wpe7.gif (1405 bytes)




What's New



wpe8.gif (1406 bytes)

The  Threskourion

Home Contents Search What's New Feedback Links

Illryian warriorsLeft: Illyrian warriors - click for a closer look (200k)

Scordisci warriors

Above: Silver belt-plate, beginning or first half of second century BC, possibly depicting Scordiscian warriors, from Gostilje.   Figure 20, p663, F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978

The following text and illustrations are from Armies and Enemies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, by Duncan Head.  These are followed by an article by Jim Webster from Slingshot.

The Illyrian tribes of modern Jugoslavia and Albania included the Dardanoi, Autariates and Taulantoi. Many kings are simply called "of the Illyrians" and the term seems to indicate one specific tribe or group of smaller tribes as well as being a general name. They were great raiders, both by land and by sea, using small 50-man ships. The importance of raiding and plunder is shown by the career of Bardylis, who rose from a humble charcoal-burner to being a powerful warleader and then king, because of his fairness in distributing loot as much as his successes in battle.

Most of their warriors were infantry with spear or javelins, supported by smaller numbers of skirmishers with sling or javelin and light cavalry presumably provided by the tribal nobles. These types were never numerous; a Dardanian army in 200 had no cavalry or light infantry at all, while Bardylis in 358 only had 500 cavalry to 10,000 foot. Higher proportions of horse appear in small detached forces, such as the 200 cavalry and 1,000 foot serving Perseus of Macedon in 169, or the 2,000 foot and 2,000 horse with Rome the next year, but these were not typical. Polybios describes 5,000 Illyrian infantry forming up in their usual battle order and advancing in speirai; this need not indicate that their units corresponded exactly to the 256-man Antigonid speira, but must at least indicate the use of relatively small compact companies rather than an undifferentiated tribal mass.

One peculiarity of Illyrian warfare was that their slaves fought alongside them, some rich individuals being able to field several hundred slaves. The Illyrians' regular raiding of their neighbours must have provided numerous slaves; in 230 for instance the entire population of Phoinike in Epeiros was enslaved. Slaves may have provided some of the skirmishers, but Alexander the Great's use of Illyrian javelinmen would indicate some native skirmishers existed.

Illyrian warriors


General appearance and dress of these figures are from earlier artistic sources, no representations of Illyrians apparently surviving from our era. Latest of these sources is a decorated urn from Ribic, perhaps early 4th century. A bronze belt-clasp from Vace in Slovenia, 5th century or earlier, shows similar warriors. They are clean-shaven, barefoot, and wear short, sleeveless, unbelted tunics, decorated with a fondness for vertical stripes.

73 is from one of the northern tribes, like the Ribic and Vace warriors; they were distinguished from the tribes nearer to Macedon and Epeiros by their preference for oval shields like the Italian scuta (there seem to have been close connections between the early cultures of Illyria and north Italy). 73a and 73b are alternative types. Southerners favoured a small round convex shield similar to the Macedonian type, sometimes decorated in the same style. It may thus have been of similar bronze-faced construction. The Macedonian-style star-and-crescent patterns occur at times and places where they do not apparently refer to Macedonian rule, so may well be part of a joint heritage shared by Macedonians and Illyrians from early times. 74a and 74b are from coins of the coastal town of Skodra, probably late 3rd century; 74c is from a stone relief from Baush. The main figure has a shield patterned with concentric circles, from an earlier bronze model.

Weapons could be spear, javelins, sword and light axe. Spears may have become more common with the apparent increase in hand-to-hand fighting. Some seem to have been quite long, to judge from the sheer size of some of the spearheads; Appian describes the north Illyrian Iapudes using long spears against Augustus, probably the sibina of earlier Roman poetry. The typical sword was a short curved weapon with the cutting edge on the inside, similar to the weapon of 65; it was also used in Epeiros.

