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Reign393–358 BC
Bornc. 448 BC
Diedc. 358 BC (aged 90)
Erigon Valley

Bardylis (also Bardyllis /bɑːrˈdɪlɪs/; Ancient Greek: Βάρδυλις; c. 448 – c. 358 BC) was an Illyrian king, and the founder of the first attested Illyrian dynasty.[1][2][3][4] During his reign, Bardylis united many southern Illyrian tribes under his realm and defeated the Macedonians and Molossians several times, reigning over Upper Macedonia and Lynkestis. He also led raids against Epirus, but his soldiers were quickly expelled from the region.[3]

According to ancient sources, Bardylis lived to over 90 years. According to these sources, Bardylis lived a long time and was at an advanced age when he faced Philip II of Macedon in 358 BC and at whose hands he died[5] after Philip rejected his offer of peace based on Bardylis retaining conquered lands.[6] Grabos II appears as another powerful Illyrian king after Bardylis's death. Bardylis' son Cleitus revolted with the help of Taulantian king Glaukias against Alexander the Great in the siege of Pelium undertaken in 335 BC.


The name Bardylis is considered to be connected with the Albanian adjective i bardhë "white", ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *bʰór(h₁)ǵos < *bʰreh₁ǵ- ("to gleam, shine"). It has been associated to the Messapic names Barzidihi, Barduli and Barletta.[7][8][9][10] The explanation of the name Bardylis as a combination of Albanian i bardhë and yll "star" is considered a folk etymology.[11] German linguist Paul Kretschmer argues that the name Bardylis is connected with the Messapic word "bardulos", which according to him means "grey".[12]


Bardylis was born around the year 448 BC. Bardylis became king despite his humble roots. A charcoal-burner and coal miner,[13] he gained power by force and enjoyed the sympathy of the Dardanian warriors because he divided the spoils of war fairly and impartially. Bardylis did not succeed Sirras, but rather the previous Illyrian king who had entered into a peace treaty with Amyntas II over the control of Lynkestis. Bardylis succeeded in bringing the various Illyrian tribes together and soon made Dardania into a formidable power in the Balkans, resulting in a change in relations with Macedon. There is nothing on record to identify the Dardanian centre of power, save for the fact that Philip's victory in 358 BC involved him gaining control of Lynkestis. Therefore, Bardylis' capital may have been located in this region. However, the seat of power may have been located in the heart of the Dardanian State, corresponding to what is now Kosovo.[citation needed]

Bardylis, unlike previous Illyrian kings, developed both the military and economic aspects of his state. His subjects, the Damastini, began to issue fine silver coins from c. 395 BC in the Illyrian city of Damastion. These coins adopted a version of the standard coins and some emblems of the then powerful Chalcidian League. They also exported silver in ingot form. Other coins were issued from around 365 BC in Daparria, a mining city in what is now Kosovo which used the same standard and types as the coinage of the Damastini. The distribution of the coins suggest that Bardylis built up trade within the central Balkans and northwards to the Danube, which was far from the areas dominated by the Greek traders. Dionysius of Syracuse tried to take advantage of Bardylis's growing trade when he established colonies in the Adriatic. It is probable that Bardylis, unlike previous Illyrian kings, built a few fortified cities, for Lychnidus and Pelion in Lynkestis were walled sites probably before the accession of Philip.[14]

Bardylis was an ambitious Illyrian ruler, who (according to Tertullian) after seeing a sign in a dream, embarked on a series of military victories which allowed him to extend Illyrian rule over the Molossians and other regional tribes, as far as the frontiers of Macedon.


Macedonian campaigns[edit]

It seems that Bardylis opposed the agreement between Amyntas III and Sirras and invaded Macedon in 393 BC. Bardylis used new warfare tactics never before used by any of the Illyrians. He won a decisive battle against Amyntas III, expelled him, and ruled Macedon through a puppet king. In 392 BC, Amyntas III allied himself with the Thessalians and was able to bring Macedon back under his rule from the Dardanians. However, the Illyrians were constantly raiding the northern frontiers of Macedon. After continuous invasions, Bardylis was able to force Macedon to pay him an annual tribute in 372 BC.

