Apollonia (Illyria)

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Apollonia, Albania (by Pudelek) - Monument of Agonothetes.JPG
Monument of Agonothetes
Apollonia (Illyria) is located in Albania
Apollonia (Illyria)
Shown within Albania
LocationFier County, Albania
Coordinates40°43′18.44″N 19°28′23.04″E / 40.7217889°N 19.4730667°E / 40.7217889; 19.4730667Coordinates: 40°43′18.44″N 19°28′23.04″E / 40.7217889°N 19.4730667°E / 40.7217889; 19.4730667

Apollonia (Albanian: Apolonia; Greek: Ἀπολλωνία κατ᾿ Ἐπίδαμνον or Ἀπολλωνία πρὸς Ἐπίδαμνον, Apollonia kat' Epidamnon or Apollonia pros Epidamnon) was an ancient Greek city[1] located on the right bank of the Aous river (modern-day Vjosë). Its ruins are situated in the Fier County, next to the village of Pojani (Polina), in modern-day Albania. Apollonia was founded in 588 BC by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth[2] on a site where native Illyrian tribes[3] lived, and was perhaps the most important of the several classical towns known as Apollonia. Apollonia flourished in the Roman period and was home to a renowned school of philosophy, but began to decline in the 3rd century AD when its harbor started silting up as a result of an earthquake. It was abandoned by the end of Late Antiquity.

The name of the city is mentioned among the modern bishoprics of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania (Apollonia and Fier). Apollonia is also a titular see of the Latin Church.


Apollonia in antiquity.

The site of Apollonia lay on the territory of the Taulantii, a cluster of Illyrian tribes that remained closely involved with the settlement for centuries and lived alongside the Greek colonists.[4] The city was said to have originally been named Gylakeia after its founder, Gylax,[5] but the name was later changed to honor the god Apollo. This wasn't the only city named for the god Apollo. There were 24 other cities named Apollonia, but Illyria's Apollonia was the most important and played a major role as a trading intermediary between the Hellenists and the Illyrians. It is estimated that the city had about 60,000 inhabitants.

It is mentioned by Strabo in his Geographica as "an exceedingly well-governed city",[6] with a fountain, gymnasium,[7] etc. Aristotle considered Apollonia an important[5] example of an oligarchic system, as the descendants of the Greek colonists controlled the city and helped Illyrians to learn how to govern. The city grew rich on the slave trade and local agriculture, as well as its large harbour, said to have been able to hold a hundred ships at a time. The city also benefited from the local supply of asphalt[8][9] which was a valuable commodity in ancient times, for example for caulking ships. The remains of a late sixth-century temple, located just outside the city, were reported in 2006; it is only the fifth known stone temple found in present-day Albania.[10]

Apollonia, like Dyrrachium further north, was an important port on the Illyrian coast as the most convenient link between Brundusium and northern Greece, and as one of the western starting points of the Via Egnatia leading east to Thessaloniki and Byzantium in Thrace.[11] It had its own mint, stamping coins showing a cow suckling her calf on the obverse and a double stellate pattern on the reverse,[12] which have been found as far away as the basin of the Danube.

The city was for a time included among the dominions of Pyrrhus of Epirus. In 229 BC, it came under the control of the Roman Republic, to which it was firmly loyal; it was rewarded in 168 BC with booty seized from Gentius, the defeated king of Illyria. In 148 BC, Apollonia became part of the Roman province of Macedonia, specifically of Epirus Nova.[13] In the Roman Civil War between Pompey and Julius Caesar, it supported the latter, but fell to Marcus Junius Brutus in 48 BC. The later Roman emperor Augustus studied in Apollonia in 44 BC under the tutelage of Athenodorus of Tarsus; it was there that he received news of Caesar's murder.

Apollonia flourished under Roman rule and was noted by Cicero in his Philippicae as magna urbs et gravis, a great and important city. Christianity was established in the city at an early stage, and bishops from Apollonia were present during the First Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451). Its decline, however, began in the 3rd century AD, when an earthquake changed the path of the Aoös, causing the harbour to silt up and the inland area to become a malaria-ridden swamp. The city became increasingly uninhabitable as the inland swamp expanded, and the nearby settlement of Avlona (modern-day Vlorë) became dominant. By the end of antiquity, the city was largely depopulated, hosting only a small Christian community. This community (which probably is part of the site of the old city) built on a nearby hill the church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, (Albanian: Shën Mëri), part of the Ardenica Monastery.

