Teuta of Illyria – fl. 231 – 227 BCE – Scodra, Illyria

Ancient Illyria

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.

800px-Mbretëresha_Teuta_në_Muzeun_e_ShkodrësThe 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

On Wikipedia:

Image sources:

Mbretëresha Teuta në Muzeun e Shkodrës” by Irvi Hyka – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Cynane – d.323 BCE – Illyria

Ancient Illyria


She was half-sister to the greatest conqueror of the classical world, Alexander the Great, and daughter of King Philip II, but Cynane owed much of her tactical knowledge to her mother Audata, an Illyrian princess.

Audata trained her daughter in riding, hunting, and fighting in the Illyrian tradition. This unusual education prepared her Cynane for a life which would be fraught with conflict and political intrigue.

Her father Philip gave her in marriage to her cousin Amyntas, by whose death she was left a widow in 336 BCE. In the following year, her brother promised her hand, as a reward for his services, to Langarus, king of the Agrianians, who became ill and died before the wedding could take place.

Cynane, probably sick of being bartered for, continued unmarried, and devoted herself to the education of her daughter, Eurydice.

Much like Audata, Cynane trained Eurydice in martial arts and groomed her for a life in politics. When Cynane’s other half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus was chosen king in 323 BCE, Cynane determined to marry Eurydice to him, and crossed over to Asia accordingly.

Polyaenus wrote:

“Cynane, the daughter of Philip was famous for her military knowledge: she conducted armies, and in the field charged at the head of them. In an engagement with the Illyrians, she with her own hand slew Caeria their queen; and with great slaughter defeated the Illyrian army.”

Her military prowess and influence was famous throughout the ancient world, and the idea that her daughter might marry a King was alarming to many. Perdiccas, Alexander the Great’s General, was particularly concerned and sent his brother Alcetas to meet Cynane on her way to Asia and have her killed.

Alcetas’ troops were against the murder of Cynane, but she was killed either way, and is said to have ‘met her doom with an undaunted spirit’.

Eurydice’s wedding still took place, but both daughter and son-in-law were eventually killed by Olympias. In 317 BC, Cassander, after defeating Olympias, buried Cynane with Eurydice and Arrhidaeus at Aegae, the royal burying-place.

In Fiction:

Cynane appears as a character in the historical novel Funeral Games by Mary Renault. Renault calls her Kynna.


Polyaenus on Cynane

On Wikipedia: