Pirate Queen and scourge of the Roman Empire
When Teuta’s husband King Argon died, she became a very powerful woman. With her stepson Pinnes too young to rule, Teuta was the queen regent of the Ardiaei, the most powerful tribe in Illyria (now the Balkan Peninsula).
Illyria was a seafaring nation, occupying mainly coastal towns. King Argon had been responsible for expanding much of the Ardiaei’s territories, and Teuta had no intention of letting her dead husband’s work go to waste. She continued his campaign, supporting her subject’s piratical raids on neighbouring states.
The power hungry queen set her sights on Dyrrachium (modern-day Durrës, Albania), capturing the city and fortifying it in her name. When her fleet was not attacking nearby cities, it was attacking nearby vessels. Teuta’s pirate army plundered a number of Roman merchant ships as it tore its’ way through the Adriatic.
These triumphs encouraged Teuta to push further south, defeating huge enemy fleets and capturing the island of Corcyra, which stood on an important trade route between Greece and Italy.
Understandably, the Republic of Rome had had enough by this point, with Teuta’s forces pressing uncomfortably close to its own territories. The Senate sent two ambassadors to demand that Queen Teuta repay what she had stolen and cease operations at once.
The Illyrian queen was not interested in what Rome had to say. As far as she was concerned, she told them, piracy was perfectly legal in Illyria, and she had no right to interfere with her subject’s right to private enterprise.
“It was never the custom of royalty to prevent the advantage of its subjects they could get from the sea”
The ambassadors, furious with this response from someone they considered a barbarian, countered that Teuta had better change the law if she knew what was good for her. They also threatened the queen with ‘public revenge’. Insulted, Teuta proved that she had no intention of changing her laws by capturing the ambassadors vessel and having one of them killed and the other imprisoned.
Rome declared war.
For the first time in history the entire Roman fleet of 200 ships containing 20,000 troops crossed the Adriatic to take back Corcyra. Teuta’s army had no choice but to surrender. But Rome hadn’t finished yet, and the army continued on, eventually laying siege to Scodra, Teuta’s capital.
Teuta finally surrendered in 227 BC, forced to accept an ignominious peace. She was permitted to continue to rule, but restricted to a much smaller territory and forbidden to sail in an armed ship. The Pirate Queen of the Adriatic was tamed.
Scodra, the city Teuta ruled from, is modern day Shkodër in Albania.
Ancient Illyria: An Archaeological Exploration – Arthur Evans
Women Rulers Throughout the Ages: An Illustrated Guide – Guida Myrl Jackson-Laufer
“Mbretëresha Teuta në Muzeun e Shkodrës” by Irvi Hyka – Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons