1902 Encyclopedia > Illyria

Illyria




ILLYRIA is the name applied to the country that lies to the east of the Adriatic Sea. The usual Greek name is Illyris, though the older writers generally use the expression ol 'lAAupioi. The common name in Latin is Illyricum. The term Illyria is occasionally used in both languages, and has become the recognized name in English. The boundaries of the country thus known varied very much at different periods, and can be described only along with its history. For a short time, in the 4th and 3d centuries B.C., there was some slight government under monarchs whose power was acknowledged by the whole country ; but in general the land was either a province of some conquering race or the abode of isolated tribes with little or no common feelings or aims.

The origin and character of its oldest inhabitants are involved in the obscurity that still shrouds the ethno-logy and early history of all south-eastern Europe. The Greeks acknowledged some affinity of race between themselves and the Illyrians in the legend that Cadmus retired from Thebes with his wife Harmonia and settled in Illyria, where he became the father of Illyrius, the eponymous ancestor of the whole race. In harmony with this myth, the general consensus of modern investigation tends to the view that at an early period the whole of Europe south of the Danube, together with the centre and west of Asia Minor, were peopled by kindred races, some of whose names are preserved to us as Leleges, Thracians, Pelasgi, Illyrians, <fcc. If we divide the Indo-European tribes that peopled Europe into two great families, the northern and the southern, we shall find that the Thraco-Illyrian tribes must be distinguished from the Slavonic tribes who dwelt immediately north of them, and who are closely akin to the Lithuanian and other tribes of the northern family. On the other hand, it would not be easy to draw any line of demarcation at this early time between the Illyrians and their neighbours on the west, south, and east. Separation of nationalities was produced afterwards by growing civilization, which developed dis-tinct national characters and well-defined countries.

At this early period then we may say that the Danube, as the boundary between the northern and the southern family, was the limit of the Illyrian tribes towards the north. In other directions they shaded off into kindred tribes of similar manners and language. Various causes led to a very unequal development of civilization among these tribes. Intercourse with stranger races like the Phoenicians, and amalgamation with kindred immigrant races, such as the lonians and Dorians, raised some of these tribes rapidly to the highest stage of civilization. But these new races were attracted by the more favourable conditions of the Greek peninsula, and few of them found their way to the northern countries. Some traces of early Ionian settlers in Illyria are found (see Curtius, Die Ionier vor der ionischen Wanderung, p. 46); but they do not seem to have permanently affected the character of the natives. As Greece became civilized, it sent forth its own colonists to occupy most of the favourable sites along the Mediterranean coasts. But, whereas Thrace with its rich mines had a line of Hellenic colonies along its southern shore, very few were planted in Illyria. Accord-ing to Strabo, the shore was full of fine harbours, and the coast land was very fertile; but he adds that the people were barbarous and warlike. On this account it was that Greek colonization never spread on the Illyrian coast. Dyrrachium or Epidamnus was almost the only Greek colony, and its history for centuries showed one continuous conflict with the barbarous natives, which pre-vented its growth. Macedonia again found a family of Greek refugees who established themselves as petty chiefs, and gradually spread their power, with civilization and settled rule, over the whole country. Nothing of the kind happened to Illyria ; the chiefs who rose at times to power were always apparently as barbarous as their followers. In these unpropitious circumstances, the Illyrian tribes remained in their primitive barbarous condition later than almost any of their neighbours, and when many of the surrounding states had become civilized, Illyria was divided from them by the line separating barbarism from civiliza-tion. Naturally their characteristics resembled closely those of the ruder Thracian tribes, and both are described by the Greek historians as tattooing their bodies and offer-ing human victims to their gods. Their women seem to have had a high position socially, and to have even exer-cised political power. Queens are mentioned more than once as their rulers. This reminds us of the German tribes, whose women also were much respected; and we know that among the Greeks women were much freer and more respected in the older time before Oriental influence had affected native customs. It is said that chastity was not held in much account by the women of Illyria; but it must be remembered that people whose women are kept more secluded are very apt to ascribe such a character to the freer life of other races.