In 370 BC, the Macedonian king Amyntas III died, having restored the fortunes of his kingdom after the Illyrian disasters from earlier in his reign. His marriage to Eurydice, daughter of Lyncestian prince Sirras produced three sons and a daughter. His eldest son was Alexander II. In 369 BC, Bardylis prevented Alexander II from eliminating the Dardanians from Macedonia. After the battle, Bardylis was said to have briefly held Philip II, the youngest brother of Alexander II, as a hostage. In 368 BC, Alexander II was succeeded by his brother Perdiccas III.

The Paeonians began a series of raids against the Macedonians in support of a Dardanian invasion from the north. Perdiccas III, king of Macedonia, humiliated by the indignity of having to pay tribute to the Dardanians, marched north in the spring of 359 BC with the Macedonian army to resolve the issue by battle.[15] This was not the first occasion in which he had fought against Bardylis, but the Macedonians lost the battle. The king himself was among the 4,000 Macedonian dead. The remainder, panic-stricken after having become exceedingly afraid of the Illyrian army, lost heart for continuing the war. This was the worst loss suffered by the Macedonians in their efforts to free themselves from the Illyrian invaders. The Dardanians followed up their victory by expanding their control southward to Lake Lychnitis (Lake Ohrid) and westward into Upper Macedonia. Through the actions of Bardylis, the Dardanians had brought Macedon close to collapse.

When Philip II, the youngest of the three brothers assumed the throne, he was determined to subdue the Illyrians under Bardylis once and for all, and thus destroy the Illyrian menace.

Raid on Epirus[edit]

In 385 BC, the Illyrians formed an alliance with the powerful tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse. The purpose of the agreement was the restoration to the throne of the Molossian Alcetas who had become a refugee living at the court of Dionysius. Both sides were interested in the benefits of such an alliance as it would secure Illyrian power and weaken the influence of the Spartans and Macedonians in Epirus. This would also give Dionysius an opportunity to strengthen trade opportunities along the shores of the Adriatic and Ionian seas.

Dionysius sent 2,000 men and 5,000 weapons to the Illyrians who were prepared to go to war. With these new supplies, Bardylis and his army invaded Epirus and slaughtered 15,000 Molossians. However, this action came to naught after the Spartans under Agesilaus intervened[16] and expelled[17] the Illyrians from the region.[18]

In 360 BC, another Illyrian attack forced the Molossian king Arymbas to evacuate his non-combatant population to Aetolia and he let the Illyrians loot the region again. The stratagem worked and the Molossians fell upon the Illyrians who were encumbered with booty and defeated them.[19] In the same year Arymbas also defeated the Illyrians after they raided and looted Epirus.

Battle of Erigon Valley[edit]

In 359 BC, Macedon was able to return to the field of battle against the Illyrians, after it had overcome the internal state of political chaos and removed the risk of attack from other opponents. When Philip II assumed the Macedonian throne, substantial areas of upper Macedonia remained under the control of Bardylis. In order to concentrate on the internal struggle necessary to secure his crown, Philip reaffirmed the treaty the Dardanians had imposed on Macedonia by force of arms and sealed the alliance by his marriage to Audata, great-granddaughter of Bardylis. This action undoubtedly deterred a full-scale Dardanian invasion of Macedon at a time when the country was most vulnerable.[20]

By the spring of 358 BC, Philip had at last secured his throne and was now able to address the occupation of north-west Macedon by Bardylis. When word of the mobilization of the Macedonian army came to Bardylis's attention, he proposed to Philip that they sign a treaty to maintain the status quo, provided that both parties maintain the cities that were already in their possession at the time. This was, of course, unacceptable to Philip because he was not prepared to accept any terms other than a full Dardanian withdrawal from north-west Macedonia. Bardylis, however, was not inclined to give up his gains without a fight. Philip mobilized every able-bodied soldier in Macedon for the battle. Bardylis, as before, was not likely to take any prisoners, so any Macedonian defeat would result in crippling casualties.

Although the two armies were almost equal in numbers – Bardylis's 500 cavalry and 10,000 infantry against Philip's force of 600 cavalry and 10,000 infantry – the Macedonians were far better trained and equipped. The armies met in battle on a plain in the Erigon Valley near Bitola, just south of Dardania. Bardylis initially deployed in a linear formation with his strongest troops in the centre, similar to the phalanx formation. Philip concentrated his best troops, the hypaspists, on his right flank. As Philip advanced to engage Bardylis, his cavalry turned one or two of Bardylis' flanks, forcing him to redeploy into a defensive square formation. The Illyrians for quite some time withstood the assaults of the enemy. At first neither party had control of the battlefield, and so the battle continued for a long time. Eventually Philip's hypaspists succeeded in penetrating the right corner of the Dardanian forces, which other Macedonian troops were able to widen. This threw Bardylis's entire formation into disorder, after which it was quickly broken by the phalanx and routed from the battlefield.[21]

