The Illyrians (Ancient Greek: Ἰλλυριοί, Illyrioi; Latin: Illyrii or Illyri) were a group of Indo-European tribes who inhabited part of the western Balkans in antiquity and the south-eastern coasts of the Italian peninsula (Messapia). The territory the Illyrians covered came to be known as Illyria to Greek and Roman authors, corresponding to parts of the former Yugoslavia and Albania, between the Adriatic Sea in the west, the Drava river in the north, the Morava river in the east and the mouth of the Vjosë river in the south. The first account of Illyrian peoples comes from Periplus or Coastal Passage, an ancient Greek text of the middle of the 4th century BC.
These tribes, or at least a number of tribes considered "Illyrians proper", are assumed to have been united by a common Illyrian language, of which only small fragments are attested enough to classify it as a branch of Indo-European, while it was extinct by the 2nd century A.D. However, the name "Illyrians" as applied by the ancient Greeks to their northern neighbors may have referred to a broad, ill-defined group of peoples, and it is today unclear to what extent they were linguistically and culturally homogeneous. In fact, an Illyric origin was and still is attributed also to a few ancient peoples in Italy, in particular the Iapyges, Dauni and Messapi, as it is thought that, most likely, they had shored to the Peninsula, coming from the geographic "Illyria". The Illyrian tribes never collectively regarded themselves as 'Illyrians', and it is unlikely that they used any collective nomenclature for themselves. However, the name Illyrians seems to be the name of a specific Illyrian tribe, which was the first to come in contact with the ancient Greeks during the Bronze Age, causing the name Illyrians to be applied to all people of similar language and customs.
The term "Illyrians" last appears in the historical record in the 7th century, referring to a Byzantine garrison operating within the former province. All the remaining tribes except perhaps the Romanized Vlachs were Slavicised in the course of the Middle Ages, while modern Albanian might have descended from a southern Illyrian dialect.
- 1 Illyrians in Greek mythology
- 2 Origins
- 3 Identity and distribution
- 4 History
- 5 Depiction in Greco-Roman ethnography
- 6 Religion
- 7 Extinction of ethnicity and language
- 8 Famous individuals
- 9 Archaeology
- 10 Legacy
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Illyrians in Greek mythology
In Greek mythology, Illyrius was the son of Cadmus and Harmonia who eventually ruled Illyria and became the eponymous ancestor of the whole Illyrian people. Illyrius had multiple sons (Encheleus, Autarieus, Dardanus, Maedus, Taulas and Perrhaebus) and daughters (Partho, Daortho, Dassaro and others). From these, sprang the Taulantii, Parthini, Dardani, Encheleae, Autariates, Dassaretae and the Daors. Autareius had a son Pannonius or Paeon and these had sons Scordiscus and Triballus. A later version of it is having as parents Polyphemus and Galatea that give birth to Celtus, Galas, and Illyrius. The second myth could stem perhaps from the similarities to Celts and Gauls.
The historical beginning of the peoples we later know as Illyrians is placed at approximately 1000 BC. The origin of the Illyrians remains a problem for modern prehistorians. The consensus of the primordialists is that the ethno-linguistic ancestors of the Illyrians, labelled Proto-Illyrians, branched off from the main linguistic Proto-Indo-European trunk before the Iron Age. Current theories of Illyrian origin are based on ancient remnants of material culture found in the area, but archaeological remains alone have so far proven insufficient for a definite answer to the question of the Illyrian ethnogenesis.
When the Proto-Illyrians became a distinct group remains unclear. They emerge from the wider Paleo-Balkans group by the Iron Age, although, since the language is not known in any detail, it is uncertain which populations should be classed as "Illyrian" on ethno-linguistic grounds, and many tribes formerly classed as Illyrian are now considered Venetic.
