Illyrians: Theopompos on banquets (mid-fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Illyrians: Theopompos on banquets (mid-fourth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 11, 2024,

Ancient authors: Theopompos of Chios (mid-fourth century BCE), FGrHist 115 F39-40, as cited by Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner 10.443 (link to FGrHist). .

Comments: In his work on banqueting, Athenaios of Naukratis (second century CE) pulls together a variety of ethnographic descriptions of meal customs among different peoples (e.g. link for Persians and Medes), including this passage by Theopompos (mid-fourth century BCE) which describes an Illyrian banquet. Despite its brevity, it is worthwhile supplying this passage since there are so few Greek ethnographic descriptions about Illyrians.

The category of “Illyrians” is an outsider (Greek and Roman) term for a variety of peoples who would self–identify more specifically, it should be remembered. So once again this source supplies Greek perceptions of others rather than an historical source for the actual customs of people in a particular place. The Ardiaians are an example of one of the peoples encompassed within the broader rubric.

Source of translation: C.B. Gulick, Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists, 7 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1927-41), public domain (passed away in 1962 and copyright expired), adapted by Harland.


(F39) In the second book of his book On Philip, Theopompos says that: “The Illyrians dine and drink seated, and even bring their wives to parties. It is considered good form for the women to pledge any of the guests, no matter who they may be. They conduct their husbands home from drinking-bouts. The men all live a hard life, and when they drink they brace their bellies with wide belts. This they do, at first, with tolerable looseness. But as the drinking becomes more intense, they pull their belts more and more tightly together.”

(F40) “The Ardiaians [among the Illyrians] own 300,000 bondmen who are like helots. They get drunk every day and have parties, and are too uncontrolled in their fondness for eating and drinking. So when the Celts made war on the Ardiaians, knowing their lack of self-control, ordered all the troops to prepare a dinner in their tents with the utmost possible splendour, but to put into the food a certain poisonous herb which had the effect of upsetting the bowels and thoroughly purging them. When this had been done some of the Ardiaians were overcome by the Celts and put to death, while others threw themselves into the rivers, being unable to bear the pain in their stomachs.”

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