73 wears a Negau helmet, a conical bronze type with a narrow thick brim, sometimes crested, also used in north Italy and Etruria. 74 has a late example of the Greek helmet style normally called Illyrian, obsolete in Greece in the early 5th century but lasting in Illyria perhaps as late as the 2nd. This one, from near Apollonia, lacks the characteristic double crest ridge of earlier models. Other early helmet types characteristic of Illyrians may still have been in use at the start of our era, but soon disappeared, if they had not already. These included the broad-brimmed pot of 74d and the light Smarteja type of 74e, of wicker reinforced with metal studs and plates. Other armour was very rare and probably limited to chieftains, occasional sculptures showing Greek greaves, while cuirasses of studs made in the style of 74c may also have existed.

Light infantry included slingers, javelinmen and perhaps a few archers; unlike the other types archers are not mentioned in battle accounts, but bronze arrowheads have been found. They may perhaps have been solely hunting weapons. Light infantry would no doubt look like poor versions of these warriors , but lacking helmet and perhaps sword and shield. Many slave warriors would also look much like poor Illyrians, but others might wear remnants of their original national costume - Illyrian slaves including many Greeks and Italians.

Illyrian cavalryman75. ILLYRIAN CAVALRYMAN

Never numerous, Illyrian cavalry were unarmoured javelin skirmishers. The Vace clasp shows them without shields. The later Romans called shielded javelin cavalry "Illyrian", which implies they adopted shields at some time - perhaps in the 3rd century BC when their Greek and Macedonian neighbours also took them up. This figure's helmet is a bronze Macedonian type, found in Lake Ochrida on the Illyrian-Macedonian frontier, inscribed with the name of a 3rdcentury Illyrian king, Monunios. It has a flat metal crest, with a hole in it, riveted on.


The Illyrians were "a nation of fighters both on land and sea", warlike but rather unpredictable. They sometimes charged rashly into situations they could not really handle, as at the Roman siege of Skodra. in 168 when the defenders unwisely sallied out of their strongly fortified position "and on level ground joined battle with greater spirit than they were able to maintain% being soundly beaten. At the other extreme Illyrians could panic easily, as when Alexander's troops in Illyria, bemusing the enemy with elaborate drill manoeuvres, suddenly switched to the attack, and the Illyrians fled their hill position without attempting to fight. In addition they kept no proper security when they camped, with no sentries, no ditch or palisade, and could easily be surprised. All this corresponds with the stereotyped Graeco-Roman picture of the "barbarian"; but it may not be the whole story. The Dardanoi in 200 are described as much steadier warriors - "these troops do not leave their ranks impulsively but keep close order both in combat and withdrawal".

This may be connected with a shift in Illyrian tactics from rather disorderly skirmishing towards close combat. In the 5th century Thucydides records that "as they fight in no sort of order, they have no sense of shame about giving up a position under pressure. To run forwards and to run backwards are equally honourable in their eyes ... every man is fighting on his own. . . ". They would not press home an attack against enemy who stood firm, and would retire at speed from vigorous charges, operating in fact like the typical peltast and only closing with enemy weakened by missiles or by their fierce warcries. Alexander's opponents in 335 clearly still had no shame about abandoning positions in the face of a determined enemy, while the speed which characterised the early infantry was still in evidence in 200, when it was expected "that the speed of the Illyrians would be effective in quick dashes and sudden charges", but at least these Illyrians (Tralleis in Macedonian service) are expected to charge. Similarly 5,000 Illyrians in 233 had no compunction about charging a larger Aitolian army (the League's whole levy), brushing aside their light infantry holding hilltops and following up with a fast downhill charge which swept away the Aitolian cavalry and heavier troops. The good order and the willingness to hold firm and fight hand to hand, displayed by the Dardanoi in 200, is seen as early as 358 when Bardylis' men formed square when outflanked by a Macedonian army with more cavalry, and though eventually beaten put up a prolonged resistance. The contrast between 5th-century Illyrians fighting individually in no order and their 3rd-century counterparts in formed speirai suggests a marked improvement in battlefield organisation probably related to the new tactics. The Macedonian example probably had a lot to do with these changes, and improved organisation and more resolute tactics no doubt contributed to the successes of 3rd century Illyrian raiders.