An autochthonous model, assuming an Illyrian ethnogenesis in the Balkans, was proposed by Alojz Benać and B. Čović, archaeologists from Sarajevo, who hypothesize that during the Bronze Age there was a progressive Illyrianization of peoples dwelling in the lands between the Adriatic and the Sava river. This theory was also proposed and supported by Albanian archaeologists for the southern Illyrian tribes, while Aleksandar Stipčević says that the most convincing model of Illyrian ethnogenesis was that of autochthony, excluding Liburnians.
Identity and distribution
The name of Illyrians as applied by the ancient Greeks to their northern neighbours may have referred to a broad, ill-defined group of peoples, and it is today unclear to what extent they were linguistically and culturally homogeneous. The Illyrian tribes never collectively regarded themselves as 'Illyrians', and it is unlikely that they utilized any collective nomenclature for themselves. The term Illyrioi may originally have designated only a single people who came to be widely known to the Greeks due to proximity. This occurred during the Bronze Age, when Greek tribes were neighboring the southernmost Illyrian tribe of that time in Zeta plain of Montenegro. Indeed, such a people known as the Illyrioi have occupied a small and well-defined part of the south Adriatic coast, around Skadar Lake astride the modern frontier between Albania and Montenegro. The name may then have expanded and come to be applied to ethnically different peoples such as the Liburni, Delmatae, Iapodes, or the Pannonii. In any case, most modern scholars are certain that the Illyrians constituted a heterogeneous entity.
Pliny referred in his Natural History to "Illyrians proper" (Illyrii proprie dicti) as natives in the south of Roman Dalmatia. Appian's Illyrian Wars employed the more common broader usage, simply stating that Illyrians lived beyond Macedonia and Thrace, from Chaonia and Thesprotia to the Danube River.
Illyria appears in Greco-Roman historiography from the 4th century BC. The Illyrians formed several kingdoms in the central Balkans, and the first known Illyrian king was Bardyllis. Illyrian kingdoms were often at war with ancient Macedonia, and the Illyrian pirates were also a significant danger to neighbouring peoples. At the Neretva Delta, there was a strong Hellenistic influence on the Illyrian tribe of Daors. Their capital was Daorson located in Ošanići near Stolac in Herzegovina, which became the main center of classical Illyrian culture. Daorson, during the 4th century BC, was surrounded by megalithic, 5 meter high stonewalls (as large as those of Mycenae in Greece), composed out of large trapeze stones blocks. Daors also made unique bronze coins and sculptures. The Illyrians even conquered Greek colonies on the Dalmatian islands. Queen Teuta was famous for having waged wars against the Romans.
In the Illyrian Wars of 229 BC, 219 BC and 168 BC Rome overran the Illyrian settlements and suppressed the piracy that had made the Adriatic unsafe for Italian commerce. There were three campaigns, the first against Teuta the second against Demetrius of Pharos and the third against Gentius. The initial campaign in 229 BC marks the first time that the Roman Navy crossed the Adriatic Sea to launch an invasion.
The Roman Republic subdued the Illyrians during the 2nd century BC. An Illyrian revolt was crushed under Augustus, resulting in the division of Illyria in the provinces of Pannonia in the north and Dalmatia in the south.
The Roman province of Illyricum or Illyris Romana or Illyris Barbara or Illyria Barbara replaced most of the region of Illyria. It stretched from the Drilon river in modern Albania to Istria (Croatia) in the west and to the Sava river (between Bosnia and Herzegovina and northern Croatia) in the north. Salona (Solin near modern Split in Croatia) functioned as its capital. The regions which it included changed through the centuries though a great part of ancient Illyria remained part of Illyricum as a province while south Illyria became Epirus Nova.
Under Byzantine rule, there was again a prefecture of Illyricum, which was overrun by the Slavic incursions in the 7th century and was ultimately absorbed into the following Slavic states: 1) the First Bulgarian Empire, 2) the Serb Archonty, 3) the Croat Duchy, and 4) parts of the early Bosnian Kingdom.
The history of Illyrian warfare spanned from around the 10th century BC up to the 1st century AD in the region defined by Ancient Greek and Latin historians as Illyria. It concerns the armed conflicts of the Illyrian tribes and their kingdoms in the Balkans in Italy as well as pirate activity in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. Apart from conflicts between Illyrians and neighbouring nations and tribes, numerous wars were recorded among Illyrian tribes too.
