Illyria and the Illyrians

Episode I: The composition of Illyria

The Illyrians were a population group that inhabited most of the southwestern Balkans along the Adriatic seacoast during the antiquity. In essence they inhabited all the northern area from mainland Hellas reaching as far as the Danube where they bordered and intermingled with the Celts. Eastward they bordered with the Thracians. Several Hellenic colonies were established along their seacoast so they also bordered these city-states and even intermingled in some cases and at various periods with their citizens. Their land is commonly referred to as “Illyria” but with the notion having little or no political meaning. Thus, it would be speculative to treat Illyria as referring to an ancient, inclusive, and coherent state organized and run by the Illyrians. Instead, the Illyrians were organized into different tribes and tribal association provided the main sense of identity and belonging.

It is generally accepted that the Illyrians were first a Bronze Age population group, tribe, or community. Later, the term “Illyrian” was used by classical writers to refer to all the peoples that shared a similar culture and language and that inhabited the large region north of Hellas. Although they were labeled with a common name, the Illyrians were internally divided into many tribes. These tribes fought constantly against each other and against neighboring states, making this region relatively unstable. Intertribal wars were mainly caused by two reasons: to ensure the control over scarce resources in a region with limited agricultural resources and to maintain the authority of the tribal leader over his/her subjects and expand it. Thus, it should be noted that when an “Illyrian kingdom” or “Illyrian king” is mentioned in literary sources, it does not refer to the whole “Illyria” as a region but only to a part of this region where numerous Illyrian tribes had been joined by force or will into one state. Among the many Illyrian tribes, the strongest were the Autariatae, the Ardiaei, and the Dardanians.

On elf the first attested Illyrian king is Bardylis I (r. 393-353). Various scholars have linked Bardylis with various Illyrian tribes. For some time, it was assumed that he was a member of the Dardanians and thus the king (and even founder) of Dardania. Other have linked Bardylis with the Ardiaei in an attempt to establish him as a dynastic predecessor of the later kings of the Ardiaei. The generally accepted version is that Bardylis was a member of the Enchelei, an Illyrian tribe that occupied the area around Lake Lychnidus (Ohrid). However, it should be noted that Bardylis was able to create a state in which various Illyrian tribes were included in addition to the Enchelei, such as the Dassaretae, the Taulantii/Parthini, the Labeates, and potentially the Dardanians. Thus, he may be considered as the first Illyrian that ruled over a multi-tribal Illyrian state.

Map of the Illyrian tribes and the neighbouring entities during antiquity.
Map of the Illyrian tribes and the neighbouring entities during antiquity.

Episode II: Decoding “Periplus”

One of the oldest sources mentioning the Illyrian population is the “Periplus” (“Navigation”) of Pseudo-Skylax. It is thought that this work was compiled sometime during the mid-fourth century B.C.E. The work consists of descriptions of various places and populations located around the coasts of the whole Mediterranean Sea. These descriptions include the regions along eastern Adriatic, where the Illyrians as a population are introduced along with important geographical features related to them. The distances are measured in stades or in days of voyage (sailing). A stade represents an ancient unit of measurement equivalent to 177 meters. Accordingly, the “Periplus” presents the northernmost Illyrian regions as follows:

Chapter XXII. Illyrioi

And after Libyrnians are the Illyrian nation, and the Illyrians live along beside the sea as far as Chaonia by Kerkyra, the island of Alkinoös [Alkinous]. And there is a Hellenic city here, which has the name Herakleia [unknown], with a harbour. The barbarians called Lotus-eaters are the following: Hierastamnai, Boulinoi (Hyllinoi), coterminous with Boulinoi the Hylloi. And these say Hyllos son of Herakles settled them: and they are barbarians. And they occupy a peninsula a little lesser than the Peloponnese. And from peninsula parastonion is upright: Boulinoi live beside this. And Boulinoi are an Illyric nation. And the coastal voyage is of the territory of Boulinoi of a long day up to Nestos River.

Chapter XXIII

And from Nestou the voyage is gulf-shaped. And all this gulf is called Manios. And the coastal voyage is of one day. And there are in this gulf islands, Proteras [Tragyra; Trogir], Krateiai [Brattia; Brac], Olynta [Šolta]. And these from one another are distant 2 stades or a little more, by Pharos [Hvar] and Issa [Vis]. For here is New Pharos [Hvar], a Hellenic island, and Issa [Vis] island, and these are Hellenic cities. Before sailing along the coast up to the Naron River, much territory extends very much into the sea. And there is an island near the coastal territory, which has the name Melite [Mljet] and another island near this, which has the name Kerkyra the Black [Korčula]: and this island runs out very much with one of the promontories from the coastal territory, and with the other promontory it comes down to the Naron [Neretva] river. And from Melite [Mljet] it is distant 20 stades, and from the coastal territory it is distant 8 stades.

Chapter XIV. Manloi

 And past the Nestoi is the Naron [Neretva] river: and the voyage into the Naron is not narrow, and even a trireme sails into it, and boats do so into the upper trading-town [Emporion; Narona; Vid], distant 80 stades from the sea. And these people are a community of the Illyrioi, the Manioi. And there is a lake inland from the trading-town, a great one, and the lake extends to the Autariatai [Autariatae], an Illyrian community. And there is an island in the lake of 120 stades And from this lake the Naron [Neretva] River flows away.”

The first one of the above chapters describes the coastal lands in between the rivers Krka and Nestos (Cetina). This area represents what can be called as the northernmost part of coastal Illyria. Three Illyrian tribes (the Hierastamnai, the Boulinoi, and the Hylloi) are mentioned as situated in this area. The later were apparently only small Illyrian tribes with no significant impact on the power dynamics of the region. From these tribes, the name of the Hylloi is linked with Hyllos, the mythological son of Heracles. This name continued to be used even in Roman times to refer to the cape on the coast south of current Šibenik/Shibenik (Hylla peninsula). The later was connected with the cult of the Trojan hero Diomedes who apparently wondered in this shores after the fall of Troy.

The text of the “Periplus” presented above mentions several Illyrian tribes notably the Nestoi/Nestaioi, the Manloi/Manioi, and the Autariatae/Autariatai. The later are of significant importance since according to Strabo they represented one of the strongest Illyrian tribes. Thus, an understanding of the descriptions of the “Periplus” and especially of the features mentioned in chapter XIV is necessary for putting the Autariatae into a right geographical context.

According to “Periplus”, the lands of the Autariatae begin east of a “great lake” from which the Naron (Neretva) River flows away. Thus, the identification of this lake is crucial for determining the westernmost border of the Autariatae. Many proposals have been made presented as representing the lake of Pseudo-Skylax. The proposals include lake Scutari, lake Ohrid, and Mostarsko Blato. None of them seems satisfactory and does not fit the description of the ancient text. A recently revived thesis based on a proposal made by C. Patsch in 1906 seems more plausible.

C.Patsch suggested that the “great lake” mentioned in the “Periplus” actually referred to the current marshy region of Hutovo Blato. In ancient time, the marshes of Hutovo Blato may have actually formed a significant water surface. Hutovo Blato is located 10 km east of Metković and 7 km southeast of Čapljina. Furthermore, in its northernmost corner a real lake is located, the one named Deransko (Deransko Jezero). The later divides Hutovo Blato into two parts. From Deransko, the Krupa River stems from. Krupa itself is a branch of the Neretva River (ancient Narona). Thus, the interpretation of the “Periplus” of Narona steming from the “great lake” is technically correct if this “great lake” is indeed identified whith Hutovo Blato. During the raining seasons, the whole region of Hutovo Blato turns into a large water surface that resembles a proper lake with a depth of 1-1,5 meters.