The Illyrians' shortage of cavalry and light infantry meant they could be vulnerable to harrassing and outflanking attacks by such troops. They made a habit of seizing commanding hills, often wooded, which gave some security against these tactics as well as enabling the Illyrians in turn to threaten the flanks or the line of march of an enemy less at home in this sort of terrain. The forested mountains of their own territory made them difficult to conquer, especially as their hilltops were dotted with fortified towns., they "were given confidence by the nature of their country and by their fortifications."

The Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci, and MoesiansKey to map above

Above:   F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978 -map from back page.











BalkanArmour.jpg (43769 bytes)Illyrians.jpg (49984 bytes)C5Illyrians.jpg (71777 bytes)

C5IllyrianScuta1.jpg (77556 bytes)C4=5-IllyrianScuta.jpg (97847 bytes)IllRec.jpg (32835 bytes)

Above: these pictures are supplied by Luke Ueda-Sarson, he says "the colour ones are courtesy of Mike and
the Tirana museum,the black and white ones are from a book by, ohps, my
computer can't do balkan letters, it starts Stip....

I will be posting them on my site some time "soon" along with a blurb
about Illyrians soldiers, although it is not right at the the top of the
to do file yet."

THE ILLYRIANS (from Slingshot, 19

by Jim Webster, illustrated by John High

This is an attempt to give a brief and coherent history of Illyria and pass on what I have learned about the Illyrians' weapons and tactics. To the pre-Roman world Illyria was the area bordered by Macedonian, Epirus, and the Adriatic. Its people seem to have been on the periphery of both Greek and Italian affairs. They have been rather overlooked by wargamers, which is a pity because they served as mercenaries of the Macedonians and Achaeans, and fought many campaigns, against Rome, Macedonia, Epirus and Aetolia, arid emerged with some credit from them all.


The Illyrians seem to have consisted of a large number of tribes, of widely differing sizes, who occupied one of the least fertile areas of the Balkans, a fact which explains their continual raiding and the general southward drift which the tribes exhibited throughout the period. There never seems to have been any one ruler who brought all Illyria under his sway, and those whom the Greeks called Kings of Illyria are better thought of as Kings of individual tribes who had reduced other tribes to subjection. This led to constantly shifting confederacies, a wildly swinging balance of power, arid acute frustration on the part of anyone trying to pin the Illyrians down to a writtell agreement.

The Illyrians first became important in that dark age which followed the Mycenaean collapse, when they became dominant in the Adriatic and may have settled on the Italian coast in large numbers. Certainly the Picenes of north-eastern Italy bore a considerable similarity to the lilyrians, and drew the majority of their culture and art from the Balkans. The Messapians and lapygians of south-eastern Italy may also have fallen under Illyrian influence, either through colonisation or trade. With the growth of Greek influence in the Adriatic the Illyrians were pushed into the sidelines, and by the 6th century BC they were merely another collection of barbarian tribes, who traded quite happily with the Greeks and had colonies planted in their midst. Certainly when the Corinthians founded Corcyra in the 7th century they expelled both Illyrians and Euboean traders who had previously inhabited the island. The growth of Corcyra and its coming of age as a seapower in the 650's must have finally driven the lilyrians back onto their own coasts, and many of their smaller tribes seem to have developed along peaceful and non-warlike lines: there are no weapons found in their graves, and the prosperity of the Greek cities around the Adriatic in the period 600 to 450 seems to deny the possibility of large scale Illyrian piracy. Indeed the next major appearance of Illyrians is during the Peloponnesian war, where the Corcyrans hired Illyrian mercenaries for their campaign against Epidamnus in 435, and Illyrian mercenaries are mentioned as forming part of the Macedonian army during this period. However the lilyrians never joined in the war on their own account, and while the Greek cities in the Adriatic weakened themselves in wasteful arid basically irrelevant warfare the Illyrians as individuals seem to have prospered by selling their services to whomever wanted them. The steady encroachment of the Celts on the Etruscan colonies in the Po basin was reducing the trade of the Greek cities in the Adriatic, and finally, instead of being a major sea lane up the coasts carrying Greek manufactures north, in exchange for Bohemian tin, grain and Venetian horses, the Adriatic developed into a dead end.

