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1000 BC-229 BC - Illyrians

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.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:50:39 ZULU