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Artist's impression of Teuta, Queen of the Illyrian Ardiaei tribe

The Fierce Queen of the Illyrians: Teuta the Untameable


Following the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War in 241 BC, the Roman Republic became a dominant naval power in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, Rome’s control of the seas was not absolute. To the east of Italy, another power was on the rise. This was the Ardiaean kingdom, ruled by an Illyrian tribe that began to threaten Rome’s trade routes that ran across the Adriatic Sea. At the helm of this kingdom was the capable Queen Teuta.

Queen Teuta was the wife of Agron, a king of the Ardiaean kingdom. It was under Agron’s leadership that the Ardiaei became a force to be reckoned with. According to the Roman writer, Appian of Alexandria, Agron had expanded his kingdom by capturing a part of Epirus, as well as Corcyra, Epidamnus, and Pharus. In addition, Agron’s fleet was much feared in the Adriatic Sea.

Death of the King, Rise of the Queen

In 231 BC, Agron suddenly died, after obtaining a victory over the Aetolians. According to the Greek historian, Polybius, “King Agron, when the flotilla returned and his officers gave him an account of the battle, was so overjoyed at the thought of having beaten the Aetolians, then the proudest of peoples, that he took to carousals and other convivial excesses, from which he fell into a pleurisy that ended fatally in a few days.” As Agron’s heir, Pinnes, was a mere infant when the king died, the Ardiaean kingdom became ruled by Teuta, who acted as queen regent.

Bust of Queen Teuta. (Maria Zontou/CC BY SA 4.0)

Although Teuta continued her late husband’s expansionist policy, her actions have been portrayed in a negative light by Polybius. Though this may well have been a biased view based on his focus on Roman histiography. According to Polybius, Teuta had a “woman’s natural shortness of view”, and that she “could see nothing but the recent success and had no eyes of what was going on elsewhere”. Polybius also mentions that Teuta supported the Illyrian practice of piracy, and pillaged her neighbors indiscriminately, as her commanders were ordered to treat everyone else as their enemies.

"Illyrian" type helmet. Bronze. Greek, 6th-5th century BC. From Argolis-Greece. Photo by David Liam Moran, 2007.

"Illyrian" type helmet. Bronze. Greek, 6th-5th century BC. From Argolis-Greece. Photo by David Liam Moran, 2007. (David Liam Moran/CC BY SA 3.0)

Illyrian Piracy Irks the Romans

It was these piratical raids that would eventually lead the Romans to wage war against Teuta. The Roman Senate had initially ignored the complaints made against the Illyrians by merchants sailing the Adriatic Sea. Yet, as the number of complaints increased, the Senate was forced to interfere.

The Romans first employed diplomacy, and sent envoys to Teuta’s court. The ancient sources record that Teuta was not at all pleased with the Roman envoys, and was not reasonable in her dealings with them. Worst of all, the diplomatic immunity of these envoys was breached. Polybius records that one of the envoys was assassinated while preparing to leave for Rome, while Cassius Dio mentions that some envoys were imprisoned and others killed.

Queen Teuta of the Ardieai orders the Roman ambassadors to be killed. (Public Domain)

When news of this returned to Rome, the Romans were outraged, and declared war against Teuta. A fleet of 200 ships was prepared for the invasion, along with a land army. The first target of the Roman fleet was the island of Corcyra, held by Demetrius, who was also the governor of Pharus.

In both accounts of Appian and Polybius, Demetrius is said to have betrayed the Illyirians by surrendering Corcyra and Pharus to the Romans. According to Cassius Dio, however, it was Teuta herself who sent Demetrius to hand over Corcyra to the Romans in exchange for a truce. Shortly after the truce, however, Teuta attacked Epidamnus and Apollonnia, causing the Romans to interfere again. Demetrius would later transfer his allegiance to the Romans, as a result of the queen’s capriciousness.

The Pirate Queen’s Fate

Realizing that she was no match for the Romans, Teuta surrendered in 227 BC. According to Polybius, Teuta “consented to pay any tribute they imposed, to relinquish all Illyria except a few places and what mostly concerned the Greeks, undertook not to sail beyond Lissus with more than two unarmed vessels.” Additionally, Appian mentions that Corcyra, Pharus, Issa, Epidamnus and the Illyrian Atintani became Roman subjects. The remainder of Agron’s kingdom was in the hands of Pinnes, whose new guardian was Demetrius.

Although Teuta lived for another few decades, there is an interesting story stating that Teuta had jumped off a cliff instead of surrendering to Rome at Risan, on the Bay of Kotor, present day Montenegro. As Risan is the only town on the bay without a seafaring tradition, it is said that this was due to the curse inflicted by the Illyrian queen on the city before she committed suicide.

Risan on the Bay of Kotor, where the Illyrian Queen Teuta allegedly jumped off a cliff rather than submit to the Romans in 229 BC. This is the only town in the bay without a seafaring tradition, supposedly because of the Queen's curse. (Diego Delso/CC BY SA)

Featured image: Artist's impression of Teuta, Queen of the Illyrian Ardiaei tribe. Credit: Creative Assembly / Ancient History Encyclopedia.

By Ḏḥwty

Updated on December 8, 2020.

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"Illyrian Queen Teuta and The National Bank of Albania, Durres. (" picture, is not true, because historian has declare that the statue is not of Teuta!

Moonsong's picture

Sounds like the Romans, especially Polybius did not take too kindly on being outwitted by a woman, which is why they painted her in such an unsavioury light. Case in point being their problems with Cleopatra all over again. Their society was too patriarchal for them to accept any country being ruled by a female. Apart from that, writing that she was ‘unreasonable’ just because she did not agree with their terms is kind of self-serving isn’t it?


- Moonsong
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

The name Albanian can be explained with the latin language and mean Alba (italian) -- Sunrise (english) becouse Albania is located at east and both countries are divided by sea.
And the name Illyrian comes from the first Illyrian king Hylli (in albanian dialect becomes illi) and means Star.
So: Illyrian -- People of (king) Hylli ==> unofficial story

The royalty among the Illyrians were supposed to be descendants of Cadmus (and Harmonia) the Phoenician who brought the Hebrew Alphabet to the Greeks at Thebes. Raising the speculation that such place names as; Albany (El-Bani, meaning "God's sons"), Epirus ("Hebrews") and Illyria itself (named for the god "El") are of Semitic derivation.

Cadmus came to "Europe" seeking out Europa the maiden of Phoenicia (Virgin Israel) who got carried away adoring god in the form of a bull and was lost among the nations (See ).

The people of this Teuta is a good place to start looking for the "Lost Ten Tribes" of Israel, if you've a mind to do so.


dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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