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Illyrians (Ancient Greek: Ἰλλυριοί, Illyrioi; Latin:
Illyrii or Illyri) were a group of Indo-European tribes in antiquity,
who inhabited part of the western Balkans.  The territory the
Illyrians inhabited came to be known as
Illyria to Greek and Roman
authors, who identified a territory that corresponds to Croatia,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, part of
Serbia and most
of central and northern Albania, between the
Adriatic Sea in the west,
Drava river in the north, the Morava river in the east and the
mouth of the
Aoos river in the south. The first account of Illyrian
peoples comes from the Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax, an ancient Greek
text of the middle of the 4th century BC that describes coastal
passages in the Mediterranean.
The name "Illyrians", as applied by the ancient
Greeks to their
northern neighbors, may have referred to a broad, ill-defined group of
peoples, and it is today unclear to what extent they were
linguistically and culturally homogeneous. In fact, an Illyric origin
was and still is attributed also to a few ancient peoples in Italy, in
particular the Iapyges,
Dauni and Messapi, as it is thought that, most
likely, they had followed
Adriatic shorelines to the peninsula, coming
from the geographic "Illyria". The
Illyrian tribes never collectively
regarded themselves as 'Illyrians', and it is unlikely that they used
any collective nomenclature for themselves. In fact, the name
Illyrians seems to be the name applied to a specific Illyrian tribe,
which was the first to come in contact with the ancient
the Bronze Age, causing the name
Illyrians to be applied pars pro
toto to all people of similar language and customs.
The term "Illyrians" last appears in the historical record in the 7th
century, referring to a Byzantine garrison operating within the former
Roman province of Illyricum.
Illyrians in Greek mythology
4 Depiction in Greco-Roman historiography
5.2 Roman rule
8 Identities and linguistics
10.1 Middle Ages
10.2 Early modern usage
10.3 In nationalism
10.3.1 South Slavs
11 See also
14 External links
Illyrians in Greek mythology
Illyrius and siblings.
In later Greek mythology,
Illyrius was the son of
Harmonia who eventually ruled
Illyria and became the eponymous
ancestor of the whole Illyrian people.
Illyrius had multiple sons (Encheleus, Autarieus, Dardanus, Maedus,
Taulas and Perrhaebus) and daughters (Partho, Daortho, Dassaro and
others). From these, sprang the Taulantii, Parthini, Dardani,
Encheleae, Autariates, Dassaretae and the Daors. Autareius had a son
Pannonius or Paeon and these had sons Scordiscus and Triballus. A
later version of this mythic genealogy gives as parents
Galatea, who gave birth to Celtus, Galas, and Illyrius, three
brothers, progenitors respectively of Celts, Galatians and Illyrians
expresses perceived similarities to
Gauls on the part of the
Ethnogenesis of the Illyrians.
Iron Age Glasinac culture (around 300 BC).
Even before the advent of post-modernism, scholars recognized a
"difficulty in producing a single theory on the ethnogenesis of the
Illyrians" given their heterogeneous nature. Modern scholarship is
unable to refer to the
Illyrians as a unique and compact people and
agrees that they were a sum of ill-defined communities without common
origins that never merged to a single ethnic entity.
On the other hand, some past
Pan-Illyrian theories have been dismissed
by scholars, based as they were on racialistic notions of Nordicism
and Aryanism. The specific theories have found little
archaeological corroboration, as no convincing evidence for
significant migratory movements from the Luzatian culture into the
Balkans have ever been found. Rather, archaeologists from
the former Yugoslavia highlighted the continuity between the Bronze
Iron Age (especially in regions such as Donja Dolina,
central Bosnia-Glasinac, and northern
Albania (Mat river basin)),
ultimately developing the so-called "autochthonous theory" of Illyrian
genesis. The "autochthonous" model was most elaborated upon by
Alojz Benac and B. Čović. They argued (following the "Kurgan
hypothesis") that the 'proto-Illyrians' had arrived much earlier,
Bronze Age as nomadic Indo-Europeans from the steppe. From
that point, there was a gradual Illyrianization of the western Balkans
leading to historic Illyrians, with no early
Iron Age migration from
northern Europe. He did not deny a minor cultural impact from the
northern Urnfield cultures, however "these movements had neither a
profound influence on the stability.. of the Balkans, nor did they
affect the ethnogenesis of the Illyrian ethnos".
