So little is known about Illyria and so little is mentioned in history that it hardly appears on a map, but it was the northwestern neighbor of Macedonia that made life difficult for Alexander and before that for his father, Philip II. Today most of the northern territory is occupied by Serbia while the south is in hands of Albania.
[Map from Wikipedia]
Illyria again comes in the news in 337 BC at King Philip’s wedding to Cleopatra, the niece of Attalus. Purposely or by accident, Attalus brings a toast to a lawful successor to the Macedonian throne which implied that he looked at Alexander as a bastard. We know how insulted Alexander felt, more so when his father was siding with Attalus. Alexander then leaves the court taking his mother Olympia with him and after placing her in the hands of her brother, the King of Epirus, he himself retires to Illyria. It is not known what he did or didn’t do there except spending the winter. All that is being reported is that Alexander returns to his father’s palace thanks to the diplomatic intervention of Demaratus, a mutual friend and actor.
The news of Philip’s murder in October 336 BC runs fast and practically all his new allies start revolting. The following summer, Alexander, who meanwhile succeeded to his father as king of Macedonia marches north towards the Danube and defeats the Illyrians on his way back to subdue Thebes. Obviously, no deep ties of friendship had been forged during his earlier stay.
This long introduction now brings me to recent excavations carried out at Kale-Krševica in southeastern Serbia, exposing significant remains of what appears to be a city from the late fourth/early third century BC built according to the Greek model in the days of Philip and Alexander! The settlement covers an area of about five hectares and was located on an important through-road from Greece to Central Europe. Archeology in Serbia is still in infancy and only about 6% of the site has been investigated so far, raising more questions than providing answers. But based on the type of architecture, the shreds of pottery and amphorae, the coins and jewelry, tools, and the overall organizational system of the area, clearly establish a Greek presence that might lead to locating the city of Damastion, which is still elusive as well as its precious silver mines mentioned by Strabo. This would, of course, boost further research. So far, it has been established that most of the settlement was located on the slopes of the hill towards the Krševica River where several remains were uncovered like a rampart, a larger building, undefined walls, ovens, etc.
It is interesting however to mention that a wide range of coins has been found with the effigy of Philip, silver drachmae showing Alexander the Great and bronze coins of Cassander, Uranopolis, and Demetrios Poliorketes – all of them showing close ties with Macedonia in any case. On top of these specimens, one tetradrachma of early Damastion was discovered (hence the possible theory that this settlement might be the very city) and one tetradrachma of Aduleon, King of Paeonia.
Yet one of the greatest discoveries made so far is the arched vault used for water storage and supply, a highly sophisticated and modern installation for its time. It shows that because of the rising water level by the end of the fourth century BC the entire appearance and function of the original structure had to be adapted resulting is this 10 meters long and 6 meters wide cistern, built from large ashlars to a height of at least six meters. The fact is that it must have held enough water for a population of several thousands. More intensive investigation had to be abandoned however as archeologists were seriously hampered by the high water table and the cistern has been buried again pending more advanced technologies.
Well, this is just a tiny corner of Illyria that surfaced lately but it would be extremely interesting to see these excavations and others bring proof of closer contacts with Macedonia from the days of King Philip II and Alexander the Great.
[Last two pictures from Kale-Krševica]
[Last two pictures from Kale-Krševica]