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).

Bardylis

Episode I: Background

Bardylis was king of the Illyrians during 393-358 B.C.E. He was born around 448 B.C.E. as a member of the Illyrian tribe of the Enchelei. The Enchelei inhabited primarily the area around lake Lychnidus (Ohrid). Although from a humble origin, Bardylis would soon become the ruler of many Illyrian tribes and form one of the strongest states in the region. It can be assumed that he was the founder of the first multi tribal Illyrian kingdom in contrast with the previous Illyrian states that had been limited only around one specific Illyrian tribe. The rise of Bardylis I on the Illyrian throne in 395 seems to reflect important social changes that the Illyrian society was experiencing. These changes included the move towards a slave-owning society and towards a militarized state. The adoption of the hoplite weaponry from the Illyrian soldiers contributed to their superiority towards other regional states, including Macedon. Also, under Bardylis, the use of an Illyrian cavalry in marches and battles became frequent. The elite members of the Illyrian society may have formed the cavalry units as the Illyrian king himself led them.

Prior to his rule over the Illyrians, Bardylis is reported to have been a collier. Later, he became the leader of a band of freebooters. As the leader of this band, Bardylis gained the respect of his followers especially because of his exceptional fairness in the division of the spoils. During his raids, Bardylis must have been gained valuable experience in combat tactics and military leadership. The lands of northwestern Macedon may have been among the targets of Bardylis’ band of freebooters. As for the dynamics of his rise into Illyrian throne, there is no evidence describing them. It can only be assumed that Bardylis, being not an heir, must have seized power by force. Accordingly, a previous undesired and/or unpopular ruler (potentially one named Sirras) must have been overthrown. It has been suggested that the movement that resulted in the rise of Bardylis into Illyrian throne occurred as a reaction of the general population towards an undesired treaty with Macedon.

Episode II: The realm of Bardylis

The borders of the kingdom ruled by Bardylis are not clear. It now seems that the lands controlled by the Illyrian ruler may have been greater that it had been traditionally perceived. Pajakowksi based on the large number of troops that Bardylis was able to deploy later against Philip II and on a fragment preserved by Kalisthenes, claims that Bardylis ruled over a vast territory. Notably, in its zenith, his kingdom stretched from the Gulf of Rhizones (Kotor) in the northwest to the lands of the Bylliones in the south, including the important colonies of Dyrrachium and Apollonia in his domains. In the southeast, it clearly controlled the lands around Lake Lychnidus and Dassaretis whereas in the east it bordered with the lands of the Paeonians and the Dardanians.

The claim of Pajakowksi does not seem far from the truth. The recent discovery of two Illyrian royal palaces (one built before 260 B.C.E.) in what was then Rhizones (Risan in current Montenegro) confirms the presence of Illyrian royal authority in these parts. On the other hand, other modern scholars have supported the southern border proposed by Pajakowski. This borderline can be naturally placed in the lower and middle stream of the Aoos (Vjosa) River and then into southern Dassaretis. As for the colonies of Dyrrachium and Apollonia, it cannot be stated for certain that they were put under the direct authority of Bardylis. However, the lack of literal sources regarding these colonies pertaining to the ruling period of Bardylis indicates at least the establishment of productive and peaceful relationships between these Hellenic colonies and the Illyrian kingdom.

During his rule, Bardylis was able to take into control the important Dardanian city of Damastion and its silver mines. The control over Damastion must have improved the financial prosperity of the Illyrian state and may have encouraged the Illyrian commerce with other populations and tribes of the north. Furthermore, under the example of Damastion, Bardylis founded in 365 another center for coin emission in Daparri of current Kosova.

The control over Damastion has led some modern scholars to view Bardylis exclusively as “king of the Dardanians”. This view should be regarded as an outdated one. Treating Bardylis as king of the Dardanians would imply that he ruled only over one particular Illyrian tribe (in these case over the Dardanians). This does not seem to have been the case. Although Dardania may have fallen under the control of Bardylis, his kingdom included other Illyrian tribes such as the Encheleii, the Dassaretae, the Taulantii/Parthini, and so on. Thus, a “king of the Illyrians” labeling is more plausible.