The next major occurrence to affect the Illyrians was Dionysius of Syracuse's Adriatic campaigns, in which he used Illyrian mercenaries several times. In 385/384 he sent 2,000 mercenaries and equipped 500 Illyrians in Greek panoply, and used them to support an Illyrian invasion of Epirus. This force is said to have killed 15,000 Epirots in a single battle so it must have been of considerable size. It definitely seems that after the Peloponnesian lope tit war the Illyrians flexed their muscles and looked around for pastures new.

In the period of weakness which followed the death of King Perdikkas of Macedonia in about 413, they imposed a tribute on Macedonia which was paid until the accession of Philip 11 in 359; Philip defeated the Dardanians, killing 7,000 out of a 10,000 man army, and went onto the offensive. However, it does seem that for fifty years the Illyrians raided extensively in the border regions of Upper Macedonia and Northern Epirus. It seems [rowever that this increase in importance was mainly due to the rise of the Dardanians under their king Bardylis, and the coastal tribes do not seem to have caused much trouble, except to the declining Greek Adriatic colonies who were losing touch with Greece arid becoming more and more Illyrian, mainly because lack of trade forced them to become more self-sufficient and this led to increasing contact with the people of their hinterland. With the growth of Macedonia under the strong kings Philip 11 and his son Alexander the Great, the Illyrians were kept in check by the. simple expedient of marching into Illyria every couple of years and killing anyone who looked vaguely hostile. This kept the Illyrians on the defensive and they stayed like that until the collapse of Macedon under the Gallic invasions, which commenced in 279 BC; however, Illyria was also overrun and couldn't take advantage of the situation. By the time Illyria recovered Macedonia was also past the major crisis encouraging Epirus to attack from the south. Pyrrhus controlled much of southern Illyria and his son Alexander fought several campaigns there. This policy maintained some sort of order, especially as the Illyrians do not seem to have been in any way united in this period.

However, with the accession of Agron to the throne of the Ardiaei things changed. He subdued many neighbouring tribes arid created a new strong Illyrian kingdom. While he might have frittered his life away in petty strife his attention was drawn to the larger stage by King Demetrius of Macedonia who hired him to relieve the city of Medon which was being besieged by the Aetolians. The Illyrians sailed south in Lembi (recorded for the first time) arid convincingly routed the Aetolian army. Suddenly Agron saw the light and a wave of vigorous raids was launched up and down the Greek coasts. By the time Agron died in 230 BC his wife Teuta, who succeeded him, found herself in control of a considerable kingdom. She proceeded to make a Blitzkrieg type campaign on Epirus which collapsed leaving her mistress of much of the Eastern Adriatic coast. However the seeds of her undoing bad already. been sown, avid the piracy which flourished in this period drew Rome's attention in her direction. When told to "cease and desist- by Roman envoys she insulted them, had some murdered, and incurred the wrath of Rome in the form of a Consular army of 4 legions and 200 Quinqueremes.

The Romans carved the coastal strip off the kingdom and set up a puppet state under Demetrius of Pharos, who turned out to be no-one's puppet, supporting Antigonus Doson with 1,600 men at Sellasia and maintaining friendly relations with Philip V, to whose court he fled when the Romans decided he had to go. From then on Illyrian history is irrecoverably tangled in the history of the Roman /Macedonian wars, and while there was never a Policy followed by all Illyrian tribes, they seem to have favoured Rome during the reign of Philip V (but Philip seems to have constantly used Illyrian mercenaries) while Philip's solid defence of the Macedonian/Illyrian frontier seems to have impressed the Illyrians so much they allied themselves to Perseus, and shared in his downfall.

