THE ANCIENT ILLYRIANS
Figure 2. Illyria
under Roman Rule, First Century B.C.
Source: Based on information from R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor
N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, New York,
1970, 95; Herman Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, The Anchor Atlas
of World History, 1, New York, 1974, 90, 94; and Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 15, New York, 1975, 1092.
Mystery enshrouds the exact origins of today's Albanians. Most
historians of the Balkans believe the Albanian people are in large
part descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who, like other Balkan
peoples, were subdivided into tribes and clans. The name Albania
is derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Arber,
or Arbereshė, and later Albanoi, that lived near Durrės. The Illyrians
were Indo-European tribesmen who appeared in the western part
of the Balkan Peninsula about 1000 B.C., a period coinciding with
the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age. They
inhabited much of the area for at least the next millennium. Archaeologists
associate the Illyrians with the Hallstatt culture, an Iron Age
people noted for production of iron and bronze swords with winged-shaped
handles and for domestication of horses. The Illyrians occupied
lands extending from the Danube, Sava, and Morava rivers to the
Adriatic Sea and the Sar Mountains. At various times, groups of
Illyrians migrated over land and sea into Italy.
The Illyrians carried on commerce and warfare with their neighbors.
The ancient Macedonians probably had some Illyrian roots, but
their ruling class adopted Greek cultural characteristics. The
Illyrians also mingled with the Thracians, another ancient people
with adjoining lands on the east. In the south and along the Adriatic
Sea coast, the Illyrians were heavily influenced by the Greeks,
who founded trading colonies there. The present-day city of Durrės
evolved from a Greek colony known as Epidamnos, which was founded
at the end of the seventh century B.C. Another famous Greek colony,
Apollonia, arose between Durrės and the port city of Vlorė.
The Illyrians produced and traded cattle, horses, agricultural
goods, and wares fashioned from locally mined copper and iron.
Feuds and warfare were constant facts of life for the Illyrian
tribes, and Illyrian pirates plagued shipping on the Adriatic
Sea. Councils of elders chose the chieftains who headed each of
the numerous Illyrian tribes. From time to time, local chieftains
extended their rule over other tribes and formed short-lived kingdoms.
During the fifth century B.C., a well-developed Illyrian population
center existed as far north as the upper Sava River valley in
what is now Slovenia. Illyrian friezes discovered near the present-day
Slovenian city of Ljubljana depict ritual sacrifices, feasts,
battles, sporting events, and other activities.
The Illyrian kingdom of Bardhyllus became a formidable local
power in the fourth century B.C. In 358 B.C., however, Macedonia's
Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians
and assumed control of their territory as far as Lake Ohrid (see
fig. 5). Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain
Clitus in 335 B.C., and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied
Alexander on his conquest of Persia. After Alexander's death in
323 B.C., independent Illyrian kingdoms again arose. In 312 B.C.,
King Glaucius expelled the Greeks from Durrės. By the end of the
third century, an Illyrian kingdom based near what is now the
Albanian city of Shkodėr controlled parts of northern Albania,
Montenegro, and Hercegovina. Under Queen Teuta, Illyrians attacked
Roman merchant vessels plying the Adriatic Sea and gave Rome an
excuse to invade the Balkans.
In the Illyrian Wars of 229 and 219 B.C., Rome overran the Illyrian
settlements in the Neretva River valley. The Romans made new gains
in 168 B.C., and Roman forces captured Illyria's King Gentius
at Shkodėr, which they called Scodra, and brought him to Rome
in 165 B.C. A century later, Julius Caesar and his rival Pompey
fought their decisive battle near Durrės (Dyrrachium). Rome finally
subjugated recalcitrant Illyrian tribes in the western Balkans
dwing the region of Emperor Tiberius in A.D. 9. The Romans divided
the lands that make up present-day Albania among the provinces
of Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Epirus (see fig. 2).
For about four centuries, Roman rule brought the Illyrian-populated
lands economic and cultural advancement and ended most of the
enervating clashes among local tribes. The Illyrian mountain clansmen
retained local authority but pledged allegiance to the emperor
and acknowledged the authority of his envoys. During a yearly
holiday honoring the Caesars, the Illyrian mountaineers swore
loyalty to the emperor and reaffirmed their political rights.
A form of this tradition, known as the kuvend, has survived to
the present day in northern Albania.
The Romans established numerous military camps and colonies and
completely latinized the coastal cities. They also oversaw the
construction of aqueducts and roads, including the Via Egnatia,
a famous military highway and trade route that led from Durrės
through the Shkumbin River valley to Macedonia and Byzantium (later
Constantinople --see Glossary). Copper, asphalt, and silver were
extracted from the mountains. The main exports were wine, cheese,
oil, and fish from Lake Scutari and Lake Ohrid. Imports included
tools, metalware, luxury goods, and other manufactured articles.
Apollonia became a cultural center, and Julius Caesar himself
sent his nephew, later the Emperor Augustus, to study there.
Illyrians distinguished themselves as warriors in the Roman legions
and made up a significant portion of the Praetorian Guard. Several
of the Roman emperors were of Illyrian origin, including Diocletian
(284-305), who saved the empire from disintegration by introducing
institutional reforms, and Constantine the Great (324-37)--who
accepted Christianity and transferred the empire's capital from
Rome to Byzantium, which he called Constantinople. Emperor Justinian
(527-65)--who codified Roman law, built the most famous Byzantine
church, the Hagia Sofia, and reextended the empire's control over
lost territories- -was probably also an Illyrian.
Christianity came to the Illyrian-populated lands in the first
century A.D. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province
of Illyricum, and legend holds that he visited Durrės. When the
Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in A.D.
395, the lands that now make up Albania were administered by the
Eastern Empire but were ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. In
A.D. 732, however, a Byzantine emperor, Leo the Isaurian, subordinated
the area to the patriarchate of Constantinople. For centuries
thereafter, the Albanian lands became an arena for the ecclesiastical
struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Most Albanians living
in the mountainous north became Roman Catholic, while in the southern
and central regions, the majority became Orthodox.
Data as of April 1992