On the romanization process of the south Illyrians

3rd century bc - 3rd century ad


  • Saimir Shpuza


This article will adress some of the political, economical, cultural and religious aspects of the south illyrian territory during the Roman period. The main aim is to show the degree of romanization of the Illyrians involved in the Roman affairs since the end of the 3rd century BC. The territory under study is geographically extended. It was inhabited by 2 main populations, Illyrians and Epirotes. Although there is no clear ethnic boundary between them, during the Hellenistic period these 2 populations evolved in different ways, especially as it concerns the political and urbanistic aspects. In the Roman period, this area was situated between the Balkan- Danubian provinces and the Greek ones. It didn’t constitute a unique province but it was divided between the provinces of Macedonia, Dalmatia, Achaia and later on Epirus. As it concerns the political aspect, Roman invasion, although it was gradual, was associated with the loss of the political sovereignty of the Illyrians. Rome administered the local populations through the creation of provinces, the appointment of governors, the creation of municips and colonies by transforming the legal status of these communities. This new political and legal framework lead to the disapearence of the traditional organizations of the Illyrians. Thus the Republican period laid the foundations of the Illyrian provincial culture that would be shape during the imperial period.
Integration into the Roman Empire presupposes important transformations related to the exploitation of economic resources. Their greatest influence appears to be the radical transformation of the agricultural landscape by dividing land into cadastre, drainage or dam construction aimed at controlling water and using it in agriculture. But despite this, some forms of pre-Roman economy have continued to exist even during the Roman period, as a result of climatic, geographic and historical conditions. The cultural transformations brought by the Romans seem to be the more tangible. The use of the Latin language was, in fact, the key to the local people to integrate into Roman society. This played a key role in the population’s romanization. But it should be noted that Roman civilization is more visible where the presence of the Romans was stronger. Their presence was the main element of the spread of Roman civilization. An important information comes from the bilingual inscriptions found mostly in Dyrrachium. These inscriptions were written by Italians and this fact shows on one hand their willingness to integrate into the local context and on the other the cultural symbiosis and the process of acculturation that was happening in this region. What played also a leading role in the process of the romanization of the Illyrians was the imperial cult, as it allows to understand not only the religious but
also the political aspects. This cult influenced all the layers of Roman society. In Illyria and Epirus are the Roman colonies of Butrint, Dyrrachium, Byllis, as well as Apollonia that give us the presence of the imperial cult. These testimonies are numerous for the Augustus period, but suffer a decline during the reign of Nero without any further explanation for this phenomenon. Then the imperial cult revives in the period of Trajan and Hadrian. Finally, the Illyrians appear as a society in transformation throughout the
Roman period. The Illyrians were adapted to the rules of the Roman Empire, but on the other hand, they express some special features in compared to other provinces of the Roman Empire. In other regions, in order to emphasize the originality of a certain
territory within the Roman Empire, were employed terms such as “galo-roman” in France, “Roman-British” in England, “Roman-Thracian” and “dako-roman” in Bulgaria and Romania. These notions are intended to express the symbiosis that occurs between local and Roman civilization. Perhaps the time has come to put in place the term “Illyrian-Roman culture” to be even clearer of the influence Rome had in Illyria but also of those pre-Roman elements that continued to exist within the Roman Empire. The “Illyrian-Roman” notion would serve to show a continuous interaction between the Illyrians and the Romans, but not a total adaptation of
Roman style and customs.


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How to Cite

Shpuza, S. (2023). On the romanization process of the south Illyrians: 3rd century bc - 3rd century ad. Iliria, 41(41), 213–236. Retrieved from https://albanica.al/iliria/article/view/2642