Illyria and Illyricum

Illyria ĭlĭr´ēə [key] and Illyricum ĭlĭr´ĭkəm [key], ancient region of the Balkan Peninsula. In prehistoric times a group of tribes speaking dialects of an Indo-European language swept down to the northern and eastern shores of the Adriatic and established themselves there. The region that they occupied came to be known as Illyria, and therefore the name has vague limits. Among the Illyrian peoples were the tribes later called the Dalmatians and the Pannonians therefore Illyria is sometimes taken in the widest sense to include the whole area occupied by the Pannonians, and thus to reach from Epirus N to the Danube. More usually Illyria is used to mean only the Adriatic coast N of central Albania and W of the Dinaric Alps.

The Illyrians were much affected by the Celts and mingled freely with them the inhabitants of the later Rhaetia were a compound of Illyrians and Celts. The Illyrians were warlike and frequently engaged in piracy. The mines of the region, located inland, attracted the Greeks, but the terrain was too difficult. Greek cities were established on the coast in the 6th cent. BC, but they did not flourish, and generally the Greeks left the Illyrians alone. Philip II of Macedon and later Philip V warred against them, but without permanent results.

An Illyrian kingdom was set up in the 3d cent. BC with the capital at Scodra (present-day Shkodër, Albania), but trouble over Illyrian piracy led the Romans to conduct two victorious wars against Scodra (229–228, 219 BC). After the Dalmatians had split from the kingdom, the Romans conquered Genthius, king of Scodra, and established (168–167 BC) one of the earliest Roman colonies as Illyricum. The colony was enlarged by the total conquest of Dalmatia in several wars (notably 156, 119, 78–77 BC). The southern Illyrians were finally conquered (35–34 BC) by Augustus—a conquest confirmed by the campaigns of 29–27 BC Illyricum was expanded by conquests (12–11 BC) of the Pannonians.

At the time of the stubborn revolt of the Illyrians (AD 6–9) the territory was split into the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, but the term Illyricum was still used. It was later given to one of the great prefectures of the late Roman Empire. Illyricum then included much of the region N of the Adriatic as well as a large part of the Balkan Peninsula. When Napoleon revived (1809) the name for the Illyrian Provs. of his empire he included much of the region N of the Adriatic and what is today Slovenia and Croatia. Roughly the same region was included in the administrative district of Austria called (1816–49) the Illyrian kingdom.

See S. Casson, Macedonia, Thrace, and Illyria (1926).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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