Aleksandar Stipčević raised concerns regarding Benac's
all-encompassing scenario of autochthonous ethnogenesis. He points out
"can one negate the participation of the bearers of the field-urn
culture in the ethnogenesis of the
Illyrian tribes who lived in
Slovenia and Croatia" or "
Hellenistic and Mediterranean
influences on southern
Illyrians and Liburnians?". He concludes
that Benac's model is only applicable to the Illyrian groups in
Serbia and a part of Dalmatia, where there had indeed
been a settlement continuity and 'native' progression of pottery
sequences since the Bronze Age. Following prevailing trends in
discourse on identity in
Iron Age Europe, current anthropological
perspectives reject older theories of a longue duree (long term)
ethnogenesis of Illyrians, even where 'archaeological continuity'
can be demonstrated to
Bronze Age times. They rather see the
emergence of historic
Illyrians tribes as a more recent phenomenon -
just prior to their first attestation.
Illyrian colonization of
Italy (IX century BC).
The impetus behind the emergence of larger regional groups, such as
"Iapodes", "Liburnians", "Pannonians" etc., is traced to increased
contacts with the Mediterranean and La Tène 'global worlds'. This
catalyzed "the development of more complex political institutions and
the increase in differences between individual communities".
Emerging local elites selectively adopted either La Tène or
Hellenistic and, later, Roman cultural templates "in order to
legitimise and strengthen domination within their communities. They
were competing fiercely through either alliance or conflict and
resistance to Roman expansion. Thus, they established more complex
political alliances, which convinced (Greco-Roman) sources to see them
as ‘ethnic’ identities." Contemporary perspectives again
highlight that the term "Illyrian" was a 'catch-all' exonym used by
Greeks and Romans to denote diverse communities beyond Epirus and
Macedonia. Each was differentially conditioned by specific local
cultural, ecological and economic factors; none of which fall into a
compact, unitary "Illyrian" narrative.
The name of
Illyrians as applied by the ancient
Greeks to their
northern neighbours may have referred to a broad, ill-defined group of
peoples, and it is today unclear to what extent they were
linguistically and culturally homogeneous. The
Illyrian tribes never
collectively regarded themselves as 'Illyrians', and it is unlikely
that they utilized any collective nomenclature for themselves.
The term Illyrioi may originally have designated only a single people
who came to be widely known to the
Greeks due to proximity. This
occurred during the Bronze Age, when Greek tribes were neighboring the
southernmost Illyrian tribe of that time in the
Zeta plain of
Montenegro. Indeed, such a people known as the Illyrioi have
occupied a small and well-defined part of the south
Skadar Lake astride the modern frontier between
Montenegro. The name may then have expanded and come to be applied to
ethnically different peoples such as the Liburni, Delmatae, Iapodes,
or the Pannonii. In any case, most modern scholars are certain the
Illyrians were not a homogeneous entity.
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder referred, in his Natural History, to "Illyrians
proper" (Illyrii proprie dicti) as natives in the south of Roman
Illyrian Wars employed the more common broader
usage, simply stating that
Illyrians lived beyond Macedonia and
Thesprotia to the Danube River.
Depiction in Greco-Roman historiography
Illyrians were regarded as bloodthirsty, unpredictable, turbulent, and
Greeks and Romans. They were seen as savages on the
edge of their world.
Polybius (3rd century BC) wrote: "the Romans
had freed the
Greeks from the enemies of all mankind". According
to the Romans, the
Illyrians were tall and well-built. Herodianus
writes that "
Pannonians are tall and strong always ready for a fight
and to face danger but slow witted".