Depiction in Greco-Roman ethnography
It was a stereotypical view of all northern "barbarians" and could represent a fearful impression of the Illyrians and their tenacity after fighting them. Polybius (3rd century BC) writes that "the Romans had freed the Greeks from the enemies of all mankind".
According to the Romans, the Illyrians were tall and well-built. Herodianus writes that "Pannonians are tall and strong always ready for a fight and to face danger but slow witted". Of course, this could also be considered a stereotype of the Romans used for identifying barbarians. The Roman historian Livy writes:
"...the coasts of Italy destitute of harbours, and, on the right, the Illyrians, Liburnians, and Istrians, nations of savages, and noted in general for piracy, he passed on to the coasts of the Venetians"
The mythology and religion of the Illyrians is only known through mention of Illyrian deities on Roman Empire period monuments, some with interpretatio Romana. There appears to be no single most prominent Illyrian god and there would have been much variation between individual Illyrian tribes. According to John Wilkes, the Illyrians did not develop a uniform cosmology on which to center their religious practices. The Illyrian town of Rhizon (Risan, Montenegro) had its own protector called Medauras depicted as carrying a lance and riding on horseback.
Human sacrifice also played a role in the lives of the Illyrians. Arrian records the chieftain Cleitus the Illyrian as sacrificing three boys, three girls and three rams just before his battle with Alexander the Great. The most common type of burial among the Iron Age Illyrians was tumulus or mound burial. The kin of the first tumuli was buried around that, and the higher the status of those in these burials the higher the mound. Archaeology has found many artifacts placed within these tumuli such as weapons, ornaments, garments and clay vessels. Illyrians believed these items were necessary for a dead person's journey into the afterlife.
Extinction of ethnicity and language
Little more can be said of the languages of Illyria than that they were Indo-European. It is not clear whether the Illyrian languages belonged to the centum or the satem group. The vast majority of our knowledge of Illyrian is based on Messapian, if the latter is considered an Illyrian dialect. The non-Messapic testimonies of Illyrian are too fragmentary to allow any conclusions whether Messapian should be considered part of Illyrian proper. Nonetheless, it is widely thought that Messapian was in some way related to Illyrian.
Messapian (also known as Messapic) is an extinct Indo-European language of south-eastern Italy, once spoken in Messapia (modern Salento). It was spoken by the three Iapygian tribes of the region: the Messapians, the Daunii and the Peucetii.
The Illyrian languages were once thought to be connected to the Venetic language but this view was later abandoned. Other scholars have linked them with the adjacent Thracian language supposing an intermediate convergence area or dialect continuum, but this view is also not generally supported.
All these languages were likely extinct by the 5th century although the Albanian language is traditionally seen as a descendant of Illyrian dialects that survived in remote areas of the Balkans during the Middle Ages. The ancestor dialects of Albanian would have survived somewhere along the boundary of Latin and Greek linguistic influence (the Jireček Line). An alternative hypothesis favoured by some linguists is that Albanian is descended from Thracian. Not enough is known of the ancient language to completely prove or disprove either hypothesis (see Origin of Albanians).
There are few remains to connect with the Bronze Age with the later Illyrians in the western Balkans. Moreover, with the notable exception of Pod near Bugojno in the upper valley of the Vrbas River, nothing is known of their settlements. Some hill settlements have been identified in western Serbia, but the main evidence comes from cemeteries, consisting usually of a small number of burial mounds (tumuli). In eastern Bosnia in the cemeteries of Belotić and Bela Crkva, the rites of exhumation and cremation are attested, with skeletons in stone cists and cremations in urns. Metal implements appear here side-by-side with stone implements. Most of the remains belong to the fully developed Middle Bronze Age.
