Pirate Queen Teuta of Illyria
However powerful it became, Ancient Rome didn’t always get its own way. This was certainly the case in the Adriatic Sea, where they never quite managed to tame the Illyrians, a small but strong nation, feared and respected for their sea faring prowess. But not for them the life of trade. Instead, under the strict rule of King Agron, the Illyrian people preferred to attack trade ships and ports, pillaging whatever they could and getting fat and rich off the profits.
King Agron loved nothing better than joining in the piracy and then partying with the crews of his ships afterward. So fond was the monarch of enjoying the spoils of war that, after learning that his forces had recorded a famous victory over the Aetolians, he literally drank himself to death. His second wife, Teuta, was required to step in and rule over the Illyrians until Argon’s son Pinnes was old enough to assume his destiny.
As it turned out, Teuta was every bit the warrior her deceased husband was. Almost straight away she got busy upsetting her nation’s neighbors, giving her royal approval to her subjects’ pirating raids. Not only did this help keep her people wealthy, it also allowed her to expand her kingdom, most notably with the capture of the island of Corcyra after the Battle of Paxos. Control of this island meant control of the main trade routes between mainland Greece and Greek cities in Italy. While the Roman Republic might have been happy to look the other way in the past, now it felt threatened and decided to act.
Rome sent two ambassadors to meet with Teuta, hoping to convince her to put an end to her people’s piracy in the Adriatic. They severely underestimated their adversary. The Queen declared piracy to be a legitimate business, put one of the ambassadors to death and imprisoned the other. When news of this reached Rome, the Senate declared war on Illyria. The year was 229 BC.
The Illyrian War was not exactly a close-run contest. Rome sent a huge force, some 20,000 men on 200 ships, across the Adriatic. Faced with such a foe, Teuta’s generals quickly surrendered, and their pirate Queen was forced to retreat. After a brief siege, Teuta herself surrendered, signing a treaty that forced her to recognize the rule of Rome, to give up most of her lands. Her tyranny of the seas was over. What became of Teuta after her defeat to Rome is not known. According to some sources, the Queen, so distraught at her loss of power, threw herself off a mountain, a fittingly dramatic end to such a colorful life.