Reigning from around 231 BC to 228 BC, Queen Teuta of Illyria cultivated a name known across the Adriatic Sea as leading and supporting piracy. In this article, you will learn more about her influence, legacy, and what happened when she bumped heads with the Romans.
Teuta, the Illyrian queen took over ruling the kingdom after the man responsible for establishing Illyria died , her husband Argon. After his death, she acted as regent for her young stepson, Pinnes. The first decision Teuta made was to jumpstart a slew of piratical raids. She set her eyes on Dyrrachium , now known as Durres, Albania. While her ships were situated off of the coast of Sarande, they successfully intercepted and plundered a couple of merchant vessels belonging to Rome.
Her triumphant moves only added fuel to her growing interest in pirating. With her blessing, her pirates shifted their attention further south, making their way into the Ionian Sea. They settled along the coast of Italy and soon earned a name for themselves for instilling fear into the hearts of locals. People in the Adriatic were terrified of what Queen Teuta’s would do if they ever came face to face with the rogues.
Finally, the Roman Senate had enough and dispatched two ambassadors to the pirate lair to demand that the pirating end and to gain compensation for what was taken. Supposedly, the queen told the ambassadors that according to Illyrian law, pirating was a lawful trade and that her government didn’t have a right to tell the pirates to end their private business ventures. It is reported that one of the envoys told her that Rome would make her change the policies regarding this sort of business. They warned her that she would have to create better laws for her people. The discussion became heated and in the process, one of the ambassadors addressed the queen in such a disrespectful manner that her attendant killed him before he could reach Rome.
The tension between the queen and Rome escalated and in 229 BC, Rome declared war on Illyria. This marked the first time that their armies crossed the Adriatic to reach Illyria , now known as the Balkan Peninsula. First, a Roman fleet consisting of 200 ships traveled to Corcyra. The governor in charge (Demetrius) had no other choice but to surrender. As a reward for his cooperation, the Romans gave the governor a hefty portion of the queen’s holdings. Next, the Roman army made their way further north to Apollonia. Together, the army and navy combined their efforts. They were successful in suppressing many towns , one right after another , including the capital of Shkodra.
In 227 BC, Queen Teuta finally waved the white flag and surrendered. In the end, she accepted peace, which was a humiliating moment in her career as queen. She was even allowed to continue her rule over her people, but the Romans restricted her to a narrow region located around Skodra, which actually deprived her of all her other holdings. As for ships and sailing, she wasn’t allowed to sail an armed ship below Lissus , situated just south of the capital. To add insult to injury, she had to pay an annual attribute and make it known that Rome was the ultimate authority.