Hutovo Blato covers a surface of 7,411 ha. The small peninsula of Ostrovo gives the impression of an island located within the lake, as described in the Periplus. Ostrovo, about 123 meters above the sea level, is located in between Deransko and Hutovo Blato. The surface of Ostrovo, although not small, is not as large as the island of the “Periplus”. Thus, it is not 20 km (120 stades). However, it is unclear if the 120 stades of the island refer to its size or longitude. C. Patsch suggests that the current villages of Teoc, Čeljevo, Zgoni, Višići, Skočim, and Trsana represent the island mentioned in the “Periplus”.

One of the main Illyrian settlements mentioned in the “Periplus” is the “upper trading town” identified with ancient Narona. The city of Narona served as an important center of the Illyrian civilization. Its ruins are now found in Vid near Metkovic south of present day Croatia. The ancient city of Narona represented one of the most typical Illyrian cities. It had a pure Illyrian identity since it is one of the fewest places along the Adriatic where almost no ancient Greek inscription has been found. This is especially incredible considering that the city was already established by the IV century B.C.E. Although it is known that the city was founded and inhabited by the Illyrians, it is difficult to specify the name of the specific tribe in its territory. However, it has been suggested that the Illyrian tribe of the Daorsi ruled the city before the Illyrian Ardiaei subdued them. The old Illyrian fortresses in this area are concentrated on the hill near Vid as well as the hills of Marusica Gradina (375 m) and Velika Mitrusa (460 m).

Gentius, the young king of the Illyrians

Episode I: A New King

Gentius was king of the Illyrians (Rex i Illyricorum) during 181-167 B.C.E. Gentius was a royal member of the Illyrian tribe of the Ardiaei, son of Pleuratus and Eurydice. Thus, his state is referred either as the kingdom of Illyria or as the kingdom of the Ardiaei. According to Livy, Gentius had one brother, Plator and one half-brother from his mother Eurydice, Caravantius. Gentius succeeded his father Pleuratus III (r. 200-181) on the Illyrian throne during a time when the Roman Republic had spread its control and influence over the Illyrian coast and Macedon. King Gentius is mostly known for leading an Illyrian resistance against the Roman Republic during 168-167 B.C.E. This stance is known as the Third Illyrian War. Also, Gentius represents one of the Illyrian kings for whom we have most classical literal information on. However, this evidence is still limited when compared with other figures of the Roman and Hellenic world.

During his reign, Pleuratus III had stayed loyal to the Roman Republic and had acted mostly as a vassal king. On the other hand, his son had other ambitions. He aimed at increasing his regional authority and gaining almost complete independence from Rome. Also, efforts were put into established a more centralized system of monterary, fiscal, and military authority along the Illyrian lands. These efforts and the inherited hostile view on the Illyrians may have incited Polybius to write that Gentius “treated his subjects with great cruelty”. On the same passage, Polybius writes the following:

Genthius, king of Illyria, owing to his intemperate habits, was guilty of many licentious acts being constantly drunk night and day. Having killed his brother Plator, who was about to marry the daughter of Monunius, he married the girl himself…” (Polybius, XXIX)

Part of this passage may well be an exaggeration and as such we cannot determine if Gentius was responsible for the kill of his brother or if this is part of the Roman tendency to depict Illyrians as savages. However, the marriage mentioned above may in fact be accurate since the same event is mentioned in other classical sources. Accordingly, in 169 B.C.E., one year before the outbreak of the war against the Romans, Gentius married Etleva/Etuta, daughter of Monunius, the Dardanian king. This marital arrangement may have been part of Gentius efforts to ally himself with other regional powers. However, this was not the case at the beginning of his reign. Initially Gentius acted as an ally of the Roman Republic against the kingdom of Macedon but later showed sings of neutrality or autonomy. The Romans and the Roman propaganda did not welcome these signs. Although the king of the Ardiaei did not engage in hostilities against Rome before he allied with the Macedonians of Perseus, the Roman Republic had already put his actions under close observation and scrutiny.

Episode II: Roman-Illyrian relations

Rome was the one that began the hostilities with the Illyrian king after the later had just seized power over the Ardiaei. Thus, in 180, the Roman praetor L.Duronis confiscated 10 Illyrian ships owned by Gentius and brought them at Brundisium (Brindisi). Duronis then went in Roma and stated before the Roman Senate the Illyrian ships were caught committing piracy and abducting Italian merchants on the eastern waters of the Adriatic Sea. The Illyrian king was directly accused of instigating such actions. Furthermore, the Romans made the Illyrian king responsible for the capturing of Roman/Italian ships and imprisoning of their crew at the island of Corcyra Negra (Korcula).

The accusations for piracy against the Romans were clearly artificial constructs. In fact, the labeling of the Illyrians as leaders of piratical raids along the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea had been a recurrent theme of the Roman propaganda and had preceded all the Illyrian-Roman wars. Thus, the diplomatic aggressiveness of the Republic towards Gentius may indicate that the Romans were preparing for another military campaign against the Illyrians and against other various independent and semi-independent polities across the Balkans. The expansionist project of Rome towards eastern Adriatic would soon culminate with their victory over both the Illyrian kingdom of Gentius and the kingdom of Macedon by 167 B.C.E. Regarding the Illyrian king, Gentius cannot have been the instigator of piratical raids against Roman ships in the Adriatic at this time even if he wanted to achieve complete independence from the Romans. The Illyrian ruler had no interest in opening a conflict against the Romans after he had just sat on the throne of the Ardiaei. Thus, Gentius sent an Illyrian delegation before the Roman Senate in order to dismiss the accusations of piracy and abduction of Roman ships and merchants. The Illyrian delegation was apparently successful in their mission since no punitive action and/or penalty against Gentius is recorded. Thus, the Illyrian ruler could concentrate on securing his authority domestically.

Episode III: Internal Administration and Composition

When Gentius came into the Illyrian throne, the Dalmatian, an Illyrian tribe that occupied the Dalmatian coast and that had previously been under the control of Pleuratus III, established an independent state separate from that of Gentius. Their separation and the risk of losing control over other tribal lands must have encouraged Gentius into pursuing a new administrative strategy from his predecessors. Now, the boundaries of the kingdom of Gentius were as follows: in the northwest, it extended up to the lands of the Daorsi and the valley of river Naro (Neretva). In the north and northeast, the lands of other independent Illyrian entities were located, notably those of the Autariatae and the Dardanians. The eastern border went through the Mount Scardos (Sharr mountains) and the lower course of the Drin River up to Lychnidos (Ohrid). The southern line is the most difficult to determine because it may have represented a common Illyrian-Roman borderline. It can be assumed that this line started in Lissus, then it followed the upper course of river Ardaksan (Mati) until it reached the Mountains of Candavie (Mountain of Polis). The southern border would thus eventually join the eastern one around Lake Lychnidos (Lake Ohrid).

Under the rule of Gentius, the internal territories of the kingdom were divided into administrative units that were based around an important city. Also, around the main cities, several fortresses were in place or were constructed to protect the regional centers as well as the entire administrative unit. The main cities and their respective units were each administered by a principa illyriorum. They were appointed into their districts from the king himself. Meanwhile, along the central areas of the kingdom, a regional ruler may have not been needed since the king exercised his authority directly.

