Bellum Batonianum

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Bellum Batonianum
Great Illyrian Revolt (English).svg
Map of the uprising
Date AD 6–9
Location Illyria
Result Roman victory
Illyricum and surrounding provinces completely subjected
Roman Empire
Odrysian kingdom of Thrace
Commanders and leaders
Bato the Daesitiate
Bato the Breucian
Aulus Caecina Severus
Marcus Plautius Silvanus

The Bellum Batonianum (Latin for "war of the Batons"[a]) was a series of military conflicts between an Illyrian alliance and the Roman Empire. The rising began among the Daesitiates of what is now central Bosnia under their leader Bato but were soon joined by the Breuci and numerous other Illyrians. The four-year war, which lasted from AD 6 to 9, saw huge concentrations of Roman forces in the area, (on one occasion the legions and their auxiliaries in a single camp), with whole armies operating across the western Balkans and fighting on more than one front.[1] On 3 August AD 8 the Breuci of the Sava valley surrendered, but it took another winter blockade and a season of fighting before the surrender of the Daesiates came in AD 9. It took the Romans three years of hard fighting to quell the revolt, which was described by the Roman historian Suetonius as the most difficult conflict faced by Rome since the Punic Wars two centuries earlier.[2][3]

All Illyrians were now subject to Roman rule. In the reign of Nero (AD 54-68) the ancient city of Aphrodisias in Asia Minor celebrated the victories of the Caesars with a monument incorporating figured reliefs depicting the imperial triumphs over the individual peoples. Among the several Illyrian groups singled out were the Japodes, Dardanians, Pannonians, Andizetes and Pirustae.[4][5][6]

Origins of the conflict[edit]


The second century BC saw the subjugation of various parts of Illyria by the Romans such as Histria in 177 BC and the Ardaeian kingdom[clarification needed] in 168 BC. Next came the interior of the western Balkans, accumulating in the wars with the Delmatae in 156 and 78 BC, and in 129 BC against the Japodians.

Caesar's assassination encouraged the Illyrians to regain their liberty. They refused to pay taxes and destroyed five cohorts of the army commanded by P.Vatinius, also killing the senator Bebius. The Roman senate charged Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the assassins of Caesar, to lead the army in Illyria and Macedonia. In the winter of 42 BC, he marched from Greece at the head of the army, through roads covered by snow, doubtless coming along the Via Egnatia in order to appear by surprise before the walls of Dyrrhachian, sick with exhaustion and the cold. After this, Brutus took Apollonia and Byllis, pursuing and breaking the power of Gaius Antonius, who withdrew to Buthrotum. In 35 BC, Octavian was compelled to revisit Illyrian lands yet again, this time Dalmatia. At the head of ten legions, he marched from the north and subjagated the Japodes, Liburnians and Pannonians.[7] The most difficult war proved to be with the Dalmatians, in which the young future emperor was wounded twice, as Suetonius writes, first in the knee with a stone from a slingshot and later when a bridge fell during the siege of the Japodian city of Metulum.[8]

In that siege, Octavian saw with his own eyes the bravery of the Illyrians. After managing to conquer the upper part of the city, Octavian asked the inhabitants to surrender their weapons, but they collected their women and children and locked them in the council building, putting guards around it and ordering them to set the building on fire if the men were to suffer any harm. After taking these measures they assailed the Romans in desperation, but since they were down below and the Romans above, they were badly broken and all were killed. Then the assembly guards set the building on fire, as they had been ordered, and many women and children were burned to death; and even more threw themselves on the fire, along with their children. Together with them the city was burned so completely, that although it had been a very large city, not a trace of it remained.[9]

The war[edit]

Illyrian alliance[edit]

The Revolt of 6 AD was one of the few occasions where different Illyrian peoples entered in a coalition against a common enemy. The main Illyrians who contributed to the alliance were the Daesitiates, Breuci, Dalmatae, Andizetes, Pannonians, Pirustae, Liburnians and Japodes( the latter two fighting under an unknown leader).[10] The Daesitiates were led by Bato the Daesitiate, while the Breuci were led by their king Pinnes and Bato the Breucian, their army commander.


