DBA Resources

Army Notes

The Illyrians

(700BC-10AD)
(DBA I/47)

"Their high opinion of their own fighting qualities led to rash behavior
that got them into tight places from which only their own
prowess could extricate them." -- Phil Barker

At its heighth, Ancient Illyria encompassed the Adriatic coastline and mountaineous interior of the western Balkans (Albana, Slovenia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia) including at one point the region of Molossa (Epirus) in the northwest of Greece. According to most archaeologists, the Illyrians were a collection of Indo-European tribes who migrated to this region sometime between 1300-1000 BC, along with their Dorian cousins who pushed farther to overwhelm the Mycenean culture in Greece. (Although some argue that the Illyrians have pre-Iron age roots as early as 2000 BC in the region).

Illyria was populated by a multitude of tribes deemed "barbarous" by the Greek and Roman historians who provide the only historical record. The Breuci settled in the Save river valley (northern Bosnia). The Scrodisci lived near the junction of the Save and Drave rivers (northern Serbia). Also in the north were the Iapodes/Japodes of the Lika Plain (Croatia). In the southeast, nearest the Macedonian and Thracian borders, the principal Illyrian tribes were the Agraines (SE Serbia), Triballi (NW Bulgaria) and Paeones/Paeonians (N Macedonia). In the west, the Ardiaei were forced to migrate by migrating Celts to the Adriatic coast (Montenegro) where they became rich and powerful as pirates. The Dardani (Kosovo) eventually fell under the sway of the Ardiaei. The Liburni (n. Croatia) and the Delmatae (s. Croatia) were coastal tribes and famous seafarers. The Autariatae (central Bosnia/Serbia) were one of the more powerful Illyrian tribes. The Taulanti (c. Albania) seized Epidamnus (modern Durrės) from the Greeks and challenged Alexander the Great, but allied with the Romans during their Illyrian wars. The Arber/Arbereshe (later Albanoi) are reputed to have given their name to modern Albania. The Encheleae/Enkaylayes of southern Illyria (Lake Ohrid in Albana) warred constantly with Greek colonists and are reputed to have once attacked the temple of Apollo at Delphi. In the region of Epirus (s. Albania), the Chaoni/Chaones and the Molossi were Hellenized tribes believed to have strong Illyrian roots.

Several notable Illyrian tribes or tribal sub-groups are also reputed to have migrated to Italy as late as the 7th-8th century BC, including the Jagyges and Messapi (Apulia and Calabria) BC), the Picenti (eastern Italy) and the Veneti (northern Italian coast).

The first recorded Illyrian king was Hyllus (The Star) whose death was recorded in 1225 B.C.

The DBA Illyrian list starts in 700 BC, a period during which the Greeks were establishing colonies (e.g. Epidamnus, Apollonia) along the Adriatic coast, bringing the Illyrian tribes into contact with Greek civilization. Thucydides records Illyrian mercenaries fighting with Corcyra against Epidamnus in 435 B.C. The height of Illyrian power, however, lies between 450-200 BC.

The first great unifier was the Dardanian king Bardhylus (White Star), who united Illyria and Molossia (Epirus) and successfully fought against Macedonian expansion, annexing large portions of western Macedonia in the process. In 385 BC, Bardyhlus, with allied troops provided by Dionysius I of Syracuse, launched a successful campaign against Epeiros (Epirus). But the White Star's Macedonian conquests were recovered by King Philip and Bardhylus died at age 90 in 359 BC.

Grabus (of the Grabaei tribe) came to power in 356 BC and was encouraged by Athens to form alliance with Lysippus of Paeonia and Cetriporis of Thrace against Macedonia. The coalition army, however, was soundly defeated by a Macedonian army under Parmenio and Grabus was reduced to tributary status. Pleuratus of the Ardiaei then took up the Illyrian cause and was defeated in 337 BC after nearly killing Philip of Macedon in single combat (Philip's bodyguard took the sword thrust intended for the Macedonian ruler).

In 335 BC, Kleitus, the son of Bardhylus, and Glaukia of the Taulanti rebelled against Alexander of Macedon, but were soundly defeated. Kleitus took refuge in the mountains of the Taulanti, while Alexander impressed other Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers into his army for the invasion of Persia. After Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC, independent Illyrian kingdoms reemerged.

Glaukias of the Taulanti was recognized King of Illyria in 317 BC, but was defeated by Cassander of Macedon in 314 BC and forced to surrender Dyrrachium and Apollonia. The same Glaulkias is famous as the adoptive father of Pyrrhus of Epirius, then a young prince of the Molossians.

Bardylis II, son of Kleitus was reputed to have succeeded Glaukias, although little is known of his reign. During this period, the Illyrian kingdom at Shkoder spanned the modern area of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Hercegovina.

