Illyrians, Pannonians, and other peoples: Strabo (early first century CE)

Author: Strabo, Geography, parts of 7.5 (link to Greek text and full English translation)

Comments: Here Strabo of Amaseia sketches out the peoples on the northern coast of the Adriatic sea, including Pannonians, Dalmatians, and Illyrians. One particularly notable recurrent theme in Strabo finds it’s culmination in this discussion.  Throughout his work, Strabo works with a model that has mountainous peoples as particularly uncivilized and one of his defaults is to speak of such peoples as inherently bandits. He has the category of “bandit-peoples” it should be noted. Here in his discussion of Bessians he even goes so far as to say that even the other “bandit-peoples” call the Bessians “bandits,” in other words, assert their superiority to the Bessian people by name-calling or criminalizing them. This is an interesting glimpse into the dynamics of ethnic hierarchies in the ancient context where various peoples (beyond just Greeks) were seeking to position their own people in a superior position to others in a sort of competition of peoples.

Source: H.L. Jones, Strabo, volume 3 (LCL.Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1924), public domain, adapted by Harland.


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of Getians, Dacians, and Scythians, go to this link.]

Book 7

[Introduction to the geography and peoples along the northern Adriatic sea]

5 (1) The remainder of Europe [west of the Black Sea] consists of the country which is between the Ister [Danube] and the encircling sea, beginning at the recess of the Adriatic and extending as far as the Sacred Mouth of the Ister. In this country are Greece, the peoples of the Macedonians, the peoples of the Epeirians, and all those peoples above them whose countries reach to the Ister and to the seas on either side, both the Adriatic and the Pontic. In the direction of the Adriatic are the Illyrian peoples and in the direction of the other sea as far as the Propontis and the Hellespont are the Thracian peoples and whatever Scythian or Celtic peoples are intermingled with them.

[Natural geographical markers: Mountains]

But I must make my beginning at the Ister, speaking of the parts that come next in order after the regions which I have already encompassed in my description. These are the parts that border on Italy, on the Alps, and on the regions of the Germans, Dacians, and Getans. This country also might be divided into two parts, for, in a way, the Illyrian, Paionian, and Thracian mountains are parallel to the Ister, thus completing what is almost a straight line that reaches from the Adrias [Adriatic Sea] as far as the Pontos [Black Sea]. And to the north of this line are the parts that are between the Ister and the mountains, whereas to the south are Greece and the barbarian country which borders on Greece and extends as far as the mountainous country.

Now the mountain called Haimos [Balkan mountains, now in Bulgaria and Serbia] is near the Pontos. It is the largest and highest of all mountains in that part of the world, and splits Thrace almost in the centre. Polybios says that both seas [Black Sea and Adriatic Sea] are visible from the mountain. However, this is untrue, for the distance to the Adrias is sizeable and the things that obscure the view are many. On the other hand, almost the whole of Ardia is near the Adrias.

But Paionia is in the middle, and it is entirely in high country. Paionia is bounded on either side, first, towards the Thracian parts, by Rhodope, a mountain [now in Bulgaria] next in height to the Haimos, and secondly, on the other side, towards the north, by the Illyrian parts, both the country of the Autariatians and that of the Dardanians.

[Illyrian areas]

So then, let me speak first of the Illyrian parts, which join the Ister and that part of the Alps which lies between Italy and Germany and begins at the lake which is near the country of the Vindelikians, Rhaitians, and Toinians. (2) A part of this country was laid waste by the Dacians when they subdued the Boians and Tauriskians, namely the Celtic peoples under the rule of Kritasiros. They alleged that the country was theirs, although it was separated from theirs by the Parisos river [perhaps part of the Danube], which flows from the mountains to the Ister near the country of the Skordiskians who are called Galatians. For these too lived intermingled with the Illyrian and the Thracian peoples. But though the Dacians destroyed the Boians and Tauriskians, they often used the Skordiskians as allies.

The remainder of the country in question is held by the Pannonians as far as Segestika [Sisak, Croatia] and the Ister, on the north and east, although their territory extends still farther in the other directions. The city Segestika, belonging to the Pannonians, is at the confluence of several rivers, all of them navigable, and is naturally fitted to be a base of operations for making war against the Dacians. For it lies beneath that part of the Alps which extends as far as the country of the Iapodians, a people which is at the same time both Celtic and Illyrian. From that area flow rivers which bring down into Segestika much merchandise both from other countries and from Italy. For if one passes over Okra mountain from Aquileia to Nauportos (a settlement of the Tauriskians, from which the wagons are brought) [now Vrhnika, Slovenia], the distance is three hundred and fifty stadia, though some say five hundred.