During the 7th century BC, the beginning of the Iron Age, the Illyrians emerge as an ethnic group with a distinct culture and art form. Various Illyrian tribes appeared, under the influence of the Halstatt cultures from the north, and they organized their regional centers. The cult of the dead played an important role in the lives of the Illyrians, which is seen in their carefully made burials and burial ceremonies, as well as the richness of the burial sites. In the northern parts of the Balkans, there existed a long tradition of cremation and burial in shallow graves, while in the southern parts, the dead were buried in large stone, or earth tumuli (natively called gromile) that in Herzegovina were reaching monumental sizes, more than 50 meters wide and 5 meters high. The Japodian tribe (found from Istria in Croatia to Bihać in Bosnia) have had an affinity for decoration with heavy, oversized necklaces out of yellow, blue or white glass paste, and large bronze fibulas, as well as spiral bracelets, diadems and helmets out of bronze. Small sculptures out of jade in form of archaic Ionian plastic are also characteristically Japodian. Numerous monumental sculptures are preserved, as well as walls of citadel Nezakcij near Pula, one of numerous Istrian cities from Iron Age. Illyrian chiefs wore bronze torques around their necks much like the Celts did. The Illyrians were influenced by the Celts in many cultural and material aspects and some of them were Celticized, especially the tribes in Dalmatia and the Pannonians. In Slovenia, the Vače situla was discovered in 1882 and attributed to Illyrians.
Prehistoric remains indicate no more than average height, male 165 cm (5 ft 5 in), female 153 cm (5 ft 0 in).
The Illyrians were mentioned for the last time in the Miracula Sancti Demetrii during the 7th century. With the disintegration of the Roman Empire, Gothic and Hunnic tribes raided the Balkan peninsula, making many Illyrians seek refuge in the highlands. With the arrival of the Slavs in the 6th century, most Illyrians were Slavicized. Others took refuge inside the defended cities of the coast, where they kept Roman culture alive for many centuries, but were also eventually assimilated by the expanding Slavic population of the mainland.
Early modern usage
During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the term "Illyrian" was used to describe Slavs living within the territories of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Serbia (and in other countries abroad). However, on the territory of Venetian Albania (possessions of the Republic of Venice on the territory of Montenegro) and further southward, that term has been used to designate Albanians.
The term Illyrians was utilized in late medieval texts such as in Mazaris' Journey to Hades (a work written by Byzantine author Mazaris between January 1414 and October 1415). In Mazaris' case, the term was used to designate "Albanians" (i.e. Arvanites).
When Napoleon conquered part of the South Slavic lands in the beginning of the 19th century, these areas were named after ancient Illyrian provinces. Under the influence of Romantic nationalism, a self-identified "Illyrian movement" (Croatian: Ilirski pokret) in the form of a Croatian national revival, opened a literary and journalistic campaign that was initiated by a group of young Croatian intellectuals during the years of 1835–1849. This movement, under the banner of Illlyrism, aimed to create a Croatian national establishment under Austro-Hungarian rule, through linguistic and ethnic unity among South Slavs. It was repressed by the Habsburg authorities after the failed Revolutions of 1848.
The possible continuity between the Illyrian populations of the Western Balkans in antiquity and the Albanians has also played a significant role in Albanian nationalism from the 19th century until the present day. For example, Ibrahim Rugova, the first President of Kosovo introduced the "Flag of Dardania" on October 29, 2000, Dardania being the name for a Thraco-Illyrian region roughly coterminous with modern Kosovo.
- Adriatic Veneti
- Early history of Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Illyrian armor
- Illyrian history
- Illyrian languages
- Illyrian religion
- Illyrian warfare
- List of ancient tribes in Illyria
- List of rulers of Illyria
- Prehistoric Balkans
- Prehistoric Croatia
- Prehistoric Serbia
- Frazee 1997, p. 89: "The Balkan peninsula had three groups of Indo-Europeans prior to 2000 B.C. Those on the west were the Illyrians; those on the east were the Thracians; and advancing down the southern part of the Balkans, the Greeks."
- Wilkes 1995, p. 92.