The Illyrians are said by Herodotus (ix. 43) to have attacked the temple of Delphi. Brasidas with his small army of Spartans was assaulted by them on his adventurous march (424 B.C.) across Thessaly and Macedonia to attack the Athenian colonies in Thrace. The earlier history of the Macedonian kings is one constant struggle against the Illyrian tribes. The migrations of the Gauls at the beginning of the 4th century disturbed the country between the Danube and the Adriatic. The Scordisci and other Gallic tribes settled there, and forced the Illyrians towards the south. The necessities of defence seem to have united the Illyrians under a chief Bardylis (about 383 B.C.) and his son Clitus. Bardylis nearly succeeded in destroying the rising kingdom of Macedonia; King Amyntas was defeated, and a few years later Perdiccas was defeated and slain. But the great Philip crushed them completely, and annexed part of their country. During the next century we hear of them as pirates. Issuing from the secluded harbours of the coast, they ravaged the shores of Italy and Greece, and preyed on the commerce of the Adriatic. The Greeks applied to Rome for help. Hel-lenism had proved too weak to civilize the northern races ; it was left to the stronger organization of Rome to absorb them. Teuta, the Illyrian queen, at first scorned the Roman demands for redress, and even murdered the ambassadors; but the two Illyrian wars (229 and 219 B.C.) ended in the submission of the Illyrians, a consider-able part of their frontier being annexed by the conquerors. In 168 B.C. Gentius, the Illyrian king, provoked the third Illyrian war, the result of which was the annexation of the whole country by the Romans. Frequent rebellions oc-curred, but at last the natives accepted the Roman civiliza-tion. During the empire, the country was one of the best recruiting grounds for the Roman legions ; and in troubled times many Illyrian soldiers fought their way up from the ranks to the imperial purple. Claudius, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, and Maximian were all sons of Illyrian peasants.

In the time of the republic IUyricum comprised the country between the Liburnians, a kindred race, on the north and Epirus on the south. Under the empire the importance of the country made its name spread over all the surrounding districts. In the 2d century after Christ, the Illyricus Limes included Noricum, Pannonia, Mcesia, Dacia, and Thrace. Constantine added Greece, Epirus, and Macedonia, taking from it Thrace and part of Mcesia, and made it one of the four divisions of the Roman empire governed by a " praefectus praetorio." When the empire was divided, Illyricum was halved. Illyris Barbara or Romana, including Noricum, Pannonia, &c, was an-nexed to the Western empire; while Illyris Graeea, includ-ing Macedonia, Epirus, and Greece, formed part of the Eastern empire. The Via Egnatia, the great line of road which connected Rome with Constantinople and the East, led across Illyricum from Dyrrachiuni to Thessalonica.

In the wreck of the Roman empire Illyria suffered severely. In the 4th century the Goths ravaged it repeatedly, but these, the most civilized of the barbarian invaders of Rome, with their warlike aristocracy, passed on, and were succeeded by wilder tribes. Slavs, as also Huns and other nomadic races from the East, in succession devastated the country. An agricultural population could no longer maintain itself, and all the elements of civilization disappeared. Justinian (527-565) tried in vain to defend the country by a series of forts; his armies were defeated time after time, and at last he allowed the Huns to make settlements south of the Danube. Ronie gave up the defence of civilization against the inroads of barbarism, and bribed the barbarians to be quiet. Still the Via Egnatia was defended, as the artery of communication and the highway or commerce between Constantinople and the west. The open country, however, even south of the great road, was abandoned to the Slavs and Huns. The older Illyrians partly united with these races, partly went farther south, encroaching on the Greek people, and the name of one of their tribes, Albani, is preserved in the modern name of their descendants, the Albanians.

Heraclius (610-641 A.D.) settled Slavonic peoples all along the coast of Illyria as far south as Dyrrachium. The states which were thus created were of great importance in the Dark Ages. The republic of Narenta vied for a time with that of Venice; and the commerce of Ragusa was so rich that it has given its name to all wealthy merchant vessels or "argosies." The name of Illyria had by this time disappeared from history; and the country was now divided between these powerful merchant cities and the states of Bosnia, Croatia, Servia, Rascia, and Dalmatia. In literature the name was preserved, and the scene of Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night is laid in Illyria. Politically the name was revived in the beginning of this century, when the small kingdom of Illyria to the north of the Adriatic was constituted at the peace of Vienna, 1809. In 1849 the territorial distribution of the Austrian empire was remodelled, and Illyria again disappeared, (w. M. RA.)






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