Livy wrote "...the coasts of
Italy destitute of harbours, and, on the right, the Illyrians,
Liburnians, and Istrians, nations of savages, and noted in general for
piracy, he passed on to the coasts of the Venetians". Illyrian rulers
wore bronze torques around their necks.
Further information: Illyrian warfare
Central and northern
Illyrian tribes and neighbours during the Roman
Illyrian tribes and northwestern
Greeks prior to Roman
Illyria appears in
Greco-Roman historiography from the 4th century BC.
Illyrians formed several kingdoms in the central Balkans, and the
first known Illyrian king was Bardyllis.
Illyrian kingdoms were often
at war with ancient Macedonia, and the Illyrian pirates were also a
significant danger to neighbouring peoples. At the Neretva Delta,
there was a strong
Hellenistic influence on the Illyrian tribe of
Daors. Their capital was
Daorson located in Ošanići near
Herzegovina, which became the main center of classical Illyrian
culture. Daorson, during the 4th century BC, was surrounded by
megalithic, 5 meter high stonewalls, composed out of large trapeze
Daors also made unique bronze coins and sculptures. The
Illyrians even conquered
Greek colonies on the Dalmatian islands.
Teuta was famous for having waged wars against the Romans.
After Philip II of
Bardylis (358 BC), the Grabaei
Grabos became the strongest state in Illyria. Philip II
Illyrians in a great victory and annexed the territory up
to Lake Ohrid. Next, Philip II reduced the Grabaei, and then went
for the Ardiaei, defeated the
Triballi (339 BC), and fought with
Pleurias (337 BC).
Illyrian Wars of 229 BC, 219 BC and 168 BC Rome overran the
Illyrian settlements and suppressed the piracy that had made the
Adriatic unsafe for Italian commerce. There were three campaigns,
the first against
Teuta the second against Demetrius of Pharos and
the third against Gentius. The initial campaign in 229 BC marks the
first time that the
Roman Navy crossed the
Adriatic Sea to launch an
Roman Republic subdued the
Illyrians during the 2nd century BC. An
Illyrian revolt was crushed under Augustus, resulting in the division
Illyria in the provinces of
Pannonia in the north and
the south.
Further information: Illyricum (Roman province), Moesia, and Dalmatia
Roman province of Illyricum.
Roman province of Illyricum or Illyris Romana or Illyris Barbara
Illyria Barbara replaced most of the region of Illyria. It
stretched from the Drilon river in modern
in the west and to the
Sava river (between
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina and
northern Croatia) in the north.
Salona (Solin near modern Split in
Croatia) functioned as its capital. The regions which it included
changed through the centuries though a great part of ancient Illyria
remained part of Illyricum as a province while south
Epirus Nova.
After 9 AD, the remnants of
Illyrian tribes moved to new coastal
cities and larger and more capable civitates.
The prefecture of Illyricum was established in the Eastern Roman
Empire (Byzantine Empire), existing between 376 and the 7th century.
The northern half of formerly Illyrian-inhabited territory was overrun
by the Slavic incursions in the 6th and 7th centuries and was
ultimately absorbed into the medieval states of
Serbia and Croatia.
Main article: Illyrian warfare
The history of
Illyrian warfare spanned from around the 10th century
BC up to the 1st century AD in the region defined by
Ancient Greek and
Latin historians as Illyria. It concerns the armed conflicts of the
Illyrian tribes and their kingdoms in the
Italy as well as
pirate activity in the Mediterranean and
Adriatic seas. Apart from
Illyrians and neighbouring nations and tribes,
numerous wars were recorded among
Illyrian tribes also.[citation
See also: Paleo-Balkanic mythology
The mythology and religion of the
Illyrians is only known through
mention of Illyrian deities on
Roman Empire period monuments, some
with interpretatio Romana. There appears to be no single most
prominent Illyrian god and there would have been much variation
between individual Illyrian tribes. According to John Wilkes, the
Illyrians did not develop a uniform cosmology on which to center their
religious practices. The Illyrian town of
Risan, Montenegro) had its own protector called Medauras depicted as
carrying a lance and riding on horseback.
