Illyrians has come to refer to a broad, ill-defined [Wilkes, p. 92. "This names 'Illyrians properly so-called' (Illyrii proprie dicti) among the native communities in Roman Dalmatia (NH 3.144). Evidently these were the first people of this area to become known to the Greeks, causing their name to be applied to other peoples with similar language and customs.] "Indo-European" ["Indo-European" in this context simply means "speaking Indo-European languages".] group of peoples who inhabited the western Balkans (Illyria, roughly from central Albania to southern Pannonia) and even possibly Messapia in Southern Italy (if the Messapian language is to be considered an Illlyrian dialect [ [ Unclassified Indo-European] ] ). Illyrians [Kipfer, p. 251. "...Illyria extended from the Danube River southward to the Adriatic Sea and from there eastward to the Sar Mountains. The Illyrians, descendants of the hallstatt culture, were divided into tribes, each a self-governing community with a council of elders and a chosen leader."] were part [West, p. 110. "...298. 'z5 8th-c. shaman's grave in Poland, NG vi. 313; Syrian relief, c.700?, NG i. 391; bronze urns from the Illyrian Hallstatt culture, 6th-5th c., NG xiv. 159 and 160 fig. 2; Etruscan monuments."] of the Hallstatt culture. [Kohl and Fawcett, p. 134. "They were emphatically developed by S.P. Tolstov (1946; 1947b), whose original contribution was to include the Thracian-Illyrian population (the Hallstatt culture)..."] [Kuhn, p. 455. "...of the Middle Danube Urnfield group persisted in the eastern Alpine and the north and east Adriatic area where the Illyrian Hallstatt culture arose in the following centuries best known through its celebrated Hallstatt cemetery and the situla art."] [Crystal, p. 217. "...908 History Early Iron-Age settlement at Hallstatt; later Illyrian settlers driven out by the Celts; part of Roman Empire until 5th-c, then occupied by Germanic tribes, most significantly Bavarians;..."] [Kipfer, p. 526. "...(syn. Sopot Lengyel) Sopron: Early Iron Age cemetery of the Hallstatt C period in western Hungary. Cremation burials under barrows were...human figures. Artifacts from the area indicate Neolithic, Bronze Age, Illyrian, and Celtic settlements before the town's becoming the Roman municipium of Scarabantia. sorghum: A cereal grain plant, probably originating in..."] [Kipfer, p. 591. "...Venus figurine Veneti: An Illyrian people who came from the east and took possession of...the Golasecca, Villanovan, and Etruscan cultures and with the transalpine Hallstatt culture."]

In theory, Illyrians are defined as speakers of the Illyrian languages, but since the latter is practically unknown, this entails the danger of a circular definition. The existence of a broad "Illyrian" ethnic identity in the past is uncertain, and some argue that the ethnonym "Illyrioi" came to be applied to this large group of peoples by the ancient Greeks, "Illyrioi" having perhaps originally designated only a single people that came to be widely known to the Greeks due to proximity. [Wilkes, p. 183. "We may begin with the Venetic peoples, Veneti, Carni, Histri and Liburni, whose language set them apart from the rest of the Illyrians."] [Wilkes, p. 81. "In Roman Pannonia the Latobici and Varciani who dwelt east of the Venetic Catari in the upper Sava valley were Celtic but the Colapiani of the Colapis (Kulpa) valley were Illyrians..."]

Indeed, such a people known as the "Illyrioi" are supposed to 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.


Little more can be said of the languages of Illyria than that they were probably centum dialects of Indo-European. They may have been linked with the adjacent Thracian language by an intermediate convergence area or dialect continuum. The position of the equally fragmentarily attested Venetic language with relation to Illyrian is uncertain. Venetic also appears to be a centum dialect.

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. If Messapian is considered an Illyrian dialect, the vast majority of our knowledge of Illyrian is based on Messapian. The non-Messapic testimonies of Illyrian are too fragmentary to be certain whether Messapian should be considered part of Illyrian proper, but it is widely thought that Messapian was in some way related to Illyrian.

All these languages were likely extinct by the 6th century, though the Albanian language may represent a remote descendant of Thraco-Illyrian dialects that survived in remote areas of the Balkans during the Middle Ages. This would have happened along the boundary of Latin and Greek linguistic influence (the Jireček Line). Not enough is known of the ancient language to either prove or disprove this hypothesis (see Origin of Albanians).


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. [Apollodorus, III, 61.]