Illyrian armies

The arms and equipment are a mixture of homegrown and imported. Princes and the like may well have been able to afford an entire Greek hoplite panoply, while even ordinary warriors could occasionallyFigure 2 afford a Greek helmet and greaves. However much was their own, or at least non-Greek.continuation downward of helmet plume


Figure 1««Figure 1

Apart from imported Greek types two common types are found; the type illustrated in (1) is the older and is found in many areas of eastern and northern Italy as well as Illyria. The most simple types consist of thick reeds stuck together by clay with metal plates riveted to this base, however more sophisticated types had a leather backing, with the circular plates riveted on, and the space between filled with metal studs. The other type of helmet, the one most commonly illustrated, is (2), which has a broad brim     and a very long flowing plume. 


Shields of the southern Illyrian tribes, who are those the Greeks had most dealings with, were round, convex, and decorated with concentric circles. The Illyrian shields normally had 4 concentric circles, while the Mace^ donians used shields with 5 such circles on. In the north of Illyria an oval shield was used; these shields spread south and were joined in the north by the typically Gallic shield adopted by many northern warriors under Gallic influence in the 3rd century BC.

Body armour:

Except for greaves, which were not common, body armour was very rare and except for the 500 equipped by Dionysius probably restricted to Princes.


Most Illyrians would have had a couple of javelins, perhaps with a stabbing spear of some sort, though these would probably have been short, with broad heavy heads. Swords were often carried; the curved type similar to the Kopis was popular, as were the long straight slashing blades adopted under Gallic influence. Singlehanded battle axes were very popular and would no doubt be the common side-arm, especially amongst the rank and file. The bow was used to a certain extent but Illyrian archers would only appear in Illyrian armies; if you wanted archers, you hired Cretans.

Figures 3 (left), 4 (middle), and 5 (right)
Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5

   The illustrations show three types of warrior who could well have appeared on the same battlefield. (3) shows one of the PBI in grubby tunic, older type of helmet (1) and traditional shield. This sort of warrior was probably around virtually from the fall of Mycenae to the battles of Sellasia, but the panoply would be restricted to the poorest warriors after about 450 BC. (4) shows a more up-to-date version of (3) with more modern helmet (2) unusual in that there is no plume, or crest. Finally (5) is a northern Illyrian with the oval shield and fully plumed helmet; mix in a few round shields, the occasional Gallic one, and most Illyrian mercenaries after 300 BC would look like him.

Illyrian forces would be mainly composed of unarmoured warriors, equipped with helmet, sword and/or battleaxe, a couple of javelins, and with perhaps a spear. Amongst the graves of the Picenes have come all-iron javelins and spear heads which can only have come from spears of some length, but whether these were in use amongst the Illyrians is unknown. These warriors seem to have had more in common with Celts than Thracians, as they were always getting themselves into trouble by heading at the nearest enemy at full speed, and Philopoemen seems to have spent most of his major battles rescuing Illyrian mercenaries. With regard to formation 1 think you are justified to call them LMi, but MI is a definite possibility, as the Macedonians and Acheans often used them to guard the flanks of a Phalanx, the Peltasts with their inherent desire to skirmish would not really be suitable. An Illyrian army would also field a few poorer "citizens- armed with bow, sling or assorted agricultural implements. It is doubtful it cavalry was used at all. Several ancient authors comment on the Illyrians' expecting their slaves to fight alongside them. This probably means the warriors of subject tribes rather than true slaves, so a considerable number of 'D' class LMI/MI warriors could also be used.