- Boardman & Hammond 1982, p. 261; Wilkes 1995, p. 6.
- Wilkes 1995, p. 94.
- Eastern Michigan University Linguist List: The Illyrian Language: "An ancient language of the Balkans. Based upon geographical proximity, this is traditionally seen as the ancestor of Modern Albanian. It is more likely, however, that Thracian is Modern Albanian's ancestor, since both Albanian and Thracian belong to the satem group of Indo-European, while Illyrian belonged to the centum group. 2nd half of 1st Millennium BC - 1st half of 1st Millennium AD."
- Fol 2002, p. 225: "Romanisation was total and complete by the end of the 4th century A.D. In the case of the Illyrian elements a Romance intermediary is inevitable as long as Illyrian was probably extinct in the 2nd century A.D."
- Roisman & Worthington 2010, p. 280: "The Illyrians certainly never collectively called themselves Illyrians, and it is unlikely that they had any collective name for themselves."
- Boardman 1982, p. 629.
- Schaefer 2008, p. 130.
- Bowden 2003, p. 211; Kazhdan 1991, p. 248.
- Ceka 2005, pp. 40–42, 59.
- "Albania". London: Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 30 September 2005. According to alternative hypotheses, the Albanians may be descendants of Thracians or more specifically Dacians; cf. Georgiev, Vladimir (1960). "Albanisch, Dakisch-Mysisch und Rumänisch". Linguistique balkanique 2: 1–19., and Schramm, Gottfried (1994). Anfänge des albanischen Christentums: Die frühe Bekehrung der Bessen und ihre langen Folgen. Freiburg.
- Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 230; Apollodorus & Hard 1999, p. 103 (Book III, 5.4).
- Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 168.
- Wilkes 1995, p. 39.
- In The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1966, p. 12), Anthony D. Smith coined the term primordialists to separate these thinkers from those who view ethnicity as a situational construct, the product of history, rather than a cause, influenced by a variety of political, economic, and cultural factors. The issue of ethnicity remains intractable even millennia later (see Walter Pohl, "Conceptions of Ethnicity in Early Medieval Studies" in Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings, ed. Lester K. Little and Barbara H. Rosenwein, Blackwell Publishing, 1998, pp. 13-24).
- Wilkes 1995, p. 81.
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- Anamali & Korkuti 1969; Korkuti 2003; Stipčević 1977, p. 18.
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- Wilkes 1995, p. 38: "Just as ancient writers could discover no satisfactory general explanation for the origin of Illyrians, so most modern scholars, even though now possessed of a mass of archaeological and linguistic evidence, can assert with confidence only that Illyrians were not a homogeneous entity, though even that is today challenged with vigour by historians and archaeologists working within the perspective of modern Albania."
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- Wilkes 1995, p. 245: "...Illyrian deities are named on monuments of the Roman era, some in equation with gods of the classical pantheon (see figure 34)."
- Wilkes 1995, p. 244: "Unlike Celts, Dacians, Thracians or Scythians, there is no indication that Illyrians developed a uniform cosmology on which their religious practice was centred. An etymology of the Illyrian name linked with serpent would, if it is true, fit with the many representations of..."
- Wilkes 1995, p. 247.
- Wilkes 1995, p. 123.
- Bunson 1995, p. 202; Mócsy 1974.
- Pomeroy et al. 2008, p. 255.
- Wilkes 1995, p. 183.
- Eastern Michigan University Linguist List: The Illyrian Language.
- Ammon et al. 2006, p. 1874: "Traditionally, Albanian is identified as the descendant of Illyrian, but Hamp (1994a) argues that the evidence is too meager and contradictory for us to know whether the term Illyrian even referred to a single language."
- Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 9; Fortson 2004.
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- Wilkes 1995, p. 72.
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- Hornblower & Spawforth 2003, p. 1106.
- Juka 1984, p. 60: "Since the Illyrians are referred to for the last time as an ethnic group in Miracula Sancti Demetri (7th century AD), some scholars maintain that after the arrival of the Slavs the Illyrians were extinct."
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