Episode III: Battling Macedon

Upon establishing himself on the Illyrian throne, Bardylis turned his attention towards Lyncestis, a region located just east of lake Lychnidus. The lands of this region had traditionally been an area of conflict between the Macedonians and the Illyrians. Both these entities aimed at ensuring their control over Lyncestis or at establishing their influence there. Furthermore, even in a broader geographical perspective, the Illyrian tribes and the Macedonians maintained a continuous hostile behavior towards each other. Bardylis was certainly aware of the power dynamics of the region and the general strength of Macedon. The political crisis that had spread across Macedon after the assassination of the Macedonian king Archelaus I in 399 B.C.E. provided a striking opportunity for the Illyrians. Having apparently noticed the instability of the Macedonian state, Bardylis took the initiative in 393 B.C.E. In this year, the Illyrians stormed Macedon, apparently passing through the lands of Lyncestis and having faced no significant resistance during their march. During this incursion, the Illyrians took control of the whole Upper Macedon and drove out of his kingdom the then king of Macedon, Amyntas II. The Illyrians established Argaeus, presumably a member of the royal house of the Lyncestae, on the throne of Macedon in the place of the exiled Amyntas. The establishment of Argaeus from Lyncestis on the Macedonian throne indicates a prior agreement between the Illyrians of Bardylis and the inhabitants of Lyncestis. This agreement seems to have included the safe passage of the troops of Bardylis through Lyncestis and additional military support.

It has been stated that Argaeus ruled over Macedon for two years (393-391). During this time, he must have acted as a puppet king in favor of Illyrian interests. Meanwhile, Amyntas had found refugee in Thessaly where he apparently still enjoyed support. With the help of troops from Thessaly, Amyntas managed to reenter Macedon and reclaim its throne. A state of tension must have followed Amyntas comeback since the later was able to reestablish himself over the throne only after having made a peace treaty with the Illyrians of Bardylis. Accordingly, Amyntas committed into paying yearly tributes to the Illyrians. Furthermore, the Macedonian king delivered his youngest son, Philip, as a hostage and peace guarantor at the hands of the Illyrians. The later left the young prince (who would later become the famous Philip II of Macedon) in Thebes, at the custody of the Thebans.

Diodorus provides an account referring to another major incursion of the Illyrians against Macedon sometime during 383-382 B.C.E. Some have argued that this account represents merely a repetition of the campaign carried out a decade ago. However, it can well be that the account of Diodorus constitutes an authentic source referring to a second expedition of the Illyrians against Macedon. In such as case, this Illyrian invasion forced the Macedonian king Amyntas II to leave the country for a second time. The occurrence of this expedition may have been the result of several reasons. One of them may relate to potential efforts made by Amyntas to escape from the yearly tributes owed to Bardylis. The later, being clearly superior in military capacities, would have assaulted accordingly to reestablish the favorable terms of the peace treaty.

Around 370 the Illyrians of Bardylis conquered Upper Macedon once more. The newly crowned king of Macedon, Alexander II was forced to make a large payments to the Illyrians in order to preserve his authority. Also, this was the only way for Alexander to establish e peace with Bardylis and his superior forces. However, the peace established would not continued long as in 368, Alexander II was killed by Ptolemy Aloros who in turn was killed by Perdikkas III. According to the diplomatic standards of that time, a peace between two states (two kings) was in power as long as both of their kings were alive. This would explain the campaigns of Bardylis against Macedon each time a new king had come into power (393, 370, and 368 B.C.E.).

Perdikkas, unwilling to accept the tributes imposed on Macedon by Bardylis, relied on military solution to curb down the Illyrian influence. Eventually, a major battle took place between the two sides where the Illyrians of Bardylis came up victorious. Diodorus reports this event as follows:

[Perdikkas] was defeated in a great battle by the Illyrians and fell in the action…the Macedonians…lost more than four thousand men in the battle, and the remainder…had become exceedingly afraid of the Illyrian armies and had lost courage for continuing the war” (Diodorus, XVI, 2)

A statue of the Illyrian king Bardylis (r.393-358) made by Benard Lekgegaj.

