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History of Albania

Early History

The area of what we know as Albania today, has been populated since prehistoric times. Much of it was settled by the ancient Illyrians, possible ancestors of Albanians, and other prehistoric tribes, such as the Vinča.

The Illyrians were Indo-European tribesmen who appeared in the western portion of the Balkan Peninsula about 1300 BC, a period coinciding with the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age. They inhabited much of the area for at least the next millennium. Archaeologists associate the Illyrians with the Hallstatt culture, an Iron Age people noted for production of iron, bronze swords with winged-shaped handles, and domestication of horses. Illyrians were also extremely skilled and fierce warriors, goldsmiths, blacksmiths and pirates, though they were mostly and originally sheperds and mountainous people. The Illyrians occupied lands extending from the Danube, Sava and Morava rivers to the Adriatic Sea and the Šar Mountains. At various times, groups of Illyrians, such as the Messapians and Iapyges, migrated to Italy through both overland routes and the sea.

Albanians were originally an extension of the southeast Illyrian peoples. By contrast with other areas, the coastal hinterland between the Narenta and the Drilon was occupied by a considerable number of smaller tribes, most of whom lost their identities during the final stages of Roman occupation.

The southeast of Dalmatia was populated by "real Illyrians", and the evidence from personal names produces a uniform picture with very little influence from other parts of the province, except for a group of Celtic names in the upper Neretva valley around Konjic. In the later 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, all these peoples were part of the Illyrian kingdom, but with the removal of King Genti they all attained some form of independence, mostly through treaty arrangements with the Romans.

The Illyrians carried on commerce and warfare with their neighbours: Greeks, Paionians, Thracians and other peoples. To the east in Dardania, there was a broad area of intermingling between Illyrians and Thracians. This area encompassed the Danube below Belgrade down the west of the Morava valley to the Vardar and the northern border of Macedonia. In the south and along the Adriatic Sea coast, the Illyrians were heavily influenced by the Greeks, who founded trading colonies there. At the end of the 7th century BC, Corinthian Greek settlers from Corfu established ports on the coast at Apollonia (Pojanë, near modern Vlorë) in 588 BC and farther north at Lissos (Lezhë) and Epidamnos (modern Durrës) in 623 BC. The Illyrians living in Albania's rugged mountains, however, resisted Greek settlement. Illyrian raiders attacked the coastal cities and Illyrian pirates threatened Greek trading ships in the Adriatic Sea.

Illyrians produced and traded cattle, horses, agricultural goods, and wares fashioned from locally mined copper and iron. Feuds and warfare were constant facts of life for the Illyrian tribes, and Illyrian pirates plagued shipping on the Adriatic Sea. Councils of elders (bulae) chose the chieftains who headed each of the numerous Illyrian tribes. From time to time, local chieftains extended their rule over other tribes and formed short-lived kingdoms. During the fifth century BC, well-developed Illyrian population centers existed as far north as the upper Sava River valley in what is now Slovenia. Illyrian friezes discovered near the present-day Slovenian city of Ljubljana depict ritual sacrifices, feasts, battles, sporting events, and other activities.

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