ancient Greek writers speak of the Pelasgians as tribes not formed into a nation, without a navy, not warlike, but migratory and agricultural.
Homer regards them as the aborigines of Greece, whose original seat was in the neighborhood of Dodona, and who spread themselves over Thessaly, Boeotia, Attica, and a portion of the Peloponnesus, especially Ar-gos and Arcadia. He connects them also with Asia Minor and Crete, AEschylus makes Pe-lasgus, the king from whom the race derived its name, a ruler over the whole of Greece; while Herodotus says that Greece was called Pelasgia, and includes under the common name of Pelasgians the Athenians, the Arcadians, the Ionians of Asia Minor, the Lemnians, the Samothracians, and the Crestonians. On the other hand, Thucydides says the Pelasgians were only the most numerous of the many kindred races which inhabited Greece. They came from the east, passing over from Asia Minor, where they had built the two cities which bore the name of Magnesia, to the islands and the mainland of Greece, and establishing themselves principally in Thessaly, Epirus, and the Peloponnesus. In Italy the southern tribes, such as the Peucetians, CEno-trians, and Japygians, were of Pelasgic race; and at one time the population of Etruria was also Pelasgian to a very great extent.
Judging alone from these vague allusions to them by the ancient Greeks, it would seem that at the beginning of the history of Greece the Pelasgians of Asia were declining, holding only a few scattered posts, "the last strongholds," says Eawlinson, " of a people forced everywhere to yield to conquerors. The natural explanation of the historical phenomena is that the Pelasgi were the original population of western Asia, and that their emigrations across the sea into Europe were occasioned by the pressure upon them of immigrants from the east, Lydians, Phrygians, and Carians, who forced them westward, and so caused their occupation of Greece and Italy." They were skilled in fortification, and in every land which they once inhabited their presence can still be traced by numerous works of defence, built of immense polygonal blocks of stone fitted together without mortar or cement, which have outlasted the structures of succeeding ages and races. These works are commonly called Cyclopean, from their grandeur and antiquity. No historic mention of the Pelasgians occurs in the later writers. Hence it is impossible to determine who they really were, and whatever is advanced in regard to them is mere conjecture.
In speaking of the origin and relationship of the Greek language, mention has been made of some of the numerous hypotheses recently brought forward. (See Greece, Language and Litera-ture of.) It is also unknown to what language the name Pelasgian belongs, some declaring it Greek, others Semitic, and others Thraco-lllyric. Some connect it with or , names of equally uncertain origin; others with Pelishti or Pelashi (Philistine), meaning emigrant, and referring to a supposed expulsion from Egypt; and others adopt the popular tradition of modern Greeks that Shki-petaric, the language of the Albanians, is the modern representative of the ancient Pelasgian. Egyptologists, on the other hand, are confident that they are correct in deciphering from the hieroglyphs fragmentary notices of the Pelasgian as the most powerful seafaring nation at and before the time of the Phoenicians.