Human sacrifice also played a role in the lives of the Illyrians.
Arrian records the chieftain Cleitus the Illyrian as sacrificing three
boys, three girls and three rams just before his battle with Alexander
the Great. The most common type of burial among the
Illyrians was tumulus or mound burial. The kin of the first
tumuli was buried around that, and the higher the status of those in
these burials the higher the mound.
Archaeology has found many
artifacts placed within these tumuli such as weapons, ornaments,
garments and clay vessels.
Illyrians believed these items were
necessary for a dead person's journey into the afterlife.[citation
Identities and linguistics
Main article: Illyrian languages
Further information: Messapian language, Venetic language,
Balkans languages, and Thraco-Illyrian
Illyrians were subject to varying degrees of Celticization,
Hellenization, Romanization, and later Slavicization.
The languages spoken by the
Illyrian tribes were Indo-European. It is
not clear whether the
Illyrian languages belonged to the centum or the
satem group. The vast majority of our knowledge of Illyrian is based
on Messapian, if the latter is considered an Illyrian dialect. The
non-Messapic testimonies of Illyrian are too fragmentary to allow any
conclusions whether Messapian should be considered part of Illyrian
proper. It has been widely thought that Messapian was related to
Illyrian. Messapian (also known as Messapic) is an extinct
Indo-European language of south-eastern Italy, once spoken in Messapia
(modern Apulia). It was spoken by the three Iapygian tribes of the
region: the Messapians, the
Daunii and the Peucetii. The Illyrian
languages were once thought to be connected to the Venetic language
but this view was abandoned. Other scholars have linked them with
Thracian language supposing an intermediate convergence
area or dialect continuum, but this view is also not generally
supported. All these languages were likely extinct by the 5th
century although traditionally, the
Albanian language is
identified as the descendant of Illyrian dialects that survived in
remote areas of the
Balkans during the Middle Ages, but evidence "is
too meager and contradictory for us to know whether the term Illyrian
even referred to a single language". The ancestor dialects of
Albanian would have survived somewhere along the boundary of
Greek linguistic influence (the Jireček Line). There are various
modern historians and linguists believe that modern Albanian language
might have descended from a southern Illyrian
dialect[excessive citations] whereas an
alternative hypothesis holds that Albanian was descended from
Thracian. Not enough is known of the ancient language to
completely prove or disprove either hypothesis (see Origin of
Further information: Prehistoric Balkans
Details of the late antique cathedral complex in Byllis,
Adriatic sea in the distance.
Walls of ancient Daorson, located at Ošanići near
Stolac in Bosnia
There are few remains to connect with the
Bronze Age with the later
Illyrians in the western Balkans. Moreover, with the notable exception
of Pod near
Bugojno in the upper valley of the Vrbas River, nothing is
known of their settlements. Some hill settlements have been identified
in western Serbia, but the main evidence comes from cemeteries,
consisting usually of a small number of burial mounds (tumuli). In the
Belotić and Bela Crkva, the rites of exhumation and
cremation are attested, with skeletons in stone cists and cremations
in urns. Metal implements appear here side-by-side with stone
implements. Most of the remains belong to the fully developed Middle
Bronze Age.
During the 7th century BC, the beginning of the Iron Age, the
Illyrians emerge as an ethnic group with a distinct culture and art
Illyrian tribes appeared, under the influence of the
Halstatt cultures from the north, and they organized their regional
centers. The cult of the dead played an important role in the
lives of the Illyrians, which is seen in their carefully made burials
and burial ceremonies, as well as the richness of the burial sites. In
the northern parts of the Balkans, there existed a long tradition of
cremation and burial in shallow graves, while in the southern parts,
the dead were buried in large stone, or earth tumuli (natively called
gromile) that in
Herzegovina were reaching monumental sizes, more than
50 meters wide and 5 meters high. The Japodian tribe (found from
Bihać in Bosnia) have had an affinity for
decoration with heavy, oversized necklaces out of yellow, blue or
white glass paste, and large bronze fibulas, as well as spiral
bracelets, diadems and helmets out of bronze. Small
sculptures out of jade in form of archaic Ionian plastic are also
characteristically Japodian. Numerous monumental sculptures are
preserved, as well as walls of citadel Nezakcij near Pula, one of
numerous Istrian cities from Iron Age. Illyrian chiefs wore bronze
torques around their necks much like the
Celts did. The Illyrians
were influenced by the
Celts in many cultural and material aspects and
some of them were Celticized, especially the tribes in Dalmatia
and the Pannonians. In Slovenia, the
Vače situla was discovered
in 1882 and attributed to Illyrians. Prehistoric remains indicate no
more than average height, male 165 cm (5 ft 5 in),
female 153 cm (5 ft 0 in).
Illyrians were mentioned for the last time in the Miracula Sancti
Demetrii during the 7th century. With the disintegration of the
Roman Empire, Gothic and Hunnic tribes raided the Balkan peninsula,
Illyrians to seek refuge in the highlands. With the
arrival of the
Slavs in the 6th century, most
Early modern usage
During the late
Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the term "Illyrian"
was used to describe
Slavs living within the territories of Croatia,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Austria, Hungary and
Serbia (and in
other countries abroad). The term was revived again during the
Habsburg Monarchy, but it was designated towards South Slavs.
Further information: Illyrian movement
Napoleon conquered part of the South Slavic lands in the
beginning of the 19th century, these areas were named after ancient
Illyrian provinces. Under the influence of Romantic nationalism, a
self-identified "Illyrian movement" in the form of a Croatian national
revival, opened a literary and journalistic campaign initiated by a
group of young Croatian intellectuals during the years of
1835–49. This movement, under the banner of Illlyrism, aimed to
create a Croatian national establishment under Austro-Hungarian rule
but was repressed by the Habsburg authorities after the failed
Revolutions of 1848.
Further information: Albanian nationalism
The possible continuity between the Illyrian populations of the
Balkans in antiquity and the
Albanians has played a
significant role in
Albanian nationalism from the 19th century until
the present day. For example, Ibrahim Rugova, the first President of
Kosovo introduced the "Flag of Dardania" on October 29, 2000, Dardania
being the name for a
Thraco-Illyrian region including parts of eastern
Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia and Southern Serbia.
List of ancient tribes in Illyria
List of rulers in Illyria
Origin of Albanians
Prehistory of the Balkans
Early history of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatia before the Croats
^ Frazee 1997, p. 89: "The Balkan peninsula had three groups of
Indo-Europeans prior to 2000 BC. Those on the west were the Illyrians;
those on the east were the Thracians; and advancing down the southern
part of the Balkans, the Greeks."
^ Wilkes 1995, pp. 6, 92; Boardman & Hammond 1982,
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 94.
^ a b Roisman & Worthington 2010, p. 280: "The Illyrians
certainly never collectively called themselves Illyrians, and it is
unlikely that they had any collective name for themselves."
^ a b Boardman 1982, p. 629.
^ a b Wilkes 1995, p. 92.
^ Schaefer 2008, p. 130.
^ E.g. in the myth compendium Bibliotheca of PseudoApollodorus
III.5.4, which is not earlier than the first century BC.
^ Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 230; Apollodorus &
Hard 1999, p. 103 (Book III, 5.4)
^ Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 168.
^ a b Stipčević 1977, p. 15.
^ Wilkes 1992, p. 38.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 81.
^ a b Stipčević 1977, p. 17.
^ a b Stipčević 1977, p. 19.
^ a b Dzino 2012.
^ Wilkes 1992, p. 39 argues that "cannot fail to impress through
their weight of archaeological evidence; but material remains alone
can never tell the whole story and can mislead."
^ Maggiulli, Sull'origine dei Messapi, 1934; D’Andria,
Peuceti, 1988; I Messapi, Taranto 1991
^ Dzino 2012, pp. 74-76.
