The Kaucones (or Kaukones; Greek: Καύκωνες) were an autochthonous tribe of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) whose migrations brought them to the western Greek mainland in Arkadia, Triphylian Pylos, and north into Elis. According to Herodotus and other classical writers, they were displaced or absorbed by the immigrant Bithynians, who were a group of clans from Thrace that spoke an Indo-European language. Thracian Bithynians also expelled or subdued the Mysians, and some minor tribes, the Mariandyni alone maintaining themselves in cultural independence, in the northeast of what became Bithynia. Strabo (12.3.3) acknowledges that in earlier times Bithynians were called Mysians who, in turn, Herodotos (7.20, 75) says alongside Teukrians were invaders of northern Greece (Thessaly) before the Trojan War.
The Kaukones appear in the Iliad Book X, when the Trojan herald Dolon reveals the array of Trojan allies, ranged among their neighbors like a lesson in geography: "Towards the sea lie the Karians, and Paionians of the bent bow, and the Leleges and Kaukones, and noble Pelasgians." Kaukones Book XX were polemon meta thôrêssonto, "equipping themselves for war," as allies of the Trojans, when in a lighter moment, the hero Aenias fell into their midst, saved by Poseidon from certain death in direct combat with the mighty Greek hero Akhilles. Aenias moves west in time receiving honors from Vergil among the founders of the Roman Empire. Recognition of the Kaukones as deserving a place in the Neleiad kingdom in southwestern Greece occurs in later epic. Efforts were made, we are told by Pausanias (4.1.5). to 'historicize' Kaukôn as the early ancestor of the Athenian genos Lykomidai around 480BC by inventing a grandson of an earth-born Phlyus named Kaukôn who taught the Eleusinian Mysteries to a royal queen Messene. His name was Kaukôn, a teacher of religious rites.
In the Odyssey (3.366), Athena tells Nestor at Pylos in preparation for an ox sacrifice that she will secure the offering locally: "I'll go to the Kaukones, where there's an old debt still owing me, not a small amount." This allusion may refer to northern inhabitants in Elis, from Bouprasion to Dymê, that Strabo's evidence claimed were Kaukones. Their penetration beyond Arkadia (Strabo 7.7.1-2) and their claims to be sons of Lykaon or Lykos (Apollodoros Lib.3.8.1) explains their enduring presence over time in literature. Pausanias' description of the carved figure of Kaukôn holding a lyre atop his tomb speaks to their tribal poetic literacy. Several scholars believed Pylian Kaukones (Hdt.4.148, 1.147, 5.65) brought Neleid legends and Nestor's polemic exhortations to Kolophon. Mimnermos (fr9, 14-15, Strabo 14.1.3-4) their ancestor extended the traditional royal "we" of Homeric Nestor in his words of inspiration to Smyrnaeans fighting Lydian Gyges in the Hermos plain (Paus.4.21.2, quoted by Messenian Theoklos, Paus.5.8.7, 9.29.4). A Bronze Age titular figure of Kukunnis (KWKWN), son of Lykos (RWQQ), left an inscribed hieroglyphic obelisk for the governor of Byblos; and, as ruler of Wilusa (Ilion), he was commanded in correspondence by Hittite Muwatalli II (father of Mursili III), to "adopt an heir" named Alaksandu for the throne.
Strabo (8.3.14-15) in discussing Triphylian Pylos lists Kaukones inhabiting Lepreion as does Pausanias (5.5.5), a settlement that may have had custody over Hades-Demeter shrines at Mt. Minthê that grew mint used for the kukeiôn at Eleusis (Hom. Hymn to Demeter 209 glêkhôni). These Kaukones enter history with their expulsion (Hdt.4.148) and dispersion to Athens (Paus.2.18.7-8, 7.2.1-5) and Ionian Miletos (Hdt.1.146-7), after contributing to the spread of the Eleusinian Great Goddesses into Messenia and Thebes (Paus.4.1.5-9). With these passages Pausanias affirms Herodotos (2.51) on the spread of Hermes and a cult of Kabeiroi throughout Attika under Hipparkhos between 528-514 BC employing inscribed square-cut figures of Hermes in marble as road markers (Plato Hipparkhos 228B-229B). A Kaukôn priest Methapos had done much the same at Thebes. The Milesian Kaukones, according to Herodotos (1.147), possessed ancestry from Pylian Kodros, son of Melanthos, the very same genealogy Herodotos (5.65) assigns to the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos. Strabo (12.3.5) reported Kaukones inhabiting the southern Black Sea coast from Herakleia Pontika (modern Karadeniz Ereğli) to Karambis promontory at Teion, on the Parthenios River, their likely Homeric geography (Iliad 20.328-9).
- T.W. Allen JHS 30 (1910) 302.
- Wainwright JEA 47 (1967) 71 note 5; Albright BASOR 55 (1959) 33ff.