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).

Lissus, the Illyrian city built with stones

Episode I: Navigating controversial accounts

In his work “Bibliotheca Historica”, Diodorus Siculus, after writing about the alliance of Dionysius I of Syracuse (the Elder) (r. 432-367) with the Illyrian king Bardylis (r. 393-358), suggests that the tyrant of Syracuse sent a group of colons east of the Adriatic to establish a settlement there. Diodorus writes the following:

“…the Parians, in accordance with an oracle, sent out a colony to the Adriatic, founding it on the island of Pharos, as it is called, with the cooperation of the tyrant Dionysius. He had already dispatched a colony to the Adriatic not many years previously and had founded the city known as Lissus.” (Diodorus, XV, 13)

Based on the narrative of Diodorus, the Syracusan expedition and the establishment of the city of Lissus were carried out in 385 B.C.E. This alleged enterprise is seen as an attempt of Dionysius to expand his influence on the other part of the Adriatic Sea and ease the communication with his eastern Hellenic allies. Thus, a seaport east of Adriatic would secure a safe base for Syracusan ships heading towards this region.

The narrative of Diodorus Siculus should not be taken bluntly. Various scholars have cast doubts on the truthfulness of Diodorus’ narrative and on the real origin of the city of Lissus (or Lissos). In addition, the modern scholar R. L. Beamont has stated that the surrounding walls of Lissus pertain to a period well before 385 B.C.E. However, Beamont accepts the version that a Hellenic commercial settlement may have been set in Lissus before the Illyrian-Syracusan alliance mentioned by Diodorus. On the other hand, some Albanian archeologists have suggested that the city of Lissus was actually established after 385 B.C.E., notably sometime during the late IV century B.C.E. Along the ruins of Lissus, traces of Syracusan constructions can be observed. Although this may seem in support of the account of Diodorus, most of the scholars agree that these Syracusan elements represent only mere additional fortifications that an already established settlement received during the IV century. Another simple reason suggests the erection of the city of Lissus by native inhabitants rather than by foreign Syracusan colons: the fortifications of the outer walls are oriented towards the seawater and towards the lower valley of the Drin River and not towards the hinterland. This means that the inhabitants were more concerned from an invasion from the sea than from an invasion from the hinterland. If the city would have been built as a Syracusan colony the orientation of the outer fortifications would have been the opposite: the hinterland would have been their main concern while the sea waters would have provided the main in and out communications.

Part of a map, published by N.G.L. Hammond and drawn by Helen Waugh based on sketch-map by Hammond, showing the position of Lissus.
Part of a map, published by N.G.L. Hammond and drawn by Helen Waugh based on sketch-map by Hammond, showing the position of Lissus.

Lissus is mentioned by Diodorus in another controversial fragment, used by some scholars to support the thesis of the Syracusan origin of Lissus. The account describes a conflict between the Illyrian natives and the Hellenic colonies of the island of Pharos sometime around 384 B.C.E.

This year the Parians, who had settled Pharos, allowed the previous barbarian inhabitants to remain unharmed in an exceedingly well fortified place, while they themselves founded a city by the sea and built a wall about it. Later, however, the old barbarian [Illyrian] inhabitants of the island took offence at the presence of the Greeks and called in the Illyrians of the opposite mainland. These, to the number of more than ten thousand, crossed over to Pharos in many small boats, wrought havoc, and slew many of the Greeks. But the governor of Lissus appointed by Dionysius sailed with a good number of triremes against the light craft of the Illyrians, sinking some and capturing others, and slew more than five thousand of the barbarians [Illyrians], while taken some two thousand captive.” (Diodorus, XV, 14)

Even though Lissus is mentioned in this paragraph as the city that helped the colons of Pharos, according to Viali and other well-known scholars, Diodorus has surely made an error. Thus, it is suggested that it was in fact the governor of Issa (Vis) and not Lissus that came into the help of the Parians. Therefore, the name of Lissus is mentioned in the passage wrongly in the place of Issa. Furthermore, there is no concrete evidence that the city of Lissus had at any time a Syracusan governor placed there by the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysus the Elder. On the other hand, it is known that colons from Syracuse ruled the island of Issa at this time.

Other scholars treat the development of Lissus in relation with the development of the nearby settlement of Akrolissus. In this case, the narrative of Diodorus is way off. Akrolissus was a fortified settlement situated on the top of Mount Shelbun near modern Lezha. It was founded as early as the X century B.C.E. and as such it was surely erected by the native Illyrians. Akrolissus must have been the embryonic city of this region that later resulted in the creation of Lissus. In time, the settlement of Akrolissus was further fortified and it gained the function of an Acropolis as well as that of a military base. Positioned on top of high step slopes, Acrolisus was well protected from outside threats. During the VI-V centuries B.C.E. the inhabitants of Akrolisus expanded its territory and transferred its population into lower grounds, thus creating another more urbanised settlement, the one that is referred by Diodorus as Lissus.

A planimetry of Lissus.
A planimetry of Lissus by Camillo Praschniker and Arnold Schober (1919).
A planimetry of Akrolissus
A planimetry of Akrolissus by Camillo Praschniker and Arnold Schober (1919).

Episode II: A Well-Organized Settlement

The surrounding walls of the city of Lissus reached a longitude of over 2,200 meters that protected an area of 200,000 square meters. The city is based on the western face of a hill that is situated on the left bank of the Drin River. From this hill, the protective walls continued downwards, on the bottom of the hill, into the flat terrain all the way into the river where a tower on each side was raised. Also, another inner wall that went parallel with the river was constructed with the intention of further protecting the flat part of the settlement. Furthermore, another wall was erected within the settlement ensuring additional protective strength by dividing the city into two main parts: the upper and the lower city. The outer walls of Lissus were 3.5 meters wide and were composed of stone blocks each 0.6-1.6 meters long and 0.3-0.6 meters high. These blocks, after being worked with a hammer in the quarry, were immediately placed in the line of the structure next to each other.

The ancient city of Lissus was also equipped with watchtowers in several spots along the surrounding wall. These towers were filled with many big stones until they reached a certain level of altitude that allowed the passage of the guards throughout them. Only one tower is of a circular shape while all the other towers are of rectangular shape. The gates were also present in large numbers across the settlement. Ten from these gates are detected in the Upper City while in the Lower City it is difficult to identify any such spots because of the inadequate conditions of the walls here. The width of most of the gates reached 3-4 meters and towers on their side usually defended them. Thus, the chariots traveled easily throughout and across the city with the gates closing after their passage using a horizontal heavy wood chip.

Current Stone Structures of Ancient Lissus
Current Stone Structures of Ancient Lissus (Lezhë, Albania).
Current remnants of the ancient city of Lissus where the building technique of the city walls can be observed.
Current remnants of the ancient city of Lissus where the building technique of the city walls can be observed.
Tower fortification raised over the ancient city
Tower fortification raised over the ancient city of Lissus (Lezhë, Albania).

 

 

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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