Ancient texts

Pliny, in his work "Natural History", applies a stricter usage of the term "Illyrii", when speaking of "Illyrii proprie dicti" ("Illyrians "properly so-called") among the native communities in the south of Roman Dalmatia. [By implication, a broader usage was current when Pliny wrote his work.] A passage within Appian's "Illyrike" (stating that the Illyrians lived beyond Macedonia and Thrace, from Chaonia and Thesprotia to the Danube River) is also representative of the broader usage of the term. [Appian, "Illyrike", 1. "The Greeks call those people Illyrian who dwell beyond Macedonia and Thrace, from Chaonia and Thesprotia to the river Danube."]

Modern theories

The ethnogenesis of the Illyrians remains a problem for modern prehistorians. Among those who take the meaningfulness of the terms "people" or "tribe" for granted, the consensus of the "primordialists" [Anthony D. Smith, "The Ethnic Origins of Nations" (Oxford, 1966) pp. 6ff, coined the term 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" "Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings", ed. Lester K. Little and Barbara H. Rosenwein, (Blackwell), 1998, pp 13-24. [ On-line text] ).] (those who take ethnicity for a basic organizing principle since ancient times) is that the ethnic 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. [Wilkes, p. 81. "Naming Illyrians 81 simple equation, once widely entertained, that the population of the pre-Celtic Hallstatt Iron Age in and north of the eastern Alps were Illyrian-speakers, a refinement of earlier 'pan-Illyrian' theories now discarded."]

When the Proto-Illyrians became a distinct group remains unclear. The process may have begun as early as the Eneolithic (the latest phase of the Stone Age). It is hypothesized that in the Eneolithic period invading Indo-European groups mingled with indigenous pre-Indo-European groups, resulting in the formation of the principal tribal groups, based upon their uses of the Paleo-Balkan languages (Illyrians, Thracians, and others). [Wilkes, p. 33.] Many Illyrian tribes are not considered Illyrian anymore but Venetic. [Wilkes, p. 183. "We may begin with the Venetic peoples, Veneti, Carni, Histri and Liburni, whose language set them apart from the rest of the Illyrians."] [Wilkes, p. 81. "In Roman Pannonia the Latobici and Varciani who dwelt east of the Venetic Catari in the upper Sava valley were Celtic but the Colapiani of the Colapis (Kulpa) valley were Illyrians."]

A. Benac and B. Čović, archaeologists from Sarajevo, hypothesize that during the Bronze Age there took place a progressive "Illyrianization" of peoples dwelling in the lands between the Adriatic and the Sava river. In contrast to an ethnogenesis in the Balkans, another (older) school of scholars maintains the theory of an "Illyrian invasion", which involves a great movement of Illyrian tribes from the lowlands of central Europe (modern Hungary), towards southeastern Europe and the Balkan peninsula. The Illyrian invasion is estimated to have occurred around the 13th century BC. The numerous Thracian names in Illyria have led many scholars to believe that the region was originally inhabited by Thracians, who were either displaced or submitted to the Illyrian invaders. The Illyrians were most likely in turn pushed eastwards by Celtic or Germanic tribes from the northwest. According to this theory, the Illyrian invasion most likely caused the Thracian expansion to the east, the movement of the Greeks to the south and the Phrygian migration from Thrace into central Asia Minor. The last event may have created the conditions for the Achaean Greeks to colonize the coast of Asia Minor and the Dorians to start their invasion.


In the western Balkans, there are few remains to connect with the bronze-using Proto-Illyrians in Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia, western Serbia, and eastern Bosnia. 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, when bronze was replaced by iron, the Illyrians became an ethnic group with a distinct culture and art form, and only jewelry and art objects were still made out of bronze. Different Illyrian tribes appeared, under the influence of the Halstat 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.

Classical period

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 delta of Neretva, 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 (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 of "Issa" (today the Vis (island)) was famous for having waged wars against the Romans. Ultimately, the Romans subdued the Illyrians during the 1st century BC. Illyrian territories would later become provinces of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.

