Illyria

Illyria

[ih-leer-ee-uh]
Illyria (Albanian Iliria, (Ancient Greek Ἰλλυρία; Latin Illyria ; see also Illyricum) was in Classical antiquity a region in the western part of today's Balkan Peninsula, founded by the tribes and clans of Illyrians, an ancient people who spoke the Illyrian languages. In Greek mythology, Illyrius was the son of Cadmus and Harmonia who eventually ruled Illyria and become the eponymous ancestor of the whole Illyrian people. The delineation of ancient Illyria can pose a problem to historians, since before the Roman conquest the Illyrians were not unified into an Illyrian kingdom, and Illyria's borders before Rome are not always clear. For example, the Dalmatae, though classed as an Illyrian tribe by language, were only subject to the kingdom of Illyria for a short time and soon defected during the reign of King Gentius.

In the first decades under Byzantine rule (until 461), Illyria suffered the devastation of raids by Visigoths, Huns, and Ostrogoths. Not long after these barbarian invaders swept through the Balkans, the Slavs appeared. Between the 6th and 8th centuries they settled in Illyrian territories and proceeded to assimilate Illyrian tribes in much of what is now Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia.

Illyrian kingdom

For the subsequent Roman period of Illyrian history, see Illyricum (Roman province).

The Illyrian king, Bardyllis turned Illyria into a formidable local power in the 4th century BC. The main cities of the Illyrian kingdom were Scodra (present-day Shkodra, Albania) and Rhizon (present-day Risan, Montenegro). In 359 BC, King Perdiccas III of Macedon was killed by attacking Illyrians.

But in 358 BC, Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians and assumed control of their territory north and west of Lake Ohrid. Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain Cleitus the Illyrian in 335 BC, and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied Alexander on his conquest of Persia.

After Alexander's death in 323 BC, independent Illyrian kingdoms again arose. In 312 BC, King Glaukias seized Epidamnus. By the end of the 3rd century BC, an Illyrian kingdom based in Scodra (now a city in Albania) controlled parts of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Herzegovina. 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 BC and 219 BC, Rome overran the Illyrian settlements in the Neretva river valley and suppressed the piracy that had made the Adriatic unsafe. In 180 BC, the Dalmatians declared themselves independent of the Illyrian king Gentius, who kept his capital at Scodra. The Romans defeated Gentius, the last king of Illyria, at Scodra in 168 BC and captured him, bringing him to Rome in 165 BC. Four client-republics were set up, which were in fact ruled by Rome. Later, the region was directly governed by Rome and organized as a province, with Scodra as its capital

Religion

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. The ancient historian Arrian records the chieftain Cleitus the Illyrian 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.

Legacy

After the province of Illyricum was divided into Dalmatia and Pannonia in 10, the terms "Illyria" and "Illyrian" would generally go out of use, but would still be used in some circles. The name Illyria was revived by Napoleon for the 'Provinces of Illyria' that were incorporated into the French Empire from 1809 to 1813, and the Kingdom of Illyria was part of Austria until 1849, after which time it was not used in the reorganised Austro-Hungarian Empire. The adjective "Illyrian" was also used in political and literary circles during the 19th century Balkan nationalist movements to describe Non-Slavic ideas of unification and independence from Slavs and other foreign powers.

Notes

In drama and literature Illyria can be a half-fictional country, e.g., in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Mains Sales and in Lloyd Alexander's The Illyrian Adventure ISBN 0-14-130313-1.

See also

References

Sources

  • Wilkes, John (1992). The Illyrians. Oxford: Blackwell Press. ISBN 0-631-14671-7.

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