»The protourban Illyrians in the Late Iron Ageand their contacts to the Greek world«

Public Lecture: emer.O.Prof. Dr. Andreas Lippert (University of Vienna)
8.11.2018, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

In the Southwest of the Balkans the first elements of the later Illyrian Culture turn up rather early. These are burial mounds with central graves, around which further graves of the wider familiy and adherents were placed. The burial custom of tumuli at the Adriatic coast is connected with the advance of steppe-populations from Southern Russia in Late Neolithic. At the same time some amount of nomadic life came into being.

Already in the Early and so more in the Middle amd Late Bronze Aegean ceramics and weapons are imported and imitated. But there is also a strong influrence from the Danubian Urnfield culture. Characteristic for the Late Bronze Age are large hilltop-settlements with wall fortifications. Since that age there is a continuity of the indigene material culture in the Southern Adriatic areas and the new cultural unity has been called Mat-Glasinac-Culture in reference to the North-Albanian river Mat and the tableland of Glasinac in the Herzegovina. In the Early Iron Age (11th - 8th cent. B.C.) the contacts to Greece increase steadily and reach a high level at the end of the Middle Iron Age in the 7th cent. with numerous imports of fine ware, ornaments and offensive as well as defensive arms, just as swords, helmets and greaves.

In the Late Iron Age (6th - 5th cent. B.C.), which is the protourban period of the Illyrians, Greek historians and geographs, just as Hekataios and Herodotos, describe for the first time the Illyrian tribes living in the nowadays countries of Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Southern Bosnia. At the same time Greek colonies were founded at the Albanian coast entailing an intensive trade with the Illyrian hinterland. These intensive trade connections are most probably the reason for the emergence of distinct hierarchical structures in the Illyrian society. The ruling caste of the Illyrians evidently have their centers in small, well fortified hilltop-settlements, where also craftsmen and merchants have their forum. Trade amd business relations reach out now also to the North and to the Danube regions.

In the middle of the 4th cent. B.C. the Southern Illyrians having adopted already much of Greek livestyle and urban civilisation founded large towns in the highlands behind the Adriatic coast. The Illyrian rulers are yet buried still in the traditional way in carefully built and furnished graves with rich adornments, arms, fine ceramics and metall ware. Sites of this kind are for example Belsh near Elbasan and Selca e Posthme just west of the Ohrid-Lake. In the 3rd and 2nd cent. B.C. not much is preserved from the old material culture of the Illyrians, only Illyrian prenames on tombstones in Albania or votiv-inscriptions at the sanctuary Grotta della Poesia in Lower Italy, near Otranto, written by Messapian sailors give witness of Illyrians, who now were extensively integrated in Greek and Roman culture.