Gentius established his royal seat in Scodra (Shkodra), turning this city into the capital of his kingdom and into the center of the Ardiaei. Prior to Gentius’ rule, Scodra was the center of the Labeatis, another Illyrian tribe included within the borders of the Illyrian kingdom. The establishment of the Illyrian royalty in Scodra forced the Labeatis to move their capital in Medeon (Medun). Apart from Scodra and Medeon, one of the most important units of that time was based around Rhizon (Risan, near Kotor). The city of Rhizon controlled the naturally protected bay of Kotor ensuring an easy and safe access into the open waters of the eastern Adriatic. Furthermore, small fortresses were positioned around the bay to ensure additional security and control. Southeast of Scodra, the lands of the Penestae, another Illyrian tribe, presumably formed another administrative unit. The capital of the Penestae seems to have been Uscana, an Illyrian city the exact location of which remains unknown. However, based on the descriptions offered by classical sources, the location of Uscana should be searched somewhere in and around modern Kicevo. At the time, several fortresses surrounded Uscana, increasing the geostrategic importance of the settlement at the southeastern most part of the Illyrian kingdom. Located in between the Illyrians of Gentius and the Macedonians, the lands of the Penestae and Uscana provided a corridor of communication between the Illyrians and the Macedonians that would prove to be important for the establishment of an alliance between these two entities later on.

Map of the Illyrian region and tribes
Map of the Illyrian region and tribes

The administrative reform of king Gentius was no spread into the mountainous regions of his country. In these remote locations, there was almost a complete lack of urban settlements thus making the establishment of an administrative authority inadequate. Across these highlands only small fortresses could be found as seats of local tribal chieftains. Overall, Hammond, based on Livy and other classical sources, makes this summary on the internal composition of the kingdom of Gentius:

It included the Pirustae Dassaretiorum, the Rhizonitae, and the Olciniatae who rebelled while the king, Genthius was still secyre; the Daorsi who changed over to the Roman side; the Scodrenses, the Dassarenses, the Selepitani, and “ceteri Illyrii” who had paid tribute to the king. Of these tribes the Daorsi were near the river Naro opposite Pharos, the Pirustae lay north of the Ardiaei (if they are the Peirustae of Strabo); the Rhizonitae were round Gulf of Rhizon (now Kotor); the name of the Olciniatae survives in Ulcinj on the coast to the south-west of Scodra; the Scodrenses round Scodra are separate evidently from the Labeates of Pomponius Mela; and the Selepitani are otherwise unknown. This scatter of tribes subject to Genthius gives us some idea of the Ardiaean kingdom in the period of its decline.” (Hammond, Kingdoms in Illyria circa 400-167 B.C.)

Episode IV: The Monetary Reform

During his rule, Gentius tried to unify the monetary system across his kingdom. Thus, he decided to stop the old production of Scodra’s minting factory and put into production and circulation new coins. The new royal coins had in one side the portrait of the king and in the other side the symbol of the Illyrian ship. The title and the name of the king replaced the legend of the city. The old coin with a helmet and a shield on its sides that was issued since the rule of Pleuratus III continued to be produced. However, this coin was redesigned as well. The old legend was replaced with the title and the name of Gentius. Furthermore, putting the name of the king into the coins was clearly an efficient way to legitimize and strengthen the authority of Gentius over his subjects.

After taking control of the minting factory of Lissus, king Gentius decided to implement the same monetary measures as in Scodra. The king removed the monetary autonomy of the city of Lissus, integrating it into his royal monetary system. Now, a unified monetary system was formed across the central zones of the kingdom along the coast of Adriatic where Scodra and Lissus where the main cities with crucial minting capacities. This new unified system was comprised of three main coins: the coin with the portrait of the king and the Illyrian ship; the coin with the shield and the helmet; and the small old coin of Lissus that now was labeled by the title and the name of the king. The first two coins were produced in Scodra. Regarding their value, the coin with the portrait of the king and the ship had the highest value whereas the other two coins where denominators of the former.

The unification of the monetary system did not include the peripheral zones of the kingdom of Gentius. Thus, Rhizon (Kotor) continued to mint its own silver coins and Lychnidos (Ohrid) continued to mint its own bronze coins with a shield and part of a ship on its sides. These cities, although within the administrative boundaries of the kingdom, were allowed by king Gentius a monetary autonomy. This fact suggests that the authority of the king was not that strong in certain peripheral cities. Also, the northern tribes of Labeates and Daorsi continued to mint their own coins.

Although the production of the royal coins remained limited geographically, their usage spread over most parts of the kingdom, reaching even remote mountainous areas. This is supported by the discovery of these coins in several areas such as in northern, Montenegro, as well as in the areas of ancient Dyrrachium and Apolonia. This fact suggests for a high trading activity and confirms the integration of the most remote areas in the monetary and economic system of the kingdom. The facilitation of the trading exchanges through the spread of a single currency proved to be an important stimulus in the increase of trade volume.

The monetary reforms taken by king Gentius seem to have improved the finances of the kingdom. Tit Livius implies this when he states that the Romans, after defeating the Illyrians, found in the royal treasure of Gentius 19 pounds of silver, 27 pounds of gold, 13,000 denarii and 120,000 Illyrian drachmas. The Illyrian king might have collected this considerable amount through fees collected from large royal landowners and from high taxes imposed on his subjects. An important reason that had forced the king to concentrate this wealth can be connected with measures to cope with the Roman threat. It should be noted that since 178 B.C.E., only two years after Gentius came into power, the Roman Senate had appointed a fleet of 10 ships to patrol the waters from Ancona to Tarentum, along the Adriatic. Thus, in order to face this threat, great expenditure had to be made for maintaining a large military force. Spreading the royal coins among the army troops and shipyard constructors must have been one of the main ways through which these coins entered into the economy. At the beginning of the war against the Romans, the regular army of king Gentius numbered about 15,000 soldiers mostly concentrated around Lissus. Also, at the end of the war, the Romans captured 220 Illyrian ships confirming the efforts put on building this fleet by the king.

Reconstructed portrait of king Gentius of Illyria (r. 181-167) based on his portrait over the Illyrian coins. This same portrait is now printed over the Albanian currency banknote (LEK).
Reconstructed portrait of king Gentius of Illyria (r. 181-167) based on his portrait over the Illyrian coins. This same portrait is now printed over the Albanian currency banknote (LEK).

Episode V: Alliance between the Illyrians and Macedon

In 172 B.C.E. Gentius reenters into the focus of the Roman Republic. This time, the island of Issa, a Hellenic colony sent a delegation into the Roman Senate where they accused the Illyrian king of assaulting their lands in two different occasions. Furthermore, they accused the Illyrian ruler for conspiring with the Macedonian king against Rome. In fact, there is no reason to support such a claim made by the Issaeans since Gentius had not yet allied with the Macedonians at this time. Illyrian delegation was sent to dismiss such claims but the Romans did not consider their arguments and treated them with despise. Apparently, the Romans had already decided to intervene east of the Adriatic against the Illyrians and certainly against the Macedonians.