Thus Philip II of Macedon was able to defeat Bardylis. Diodorus Siculus[22] (1st century BC) writes of the event:

And at first for a long while the battle was evenly poised because of the exceeding gallantry displayed on both sides, and as many were slain and still more wounded, the fortune of battle vacillated first one way then the other, being constantly swayed by the valorous deeds of the combatants; but later as the horsemen pressed on from the flank and rear and Philip with the flower of his troops fought with true heroism, the mass of the Illyrians was compelled to take hastily to flight.When the pursuit had been kept up for a considerable distance and many had been slain in their flight, Philip recalled the Macedonians with the trumpet and erecting a trophy of victory buried his own dead, while the Illyrians, having sent ambassadors and withdrawn from all the Macedonian cities, obtained peace. But more than seven thousand Illyrians were slain in this battle.

The battle had cost the Dardanians 7,000 casualties, almost three quarters of their initial army. Bardylis himself was probably killed in this battle as he rode on horseback at the advanced age of 90. Although the Macedonians finally won the battle, Philip II saw that he was not able to follow the enemy and chase them. The Illyrians later sent representatives and settled terms for peace, releasing all the cities they had conquered from Macedonia. In this battle, the troubling issue of Lynkestis was resolved, changing the situation in the western borders in favour of Macedonia. Philip secured Macedon's north-west frontier by annexing Dardanian territory as far as Lake Lynkcesta (Lake Ohrid). This would form a defensive buffer against any future Illyrian raids attempted through the Drilon Valley. The borders between the Illyrian and the Macedonians remained around Lake Ohrid for a long time.[23]


Bardylis had a son named Cleitus. Cleitus' son was presumably Bardylis II. The Illyrian princess Bircenna, who married the Molossian king Pyrrhus of Epirus (c. 290 BC), was the daughter of Bardylis II.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stipčević 1977, p. 48
  2. ^ Wilkes 1996, p. 120: "...he rejected an offer by the Illyrian ruler Bardylis of a treaty..."
  3. ^ a b Hammond 1967, p. 278: "Bardylis, the founder of a powerful Illyrian dynasty, reached the same zone with a large army and then hastened on to plunder the possessions of the Molossians..."
  4. ^ Šašel Kos 2002, p. 106"... Bardylis , the first attested Illyrian king..."
  5. ^ Woodward 1993, p. 175: "Bardylis, king of, defeated and killed by Philip of Macedonia, 359 — Cleitus, his son, revolts from Alexander and is subdued."
  6. ^ Borza 1990, p. 202: "The Illyrian king Bardylis offered peace based upon a status quo, but Philip insisted on an Illyrian withdrawal from the region."
  7. ^ Ivić 1987, p. 59
  8. ^ Rosetti 1973, p. 52
  9. ^ Demiraj 1997, p. 90
  10. ^ Bejko 2004, p. 108
  11. ^ Mann 1977, p. iii
  12. ^ Toynbee 1969, p. 116 : "or 'Bardylis' (Diodorus, Book XVI, chap. 4, § 3), or 'Bardyllis' (Plutarch, Pyrrhus, chap. 9) is related to the word 'bardulos', meaning 'grey', in the 'Messapian' (i.e. Calabrian) language."
  13. ^ Wilkes 1996, p. 120
  14. ^ Hammond 1994
  15. ^ Ashley 2004, p. 111–112
  16. ^ Hammond 1986, p. 470: "Sparta had the alliance of Thessaly, Macedonia, and Molossia in Epirus, which she had helped to stave off an Illyrian invasion."
  17. ^ Diodorus Siculus. Library, Book 15.13.1.
  18. ^ Hammond 1994, p. 428: "Bardyllis who seize power and set himself up as king of the Dardani...Forming and alliance with Dionysius tyrant of Syracuse he killed 15,000 Molossians."
  19. ^ Diodorus Siculus. Library, Books 14.92, 15.2, 16.2.
  20. ^ Carney 2000, p. 274
  21. ^ Ashley 2004, p. 111–112
  22. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library,16.4
  23. ^ Hammond 1998, p. 11
  24. ^ King 2017, p. 148