Roman Emperor, Tiberius

The uprising began spontaneously and spread quickly. In AD 6, several regiments of Daesitiates, natives of an area that now comprises central Bosnia and Herzegovina, led by Bato the Daesitiate, were gathered in one place to prepare to join Augustus's stepson and senior military commander Tiberius in a war against the Germans. Instead, the Daesitiates mutinied and defeated a Roman force sent against them. The Daesitiates were soon joined by the Breuci[11] led by their king Pinnes and their commander Bato the Breucian, inhabiting the region between the rivers Sava and Drava in modern Croatia. They gave battle to a second Roman force from Moesia led by Caecina Severus, the governor of Moesia. Despite their defeat, they inflicted heavy casualties at the 'Battle of Sirmium'. Bato the Daesitiate moved his forces against Salona, however failing to take the city, he was forced to give up his plans and head south, reaching Apollonia in central Albania. The coalition was now joined by a large number of other Illyrian communities. At risk was the strategic province of Illyricum, recently expanded to include the territory of the Pannonians, who were subjugated by Rome in 12–9 BC. Illyricum was on Italy's eastern flank, exposing the Roman heartland to the fear of a rebel invasion. Panic struck Rome with rumors of some 800,000 Illyrian rebels, 200,000 of which were warriors and 9,000 of those cavalry.

Roman reinforcements[edit]

Augustus fearing an Illyrian invasion of Italy ordered Tiberius to break off operations in Germany and move his main army to Illyricum. Tiberius sent Marcus Valerius Messalla Messallinus, the governor of Dalmatia and Pannonia ahead with troops. The panic broke out in Rome[12][13] and Augustus raised a second task force under Tiberius's nephew Germanicus. He resorted to the compulsory purchase and emancipation of thousands of slaves in order to amass enough troops. This happened for the first time since the aftermath of the Battle of Cannae two centuries earlier. At one moment, in the winter AD 6-7, 10 legions were deployed and an equivalent number of auxilia (70 cohortes, 10 alae and more than 10,000 veterans)[14] In addition, they were assisted by a large number of Thracian troops deployed by their king Rhoemetalces, a Roman amicus (ally)—a grand total of some 100,000 men.[15]

AD 8–9[edit]

One of the decisive battles took place at the river Bathinus. Disagreements within the Breuci camp arose between Bato the Breucian and Pinnes, the latter wanting to continue fighting while the former doubting the capabilities of the inferior Illyrian army. On 3 August AD 8, Bato the Breucian encouraged the surrender of his troops, had the king enslaved to the Romans who proclaimed him leader of the Brueci. Hearing of the surrender of the Breuci, Bato the Daesitiate journeyed to Pannonia and took Bato the Breucian as a prisoner. Bato the Breucian was later sentenced to death by the council. Failing to encourage the Breuci to join his army. Bato the Daesitiate was forced to return to Dalmatia to continue the war. Germanicus was sent against Bato the Daesitiate with a large and well trained army. They faced further reverses on the battlefield and a bitter guerilla war in the Bosnian[16] mountains, but bitter fighting also occurred in southern Pannonia around Mons Almus, modern Fruška Gora near Sirmium. Bato the Daesitiate succeeded in capturing the cities of Splonum, Seretium and Raetinium. The defeats of Germanicus caused Tiberius to come to the aid of the Roman army. The Romans soon captured one Illyrian city after another, eventually besieging Andetrium, where Bato the Daesitiate and his forces were positioned. After heavy casualties on both sides, Tiberius finally succeeded in taking the city.[17]

The final resistance took place in the city of Arduba. As the Roman legions were storming the city walls, the women threw themselves and their children into the fire that had engulfed the city. Facing defeat, Bato the Daesitiate surrendered to the Roman in 9 AD, asking for lives of his warriors to be spared. Asked by Tiberius why he had revolted against him, Bato the Daesitiate answered: "You Romans are alone to blame because you sent the wolves to guard your flocks and not shepherds."[18] Bato the Daesitiate was finally sent to live in exile in Ravenna.


The Romans, aside from committing atrocities[19] during the war, split up Illyrian tribes into different groups from the ones they had previously composed. The administrative civitates of the Osseriates, Colapiani and Varciani were probably created from the Breuci.[20] Other members of tribes were probably sold as slaves[21] or deported to different locations, such as the Azali.[22]

The fighting of the Illyrian revolt had lasting effects on Roman soldiers. Unhappy with their award of swampy and mountainous Pannonian lands for such harsh military service, and with abuses relating to their pay and conditions, Roman soldiers staged a mutiny in AD 14, after Augustus' death, demanding recompense. Tiberius, now the ruling Emperor, dispatched his son, Drusus, to pacify the mutineers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The events were contemporarily known as bellum Batonianum.[23][24] In modern English, it has also been called the "Illyrian revolt of A.D. 6–9",[25] "Pannonian-Dalmatian uprising",[26] and "Baton uprising".[27] In Serbo-Croatian, the name used in modern historiography include "Batonov rat" (Baton's war), "Batonski rat" (War of [the] Baton(s))",[28] "Batonski ustanak" (Uprising of [the] Baton(s)), etc.