In 170 B.C.E. the Macedonian domains would approach those of Gentius when king Perseus conducted a successful campaign against the Romans in the region of the Penestae. Through effective military actions in the lands of the Penestae, Perseus temporarily pushed away the threat of a Roman invasion from the west and opened a direct road of communication with king Gentius of the Ardiaei. Thus, upon returning to Stuberra (Prilep) Perseus started to work for establishing an alliance with Gentius against the Roman Republic. Polybius describes the details that led to this alliance as follows:

Perseus sent Pleuratus [not Pleuratus III] the Illyrian, who had taken refuge with him, and Adaeus of Beroea, as envoys to King Genthius, with instructions to announce to him what had happened in the war he was engaged in against the Romans and Dardanians, and for the present at least with the Epirots and Illyrians; and to solicit him to enter into an alliance with himself and the Macedonians. The envoys, crossing Mount Scardus [Sharr Mountain extending from current Kosovo to northwest of current FYROM and northeast of present Albania], journeyed through the so‑called Desert Illyria, which not many years previously had been depopulated by the Macedonians in order to make it difficult for the Dardanians to invade Illyria and Macedonia. Traversing this district, and enduring great hardships on the journey, they reached Scodra [Shkodra, current Albania]; and, learning that Genthius was staying in Lissus [Lezhë, current Albania], sent a message to him [in January 169 B.C.E.]. Genthius at once sent for them, and they conversed with him on the matters covered by their instructions. Genthius did not seem to be averse to making friendship with Perseus; but he excused himself from complying at once with their request on the ground of his want of resources and the impossibility of undertaking a war against Rome without money. Adaeus and his colleague, on receiving this answer, returned. Perseus, on arriving at Styberra [Prilep, current FYROM], sold the booty, and rested his army waiting for the return of the envoys. Upon their arrival, after hearing the answer of Genthius, he once more dispatched Adaeus, accompanied by Glaucias, one of his bodyguard, and again by Pleuratus owing to his knowledge of the Illyrian language, with the same instructions as before, just as if Genthius had not expressly indicated what he was in need of, and what must be done before he would consent to the request. Upon their departure the king [Perseus] left with his army and marched towards Hyscana [Uscana].” (Polybius, XXVIII)

At this time the envoys sent to Genthius returned, having achieved nothing more than on their first visit, and having nothing further to report; as Genthius maintained the same attitude, being ready to join Perseus, but saying that he stood in need of money. Perseus, paying little heed to them, now sent Hippias to establish a definite agreement, but omitted the all-important matter, saying that if he . . . he would make Genthius well disposed.” (Polybius, XXVIII)

On the return before winter of Hippias, who had been sent by Perseus to Genthius to treat for an alliance, and on his reporting that that prince was ready to enter upon war with Rome if he received three hundred talents and proper sureties all round, Perseus, on hearing this, in the judgment that the co-operation of Genthius was an urgent necessity, appointed Pantauchus, one of his “first friends,” his envoy, and dispatched him with instructions to consent in the first place to give the money, and then to exchange oaths of alliance. In the next place Genthius was to send at once such hostages as Pantauchus chose, while he was to receive from Perseus such hostages, as he should name in writing. Finally Pantauchus was to make arrangements for the conveyance of the three hundred talents. The envoys started at once, and, on arriving at Meteon [Medun, current Montenegro] in Labeatis [Illyrian region] where he met Genthius, very soon induced the young man to throw in his fortunes with Perseus.” (Polybius, XXIX)

The negations between Perseus and Gentius for establishment of an alliance continued for about one year. The classical authors explain this large period of time in part as an attempt of Gentius to gain as much as possible financially as well as in military weapons. However, the reluctance of Gentius to join Perseus could be related with different viewpoint on military tacticts and styles that these kings might have had. Accordingly, the goal of Perseus was to overcome Rome through force whereas Genthius of the Illyrians may have hoped in a peaceful solution that would enable him to remain king in the main parts of his kingdom.

Episode VI: Roman Triumph

In 168 B.C.E. the Romans turned their arms against Gentius, initiating the Third Illyrian War. Luc Anicius and App Claudius were sent to fight against the Illyrian ruler. The Illyrian ruled had mobilized 15,000 soldiers and had concentrated them around Lissus. Also, an Illyrian fleet raided the territories of Dyrrachium and Apollonia while the Romans were advancing towards Illyria inland from the south. A naval battle was conducted where the Roman fleet that was based at Apollonia defeated the Illyrian ships. Then, the desisive battle was conducted under the walls of Scodra where the Romans crushed the initial stance of the Illyrians until the Illyrian king with the rest of his army surrendered.

“…After taking possession of Scodra, he (Anicius) immediately dispatched Perperna to seize the king’s friends and relations, who, hastening to Medeon, a city of Labeatia, conducted to the camp at Scodra, Etleva, the king’s consort; his brother Caravantius; with his two sons, Scerdiletus and Pleuratus. Anicius, having brought the Illyrian war to a conclusion within thirty days, sent Perperna to Rome with the news of his success; and, in a few days after, king Gentius himself, with his mother, queen, children, and brother, and other Illyrians of distinction”. (Polybius, XLIV)

Gentius spent the rest of his life (until 146 B.C.E.) in exile, at Gubbio in the region of Perugia in Italy. Apart from the activities mentioned above, Gentius is also credited with first discovering the healing powers of the plant Gentiana lutea, accordingly named after him. This plant, which is now used into several beverages such as the Aperol Spritz, was used in the ancient times as an antidote for bites made by poisoning animals and for healing other wounds.

 

Bibliography

Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë. Instituti i Historisë. Historia e Popullit Shqiptar, I, p. 137. Botimet Toena, 2002.

Hammond, N.G.L. (1966). The Kingdoms in Illyria circa 400-167 B.C. The Annual British School at Athens, 61, 240-253.

The Genius of Gentius (2016). Retrieved from: https://bubblyprofessor.com/2016/07/15/the-genius-of-gentius/

Dardania and the Dardanians

Episode I: Introduction

The Dardanians are mentioned for the first time in the Egyptian account describing the events of 1274 B.C.E. According to the Egyptian description, the Dardanians participated in the battle of Kadesh as allies of the Hittites and their king Muwatall II (r. 1295-1272) against the Egyptians led by their pharaoh Rameses II (r. 1279-1213). The two sides signed a peace treaty in 1258 B.C.E. but the Dardanians are not reported again among the concerning parties. It is unclear whether the Dardanians mentioned here refer to the Illyrian tribe that centered on Kosova during the antiquity, or refer to another tribe that carried the same name. Other reports linking the Dardanians with the city of Troy can be mentioned but they also deserve a separate study. The focus here is on the Illyrian Dardania located in the southwestern Balkans as descried by classical sources and not on the Dardanians of Asia Minor.

Episode II: Dardania and Dardanians as neighbours of Macedon

European Dardania was formed as a kingdom during the middle of the IV century B.C.E. It occupied the whole area of the current Republic of Kosova and its surrounding regions. Notably, in the north and northwest it bordered with the territories of the Triballi (Thracian tribe) and the Autariatae (Illyrian tribe) respectively; in the southwest it approached the territories of the Taulantii including within its possessions the area of present-day Gostivar and Kukës, with the later being the location of the Illyrian Pirustae. In the east the Dardanian state stretched up until the southern Morava. In the south, it controlled the lands of upper Axios (Vardar) including the region around Scupi (Skopje).

Dardania
Approximate location of Dardania during the III-I century B.C.E.

In different periods of time, the Dardanians controlled much of Paeonia on their south, putting them into direct contacts and conflicts with the Macedonians. It is for this geopolitical situation that the Dardanians appear constantly in the reports of ancient writers since 345 B.C.E. At this time, Justin mentions them among the tribes that were forced by Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336) to recognize the Macedonian rule. However, after some time, as Petrović suggests, “during the wars of the Diadochi, at the time Lysimachus created his empire, from 284 to 281 B.C.E., the Dardanians seem to have evaded Macedonian rule, and very soon they became a constant threat on the northern borders of Macedonia.

The Dardanians, the population that inhabited Dardania, were an Illyrian tribe who was organized into several villages with few urban centers. The level of urbanization among Dardanians during the Hellenistic period seems to have been lower than in southern Illyria and Epirus. However, a few Dardanian centers such as Damastion are established during the IV century B.C.E. The ancient city of Damastion represents the first Illyrian city that produced its own silver coins. Scupi (Skopje), another important center, seems to have been the capital of Dardania for some time. The Dardanian society was characterized by a high degree of social stratification incorporating social classes such as land aristocrats, craftsmen, prisoners of wars and slaves (dulloi).

During the years 280-279, Dardania had to cope with the invasions of Celtic/Gallic tribes that came from the middle stream of the Danube (where Austria and Hungaria are located today). The Dardanians managed to handle this great invasion and pushed the Celtic tribes towards Macedonia. The report of Justin shows that the Dardanian had by now become one of the strongest regional states since their king offered the Macedonian king Ptolemy Keraunos (r. 321-279) 20,000 Dardanian soldiers to help the later deal with the Celtic/Gallic invasion. The Macedonian king refused the help reminding to the Dardanian delegates the glorious past of Macedon. This would prove to be an unwise decision and soon Ptolemy himself would be killed in battle against the Celts. The later, after having causing many damages across Macedon, were defeated only at Delphi. Turning north, the remaining Celts passed again through the Dardanian lands where they were crushed completely. Diodorus describes this situation as follows:

…and when passing through the Dardani [Dardanians] land, they were all destroyed so that there was no one left to go back home“.

There seems to be an exaggeration in the account of Diodorus since it is known that a group of these Celts continued their journey north until they settled near the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. These seem to be the same people that are later labelled as the Scordisci.

Episode III: Battles against Philip V

After 221 the raids of the Dardanians towards Macedon become frequent. They capitalized on the fact that Philip V (r. 221-179), recently crowned king of Macedon, was young in age and thus inexperienced in political and military affairs. In 219, while the Macedonian king was in Peloponessus, the Dardaninans took control of the whole Paeonia along with its largest city called Bylazora (near Knezhje). Thus, Philip was forced to return from Peloponnesus in haste and reestablish Macedonian control it his northern border. This conflict against the Dardanians represented the first proper military campaign of the Macedonians under the new king. The fights were concentrated around the city of Bylazora because of the strategic importance of this settlement and along the valley of River Axios (Vardar). It seems that Philip was able to regain control of Bylazora and reestablish Macedonian authority over Paeonia. Philip continued to show concern for his northern frontier. Livy states that the Macedonian king returned in the northern lands in 211 B.C.E. and invaded the city of Sintia that was located north of Pelagonia and that controlled another important route used by the Dardanians to reach northern Macedon. With these measures taken along the northern border, the usual routes that the Dardanians had followed to carry out raids in northern Macedon were enclosed.

Although the measures taken by Philip strengthened the northern border of Macedon, they did not solve the Dardanian problem. Thus, the Dardanian assaults continued to target Macedonian lands. In 208, the Dardanians in collaboration with Eropus, a regional Illyrian ruler, stormed Macedon advancing into Orestis (northern Greece). For this advancement, the Dardanians used an alternative route that passed through the region of Dassaretis (southeast Albania), apparently using the support of the local tribe of the Dassaretae. The invasion of Orestis forced Philip to retreat from his war in Achaea and return into Macedon. Because of the damages caused by this assault, the Macedonian king was forced to postpone his planned actions against the Roman Republic. For now, the Macedonians had to deal with the Dardanian threat. Thus, during 208-206, Philip engaged in another proper military campaign against the Dardanians. However, the Macedonian ruler was unable to remove the Dardanian threat along the northern and northwestern border of his kingdom.

Episode IV: The activities of the Dardanians during the Second Macedonian War (200-197 B.C.E.)

At the beginning of the year 200, Dardanians, represented by their king Bato (r.206-176), the son and successor of the previous king Longarus (r. 231-206), established an alliance with the Romans that were in turn represented by their consul. In this anti-Macedonian coalition other regional chieftains were involved including the king of the Ardiaei, Pleuratus II, and the king of the Athamanes, Amynander. Apparantly, the Dardanians hoped that after the eventual conquest of Macedon from the Romans, they would gain possession of the region of Paeonia as a reward for their contribution. Therefore, the Dardanians participated directly in military actions against Macedon during the Second Roman-Macedonian war (200-197 B.C.E.).

Being aware of the Dardanian threat, Philip V took protective and fortifying measures in the northern frontier of his kingdom sometime during the first year of this war. For the same purpose, Philip sent into the narrow pass the allowed the entrance in the region of Pelagonia a Macedonian force under the command of his son and future king Perseus. This force was stationed here for a very short period of time since Philip had to recall Perseus and his soldiers from there into central Macedon in order to increase the ranks of the main army. In this way, the northern border along Pelagonia was left once again unprotected. Thus, a Dardanian assault that raided the northern regions of Macedon took place in the beginning of 199. The Dardanian raid forced Philip into sending a force from his own troops lead by one of his generals, Atenagora, in pursuit of the northern enemy. Atenagora reached the Dardanian enemy as they were retreating and a battle took place between the two sides. The descriptions of Tit Livy on this battle reveal that the Dardanians had a regular army, equipped with its own flags, organized, disciplined, and well-positioned. However, the heavy armory and possibly the considerable spoils gained from the raids made the movements of the Dardanian warriors slower than the movements of the Macedonian light infantry and cavalry. Nevertheless, the splendid resistance of the Dardanian soldiers and the familiarity that they had with the terrain enabled them to successfully deal with the Macedonian retaliation. The losses were few among both sides and the Dardanians succeeded in returning into their lands with the army and their spoils almost unharmed and untouched.

The collaboration between Rome and Dardania did not continue long. The relationships between the two entities seem to have weakened before the conclusion of the Second Macedonian War. It seems that the Dardanians realized that they were not going to be granted with the control of Paeonia. Also, with Macedon now weakened significantly, Dardania represented the next frontier of the Roman expansion towards inner Balkans and Danube. Furthermore, their usual raids towards Macedon had become less valuable enterprises since a weakened Macedon was unable and unwilling to invest in their land cultivation and urban development. Thus, the Dardanians carried out some indirect actions against the Romans while on surface still behaving as their allies. One such action was carried out in the beginning of 197, when the Roman-Macedonian War was reaching its conclusion. In this occasion, the Dardanians provided mercenary forces for the Aetolians who were also at the time fighting against the Romans.

On the other hand, during the war against Macedon, the Roman commanders had replaced one another. Publius Villius replaced Suplicius in the second year of the war, whereas in 198 Titus Quincius Flaminius replaced Villius. In 197, Flaminius defeated the Macedonians at the battle of Cynoscephalae forcing them to sign a peace treaty according to which the Macedonians would retreat from their possessions in central Hellenic lands. Macedon gradually turned into a client kingdom of Rome. Philip V continued to stay in power but in many aspects as a vassal king. The Dardanians, left empty-handed from their alliance with the Romans, engaged in their usual independent actions against Macedon. They even seem to have tried to gain control of Paeonia on their own, as it is known that a Dardanian force led possibly by king Bato engaged in raids along the northern Macedon at this time. To counter measure, Philip sent 6,000 infantrymen and 500 horsemen in the north and crushed the Dardanians near Stobi (Gradsko) in Paeonia. This represented one of the most significant victories of Macedon against the Dardanian state.

Artistic depiction of an Illyrian warrior
Artistic depiction of a warrior in ancient Balkans.

Episode V: A Macedonian Enterprise

Even though Philip recorded a decisive victory over the Dardanians, he still considered them a constant threat for his kingdom. Being unable to conquer Dardania directly and subdue them, Philip came up with a plan that would ensure his northern frontier. The plan of the Macedonian king involved encouraging the Bastarnae, a Gallic/Celtic or Germanic tribe living in the northern bank of the lower Danube, to invade Dardania and resettle there. In this way, Philip hoped to exterminate the Dardanians in mass or at least force their migration further away from northern Macedon. According to some scholars, Philip had selected the area of the Polog valley as the territory for the potential settlement of the Bastarnae. This arrangement would at least enclose the pass that the Dardanians usually used to carry out raids against northern Macedon. On a larger scale and in case of an outstanding success against the Dardanians, the Bastarnae, encouraged by Macedon, planned to head against the Roman Republic itself through a journey of about 700 km that would pass across the Save valley and over the Julian Alps all the way into the plains of Trieste. It is for this large-scale strategy that Philip secured an alliance with the Scordisci, a tribe that occupied the area of modern Belgrade where the rivers Sava and Danube met and where the route towards Julian Alps went through.