^ Dzino 2012, p. 97.
^ Dzino 2012, pp. 84-85.
^ Wilkes 1995, pp. 81, 183.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 38: "Just as ancient writers could discover no
satisfactory general explanation for the origin of Illyrians, so most
modern scholars, even though now possessed of a mass of archaeological
and linguistic evidence, can assert with confidence only that
Illyrians were not a homogeneous entity, though even that is today
challenged with vigour by historians and archaeologists working within
the perspective of modern Albania."
^ Roman History: "The Illyrian Wars", livius.org; accessed April 3,
^ Whitehorne 1994, p. 37; Eckstein 2008, p. 33; Strauss
2009, p. 21; Everitt 2006, p. 154.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 4
^ Champion 2004, p. 113.
^ Juvenal 2009, p. 127.
^ a b Wilkes 1995, p. 219.
^ Wilkes 1992, p. 223.
^ Hammond 1994, p. 438.
^ Hammond 1993, p. 106.
^ Hammond 1993, p. 107.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 158.
^ Boak & Sinnigen 1977, p. 111.
^ Gruen 1986, p. 76.
^ a b Smith 1874, p. 218.
^ Wilkes 1969, p. 156.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 245: "...Illyrian deities are named on
monuments of the Roman era, some in equation with gods of the
classical pantheon (see figure 34)."
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 244: "Unlike Celts, Dacians,
Scythians, there is no indication that
Illyrians developed a uniform
cosmology on which their religious practice was centred. An etymology
of the Illyrian name linked with serpent would, if it is true, fit
with the many representations of..."
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 247.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 123.
^ Bunson 1995, p. 202; Mócsy 1974.
^ Pomeroy et al. 2008, p. 255
^ Bowden 2003, p. 211; Kazhdan 1991, p. 248.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 183.
^ a b Eastern Michigan University Linguist List: The Illyrian
Language, linguistlist.org; accessed April 3, 2014
^ Ammon et al. 2006, p. 1874: "Traditionally, Albanian is
identified as the descendant of Illyrian, but Hamp (1994a) argues that
the evidence is too meager and contradictory for us to know whether
the term Illyrian even referred to a single language."
^ Ceka 2005, pp. 40–42, 59
^ Thunmann, Johannes E. "Untersuchungen uber die Geschichte der
Oslichen Europaischen Volger". Teil, Leipzig, 1774.
^ see Malcolm, Noel. Origins: Serbs, Vlachs, and Albanians. Malcolm is
of the opinion that the
Albanian language was an Illyrian dialect
preserved in Dardania and then it (re-?)conquered the Albanian
^ Indo-European language and culture: an introduction By Benjamin W.
Fortson Edition: 5, illustrated Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2004
ISBN 1-4051-0316-7, ISBN 978-1-4051-0316-9
^ Stipčević, Alexander. Iliri (2nd edition). Zagreb, 1989 (also
published in Italian as "Gli Illiri")
^ NGL Hammond The Relations of Illyrian
Albania with the
the Romans. In Perspectives on Albania, edited by Tom Winnifrith, St.
Martin’s Press, New York 1992
^ Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture By J. P. Mallory, Douglas Q.
Adams Edition: illustrated Published by Taylor & Francis, 1997
ISBN 1-884964-98-2, ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5
^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 9;Fortson 2004
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 140.
^ Wilkes 1995, p. 233.
^ Bunson 1995, p. 202; Hornblower & Spawforth 2003,
^ Hornblower & Spawforth 2003, p. 1106
^ Juka 1984, p. 60: "Since the
Illyrians are referred to for the
last time as an ethnic group in Miracula Sancti Demetri (7th century
AD), some scholars maintain that after the arrival of the
Illyrians were extinct."
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Media related to
Illyrians at Wikimedia Commons
Phallic Cult of the Illyrians
Monte Saraceno woman
Alexander's Balkan campaign
War of the Batons
Illyrian type helmet
Cities & settlements