The Illyrians, bearing the Hallstatt culture, were a group of Indo-European tribes in antiquity, which inhabited part of western Balkan Peninsula. Illyria extended from the Danube River southwards to the Adriatic Sea and eastwards to the Sharr (Šar) Mountains. They were divided into tribes, each self-governing with a council of elders and a chosen leader, but sometimes strong leaders were able to unite several tribes into a kingdom. The name “Illyrians” is applied by the Greeks. The Illyrian tribes never collectively called themselves with that name, and it seems that the name came from a specific Illyrian tribe which was the first to come in contact with the ancient Greeks during the Bronze Age. The name is first mentioned by Hellenic historiography in the 4th century BC. The first known Illyrian king was Bardyllis, a king of the Dardanian Kingdom who defeated Ancient Macedonians several times, but died in a battle against the famous Macedonian king, Philip II of Macedon in 358 BC.

Illyrian wars

The first Illyrian war was fought from 229 till 228 BC. At this period, after the defeat of Carthage in the first Punic war, Rome became dominant naval power in the Mediterranean, but it was not absolute. The Ardiaeankingdom, ruled by an Illyrian tribe, began to threat Rome’s trade routes across the Adriatic Sea. The Ardiaean kingdom had its capital at Scodra (Shokder, Albania). The most important ruler was King Agron, who ruled in the second half of the 3rd century BC. Agron made alliance with Demetrius II of Macedon and defeated the Aetolians in 231 BC. He died suddenly, however, leaving an under aged son as a successor. Because the son couldn’t become king yet, his mother Teuta, acted as a regent. Queen Teuta supported Illyrian pirates. She attacked Sicily and the costal Greek colonies with the Illyrian navy. At the same time, Illyrian pirates oppressed Rome’s merchants in the Adriatic. After a lot of complaints, Rome was forced act. They first send diplomatic envoys to Teuta’s court. Teuta was not pleased and was not reasonable in her dealing with them. Worst of all, she killed one of the envoys and after humiliating the others, she send them back to Rome. The Romans were outraged and declared war against Teuta. They send a large fleet, and the first target was the island of Corcyra, held by Demetrius. In 228 Teuta realized that she was no match for the Romans and surrendered.


The interior part of Illyria was still not destroyed, so a second Illyrian war started in 219-218 BC after the hostility of Demetrius. Romans soon captured the city of Dimale and later the navy went towards Pharos. Demetrius fled to Macedonia where he became councilor of Philip V and remained there until his death.
In 171 the Illyrian king Gentius was allied with the Romans against the Macedonians. But in 169 BC he changed sides and allied himself with Perseus of Macedon. During the Third Illyrian War, in 168 BC, he arrested two Roman legates and destroyed the cities of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium, which were allied to Rome. He was defeated at Scodra by a Roman force and in 167 BC he was brought to Rome as a captive.

Roman province of Illyricum

Rome made Illyria a province that stretched from the Drilon Riven (Drin, Albania) in the south, to Istra in the north and to the Savus River (Sava) in the east. The administrative center of the province was Salonea (near Split) in Dalmatia. With the extension of the Roman Empire, Illyricum was divided between the province of Dalmatia and Pannonia. Under the Roman Empire, Illyria had a high prosperity. Rome built roads and used its ports as important trade and transit links between Rome and Eastern Europe. Illyria was rich with copper and silver in some regions and wine, oil, cheese and fish were exported to Italy. Illyria proved to have had strong warriors, so the emperors recruited them in order to serve with the Roman legions and even in the Praetorian Guard. Several emperors of the late Roman Empire were of Illyrian origin, including Claudius II Gothicus, Aurelion, Dioletian and Constantine the Great.
In 395 AD the empire was finally divided, and Illyria east of the Drinus River became part of the Eastern Empire. Between the 3rd and the 5th century it was devastated by the Visigoths and the Huns, who didn’t leave a lasting mark. In the 7th century, Illyria was settled by Slavs, which permanently changed the political view of the territory. Thus, the name Illyria was changed with other more accurate names for that period by the Byzantines.