For now, Philip had already secured for the Bastarnae a relatively safe passage across Thracia and had also provided them with food reserves. The Macedonian king was conscious that the Bastarnae could not challenge the Roman power, but he hoped that the instability that they would bring would allow him the control over Dardania and even provide him with an opportunity to revive the independence of Macedon. However, Philip did not live to realize his venture. Thus, his son and successor, Perseus (r.212-166), continued his plan. Around 30,000 Bastarnae under the command of their chieftain named Clondicus, advanced towards Dardania. At the end of the year 179, they stormed Dardania, apparently helped by the forces of Perseus, and caused many damages to the local population. This situation continued for some time. Therefore, in 177 the Dardanians sent a delegation into the Roman Senate. Before the Senate, they expressed their concerns over the destructions occurring in their country and over the increased power and regional influence of Perseus. Despite their report, Rome apparently took no measures to change the situation.

With Rome unwilling to help, the Dardanians had to depend on their own strength in order to force the Bastarnae out of their domains. After some struggles, the major battle took place under the walls of a Dardanian city, the name and location of which it is unknown. Apparently, the battle was enduring and difficult but the Dardanians were able to defeat the enemy. The rest of the Bastarnae were forced to leave Dardania during the winter of 176-175. With the country now liberated but severely damaged, the Dardanians had to go through a period of slow recovery during 175-168. This meant, among others, that the Dardanian state had to endure the attacks of other local enemies. Livy reports one occasion in 169 when the Dardanians had to deal with an assault from certain Thracian tribes.

Episode VI: Resisting the Roman Strength

After the conquest of Macedon in 168 BCE and its official transformation into a Roman province in 148, the Dardanians left the alliance with Rome from which they had profit only the right to trade salt (salis commercium). During 168-148 BCE, the conquered Macedon remained divided into four small republics until the Senate decided to give to it the status of the province. The population was disarmed and the weapons were meld and burned. Rome, now a bordering force with Dardania, became the new major threat for the Dardanians in the region. While the Romans started their attempts to establish order across the province, the Dardanians tried to prevent them from doing so. Collaborations between Dardanians and the Thracian Maedi in the east and other Illyrian tribes in the southwest increased. Marital relations were conducted with these allies to strengthen the alliances like the marriage between the king Gentius and the princess Etuta, daughter of the Dardanian king, in 169 B.C.E.

The alliance of the Dardanians with the Maedi, a Thracian tribe, was especially efficient in preventing Rome to advance in their countries. In 98, the Dardanian along with the Scordisci and Maedi were partially defeated by Cornelius Sulla however they were able to successfully face the Roman attacks of the years 97 B.C.E and 85 B.C.E. In 86 B.C.E, Cornelius Sulla had crushed a Dardanian resistance after he returned from a winning campaign against Mithridates, king of Pontus. The attempts of Sulla during the years 86-85 BCE were finalized with regaining control of Athens by Rome at the expense of Mithridates, but were not followed by a fully stabilization of the Roman province of Macedonia. The Dardanians, along with the Scordisci and the Maedi conducted a military raid across the province of Macedonia during 84-83. This raid is thought to have reached as far as Delphi.

In 77, the Romans under the leadership of Clausius Pulcher, who was assigned proconsul of Macedonia one year before, achieved some level of success against the Dardanians and the Maedi, probably around the mountains of Rhodopa, south of today’s Bulgaria. A year later, the leadership of the Macedonian province was assigned to Scibonius Curio who arrived in the Balkans at the head of five legions.

Episode VII: Roman Invasion of Dardania

The first fully successful military campaign of Rome against the Dardanians must have been the one headed by Scribonius Curio during the years 75-73 (bellum Dardanicum). Few things are known on this campaign since there is a lack of written sources on this event. However, it can be suggested that the campaign was carried out with a great determination, coarseness, and impact. Ammiani Marcellini compares the cruelty that Curio exercised over the Dardanians with the cruelty that emperor Valentian exercised over his own troops. Regarding the campaign in itself, a force of 30,000 soldiers spread into four legions lead by Curio was enough to crush every resistance from the Dardanians. However, it should be mentioned that the Dardanians of that time were still one of the greatest power in the region and the Romans themselves were aware of this even before the initiation of their campaign. For this, it is useful to consider a fragment of the author Frontini who writes about an event occurring in the eve of the campaign as follows:

The council S.Curio during the campaign against Dardania in the outskirts of Dyrrachium (Durrës), when one of the legions rebelled and avoided military service and stated that they had no intention to follow the unreasonable general into a difficult and dangerous expedition, ordered the four legions to position in fighting formation and with the arms engaged. Then, he ordered the soldiers of the rebelled legion to come unarmed and unclothed and, in front of the armed military, forced them to cut straw. Unaffected by the begging of this legion, he withdrew their flags, removed their name and redistributed them in the other legions.”

After he defeated the Dardanians, Curio advanced up north until he reached the banks of the Danube, becoming the first Roman general to reach there. In 72, Curio returned in Rome and celebrated the Dardanian triumph publicly. The campaign of Scribonus Curio has traditionally been considered as putting Dardania under Roman rule.

 

Bibliography

Hammond, N.G.L. & Wallbank, W. (1972). A History of Macedonia 336-167 B.C.

Iustini, M.I. Historiarum Philippicarum.

Petrović, V.P. (2007). Pre-Roman and Roman Dardania. Historical and Geographical Considerations. Balcanica, 27, 7-22.

Shukriu, E. (2008). Prehistory and Antique History of Kosovo. Thesis Kosova.

Livy, T. Ab Urbe Condita.

Frontini, J. Strata Gematon.

Demetrius of Pharos

Episode I: Disputed Origin

Demetrius of Pharos was a political leader who ruled among the Illyrians during the late III century B.C.E. The sources available do not allow for determining Demetrius’ year of birth. As his name suggests, he was apparently born and/or raised in the island of Pharos (Hvar, Croatia), at the time a Hellenic colony. Demetrius is mostly known for leading Illyrians against the Roman conquerors in the Second Illyrian War (219 B.C.E.). Regarding his origin, it is unclear whether Demetrius was of a Hellenic or Illyrian descent, or both. The scarce literal evidence suggests that Demetrius knew both the ancient Greek and Illyrian language. Judging from his actions, it is possible that Demetrius himself did not particularly care about his origin. Rather, he used connections he must have had on both the Hellenic and the Illyrian side and the ones he was to create with the Romans and the Macedonians, to rise in power and increase his individual political authority.

Episode II: Demetrius’ role during the First Illyrian War (229-228 B.C.E.)

