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The Autariatae or Autariates were an ancient people that eventually became the most powerful Illyrian tribe.
The Autariatae communities unified into a single political entity during the late 6th century BC. They began to expand eastward into territories controlled by the Triballi. Moreover, they expanded southward where they defeated the Ardiaei, their old rivals, in struggles for control over pastures and salty springs. Activities of the Autariatae at the turn of the 6th and 5th centuries BC profoundly influenced the peoples who were directly affected by their expansion. The Ardiaei were moved toward the coasts and the Triballi to the east. The expansion of the Autariatae enabled them to achieve hegemonic control over one part of the interior of the Balkan Peninsula. The leading class of the Autariatae society reached the peak of its political and economic development indicated through many great luxurious royal tumuli and graves created during the 5th century BC. Strabo’s comment on the Autariatae as "the once greatest and most powerful Illyrian people" most likely refers to this period. Their peak of development was followed by the gradual decline of the Autariatae ending in 310 BC with their sudden disappearance due to Celtic migrations.
Appian (95 – 165) writes that the Ardiaei were destroyed by the Autariatae and that in contrast to the Autariatae had maritime power. The ancient geographer, Strabo, lists the Autariatae as one of the three strongest tribes - the other two being the Ardiaei and the Dardanii.
The tribes of Autariatae and the Celtic Scordisci are thought to have merged into one in the Lower Morava valley, after 313 BC, since excavations show that the two groups made burials at the same exact grave field in Pecine, near Kostolac. Nine graves of Autariatae dating to 4th century BC and scattered Autariatae and Celtic graves around these earlier graves show that the two groups mixed rather than made war and this resulted in the lower Morava valley becoming a Celto-Thraco-Illyrian interaction zone.
A standard practice of the Autariatae entailed killing their weak and wounded. This was meant to prevent meek individuals from falling into the hands of enemy tribes.
The Autariatae left a legacy of material wealth. So far, more than 100 castle ruins were identified to have been inhabited by the Autariatae, as well as thousands of tumuli in which they had been buried. Movable materials (mostly jewelry and weapons) reveal all specific features associated with the ethno-cultural originality of the Autariatae. The Autariatae established a continuous tradition of manufacturing metal and ceramic products. Artifacts consisting of metal sheets with luxurious golden and silver belts of Mramorac type indicate the complexity of this tradition.
The Autariatae are a classic example of a "highland" people who also show all the characteristics of a "highland" mentality (i.e. preservation of old beliefs). Case in point, the Autariatae have strongly maintained their burial customs of burning the dead in tumuli, which have not changed until the end of the Glasinac culture. Archaeological remains indicate that the religious life of the Autariatae was influenced by both their ancestor cult and the cult of their solar god. One can find the numerous evidences of the solar cult throughout the territories once controlled by the Autariatae. The economy of the Autariatae was based on cattle breeding, metalwork, handicraft and trade. Because of its need for Greek and Italic goods, this Illyrian tribe was one of the biggest trade partners of the western and central Balkans to both Greek and Italic traders between the 7th and 6th centuries BC.
- Wilkes, John. The Illyrians. Wiley-Blackwell, 1995, p. 92.
- Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 223, ISBN 0-631-19807-5. "The salt source that was a cause of conflict between the Illyrian Ardiaei and Autariatae may be that at Orahovica in the upper Neretva valley near Konjic."
- Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 139, ISBN 0-631-19807-5. "...describes a long-running feud between the Autariatae and the Ardiaei over the possession of a salt-source near their common border."
- Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 145, ISBN 0-631-19807-5. "While the once formidable Autariatae had vanished long before the Roman conquest, and the Triballi, Scordisci and Moesi all declined to insignificant remnants, the Dardani..."
- Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 75, ISBN 0-631-19807-5. "Alföldy suggests that this Celtic component may derive from the impact of the migrating Celts on the Illyrian Autariatae, but it now seems that they dwelt not there but further south between the `real Illyrians' around the Lake of ..."
- App. Ill. 1,"In like manner the Ardiæi, who were distinguished for their maritime power, were finally destroyed by the Autarienses, whose land forces were stronger, but whom they had often defeated."
- Jovanović 1984, 1985, 1991; Theodossiev 2000: 120-121, cat. no. 113 with full bibliography
- Jovanović 1985, 1992
- Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, p. 243, ISBN 0-631-19807-5. "...the skull of an enemy as a drinking tankard. The practice of mutilating prisoners may be the reason why the Autariatae killed their own weak and wounded, so that they did not fall into the hands of the enemy live and..."
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