In 280 B.C., King Monunius of the Dardani joined the Thracians in an attack on Ptolemy Ceranunus of Macedon. Later that same year, Monunius offered 20,000 Illyrian troops to help Macedonia resist a major Celtic invasion. They were refused and Macedonia was overrun. Monunius' successor, Mytilius attempted unsuccessfully to recover territories in southern Illyria held by Alexander of Epirus. Thereafter Pleuratus of the Ardiaei founded an Illyrian dynasty, and his son and successor, Agron (250-230 BC) raised the kingdom to its historical pinnacle. Using their light swift galleys known as liburnae (or Roman Liburnian) named for the Illyrian tribe the Liburni, the Illyrians aggressively raided Greek colonies in the Adriatic, annexing Corcya and Phoros. The Greek city of Issa sent to Rome for aid, thus attracting Roman attention to the region. In 231 AD, Demetrius II of Macedonia turned to Agron for aid against the Aetolians of Greece. Learning of a great victory by his army over the Greeks, Agron drank himself to death in 230 BC.

Agron's infant son Pinnes by Triteuta was named heir to the throne, but Agron's wife, Queen Teuta ruled the kingdom. Under pressure from her Illyrian chieftains, Teuta released them to engage in raiding against Greek and Roman shipping on the Adriatic and Ionian seas, prompting the Greeks to seek Roman aid and the Roman Senate to declare war. After two years of protracted conflict on land and sea, the Roman army under Santumalus and Alvinus forced Queen Teuta to abdicate the throne to Pinnes and submit to a Roman peace (227 B.C.).

Still a child, Pinnes found himself under the thumb of his new step-father, Demetrius of Pharos (modern Hvar) who had married Triteuta. Demetrius committed Illyria to an alliance with Macedonia. Continued Illyrian piracy prompted renewal of the Roman war in 219 BC, but ended with similar results and the Romans placing colonists in the Neretva river valley. The throne was restored to Pinnes who died unexpectedly in 217 BC at the age of 15. Agron's brother, Skerdilaidas held the throne from 212-206 BC and faithfully honored the alliance with Rome despite constant attacks from Macedona. His son Pleuratus reigned from 205-180 BC and supported the Romans in their campaign against Philip V of Macedon.

In 180 BC, Pleuratus's son Genthius (Gentius) assumed the throne and began an ill-fated reign that lasted until 168 BC. Reputed to be cruel and bad tempered, Gentius put his brother Plator to death to eliminate any rival claims to the throne. In 171 BC, he made the mistake of abandoning the Romano-Illyrian alliance and siding with Perseus of Macedonia. After defeating Perseus, a Roman army of 30,000 marched on the Illyrian capital at Skhodra in 168 BC, taking Gentius and his entire family captive to Rome. Later Skhodra was occupied as a Roman colony, Dalmatia succeeded, and the unified Illyrian kingdom quickly disintegrated.

Thereafter, Rome conquered Dalmatia in 78-77 BC, converted Illyricum into a full-fledged Roman province in 59 BC, annexed southern Illyria in 35-34 BC, and pacified the remaining Illyrian tribes by 23 BC.

In 6 AD, the mountain Illyrian tribes rebelled against their Roman rulers, and it took the Emperor Tiberius until 9 AD to restore order, thus ending the Illyrian DBA list. Thereafter Illyricum was split into the two Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia.

Illyrian warriors subsequently distinquished themselves as legionaries in Roman armies, and were recruited heavily by Septimus Severus for the Praetorian Guard. Several Imperial Roman emperors (including the so-called "Illyrian Dynasty" founded by the Emperor Claudius II in 268 AD), were also of Illyrian stock, including Diocletian (284-305), Constantine the Great (324-37 AD), and possibly Justinian (527-65 AD).

Illyrians Arrayed

Enemies and Allies

The Illyrians take issue with early Northern Europeans (I/14e), themselves (I/47), Thracians (I/48), Thessalians, Thebans and Aitolians/Phokians (I/52cdh and II/5dei), Early Macedonians (I/54), Paionians (I/63), Gauls (II/11), Alexandrian Macedonians (II/12), Alexandrian Imperials (II/15), Lysimachid (II/17), Macedonian Early Successor (II/18a), Pyhrric (II/27a), Hellenistic Greek (II/31), Polybian Roman (II/33), Laer Macedonian (II/35), Early Germans (II/47g), Marian Romans (II/49), Dacian/Carpi (II/52), and Early Imperial Romans (II/56).

In Big Battle, they can ally with the Paionians (I/63) and the Syracusans (II/9).

Composition

The Illyrian list includes the following element types:

1x 2LH King/chieftain and Illyrian nobles.
9x 3Aux

Illyrian warriors and their armed slaves (with Thraco-style helmet, round or oval shield, and spear or javelin).