 According to classical sources, Demetrius first appearance is recorded in the events related to the First Illyrian War (229-228 B.C.E.) Prior to that war, the limited information available suggests that Demetrius was the ruler of Pharos and continued to be in control of the island during and after the war. According to Appian, Demetrius ruled over Pharos as a governor on behalf of the Illyrian king, Agron (r. 250-231 B.C.E.). This means that Demetrius had already achieved an important political position among the Illyrians possibly that of an Illyrian dynast. When the Illyrians conquered Corcyra (Corfu) in 229 B.C.E., Demetrius of Pharos was left to control that island by being in charge of an Illyrian garrison stationed there while the main Illyrian navy sailed north. The island of Corcyra was strategically important since it controlled the sailing routes that linked the Italian peninsula with the Balkan Peninsula through the Straits of Hydruntum (Otranto) and the commercial sea routes that linked the Adriatic Sea coast with the Ionian Sea coast. Demetrius, apparently aware of the strategic importance of Corcyra, used his delegated status as the island’s commander to gain individual credits and emerge as an autonomous leader in the region. Thus, he distanced himself from the Illyrian queen Teuta and entered into private discussion with the Romans promising them the surrender of the island to the Roman Republic without resistance. In exchange, Demetrius seems to have been promised by the Romans a ruling position over the Illyrian coast once the planned campaign against the Illyrians would successfully be concluded.

Episode III: Joining the winning side

The Hellenic citizens of Corcyra apparently supported the offer made to the Romans by Demetrius and may have assisted him in his negotiations. These inhabitants preferred Republic’s lenient policy on Hellenic commerce instead of the absolutist regime of the Illyrian queen. Delegations were sent in Rome by Demetrius to express these views. Taking all the above factors into considerations, it is no surprise that the Romans initiated in 229 the campaign that is known as the First Illyrian War by first advancing towards Corcyra. A fleet of 200 Roman ships under the command of the Roman consul Gn. Fulvius Centumalus arrived in Corcyra where they took the possession of the colony as promised. The Illyrian garrison stationed in the island was forced by the Hellenic citizens and Demetrius to surrender itself to the Romans. This action completed the treachery of Demetrius at the expense of the Illyrian queen of the Ardiaei. Upon surrendering the city, Demetrius himself joined the ranks of the Romans where he was welcomed as an individual who knew a great deal about the Illyrian monarchy. Thus, he followed the Roman forces in their advance towards the important city of Apollonia (Pojan near Fier), another Hellenic colony that represented the Republic’s next mission. The other Roman consul Lucius Postimus Albinus on the head of 20,000 infantrymen and 200 horsemen joined Fulvius and Demetrius in Apollonia. The city welcomed the Romans and accepted their protection and friendship. The rest of the Illyrian kingdom fell under the Roman arms. In the spring of 228 the Illyrian queen was forced to sign a peace treaty that limited her possessions and naval actions and paid to the Romans a war indemnity. Demetrius, who enjoyed the support of the Romans, became the ruler of the territories that the Romans won over during the First Illyrian War apart from Corcyra and Apollonia and that consisted mainly of the coastal region along the Adriatic and northern Ionian Sea.

Episode IV: Internal and foreign issues

After the First Illyrian War, it is unclear what happened to Teuta. Sources do not mention her again. Thus, scholars suggest that Demetrius succeeded her on the Illyrian throne, sometime during 228-226 B.C.E. possibly gaining control even over the inland territories of the Ardiaei. It seems that the territories under Demetrius’ possessions were centered in the area between Scodra (Shkodër) and Lissus (Lezhë). Also, during this time, Demetrius married Triteuta, the widow of king Agron and the mother of the infant Illyrian heir Pinnes, securing in this way a stronger legitimacy over the Illyrian kingdom of the Ardiaei. Although Demetrius used this marital relation to establish his authority among the Illyrians, it appears that he never enjoyed a large and uncontested support among his subjects. Apparently, he had to share part of the authority with the previous Illyrian commander of Teuta and possibly an Illyrian dynast, Scerdilaidas. Thus the ruling period of Demetrius is characterized by this duality between him and Scerdilaidas. This situation reflects the difficulty of ruling over the Illyrians who were a population group that consisted of many tribes and where internal rivalry was often intense.

Regarding his relationship with Rome, Demetrius of Pharos was at first cautious not to provoke Rome or other Hellenic states. However, after some time, Demetrius may have noticed the almost complete lack of interest on the Roman part for the Illyrian region. This Roman absence encouraged Demetrius towards his own political and military aims in the region. Furthermore, as Polybius suggests, Demetrius may have perceived the Gallic/Celtic invasion of Italy (225) as a sign of Roman crisis. As a result, Demetrius may have concluded that his friendship with Rome was insufficient for his private ambitions and expansionist projects in the region and thus started to act autonomously and directed himself towards other foreign powers.

Map showing the approximate possessions of Demetrius during 228-220 B.C.E. and his expansion during 225-220 B.C.E.
Map showing the approximate possessions of Demetrius during 228-220 B.C.E. and his expansion during 225-220 B.C.E.

Episode V: Illyrian expeditions

While the Romans were fighting on the Gallic/Celtic frontier (225-222), Demetrius expanded his possessions and areas of influence in the Illyrian region. These areas consisted of Atintania, presumably located east of Apollonia, and Dassaretis, located further southeast. Thus Demetrius encouraged the Atintani, an Illyrian tribe, to distance from Rome and join his protection. Dassaretis, a strategic region for Illyrian-Macedonian communication, also gradually fell under Demetrius control. Regarding Demetrius’ expansionist activities, Appian goes further when he states that Demetrius in collaboration with the Istri, the natives of Istria, engaged in naval raids along the Adriatic. These raids apparently targeted Roman grain ships that must have sailed north in order to supply the main Roman army that was fighting in the Cisalpine Gaul.

Sometime during 225-223, Demetrius established an alliance with the Macedonian regent ruler Antigonus III Doson (r. 229-221). With this alliance, Demetrius may have wanted to expand his influence over southern Illyria all the way into mainland Hellas. The alliance with the Macedonian king had apparently allowed Demetrius an unobstructed advance and control over the strategic Illyrian region of Dassaretis (current southeast Albania). On his part, the Macedonian ruler had similar expansionist goals, which explain his alliance with Demetrius. He aimed at reestablishing the Macedonian control over Hellas and reviving the strength of the Macedonian state. Thus, in 223 a contingent of 1,600 Illyrian soldiers headed by Demetrius joined the mixed Macedonian force of Antigonus in his campaign against the Spartan king Cleomenes III in Peloponnesus. A year later, Demetrius and his forces played a crucial role in helping the Macedonians defeat the Spartan king at the battle of Sellasia in Laconia. This victory allowed the Macedonians to take possession of Sparta. On the other hand, Demetrius secured the control of Dassaretis and potentially, other territories across southern Illyria or other near Paeonia.

During 221, the Roman Republic carried out a short campaign against the Istri who had previously raided the Roman grain ships allegedly with the support of Demetrius. However, Demetrius is left unharmed from this campaign making Appian’s statement on Demetrius collaboration with the Istrians highly doubtful. During the same time, the Macedonian king Antigonus, after completing the aforementioned victory over Sparta, was killed in battle against the Illyrians led by Scerdilaidas in the northwestern border of Macedon. These anti-Macedonian actions reflected once again the deep divisions that were present between the Illyrians led by Scerdilaidas and the ones led by Demetrius of Pharos. Having lost Antigonus as an ally, Demetrius tried to keep the same friendly relationship with the successor of Antigonus, Philip V. The new and young ruler of Macedon had inherited his fathers’ appreciation for Demetrius but could not support Demetrius with Macedonian forces on the upcoming war that Demetrius was to have against the Romans.

