Cleitus the Illyrian
|Reign||c.335 BC - c.295 BC|
|Royal house||Present day Kosovo|
Cleitus was the mastermind behind the well structured Illyrian Revolt of 335 BC. Cleitus entered into an agreement with the Taulantii State under Glaucias and the Autariatae State under Pleurias. Cleitus had captured and garrisoned the city of Pelion and waited for Glaucias' troops to arrive. However, Alexander arrived on the scene first and blockaded Cleitus within the city walls. Glaucias came to Cleitus' aid, and the Macedonians were forced to retreat. Alexander came back with more equipment and supplies and skillfully drove Glaucias' army from the surrounding heights, preventing Cleitus from engaging with Glaucias.
After a three day truce, Alexander found the Taulantii camp unguarded and eliminated the Illyrians under the cover of night. Cletius managed to escape and kept his throne, probably as a vassal under the Macedonian Kingdom.
Alliances for the Illyrian revolt
Cleitus was one of the three Illyrian kings who attempted to gain lost territory and thwart Macedonian power in a revolt. During Alexander's Balkan campaigns, alarming reports began to come from Illyria that the Illyrians had revolted and were poised to invade Macaedonia. The Illyrian revolt had a personal element to it; the formidible king Cleitus led the revolt, and his father Bardyllis had been soundly defeated by Macedonia in 358 BC. Alexander found himself thrown headlong into one of the toughest campaigns of his entire career. Alexander's Danubian expedition had given Cleitus just the chance he was waiting for. Cleitus allied himself with Glaucias, king of the Taulantii State, and en route, he persuaded the Autariatae State to attack Alexander as well. Meanwhile, Glaucias' army would march to Cleitus, so the Macedonians would have to face this larger, combined force.
Battle of Pelion
In 335 BC, Alexander's ally Langarus promised to deal with the Autariatae while Alexander headed towards Cleitus. Langarus invaded their territory and defeated them. Alexander thus foiled Cleitus' plan of blockading the Macedonian army. Glaucias and his army had not yet reached Cleitus, and Alexander pushed hard to reach the Cleitus' fortress city of Pelion before Glaucias did. Alexander drove through Paeonia and Lyncestia, finally arriving at Pelion before Glaucias. The ancient historian Arrian states that Cleitus sacrificed three boys, three girls, and three black rams on an altar just before the Battle of Pelion with Alexander. The Illyrian advance detachments, after some brief skirmishing, retreated within the walls of Pelion. The Macedonians decided to blockade Pelion, bringing up their siege equipment. The Macedonians had no time in starving Cleitus out, and with so small a task force, their chances of taking the strongly guarded city fortress by storm were minimal. Glaucias was on his way to aid Cleitus, and the Macedonians were cut off and short of supplies. This was the first and last bitter taste of failure for Alexander.
A foraging party under the Macedonian general Philotas barely escaped annihilation thanks to quick action by Alexander and the cavalry. Early next morning, he formed up his entire army in the plain, apparently oblivious to the presence of Cleitus and the newly arrived Glaucias, and gave an exhibition of close-order drill. The bristling spear-line swung right and left in perfect unison. The phalanx advanced, wheeled into column and line, and moved through various intricate formations as though on the parade-ground, all without a word being uttered. The Illyrian kings had never seen anything like it. From the their positions in the surrounding hills, the Illyrians stared down at this weird ritual, scarcely able to believe their eyes. Then little by little one Illyrian force began to edge closer. Alexander, watching their psychological movement, gave his final pre-arranged signal. The left wing of the cavalry swung into wedge formation and charged. At the same moment every man of the phalanx beat his spear on his shield yelling out the Macedonia war-cry. Glaucias' forces fled back in wild confusion from the heights to the safety of their city where Cleitus was. The last of the Illyrians from the knoll were flushed out while the Macedonians began to advance across the river.
The Illyrians, realizing the trap, rallied and counter-attacked. Alexander's cavalry and light-armed troops held them off from the knoll long enough for his siege catapults to be carried through the ford and set up on the further bank. The Macedonians withdrew a few miles and gave Cleitus and Glaucias three days to regain their confidence. The Illyrian camp lay wide open because of indiscipline; Glaucias dug no trenches and built no palisades, not even bothering to post sentries. Alexander returned with a specially picked mobile force, and he sent in his archers and the Agrianians to finish the job during the night. Most of the Illyrians were still asleep, and the Macedonian slaughtered them where they lay. In desperation, Cleitus set fire to Pelion, so it would not fall into Macedonian hands.
There was no time to capture Cleitus or to negotiate a treaty with the Illyrians as Thebes and Boeotia suddenly revolted. Cletius fled with Glaucias to the Taulantii State where he was offered shelter. Cleitus and Glaucias continued to rule, probably as vassal kings under Macedonia. Cleitus did not regroup his forces, so the Illyrians remained on amicable terms with Macedonia for the rest of Alexander's reign. They even sent a contingent of troops for Alexander's invasion of Persia. Alexander's superior skill as a general was enough of a deterrent to ensure that the Illyrian States remained passive. The year of Cletius' death is not known, but he was succeeded to the throne of the Dardanian State by his son, Bardyllis II around 300 BC - 295 BC, although it is unlikely that he ruled that long.
- "The Journal of Hellenic Studies by Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies (London, England)", 1973, p. 79. Cleitus was evidently the son of Bardylis II the grandson of the very old Bardylis who had fallen in battle against Phillip II in 385 BC.
- The Illyrians by John Wilkes
- The Macedonian Empire: The Era of Warfare Under Philip II and Alexander the Great, 359-323 B.C. by James R. Ashley, 2004, ISBN 0786419180,page 171,"Pelium which was actually lightly held at the time"
- The campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, Aubrey De Sélincourt, ISBN 0-14-044253-7, 1971, page 50, "...his way to Pelium, a town which had been occupied by Cleitus as the most defensible in the district..."
- Alexander the Great: man and god by Ian Worthington
- A History of Macedonia: Volume III: 336-167 B.C. by N. G. L. Hammond, F. W. Walbank
- The Genius of Alexander the Great by N. G. L. Hammond
- The Illyrians by John Wilkes
- The Illyrians to the Albanians -Neritan Ceka- 2005 pg. 84
- Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: a historical biography - Page 131
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