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Appian's History of Rome: The Illyrian Wars §§1-5


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. The Illyrian wars, which were part of the book on the Macedonian wars, belong to these better preserved parts. They are a valuable source for the history of the western Balkan peninsula.

The translation was made by Horace White; additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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1] The Greeks call those people Illyrians who occupy the region beyond Macedonia and Thrace from Chaonia and Thesprotia to the river Danube. This is the length of the country. Its breadth is from Macedonia and the mountains of Thrace to Pannonia and the Adriatic and the foothills of the Alps. Its breadth is five days' journey and its length thirty - so the Greek writers say. The Romans measured the country and found its length to be upward of 1,000 kilometers and its width about 220.

2] They say that the country received its name from Illyrius, the son of Polyphemus; for the cyclops Polyphemus and his wife, Galatea, had three sons, Celtus, Illyrius, and Galas, all of whom migrated from Sicily; and the nations called Celts, Illyrians, and Galatians took their origin from them. Among the many myths prevailing among many peoples this seems to me the most plausible.

Illyrius had six sons, Encheleus, Autarieus, Dardanus, Maedus, Taulas, and Perrhaebus, also daughters, Partho, Daortho, Dassaro, and others, from whom sprang the Taulantii, the Perrhaebi, the Enchelees, the Autarienses, the Dardani, the Partheni, the Dassaretii, and the Darsii. Autarieus had a son Pannonius, or Paeon, and the latter had sons, Scordiscus and Triballus, from whom nations bearing similar names were derived. But I will leave these matters to antiquarians.

3] The Illyrian tribes are many, as is natural in so extensive a country; and celebrated even now are the names of the Scordisci and the Triballi, who inhabited a wide region and destroyed each other by wars to such a degree that the remnant of the Triballi took refuge with the Getae on the other side of the Danube, and, though flourishing until the time of [the Macedonian kings] Philip and Alexander, is now extinct and its name scarcely known in the regions once inhabited by it.

The Scordisci, having been reduced to extreme weakness in the same way, and having suffered much at a later period in war with the Romans, took refuge in the islands of the same river. In the course of time some of them returned and settled on the confines of Pannonia, and thus it happens that a tribe of the Scordisci still remains in Pannonia. In like manner the Ardiaei, who were distinguished for their maritime power, were finally destroyed by the Autarienses, whose land forces were stronger, but whom they had often defeated.

The Liburni, another Illyrian tribe, were next to the Ardiaei as a nautical people. These committed piracy in the Adriatic Sea and islands with their light, fast-sailing pinnaces, from which circumstance the Romans to this day call their own light, swift biremes liburnicas.

4] [278 BCE] The Autarienses were overtaken with destruction by the vengeance of Apollo. Having joined Molostimus and the Celtic people called Cimbri in an expedition against the temple of Delphi, the greater part of them were destroyed by storm, hurricane, and lightning just before the sacrilege was committed.[1]

Upon those who returned home there came a countless number of frogs, which filled the streams and polluted the water. The noxious vapors rising from the ground caused a plague among the Illyrians which was especially fatal to the Autarienses. At last they fled from their homes, and as the plague still clung to them (and for fear of it nobody would receive them), they came, after a journey of twenty-three days, to a marshy and uninhabited district of the Getae, where they settled near the Bastarnae.

The god visited the Celts with an earthquake and overthrew their cities, and did not abate the calamity until these also fled from their abodes and made an incursion into Illyria among their fellow culprits, who had been weakened by the plague. While robbing the Illyrians they caught the plague and again took to flight and plundered their way to the Pyrenees.

When they were returning to the east the Romans, mindful of their former encounters with the Celts, and fearful lest they should cross the Alps and invade Italy, sent against them both consuls, who were annihilated with the whole army.[2] [104] This calamity to the Romans brought great dread of the Celts upon all Italy until Gaius Marius, who had lately triumphed over the Numidians and Mauritanians, was chosen commander and [101] defeated the Cimbri repeatedly with great slaughter, as I have related in my Gallic history. Being reduced to extreme weakness, and for that reason excluded from every land, they returned home, inflicting and suffering many injuries on the way.

5] Such was the punishment which the god visited upon the Illyrians and the Celts for their impiety. [114] But they did not desist from temple robbing, for again, in conjunction with the Celts, certain Illyrian tribes, especially the Scordisci, the Maedi, and the Dardani again invaded Macedonia and Greece together, and plundered many temples, including that of Delphi, but losing many men this time also.

[82] The Romans, thirty-two years after their first encounter with the Celts, having fought with them at intervals since that time, now, under the leadership of Lucius [Cornelius] Scipio, made war against the Illyrians, on account of this temple robbery, as the Romans now held sway over the Greeks and the Macedonians.

It is said that the neighboring tribes, remembering the calamity that befell all the Illyrians on account of the crime of the Autarienses, would not give aid to the temple robbers, but abandoned them to Scipio, who destroyed the greater part of the Scordisci, the remainder fleeing to the Danube and settling in the islands of that river.

He made peace with the Maedi and Dardani, accepting from them part of the gold belonging to the temple. One of the Roman writers says that this was the chief cause of the numerous civil wars of the Romans after Lucius Scipio's time till the establishment of the empire. So much by way of preface concerning the peoples whom the Greeks called Illyrians.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Illyrian wars   :   part 2
Note 1:
Appian seems to confuse two stories. In the first place, the story of the Galatian invasion of Greece in 278 (which is also told by Appian's contemporary Pausanias and can be read here); in the second place, the story of the invasion by the Cimbrians in 114, which caused the Scordisci to invade Greece, and is mentioned by Appian for a second time in §5. A part of the confusion becomes understandable when we take into account that Appian (like his younger contemporary Cassius Dio) calls the tribes we call Germanic "Celts".

Note 2:
Another confused section. The Cimbri invaded the Balkans in 114, defeated a consul, defeated another consul in 113 (at Noreia), and then moved through Bavaria to the Pyrenees. In southern Gaul, they defeated three other consular armies (in 109 near the Rhône, in 107 near the Garonne, in 105 near Orange).

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