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Rome And Illyria Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History 241 BC to 146 BC Notes

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Why did Rome attack the Illyrians and with what results?
The Illyrian Wars of 229 BC and 219 BC were the first time Rome took an active interest in Greek affairs and crossed the Adriatic Sea with an army; there wasn't even formal diplomatic recognition between the Greek on the mainland and Rome until the latter sent embassies to several cities including Athens and Corinth. It is true that Italian merchants had certainly been trading with the Greeks for many years and Livy gives details of some instances in very early Roman history in which one of the kings sends to Delphi for advice and another in which an embassy goes to Greece for a copy of Solon's laws; however these are insignificant because they not represent large scale inter-state diplomatic or military actions of the sort that occurred in 229 BC and 219 BC. Therefore it is important to consider why Rome now, perhaps so suddenly, decided to take such an interest in Greek affairs after decades of total indifference to them; Polybius is the obvious source for an explanation but his account is somewhat dubious in places and requires scrutiny. There are preserved two ancient accounts of the events leading up to the first Illyrian War, Appian and Polybius; the fact that the two differ on the chronology of events rather than greatly on the substance of the events themselves implies that there was a confused picture of how exactly things happened in the sources of one or both of them. Polybius says that the Illyrian Queen Teuta, continuing the plundering raids of her husband Agron after his death, began to expand her nation's piratical activities to levels of unprecedented violence and organisation, taking the city of Phoenice and defeating the Epirotes in battle. He then says that a group of independent Illyrians capture and kill some Italian merchantmen, an action which prompts the Romans to listen to the complaints which had long been lodged against the Illyrians and sends some ambassadors to investigate. Teuta dismisses these men haughtily and arrogantly and as they are returning to Italy the more outspoken of the two envoys is murdered by some pirates and the Roman people is so enflamed that they immediately dispatch a huge army and navy under two consuls to deal with the Illyrian offence. Although there are hints of the real reasons that prompted the Romans to sail to Illyria (of which more later) his account seems unfortunately corrupted by some rhetorical and misogynistic colourings which draw attention away from these; it does not help his case that the narrative differs from that of Appian and excludes an important detail as well as adding several which he surely could not have known. Appian says that Agron was threatening the whole of the Adriatic with his fleet having captured the towns of Epirus, Corcyra and Epidamnus and that Rome sent ambassadors to investigate at the behest of the besieged people of Issa. One of the envoys is killed on the way to meet the king, but then Agron dies and Queen Teuta is set up as regent for his son Pinnes just before the Roman army arrives. It is not clear exactly which account is the more correct but it is certainly the case that Polybius makes no mention of this boy Pinnes, who did exist, and he perhaps omits him so as not to detract from his powerfully negative depiction of Teuta. He says that she acts with typical feminine short-sightedness by keeping in mind only her present success and not what the future result of her actions may be; because of this she collects a huge fleet

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