A modern statue of the Illyrian king Bardylis (r.393-358) made by Benard Lekgegaj.

Episode IV: The Alliance with Syracuse and the Campaigns in Epirus

In between the two Illyrian campaigns against Macedon, an important development is noticed regarding the relations of Bardylis with western polities. Notably, in 385 Bardylis established an alliance with the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius I the Elder (r. 405-367). This alliance was mediated by the exiled Molossian prince of Epirus, Alcetas I. The later had found refugee in Syracuse after being forced out of his country by a pro-Spartan party in Epirus. As such, a term of the alliance between Bardylis I and Dionysius I included the establishment of Alcetas on the throne of Epirus. From restoring the Molossian prince in the royal court of Epirus, Bardylis would keep out the Spartan and Macedonian influence in the region. On the other hand, Dionysius of Syracuse would strengthen his commercial position on both sides of the Adriatic and Ionian Sea.

Accordingly, Dionysius sent about 2,000 of his own troops into Illyria as well as 500 units of military equipment. Alcetas crossed the sea as well to reclaim his throne. Dionysius himself did not join the expedition. An injury the tyrant had received while fighting against the Rhegines a year ago prevented him from engaging personally. Thus, the troops from Syracuse were put under direct command of Bardylis. Furthermore, Diodorus states that the troops from Syracuse were ordered by the Illyrian king to intermingle with his Illyrian troops.

The cooperation between Bardylis and Dionysius included the establishment of a Syracusan base along the Illyrian coast. Thus, a corpus of engineers and constructors from Syracuse must have crossed the sea and arrived into Lissus, the place chosen for such a base. They erected important fortifying structures around the settlement. However, soon the project of a Syracusan base in Lissus was abandoned in the upcoming years. Thus, it continued to be used by the Illyrians as their own base and urban settlement.

Having integrated the Sicilian contingent into his own army, Bardylis advanced into Epirus. It is reported that the Illyrian incursion was so aggressive that 15,000 Molossians (apparently part of the pro-Spartan party) were killed in combat. Alcetas was restored in the throne of Epirus while other regions along the southern border of the Illyrian kingdom were liberated. The campaign was clearly successful and it may have advanced more that it was initially planned. Ultimately, the Illyrians had to retreat after the Spartans arrived to prevent any further Illyrian advance. A direct clash between the Illyrian and the Spartans may have been undesired at this point, as Dionysius had established an important alliance with Sparta. However, the campaign of 385 had already ensured the Illyrian influence over northern Epirus.

The Illyrians would conduct another campaign against central Epirus in 360. This time the ruler of Epirus had to rely on a planned ambush to cope with the enemy. Frontinus describes the events that ensued:

When Harrybas, king of the Molossians, was attacked in war by Bardylis, the Illyrian, who commanded a considerably larger army, he dispatched the non-combatant portion of his subjects to the neighbouring district of Aetolia, and spread the report that he was yielding up his towns and possessions to the Aetolians. He himself, with those who could bear arms, placed ambuscades here and there on the mountains and in other inaccessible places. The Illyrians, fearful lest the possessions of the Molossians should be seized by the Aetolians, began to race along in disorder, in their eagerness for plunder. As soon as they became scattered, Harrybas, emerging from his concealment and taking them unawares, routed them and put them to flight.” (Frontinus, Stratagems)

Although forced into retreat, northern Epirus continued to remain under the influence of Bardylis. The superiority of Illyrian arms implied by Frontinus would not have allowed the king of Epirus to pursue the enemy and attempt to regain the lands lost to Illyrians 25 years ago. Epirus would have to wait for the reign of Pyrrhus to revive its strength.

 

Bibliography

Frontinus. The Strategemata.

Velija, Q. (2012). Mbretëri dhe Mbretër Ilirë. West Print, Tiranë.

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/