In the beginning of 220, the Illyrian forces on board of 90 naval vessels (called lembus) led by Demetrius and Scerdilaidas sailed south of Lissus. This action is considered by Polybius to be in violation of the Roman-Illyrian settlement of 228 that, in essence, limited the Illyrian sail south of the Lissus line. At first, these Illyrians disembarked at Pylos (otherwise known as Navarino), a town southwest of Peloponnesus. They sieged and assaulted the city but were unable to conquer it. Just when they left the site through sea, the Illyrian fleet was divided in two. Scerdilaidas decided not to follow Demetrius and apparently returned north. On the other hand, Demetrius continued his voyage around Peloponnesus with 50 remaining ships and arrived into the Cyclades where he raided many places. After carrying out profitable raids across the Cyclades, Demetrius sailed back to Cenchreae (Kechries) on the Saronic Gulf, where Taurion, a commander of the Achaeans, approached him. Polybius writes the following:

“…[Taurion] begged him [Demetrius of Pharos] to assist the Achaeans, and after conveying his boats across the Isthmus, to fall upon the Aetolians during their crossing. Demetrius, whose return from his expedition to the islands had been much to his advantage indeed, but somewhat ignominious, as the Rhodians were sailing to attack him, lent a ready ear to Taurion, who had engaged to meet the expense of transporting the boats. But having traversed the Isthmus and missed the crossing of the Aetolians by two days, he returned again to Corinth, after raiding some places on the Aetolian coast.

Demetrius expedition against Pylos, Cyclades, and Aetolian coast in 220 B.C.E. The course of the naval route followed by Demetrius and Scerdilaidas and then by Demetrius only is fictional. The image serves only for putting Demetrius expedition into a geographical perspective.
Demetrius’ expedition against Pylos, Cyclades, and Aetolian coast in 220 B.C.E. The course of the naval route followed by Demetrius and Scerdilaidas and then by Demetrius alone is fictional. The image here serves only for putting Demetrius’ expedition into a geographical perspective.

The pass of Demetrius’ fleet across the Isthmus, made the voyage of the Illyrians back home way shorter and much safer. By apparently making use of the diolkos, the Illyrian ships were immediately transported on the waters of the Ionian Sea without having to sail around Peloponnesus again. This transportation arrangement must have also helped Demetrius escape the revenge of the Rhodians mentioned above.

Diolkos
Graphic representation of carrying ships using Diolkos. In the absence of a water canal that passed through the Isthmus, a man-made road transportation system for ships called diolkos was used in the ancient times to transport ships from the Aegean Sea into the Ionian Sea and vice-versa. In the same manner, the ships of Demetrius of Pharos were transported from the Saronic Gulf into the Ionian Sea around 220 B.C.E.

Episode VI: Fighting the Romans

Classical sources record other activities of Demetrius against the interests of the Roman Republic in the Illyrian region carried out also in 220, this time on land. Thus, Demetrius allegedly marched through Atintania, an Illyrian region he already controlled and arrived in Dassaretis. From here he assaulted the lands of the Parthini, an Illyrian tribe under Roman protection, and of Apollonia. The aforementioned activities of Demetrius were part of the Romans’ accusation towards him and formed Rome’s casus belli. The Romans called for Demetrius to appear before the Senate to confront their accusations but Demetrius never complied apparently being aware that this would not change Rome’s decision towards him. Thus, the Roman Senate decided to go into another war against the Illyrians, a campaign that was carried out in 219 and that is known as the Second Illyrian War. The Roman Republic sent into Illyria the two consuls of that year, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Marcus Livius Salinator, giving to the campaign the highest priority. The military force under their command must have been similar in size and strength to the military force used in the First Illyrian War.

The Roman campaign against Illyria did not catch Demetrius unprepared. Apparently, he had learned from the First Illyrian War and must have built his informative system along the shore. Thus, when learning of the Roman approach, the Illyrian leader initiated a defensive tactic that was concentrated around two cities: Dimale/Dimallum (Krotinë) and Pharos. These settlements may have represented the two extremes of his ruling area, the southern and northern borders respectively. According to Polybius, Demetrius “sent a considerable garrison to Dimale/[Dimallum] with the supplies requisite for such a force. In the other cities he made away with those who opposed his policy and placed the government in the hands of his friends while he himself, selecting six thousand of his bravest troops, quartered them at Pharos.

Upon arrival in Illyria, the Romans decided to assault Dimale with all their force, realizing that its fall would discourage the Illyrians fighting for Demetrius. Their strategy proved right and Dimale fell in Roman hands within a week. Local tribes and leaders approached the Romans offering to them their servitude. After establishing appropriate treaties with the locals, the Romans sailed north all the way into Pharos where Demetrius was sheltered. Through a well-conducted stratagem, the Romans took the city but were unable to capture Demetrius who, after realizing he had lost the cause, boarded a ship that awaited him on a hidden spot and sailed away. “At Actium, he [Demetrius] joined Philip of Macedon, who had inherited Antigonus’ friendship with him and had himself visited Scerdilaidas in the winter of 220-219”. From now on, Demetrius would stay as a refuge in the Macedonian territory under the protection of Philip V. Meanwhile, the Roman forces razed the entire city of Pharos to the ground and from there took possession of the remaining part of the Illyrian coast where they established or renewed the adequate agreements with the main native tribes and cities.

Episode VII: Advisor of Macedon

In 217, the Romans sent delegated into Macedon and demanded that Demetrius of Pharos be surrendered to them. King Philip obviously refused such a bold request that did not treat Macedon as an independent entity. Furthermore, Demetrius had become one of the closest advisors of the Macedonian king, eager to offer his knowledge on Romans to Philip. In June of the same year, while king Philip and Demetrius were attending the Nemean festival at Argos, the Macedonian king was informed about the loss of Rome against Carthage at the battle of Thrasymene. Initially Philip showed the letter informing on the victory of Hannibal only to Demetrius considering him the most trusted friend. Upon hearing the news, Demetrius urged the Macedonian king to hastily conclude a peace with the Aetolians and direct all his forces towards Illyria. By possessing the Illyrian coast and its ports, the Macedonians could join easily with the forces of Carthage against the Roman Republic. Polybius cites these words as being told by Demetrius to Philip:

For Greece is already entirely obedient to you, and will remain so: the Achaeans from genuine affection; the Aetolians from the with terror which their disasters in the present war have inspired them. Italy, and your crossing into it, is the first step in the acquirement of universal empire, to which no one has a better claim than yourself. And now is the moment to act when the Romans have suffered a reverse.

According to Polybius “Demetrius did not do this out of consideration for Philip, whose cause was…only of third-rate importance to him in this matter, but actuated rather by his hostility to Rome and most of all for the sake of himself and his own prospects, as he was convinced that this was the only way by which he could recover his principality of Pharos.

Philip decided to follow the advice of Demetrius and in the following years tried to capture the Illyrian coast. Also, an alliance between Macedon and Carthage was established in 215 against Rome where the name of Demetrius appears in one of its clauses as follows: “the Romans shall no longer be masters of Corcyra, Apollonia, Epidamnus, Pharos, Dimale, Parthini, or Atintania, and they [the Romans] shall return to Demetrius of Pharos all his friends who are in the dominion of Rome”. As it is known, this scenario was not realized and Demetrius never returned as a ruler in Illyria. Polybius offers a useful insight on Demetrius and his latest deed:

“He [Demetrius] was a man of a bold and venturesome spirit, but with an entire lack of reasoning power and judgment, defects which brought him to an end of a piece with the rest of his life. For having, with the approval of Philip, made a foolhardy and ill-managed attempt to seize Messene [in 214], he perished in the action…”

 

Bibliography

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Dell, H.J. (1970). Demetrius of Pharus and the Istrian War. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Gershichte, 19, 30-38.

Hammond, N.G.L. (1968). Illyris, Rome and Macedon in 229-205 B.C. The Journal of Roman Studies, 58, 1-21.

Hammond, N.G.L. (1966). The Kingdoms in Illyria circa 400-167 B.C. The Annual British School at Athens, 61, 240-253.

McPherson, C.A. (2012). The First Illyrian War: A Study in Roman Imperialism.

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