Now the Okra is the lowest part of that portion of the Alps which extends from the country of the Rhaitians to that of the Iapodians. Then the mountains rise again in the country of the Iapodians, and are called “Albian.” In like manner, also, there is a pass which leads over Okra from Tergeste, a Karnic village, to a marsh called Lugeon. Near Nauportos there is a river, the Korkoras [Ljubljanica], which receives the cargoes. Now this river empties into the Saos [Sava], and the Saos into the Dravos [Drava], and the Dravos into the Noaros near Segestika. Immediately below Nauportos the Noaros is further increased in volume by the Kolapis [Kupa or Kolpa], which flows from the Albian mountain through the country of the Iapodians and meets the Danuvios [Danube] near the country of the Skordiskians. The voyage on these rivers is, for the most part, towards the north. The road from Tergeste to the Danuvius is about one thousand two hundred stadia. Near Segestika, and on the road to Italy, are situated both Siskia, a fort, and Sirmion.

[Pannonian peoples]

(3) The peoples of the Pannonians are: the Breukians, the Andizetians, the Ditionians, the Peiroustians, the Mazaians, and the Daisitiatians, whose leader is Bato. There are also other smaller peoples of less significance which extend as far as Dalmatia and, as one goes south, almost as far as the land of the Ardiaians. The whole of the mountainous country that stretches alongside Pannonia from the recess of the Adriatic as far as the Rhizonic gulf and the land of the Ardiaians is Illyrian, falling as it does between the sea and the Pannonian peoples. But this is about where I should begin my continuous geographical circuit.

But first I will repeat a little of what I have said before. I was saying in my geographical circuit of Italy that the Istrians were the first people on the Illyrian seaboard. Their country being a continuation of Italy and the country of the Karnians. For this reason the present Roman rulers have advanced the boundary of Italy as far as Pola [Pula, Croatia, on the Adriatic], an Istrian city. Now this boundary is about eight hundred stadia from the recess, and the distance from the promontory in front of Pola to Ancona [across the Adriatic in Italy], if one keeps the Henetic country on the right, is the same. The entire distance along the coast of Istria is one thousand three hundred stadia.


(4) Next in order comes the voyage of one thousand stadia along the coast of the country of the Iapodians. The Iapodians are situated on the Albian mountain, which is the last mountain of the Alps, is very lofty, and reaches down to the country of the Pannonians on one side and to the Adrias on the other. The Iapodians are in fact crazy about war, but they have been utterly worn out by Augustus. Their cities are Metoulon, Arupini, Monetion, and Vendo. Their lands are poor, the people living for the most part on spelt and millet. Their armour is Celtic, and they are tattooed like the rest of the Illyrians and the Thracians.


After the voyage along the coast of the country of the Iapodians comes that along the coast of the country of the Libyrnians, the latter being five hundred stadia longer than the former. On this voyage is a river, which is navigable inland for merchant-vessels as far as the country of the Dalmatians, and also a Libyrnian city, Skardon [Skradin, Croatia].

(5) There are islands along the whole of the above mentioned seaboard: first, the Apsyrtides, where Medeia is said to have killed her brother Apsyrtos who was pursuing her. Then, opposite the country of the Iapodians, Kyriktika, then the Libyrnides, about forty in number. Then other islands, of which the best known are Issa, Tragourion (founded by the people of Issa), and Pharos (formerly Paros, founded by the Parians), the native land of Demetrios the Pharian.

[Dalmatians and their customs]

Then comes the seaboard of the Dalmatians, and also their sea-port, Salo. This people is one of those which carried on war against the Romans for a long time. It had as many as fifty noteworthy settlements. Some of the settlements were cities, including Salo, Priamo, Ninia, and Sinotion (both the Old and the New), all of which were set on fire by Augustus. There is also Andretion, a fortified place. Furthermore, Dalmion (which is where the Dalmatian people derive their name) [also known as Delminium, now Tomislavgrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina], which was once a large city, but because of the greed of the people Nasika reduced it to a small city and made the plain a mere sheep-pasture.

The Dalmatians have the peculiar custom of making a redistribution of land every seven years. The fact that they make no use of coined money is peculiar to them as compared with the other peoples in that part of the world. Nonetheless, that is common to many other barbarian peoples. There is mount Adrion, which cuts the Dalmatian country through the middle into two parts, one facing the sea and the other in the opposite direction. Then come the Rrver Naro and the people who live around it: the Daorizians, the Ardiaians, and the Pleraians. An island called the Black Korkyra and also a city founded by the Knidians [from western Turkey] are close to the Pleraians, while Pharos (formerly called Paros, for it was founded by Parians [also from western Turkey]) is close to the Ardiaians.


[Ardiaians, and their former custom of banditry]

(6) The Ardiaians were called by the men of later times “Vardiaians.” Because they pestered the sea through their groups of sea-bandits, the Romans pushed them back from it into the interior and forced them to engage in farming. But the country is rough and poor and not suited to a farming population. Therefore the people has been utterly ruined and in fact has almost been obliterated. This is what happened to the rest of the peoples in that part of the world. For those peoples who were most powerful in earlier times were utterly humbled or were obliterated, as, for example, the Boians and Skordistians among the Galatians; the Autariatians, Ardiaians, and Dardanians among the Illyrians; and, the Triballians among the Thracians. That is, they were reduced in warfare by one another at first and then later by the Macedonians and the Romans.


