The Illyrian queen Teuta is one of the most extraordinary figures of Illyrian antiquity and of our Albanian heritage. With her intelligence, courage, and abilities to govern, she managed to strengthen her position in the Mediterranean region and became one of the most serious rivals of the Roman Empire.
Roman historians and politicians of the time would write about this extraordinary woman, with much resentment and hatred. These details are more than enough to understand how much of a threat she was for them and that within a short period of time, she almost brought Rome to its knees.
Teuta was born around 268 BC and was the first born of a noble Illyrian family. She received the formal education of the time, but was also trained as she was a boy, learning the art of war, hunting, horse riding etc. Teuta became famous for her rare beauty, so much so the heir to the throne chose her as his wife and queen.
When married to king Agron, Teuta managed to became one of the most important and closest political advisers of her husband. She was a big supporter and even pushed his political and military ambitions to unite all Illyrian land under one state.
Despite the fact that Teuta did not have a formal role in the government, being so close to the throne, she learned firsthand everything about politics, diplomacy, economy, govern mechanisms, but also about the court intrigues and the war for power. Teuta’s marriage with king Agron lasted for 18 years, which was a time of great political, economic and military advancement for the Illyrian kingdom.
The sudden death of king Agron brought a crisis at the kingdom, due to the fact that legitimate heir of the line of succession was just a child. A war for power erupted and Teuta won the support of the governors and of the aristocracy class, thank to her wisdom and diplomatic abilities. At 230 BC, she was crowned as the new queen of the Ardian Tribe, of Illyrian Kingdom.
The reign of Queen Teuta
Teuta ruled as queen only for three years, but that was a sufficient time for her to engrave her name in history, with golden letters. During her reign, the young queen faced a lot of challenges and struggles, despite the fact she inherited the throne during a golden age, of Illyrian political influence and economical rise.
However, Teuta responded wisely to all the difficult challenges in governance. Within a short time she managed to strengthen and consolidate her power, made powerful allies, and continued further the reforms of her husband. She stimulated the economy, promoted the development of Illyrian cities, strengthened the army, and created her own navy, through the creation of Liburnian ships. Teuta managed to expand the borders of her kingdom, after defeating the Greek army and taking Phoenicia, the richest and most important city of Epirus. Not only she controlled the Adriatic Sea, but after her military success, she gained control of Ionian Sea. The people started calling Teuta the “Queen of Seas”
Her political and military empowerment in a such a short time, in the region was disturbing to Rome. The Senate found unacceptable the rivalry of a such a powerful woman, who had great ambitions.
The war with Rome
After the historic victory with Cartagena, Rome had already turned its eyes to its eastern neighbors. Due to its important and strategic position, Illyria and its possessions at sea were among the main objectives of Rome. So to launch the next military campaign, the senators used as an excuse, the attacks of the Illyrian pirates on Roman merchant ships.
Due to an old Illyrian tradition, Queen Teuta had not banned the activity of pirates, which was in fact a very widespread practice of the time among all nations. However, she promised the Roman ambassador that in her possessions at sea, Roman citizens would be safe, but she could not stop the pirates from traveling outside Illyria. During this meeting, one of the Roman delegates offended the queen, calling her attitude " a result of a woman natural weakness and stupidity." That was deeply insulting for the proud Queen, who ordered the execution of the delegate and the imprisonment of the others.
This action of hers was enough for Rome to use as a pretext to start the war. The senators underestimated the queen, as she was "just a woman", but to their disappointment, Teuta showed herself up to the challenge, proving herself to be a great strategist and commander in chief.
The queen fought heroically and blocked the entire coast. She also won numerous battles against the Roman army, which in number was twice as large as the Illyrian army. To defeat the warrior queen, Romans used different trickeries. Teuta was betrayed by one of her most powerful and trustful commanders, Demetrius of Pharos, who had claims upon the thrones.
Although betrayed and in unequal conditions, Teuta and her army continued fighting for another 6 months against the Romans. Unable to continue her resistance, Teuta was forced to accept a peace treaty with the Roman ambassadors, retreating to the Illyrian city of Rizan, fearing that Scutari (today Shkodra), the capital of the Ardian kingdom, might fall to the Romans.
Although defeated, Teuta managed to negotiate with the delegates of Rome, to facilitate the terms of peace for the Illyrians. These negotiations of the queen later gave the Illyrians the opportunity to recover economically and militarily, which would give impetus to a second war against Roman occupation. However, Teuta did not return to the throne and the historical data for what happened to her after this period are a few and uncertain.
Between legends and historical truths
The figure of Queen Teuta is shrouded with mystery, myths and legends so much so that is a difficult task to make a distinguish between the historical truth from the fantasy’s layers that have been created over centuries.
Legends has it that Illyrian deities (Zanat) asked Agron not to marry her, as she would bring bad luck to the kingdom. However, blinded by Teuta's incomparable beauty, the king ignored the ghastly warnings.
It is said that when the king died, a strong earthquake caused many rivers of the kingdom to become underground. (In the city of Rigon, there are 7 underground rivers) According to the legend, only when another woman is born with the beauty and ingenuity of Teuta, the rivers will to flow back to the surface.
Teuta's fortune has also become a legend, which over the centuries has attracted many adventurers suffering from "gold fevers". The queen was said to enjoy a fabulous fortune and hid it in a safe place "where only the gods could find it".
There are also myths about her fate after the defeat with the Romans. According to a legend, the anguished and proud queen killed herself, jumping from the highest rock of the castle, where she was hiding. But another legend says that she took refuge in the interior of the earth, taking with her all the treasure.
In the folklore of the Albanian people, Teuta is described as a "beautiful woman like a fairy (Zanë), more agile than a snake and more powerful than a lion." A queen who had the heart of a man, in the bosom of a woman.
The reign of Teuta, although short, constitutes one of the brightest periods of Illyrian history. She was an extraordinary figure and according to historians also one of the 10 most powerful women of antiquity, just like Cleopatra or the Celtic queen Beoudicca.
We got so inspired by this strong Illyrian woman that created The Queen Teuta Collection
Prepared and written by Eldolina Këputa