In June 2020, part of the site was vandalized by unknown individuals. Two columns were knocked down, resulting in the almost complete collapse of the Nymphaeum. According to the site's director, the damage might be "irreparable" and likely occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown. The incident was condemned by Albanian archeologists and the President of Albania, Ilir Meta.[14]

Discovery and excavation results[edit]

Capital of Monument of Agonothetes

The city seems to have sunk with the rise of Vlora.[11] It was "rediscovered" by European classicists in the 18th century, though it was not until the Austrian occupation of 1916–1918 that the site was investigated by archaeologists. Their work was continued by a French team between 1924–1938. Parts of the site were damaged during the Second World War. After the war, an Albanian team undertook further work from 1948 onwards, although much of the site remains unexcavated to this day. Some of the team's archeological discoveries are on display within the monastery, known as the Museum of Apollonia (opened in 1958) and other artifacts from Apollonia are in the capital Tirana. Unfortunately, during the anarchy that followed the collapse of the communist party in 1990 and reversion to capitalism, the archeological collection was plundered and the museum was temporarily closed. The ruins were also frequently dug up by plunderers for relics to be sold to collectors abroad. In December 2011, a new museum opened, under the directorship of Marin Haxhimihali.[15] It replaced an older museum dating from 1985, and was funded by UNESCO's MDG-F Joint Programme ”Culture and Heritage for Social and Economic Development”.

In 2006, archaeologists discovered a Greek temple which dates back to the 6th century BC just outside of the Apollonia.[16]

In August 2010, a French-Albanian team of archaeologists unearthed a bust of a Roman soldier, 50 years after the discoveries of other full body statues in the 1958–1960 period expeditions, led by Albanian scholar Selim Islami and Russian Professor Blavatski.[17]

A German-Albanian team has been working on the Hellenistic theatre at Albania, throwing light on the development of Greek theatres and also local variants[18]

Episcopal history[edit]

Church of Saint Mary in Apollonia

A bishopric was founded there circa 400 AD but suppressed around 599. One of the participants in the Council of Ephesus in 431 was a Felix who signed once as Bishop of Apollonia and Byllis, at another time as Bishop of Apollonia. Some assume that the two towns formed a single episcopal see, others suppose he was, strictly speaking, Bishop only of Apollonia, but was temporarily in charge also of Byllis during a vacancy of that see (apostolic administrator). One of the participants at a council held in Constantinople in 448 signed as Paulus Episcopus Apolloniada al. Apolloniatarum, civitatis sanctae ecclesiae, but it is uncertain whether he was associated with this Apollonia. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, Eusebius subscribed simply as Bishop of Apollonia. In the letter of the bishops of Epirus Nova to the Byzantine Emperor Leo I in 458, Philocharis subscribes as Bishop of what the manuscripts call "Vallidus", and which editors think should be corrected to "Byllis". Whether Philocharis is to be considered Bishop also of Apollonia depends on the interpretation of the position of Felix in 431.[19][20][21]

Latin titular see[edit]

Odeon Theater of Apollonia.
Statue of a Magistrate found in Apollonia

The Annuario Pontificio lists Apollonia as a titular see, thus recognizing that it was once a residential diocese, a suffragan of the archbishopric of Dyrrachium,[22] It grants no such recognition to Byllis.[23] Metropolitan of the Roman province of Epirus Novus.

Notable locals[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Wilkes 1995, p. 96; Wilson 2006, p. 594; Chamoux 2003, p. 97.
  2. ^ Wilkes 1995, pp. 96–98.
  3. ^ Hammond 1976, p. 426; Larson 2001, p. 162.
  4. ^ Wilkes 1995, p. 98.
  5. ^ a b Hansen & Nielsen 2004, p. 328.
  6. ^ Strabo. Geographica, 7.8.316.
  7. ^ Strabo. Geographica,Book IX, Chapter 3, 16
  8. ^ Strabo. Geographica. pp. VII.5.8.
  9. ^ Aristotle. De mirabilibus auscultationibus. pp. 842 b.27.
  10. ^ University of Cincinnati (6 January 2006). "Researchers Discover Greek Temple In Albania Dating Back To 6th Century B.C." Science Daily. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2008.
  11. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Apollonia s.v. (1)". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 186.
  12. ^ "Illyria, Apollonia - Ancient Greek Coins - WildWinds.com". Archived from the original on 2014-02-09. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  13. ^ Bowden 2003, p. 14.
  14. ^ https://www.skai.gr/news/world/alvania-vandalismos-sto-nymfaio-tis-arxaioellinikis-apollonias
  15. ^ "UNESCO Office in Venice: Apollonia Archaeological Museum reopens after 20 years of closure". Archived from the original on 2014-04-21. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  16. ^ "Researchers Discover Greek Temple In Albania Dating Back To 6th Century B.C." Archived from the original on 2018-06-22. Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  17. ^ Murati, Violeta (15 August 2010). "In Apollonia the bust of a Roman athlete is unearthed". Standard (in Albanian). Archived from the original on 17 August 2010. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  18. ^ "DAI Research Projects Apollonia". Archived from the original on 2011-08-05.
  19. ^ Daniele Farlati-Jacopo Coleti, Illyricum Sacrum, vol. VII, Venezia 1817, pp. 395-396 Archived 2016-12-22 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Michel Lequien, Oriens christianus in quatuor Patriarchatus digestus, Parigi 1740, Vol. II, coll. 248-249
  21. ^ "Louis Petit, "Byllis" in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1908)". Archived from the original on 2014-09-29. Retrieved 2013-12-09.
  22. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 835
  23. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), "Sedi titolari", pp. 819-1013

External links[edit]

Sources and external links[edit]