(7) Be this as it may, after the seaboard of the Ardiaians and the Pleraians come the Rhizonic gulf, and the city Rhizo [now Risano, northeastern Italy], and other small towns and also the Drilo [Drin] river, which is navigable inland towards the east as far as the Dardanian country. This country borders on the Macedonian and the Paionian peoples on the south, as do also the Autariatians and the Dassaretians, with different peoples on different sides being contiguous to one another and to the Autariatians. To the Dardanians belong also the Galabrians, among whom is an ancient city, and the Thounatians, whose country joins that of the Medians, a Thracian people on the east. The Dardanians are so utterly wild (agrioi) that they dig caves beneath their dung-hills and live there.  Nonetheless, they still care about music, always making use of musical instruments, both flutes and stringed instruments. However, these people live in the interior, and I will mention them again later… [omitted material]

(10) Now the whole Illyrian seaboard is exceedingly well supplied with harbours, not only on the continuous coast itself but also in the neighbouring islands, although the reverse is the case with that part of the Italian seaboard which lies opposite, since it is harbourless. But both seaboards in like manner are sunny and good for fruits, for the olive and the vine flourish there, except, perhaps, in places here or there that are utterly rugged. But although the Illyrian seaboard is such, people in earlier times paid little attention to the region, perhaps in part because of their ignorance regarding its fertility but mostly because of the wildness of the inhabitants and their habits of banditry.

But the whole of the country situated above this is mountainous, cold, and subject to snows, especially the northerly part, so that there is a scarcity of the vine, not only on the heights but also on the levels. These latter are the mountain-plains occupied by the Pannonians. On the south the mountain-plains extend as far as the country of the Dalmatians and the Ardiaians; on the north they end at the Ister; and, on the east they border on the country of the Skordiskians, that is, on the country that extends along the mountains of the Macedonians and the Thracians.

[Autariatians and disputes with the Ardiaians]

(11) Now the Autariatians were once the largest and best people of the Illyrians. In earlier times they were continually at war with the Ardiaians over the salt-works on the common frontiers. The salt was made to crystallize out of water which in the spring-time flowed at the foot of a certain mountain-glen. For if they drew off the water and stowed it away for five days, the salt would become thoroughly crystallized. They would agree to use the salt-works alternately, but would break the agreements and go to war. At one time when the Autariatians had subdued the Triballians, whose territory extended from that of the Agrianians as far as the Ister (a journey of fifteen days), they held sway also over the rest of the Thracians and the Illyrians. But they were overpowered, at first by the Skordiskians and later on by the Romans, who also subdued the Skordiskians themselves, after these had been in power for a long time.


(12) The Skordiskians lived along the Ister and were divided into two peoples called the Great Skordiskians and the Little Skordiskians. The former lived between two rivers that empty into the Ister: the Noaros, which flows past Segestika, and the Margos (by some called the Bargos) [Morava river], whereas the Little Skordiskians lived on the far side of this river, and their territory bordered on that of the Triballians and the Mysians. The Skordiskians also held some of the islands. and they increased to such an extent that they advanced as far as the Illyrian, Paionian, and Thracian mountains. Accordingly, they also took possession of most of the islands in the Ister. They also had two cities: Heorta and Kapedounon. After the country of the Skordiskians, along the Ister, comes that of the Triballians and the Mysians (whom I have mentioned before). Also here are the marshes of that part of what is called Little Scythia which is this side the Ister (these too I have mentioned). These people, as well as the Krobyzians and what are called the Troglodytes (Cave-dwellers), live above the region round about Kallatis [Mangalia, Romania], Tomis [Constanța, Romania], and Histria.

[Korallians, Medians, and Bessians as bandit-peoples]

Then come the peoples who live in the neighbourhood of the Haimos [Balkan] mountain and those who live at its base and extend as far as the Pontos [Black Sea]: I mean the Korallians, the Bessians, and some of the Medians and Dantheletians. Now these peoples are very inclined to banditry. But the Bessians, who inhabit most of the Haimos mountain, are called bandits even by the bandits (lēstai). The Bessians live in huts and lead a wretched life.

[Other “insignificant” peoples]

Their country borders on mount Rhodope, on the country of the Paionians, and on that of two Illyrian peoples: the Autariatians and the Dardanians. Between these and the Ardiaians are the Dassaretians, the Hybrianians, and other insignificant peoples, which the Skordiskians kept on ravaging until they had depopulated the country and made it full of trackless forests for a distance of several days’ journey.

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of X peoples, go to this link (coming soon).]

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