Teuta: The Pirate Queen of Illyria

Queen Teuta of Illyria Photo courtesy of http://www.illyrians.org

          After a successful campaign against the Aetolians in 231BC, King Agron of Illyria “took to carousals and other convivial excesses, from which he fell into a pleurisy that ended fatally in a few days.” (Pol 2.4.6)  Upon his death Teuta was appointed regent for her stepson, Pinnes.  At the time, piracy was a normal means of business against everyone in the Adriatic Sea, to include the Italian shipping trade.  For the most part, Rome ignored the activities of the Illyrians, until the Illyrians began to occupy northern Epirus.  As acting Queen, Teuta handed out letters of marquees to her captains allowing them to pillage as they saw fit.  It was not until the Roman Senate started being approached by merchants who had lost their ships and goods to the Illyrian Pirates, that they felt compelled to step in and put a stop to Teuta.  They sent two ambassadors, Gaius and Lucius Coruncanious to approach Teuta, in hopes that she would put a stop to her pirating.  Unfortunately for Rome, Teuta was quite pleased with the revenue she was receiving from her pirates.  About the same time the ambassadors arrived in Illyria, Teuta was busy putting down revolts within Illyria and besieging Issa, who refused to submit to her reign, probably not the best time for the ambassadors to seek an audience.  Being distracted, Teuta listened half-heartedly to the ambassadors’ pleas, replying that “she would see to it that Rome suffered no public wrong from Illyria, but that, as for private wrongs, it was contrary to the custom of the Illyrians kings to hinder their subjects form wining booty from the sea.” (Pol. 2.8.8)  The younger ambassador stepped forth and told her in plain language that he disagreed with her countries customs, and hoped that they would change them to suit the Romans.   Teuta’s response to this personal insult was to order the assassination of the younger ambassador.  Upon Rome hearing of this assassination, they sent armed fleets with legions over to Illyria, the beginning of the First Illyrian War.  Teuta, being forewarned of the invasion, seized all the possible landing spots for the Roman ships along the Illyrian coasts and started besieging the cities that were under Roman control.  She was very successful, and possibly could have held off and won the war, if not for Demetrius, a high ranking Illyrian with designs on the throne for himself. He communicated with the Roman consul his willingness to hand over the island Corcyra and its Illyrian garrison.  This act of treason was the turning point in the Illyrian War.  From this point on the Romans slowly began to gain ground in conquering Illyria.  Facing defeat, Teuta, along with a few of her loyal followers, escaped to an island on the Rhizon River.  The Consul placed the majority of Illyria under Demetrius, practically making him the new regent, and returned to Rome.  In early spring 228BC, Teuta sent an envoy to Rome to sign a treaty ending the war.  Through her envoy, she agreed to pay all tributes that they imposed, to relinquish most of Illyria, and finally agree to not sail more than two unarmed ships south of Lissus at a time.  Lastly she reinstated Pinnes as the rightful ruler of Illyria.  Like Teuta’s life prior to her becoming regent, her life after losing Illyria to the Romans has become one of histories mysteries.  Demetrius later broke his treaty with Rome and declared himself King of Illyria, pushing aside the child Pinnes, and initiated the Second Illyrian War.  Pinnes was finally declared King in his own right but died at the age of 15 before he was able to actually rule. 

     There is only one true image of Queen Tueta from her time still available today, which is a bust of her.  It is currently being housed in a museum in Algeria.  In 2000, Algeria published her likeness on the reverse side of one of their coins.  It is unknown where that image came from.  There have been paintings done of her throughout time, but they are either done in the Greek style of later centuries, or portraying her in Elizabethian dress, which again is wrong.


Image of Queen Teuta on Albanian currency Photo courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.com



 Badian, E. “Notes on Roman Policy in Illyria (230-210 B.C.).” Papers of the British School at Rome

      20(1952). http://www.jstor.org/stable/40310489 (accessed 6 Oct 2011).

 Eckstein, A.M. “Polybius, Demetrious of Pharus, and the Origins of the Second Illyrian War.” Classical

      Philology 89, no. 1 (Jan., 1994).  http://www.jstor.org/stable/269751 (accessed 11 Oct 2011).

 Polybius. Histories: Volume I  1923 Loeb translation.

“Queen Tueta of Illyria bust.” http://www.illyrians.org/images/queen%20Teuta%203rd%20Century%20BC.jpg (accessed

      12 Oct 2011).

Salisbury, Joyce E.  Encyclopedia of Women of the Ancient World. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.,


Teuta of Illyria.  “Queen Teuta on the 100 Leke coin, issued in 2000.”  Wikipedia web site. 

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teuta_of_Illyria (accessed: 13 Oct 2011).


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6 responses to “Teuta: The Pirate Queen of Illyria

  1. maximus4720

    I have always enjoyed reading about Pirates but you never her about women pirates. I thought this was way interesting and awesome. Too bad she didn’t win the war, who’s to say what could of happened if she had won. Good background and history about Teuta. Did she have other crew members that were girls too, or did she control all the guys? ha ha

  2. hadrian73

    This was an interesting blog. Did you find what size of boat/ship they used, and what weapons? Also were they set up as navy & marine, or more like that of “Black Beards” era of pirates?

    • yllbardh

      Her pirates used small and fast liburnian ships which afterwards when Teuta’s Kingdom was subdued by romans they incorporated liburnian ship in to their navy, which later compromised mostly of liburnian ships.

  3. arijeta

    The person who betrayed teuta was her daughters husband who was in the roman army <——– my dad told me that nd hes a true kosovan so its true

  4. Pingback: Anonimo Polluce Corsaro? - Page 7

  5. Arijeta, I am curious as to where your father obtained his facts. I am not disputing, just curious. I did extensive research on Teuta, and if he has access to other information, I would be interested in reading it.

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