Are you also a fan of pirate stories?
Well, what I am going to write about today is not just a legend or a cinematic production. Jack Sparrow was born many times later and he was not as wild as my favourite pirate in the history of the world, the one who makes every Albanian proud for belonging to a nation of such warriors, the one that challenged the Ancient Rome, the one – Queen Teuta!
You might have heard of Anne Bonny, the Irish lass with luscious red locks and a dangerous temper that became an icon of The Golden Age of Piracy. You might have as well heard of Mary Read, the Englishwoman, or Sadie the Goat, the American pirate of the 19th century. But Queen Teuta is our favourite and there are a million reasons why.
So here’s the story:
Around 400 BC and until 167 BC, many tribes that made up the kingdom of Illyria conquered the region known today as the Balkan Peninsula. By the middle of the third century BCE, one of the most powerful Illyrian groups was the Ardian tribe, which ruled along the Adriatic coast from Montenegro to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This kingdom began its expansion under the rule of King Agron, beginning as early as 250 BC, and reached its full power under the control of his wife, Queen Teuta.
When he took the throne, Agron focused on building Illyrian naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea and expanding his rule along the Adriatic coast. His plan began to work: the power of his kingdom increased and he scored a decisive victory over the Aetolians (Greeks) in 232 or 231 BC (sources vary).
But legends say that in 231 BC, Agron celebrated his victory with so many drinks and other pleasures, that he was struck by the overdose of pleasure (inflammation in the lungs and chest) and died.
After his death, Teuta – whose early life, even the year of her birth, remains a mystery – took the throne and served as queen in place of Agron’s son and heir. She continued the expansionist policies of Agron, turning her eyes from both Durrah and Epirus, eventually conquering both.
However, perhaps more than the traditional Illyrian flag, Teuta’s most formidable forces were her pirates traveling to the nearest seas.
Piracy in Illyria was legal and often considered a practical profession, although not quite respected. Teuta had given freedom to her ships in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Illyrian pirates were known for looting merchant ships, which were very much afraid of the Illyrians.
Rome had many important trade routes along the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Italy, and Roman merchants were constantly threatened by pirates who raided their ships and stole your goods. Complaints from merchants filled the Roman Senate until they could no longer ignore the deeds of pirates.
As a start, the Romans decided to try diplomatic tactics regarding Teuta around 230 BC. Rome sent two ambassadors to Illyria to persuade Teuta to take care of her ships and stop the pirates from staying on Roman trade routes.
But when they got there, Teuta refused, telling them that piracy was not illegal in the Ardian Kingdom, so the pirates had not violated any law, and she would not change the laws to accommodate Roman merchants. Not only did she refuse to repent, but she seemed so offended when she heard the request, that she ordered the ambassadors’ ships to be taken. Moreover, she held one ambassador captive and killed the other.
When the news of the death of their ambassador went to the Roman Senate, they were forced to declare war on Teuta. In 229 BC, Rome declared war on Illyria. They sent a fleet of 200 ships and about 20,000 ground troops along the Adriatic Sea.
They arrived in the city of Korkyra, where the governor of Teuta, Demetrius, betrayed him, immediately handing over control of Korkyra to the Romans and joining them as advisers. From there, Roman troops advanced north of Apollonia, attacking towns along the way until they reached the capital, Shkodra.
The Illyrian forces could not be compared to the military power of Rome and Teuta was forced to retreat to the south. By 228 BC, Rome had gained control of the entire Illyrian coast.
Teuta was officially surrendered to Rome in 227 BC. Rome declared peace and allowed Teuta to continue to rule, albeit in a much smaller region. It was also obliged to pay tribute to Rome, acknowledging their absolute sovereignty.
But instead of facing the humiliation of a limited kingdom under Roman control, Teuta resigned from the throne.
The details of her life afterwards remain unclear, but most sources say she lived for several more years after the Roman defeat. According to some oral records, Teuta never recovered from her grief over the loss to the Romans.
Instead, she chose to end her life by jumping off a cliff in the Bay of Kotor in present-day Risan, Montenegro.