2x 2Ps Skirmishers (Javelin, sling or bow in short tunic)

Unofficial Variant: In 385 BC only, four elements of Illyrian auxilia can be exchanged for two elements of Spanish scutarii (2x 3Ax) and two elements of Syracusan hoplites (2x 4Sp) to represent the allies provided by Dionysius I of Syracuse in support of the Illyrian campaign against Epeiros. This option was provided in the DBA 1.1 official list, but was removed in DBA 2.0

Belt Buckle

Notes on Miniatures

To field this army you will need 2 Light Horse figures (including command figure), 30 foot suitable for Illyrian Auxilia, and 4 skirmishers with bow, sling or javelin.

The belt-buckle above and the bronze at the top of the page provides some general guide as to the appearance of typical early Illyrian warriors. A specific 15mm Illyrian range is available from Falcon U.K. Essex offers Illyrian javelinmen (oval and round shields) and cavalry (MPA100-1002) as part of its Seleucid range and sells an all-options Illyrian army pack. Donnington has two similar Illyrian figures in short tunics with round and oval shields (HF25-26) in its Seleucid range. Museum Miniatures includes a lone Illyrian (MMSE19p) as part of its Hellenistic range. Gladiator's Hellenstic range includes Illyrian light cavalry (HE37). Chariot offers up an Agraian/Illyrian slinger (ALM8) as part of its Alexandrian range. Old Glory 15s' Successor States range includes both Illyrian infantry and cavalry (SS13-14).

In a pinch, you can press into service later Thracian and various Greek ranges (especially unarmoured with hoplon or round peltast shield, and with thracian or thraco-attic style helmets with cheek but no nasal guard), and Paionian foot or horse from Macedonian and Successor ranges. Old Glory 15s Thracian peltasts with scutum shield (TH-02) and especially the javelinmen with oval shields (TH-03) work reasonably well for later Illyrians.

In 25mm Illyrians, look for Amazon Miniatures, Warrior, Essex (as part of their Marian/Camillan Roman range), Old Glory, and possibly others.

Camps and BUAs

In the absence of an Illyrian-specific inspiration, a small Greek-style camp filled with camp followers, a shepard with flock of sheep, a donkey-cart with baggage, etc. will suffice.

Illyrian cities such as Shkodra, Byllis, Amantia, Buthrot or the Hellenized Epidamnus, make a suitable BUA subject. The Illyrian kings and tribal chieftains were also known for building significant stone citadels on rocky mountain outcrops and ridges, many of which are just now being studied by archaeologists. Scanderbeg's Albanian stronghold at Kruja was built on the foundations of an Illyrian citadel.

Although not a Littoral army, a camp featuring beached liburnae would make an appropriate camp for the Illyrians who resided and raided along the Adriatic coast.

Tactics

A Hilly army comprised of Auxilia and Psiloi with an aggression 3...yikes! This army needs some bad going to compete, but with such high aggression, the odds of getting it are pretty grim unless paired off against a similarly aggressive bad going army (e.g. Thracians, Paionians, Dacians). The solution...roll sixes!

The dice solution, however, is typically not the most practical. And since slugging it out with a battleline of Auxilia in good-going is a recipe for mediocrity, you will need to develop and execute a battleplan that is designed to keep your opponent off balance and obtain a local advantage. You will need to put yourself in a position where you benefit from flank and overlap bonuses and where at least a portion of his forces is out of position to respond to your attack. Typically this means overmatching your opponent on one wing and/or concentrating your forces against the weakest components of his army. The challenge is the defensive deployment, which must be done in such a way that it hides your intentions while allowing you to move quickly in an unforseen direction. Make use of every advantage, including your ability to swap around elements at the end of your defensive deployment.

The only other trick is to use your Psiloi to provide rear support for the Auxilia when confronted by mounted. Proper placement of your two Psiloi can turn six of your Auxilia into the equivalent of unsupported Spear in a Horse-Foot confrontation.

Having a Light Horse general is a blessing and a curse. A Light Horse general fights as well as cavalry, with the added benefit of a quick kill against Elephants, Knights and Pikes or Spears. It is long odds, but that means your Illyrian general is the "killer" element in confrontations with Macedonian Companions and pike. If defeated, your General will typically run away rather than dying. But the mounted arm is outmanned with only one element and prone to being flanked and overlapped. And as your CnC, it will be harder to use your Light Horse on an end-run to attack the enemy camp without putting the balance of your army out of command control.

Thucydides observed that fight or flight was "equally honorable" to the Illyrians, and in the final analysis this is undoubtedly the best tactical advice. Attack when you can close with some advantage and do your best to avoid conflict otherwise.

Other Resources

Christopher Webber's Threshkourion includes a very useful page with history and images of soldiers and equipment for the ancient Illyrians.

The following titles are available from the De Bellis Bookstore for general historical background:


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Essay by Chris Brantley. Historical information contained herein was gleaned from a variety of web resources, with special credit to The Illyrians as a primary resource. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: June 13, 2003