  1. ^ J. J. Wilkes (1992), p. 183: "...Pannonian Illyrians between Italy and the East. That could only be done at a great cost and not before a rebellion of Illyricum brought the regime of Augustus to the brink of disaster."
  2. ^ Dio Cassius 55.29-34.
  3. ^ Suetonius, Tiberius 16, 17.
  4. ^ Moscy 1974.
  5. ^ Anamali 1987.
  6. ^ Smith 1988 (Aphrodisias).
  7. ^ Netritan Ceka (2005), Iliret.
  8. ^ Suetonius Divus Augustus 20.
  9. ^ Appian, Illyricum 21.
  10. ^ M. Zaninović, Liburnia Militaris, Opusc. Archeol. 13, 43-67 (1988), UDK 904.930.2(497.13)>>65<<, page 59.
  11. ^ Wilkes (1992), p. 207: "The rising began among the Daesitiates of central Bosnia under their leader Bato but they were soon joined by the Breuci. The four-year war which lasted from AD 6 to 9 saw huge..."
  12. ^ Velleius Paterculus, 2.110-111.
  13. ^ Dio Cassius, 55.30-1.
  14. ^ Velleius Paterculus, 2.113.
  15. ^ Rhoemetalces's kingdom was later annexed by emperor Claudius.
  16. ^ Wilkes (1992), p. 216: "Further east the formidable Daesitiates of central Bosnia retained their name. The great rebellion of AD 6 had been led by their chief Bato, and their relatively low total of 103 decuriae likely reflects..."
  17. ^ Aleksander Stipcevic (1990).
  18. ^ Cassius Dio, 56.16.
  19. ^ Wilkes (1992), page 208.
  20. ^ J. J. Wilkes, 'The Danubian Provinces', in Alan Bowman (ed., 1996), The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 10: The Augustan Empire, 43 BC-AD 69, ISBN 0-521-26430-8, page 579.
  21. ^ Wilkes (1992), page 207: "... The war was a savage affair and the main resistance to the Romans came from the Breuci and Amantini in the Sava valley. The young males were rounded up and sold as slaves in Italy, a quite exceptional action ..."
  22. ^ Wilkes (1992), page 217.
  23. ^ M. Garrido-Hory; Groupe international de recherches sur l'esclavage dans l'antiquité (2002). Routes et marchés d'esclaves: 26e colloque du GIREA, Besançon, 27-29 septembre 2001. Presses Univ. Franche-Comté. p. 67. ISBN 978-2-84627-081-6. Révolte connue sous le nom de bellum Batonianum = CIL V, 3346 
  24. ^ Lazar Trifunović (May 1988). Yugoslavia: monuments of art : from prehistory to present day. Hippocrene Books. having suppressed a great Illyrian rebellion, the so-called "bellum Batonianum" 
  25. ^ Averil Cameron; Peter Garnsey (1998). The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 412–. ISBN 978-0-521-30200-5. 
  26. ^ Alfonz Lengyel; George T. Radan (1980). The Archaeology of Roman Pannonia. University Press of Kentucky. After the suppression of the great Pannonian- Dalmatian uprising, the Pannonian tribes made no further attempt to restore their independence, and it became more and more apparent that they were gradually assimilated into the Roman ... 
  27. ^ Aleksandar Stipčević (1977). The Illyrians: history and culture. Noyes Press. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-8155-5052-5. 
  28. ^ Jugoslavenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti. Institut u Zadru (1960). Radovi Instituta Jugoslavenske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti u Zadru. Batonski rat (bellum Batonianum) 

Further reading[edit]

Ancient sources:

Secondary source:

Detailed and critical commentary of the sources is given in:

  • M. Šašel Kos, A Historical Outline of the Region Between Aquileia, the Adriatic and Sirmium in Cassius Dio and Herodian (Ljubljana 1986), pp. 178–190.
  • P. M. Swan, The Augustan Succession: a Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio’s Roman History Books 55-56 (9 B.C. - A.D. 14). American Classical Studies 47. (Oxford & New York 2004), pp. 195–222, 235-250.
  • A. J. Woodman, Velleius Paterculus: The Tiberian Narrative (2.94-131) (Cambridge 1977).

Useful historical narratives of the events in English can be found in:

  • J. J. Wilkes, Dalmatia (London 1969), pp. 69–77.
  • D. Dzino, Illyricum in Roman Politics 229 BC - AD 68 (Cambridge 2010), pp. 149–153.