Roman rule

After the Roman conquest, the Illyrians were granted civil rights by the Constitutio Antoniniana issued in 212. Moreover, Rome recruited Illyrian soldiers to guard its borders from barbarian tribes. Their squads grew in number to such an extent that the Illyrian military began to play an important part in Roman political life, even ascending the imperial throne at certain points. In the course of over a century, seven Illyrian-born emperors ruled in succession. The province of Illyricum stretched from the Drilon River in modern Albania to Istria (Croatia) in the west and the Sava River (Croatia) in the north. Its capital was located at Salonae near modern Split in Croatia. After a revolt of Pannonians and Dalmatians (i.e. the rebellion of Bato [Bellum Batonianum, 6-9.] ) was crushed in 9, the province of Illyricum was dissolved, and its lands were divided between the new provinces of Pannonia in the north and Dalmatia in the south. In 297 CE, Emperor Diocletian, carried out administrative reforms in the Roman Empire by constituting prefectures, dioceses and provinces. In conformity with this reorganisation, the territory was additionally divided. The southern part of Dalmatia was cut off and became the province of Praevalitana, with Shkodra (Shkodër) as its administrative centre. Other provinces entailed Epirus Nova, with Dyrrachium as its capital, and Epirus Vetus, with its central city at Nikopolis. The latter two were part of the Macedonian diocese. The dioceses Pannonia, Noricum, Moesia Superior and Macedonia with the rest of Greece were constituent parts of the prefecture of Illyricum, which comprised part of the Balkans from 318 to 379 AD. Liburnia was also one of the "provincia Dalmatiarum" located north from the river Krka including Skradin. However, Liburnia had sometimes possessed a status of being in a separate administrative-territorial unit. Analysis of the archaeological material from antiquity has shown that the process of Romanization was selective. Urban centres, both coastal and inland, were almost totally Romanised. Although the Illyrians were subject to a strong process of aculturisation, they continued to speak their own native language, respect their own gods, preserve their traditions and adhere to their own socio-political tribal organization, which was only in some necessities adapted to Roman administration and political structures. [A. Stipčević. "Iliri". Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1974, p. 70.]

Middle Ages

The Illyrians were mentioned for the last time in the "Miracula Sancti Demetri" during the 7th century. [The compilation "Miracula Sancti Demetri" contains the legendary "acta" of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki.] 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. [Pashko Gjonaij. "The Ancient Illyrians". 2001.] [ [ 1911 Encyclopedia - Illyria] ] A few of the Romanised Illyrians from the Adriatic coast did manage to preserve their blended culture. Many fled to the mountains, surviving as shepherds, and kept speaking their Romance language. They are referred to as Morlachs. [ [ 1911 Encyclopedia - Illyria] ] 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.

Later usage of the term

During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the term "Illyrian" was used to describe Croats 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. ["Hrvatska revija", br. 2/2007.]

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). [Mazaris, p. 76-79.]

The term was revived again during the Habsburg Monarchy, but it was designated towards South Slavs. This association was based on the opinion that the South Slavs were descendants of Slavicized Illyrians. 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" ( _hr. 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. [Elinor Murray Despalatovic. "Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian Movement". New York: East European Quarterly, 1975.] 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.

ee also

*Illyrian warfare
*Hallstatt culture
*List of Illyrian tribes
*List of Illyrians
*Illyrian gods
*Illyrian languages
*Illyrian movement
*Adriatic Veneti
*The Races of Europe
*Queen Teuta


*History of Albania
*History of Bosnia
*History of Croatia
*History of Italy
*History of Montenegro
*History of Serbia
*History of Slovenia



*Benac A. 'Vorillyrier, Protoillyrier und Urillyrier' in: A. Benac(ed.) "Symposium sur la delimitation Territoriale et chronologique des Illyriens a l’epoque Prehistorique", Sarajevo 1964, pp. 59-94.
*Cabanes, P. "Les Illyriens de Bardylis à Genthios: IVe – IIe siècles avant J. – C." Paris, 1988.
*Crystal, David. "The New Penguin Factfinder". Penguin, 2004. ISBN 0141011092
*Kipfer, Barbara Ann. "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology". Springer, 2000. ISBN 0306461587
*Kohl, Philip L. and Fawcett, Clare. "Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology". Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0521480655
*Kühn, Herbert. "Geschichte der Vorgeschichtsforschung". Walter de Gruyter, 1976. ISBN 3110059185
*Mazaris: "Mazaris' Journey to Hades: or, Interviews with dead men about certain officials of the imperial court." Greek text with translation, notes, introduction and index. (Seminar Classics 609). Buffalo NY: Dept. of Classics, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1975.
*Srejovic, Dragoslav. "Les Illyriens et Thraces", 1997.
*Stipčević, Alexander. "Iliri" (2nd edition). Zagreb, 1989 (also published in Italian as "Gli Illiri").
*West, Martin Litchfield. "Ancient Greek Music". Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0198149751
*Wilkes, J. J. "The Illyrians". Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-631-14671-7
*Miranda Vickers. "The Albanians". I.B. Tauris, 1999. ISBN 1860645410

External links

* [ Phallic Cult of the Illyrians]

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