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.

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.

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 The Roman History (Vol... Appian Best Price: $10.98 Buy New $2.99 (as of 05:05 EDT - Details) 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.

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 neighbours indiscriminately, as her commanders were ordered to treat all as enemies.

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 Adraitic 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 whilst preparing to leave for Rome, whilst Cassius Dio mentions that some envoys were imprisoned whilst others killed.

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