Sources (see also Bibliography below)

Finally, a few sources for those who wish to track down the Illyrians for themselves:

Xenophon, Thucydides, Polybius, Plutarch "The Illyrians, History and Culture'', by A. Stipcevic, Noyles Press 1977 "Epirus", by N.G.L. Hammond, O.U.F. 1967 And the following articles: "Greek influence in the Adriatic before the 4th century BC-, by R.L. Beaumont, in J.H.S. 1936 vol. 56 "The Western frontier of the Macedonian Monarchy" and ---TheNature and Origin of Illyrian Piracy-, both by H.J. Dell, the Latter in Historia July 1967 "Illyris, Rome and Macedonia in 229-205 BC", by N.G.L. Hammond in J.R.S. 1968 "Macedonia and Illyria" by J.M.F. May in J.R.S. 1946

If anyone is at all lost or wants more references I'd be glad to help if 1 could, so just contact me, or, even better, write a strong letter to the Editor demanding that more research be done into the Balkan peoples prior to the rise of Macedon! (The Editor will be pleased to forward all such enquiries to Mr. Webster.)


Illyrian Tribes

The following list of Illyrian tribes was supplied by Goran Kulenovic from Burnaby, BC.   He has a map of their territories on his web site.


illiyrian_map.gif (23216 bytes)

Above:   F. Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times, 1978 -map from back page.

Links   - information about the Illyrian language, including this map:

bal.gif (11256 bytes)


DBM Army List (Book 1)

48. ILLYRIAN 700 BC - 10 AD
Cold. Ag 3. WW, Rv, H(S), Wd, RGo, Rd, BUA

C-in-C - Irr LH (O) @ 15AP or Irr Ax (S) @ 14AP 1
Sub-general - as above 1-2
Cavalry - Irr LH (O) @ 5AP 0-6
Warriors and their slaves - Irr Ax (S) @ 4AP 42-108
Archers and slingers - Irr Ps (O) @ 2AP 0-15
Javelinmen - Irr Ps (I) @ 1AP or Irr Ps (S) @ 3AP 2-15
Lembi - Irr Bts (O) @ 2AP [Ax or Ps] 0-4
Paionian allies - List: Paionian (Bk 1)
Only in 385 BC:
Illyrians equipped by Syracuse as hoplites - Irr Sp (O) @ 4AP 0-4
Syracusan allies - List: Syracusan (Bk 2)

The Illyrians' most aggressive period was from 450 BC until the subjugation of most of their tribes by the Romans in 148 BC. Their high opinion of their own fighting qualities led to rash behaviour that got them into tight places from which only their own prowess could extricate them. As a matter of custom the Illyrians armed their slaves, who fought alongside them in battle. They were great raiders and slavers by land and sea. In 230 BC an Illyrian pirate fleet enslaved the entire population of the Epeirot city of Phoinike. The Syracusan troops and arms were supplied by Dionysius 1 for a campaign against Epeiros.


DBA v. 2.0 Army List

I/47 Illyrian (Hilly, Aggression 3).  1x2Lh (Gen), 9x3Ax, 2x2Ps


Note: the Dewey Number for ancient Illyrians is 939.8

P.Cabanes Les Illyriens de Bardylis à Genthios (IV-II siècles avant J-C), Sedes, Paris, 1988

S.Casson, Macdonia, Thrace, Illyria

M.E. Durham Some Tribal Origins, Laws and Customs of the Balkans. London: Allen & Unwin, 1928

N.G.L. Hammond, Epirus,  O.U.F. 1967

Fanula Papazoglu, The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times. Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci and Moesians. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1978

Aleksandar Stipcevic, The Illyrians: History and Culture,  Noyes Press, Park Ridge 1977,

John Wilkes, The Illyrians, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992,

Xenophon, Thucydides, Polybius, Plutarch

And the following articles:

"Greek influence in the Adriatic before the 4th century BC-, by R.L. Beaumont, in J.H.S. 1936 vol. 56

"The Western frontier of the Macedonian Monarchy" and "TheNature and Origin of Illyrian Piracy", both by H.J. Dell, the latter in Historia July 1967

"Illyris, Rome and Macedonia in 229-205 BC", by N.G.L. Hammond in J.R.S. 1968

"Macedonia and Illyria" by J.M.F. May in J.R.S. 1946


Return to the top of the page



Square_KeyE171.gif (2075 bytes)

This page last updated on Monday, 07 January 2002 by Christopher Webber

All pages best viewed with a white backround in Internet Explorer.