Ancient States & Regions
Map of Dardania

Dardania: Kingdom & Land of the Dardanians

Dardania is the name of the ancient region and state corresponding to the current territory of Kosova/Kosovo, current southern Serbia, northern part of North Macedonia, and eastern Montenegro. The population inhabiting Dardania were the Dardanians, a tribe part of the larger Illyrian population.

Earliest Mention & Geographic Position

They are mentioned for the first time as allies of the Hittites and their king Muwatall II (r. 1295-1272 B.C.E.) against the Egyptians led by their pharaoh Rameses II (r. 1279-1213 B.C.E.); the Egyptian account mentions the Dardanians in the context of the battle of Kadesh between the Egyptians and the Hittites. It’s unclear whether this referred to the Dardanians in the Balkan territory or the semi-mythical Dardanians responsible for the foundation of Troy. 

Dardania in Europe or Illyrian Dardania was formed as a kingdom during the mid IV-th century B.C.E. It bordered the lands of the Triballi (Thracian tribe) and the Autariatae (Illyrian tribe), in the southwest it approached the lands of the Taulantii (in current northeast Albania or the area of the Illyrian tribe of the Pirustae). In the east, it stretched up to the southern Morava valley. In the south, it included the lands of upper Axios (Vardar), specifically the area around Scupi (Skopje). These borders were not strictly fixed in different times, but the realm of the Dardanians remained focused in the aforementioned area.

Emblem of kingdom of Dardania (a rather fictional recreation resembling more a Medieval European coat of arms than ancient state symbols). Pavao Ritter Vitezovic. 1701.

Anti-Macedonian Activities

Since 340 Five B.C.E., inhabitants of Dardania appear constantly in sources as enemies of Macedon. Using a certain domination over Paeonia, a region that lied in-between Dardania and Macedon, the Dardanians made constant raids against the Macedonian kingdom. They must have caused severe damages to the Macedonians until Philip II rose to power. As Justin reports, Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336) mentions the Dardanians among the tribes that were forced to recognize the rule of Philip II. Yet, not long after, “during the wars of the Diadochi, at the time Lysimachus created his empire, from 284 to 281 B.C.E., the Dardanians seem to have evaded Macedonian rule, and…became a constant threat on the northern borders of Macedonia” (Petrović).

In Classical period inhabitants were organized in villages with very few, small urban centres. The most notable of such centres was Damastion (somewhere in Novoberde), established sometime during the IV-th century. Damastion seems to have been the first Dardanian and Illyrian city to mint its own coins. Scupi (Skopje) was another important center even serving as capital of the Dardanian kingdom for some time.

During 280-279, Celtic tribes overrun the Dardanian territory. The state managed to deal with these waves as they continued southwards towards Macedon and Greece. The Dardanian, as inferred by Justin, had by now become a strong regional power, even having the luxury of offering 20,000 troops of their own troops as help to neighbouring Macedon. These Celts/Gauls were later defeated in Delphi and then almost completely crushed by the Dardanians on their way back north. 

Walls of the castle in Prizren (or ancient Theranda in Dardania) where materials dated since 1,500 B.C.E. onward have been found.

During the reign of Longarus (231-206), the Dardanian kingdom tried to expand south at the expense of Paeonia and Macedon, especially after 221. In 219, Dardanian troops took control of the whole Paeonia and their largest city, Bylazora (near modern Knezhje). The Macedonian king Philip V had to return from Peloponnesus with full force, defeat the Dardanians near Bylazora, and regain possession of Paeonia. In 211, Philip made another campaign in the area in an effort to block Dardanians invading routes, capturing a strategic city known as Sintia (located somewhere north of Pelagonia). 

Plan of Prizren castle in current Kosovo/Kosova.

In 208, Dardanian troops, with the help of Europus (a regional Illyrian ruler) reached Macedon through an alternative route passing through Dassaretis and Orestis. Philip had to pause his engagements in Achaea and return to curb the Dardanian arms. During 208 -206, Dardanians fought against the Macedonians without any conclusion from both sides in a war that would seriously delay Philip’s plan to fight the Roman Republic.

First Contacts with Romans & the Bastarnae Invasion

Anti-Macedonian activities of the Dardanians continued during the rule of their king Bato (r. 206-176), son and successor of Longarus. Bato established an alliance with the Roman Republic in which other regional rulers became part such as Pleuratus II, king of the Ardiaei, and Amynander, king of the Athamanes. It seems that as a reward for this alliance the Romans promised the Dardanians possession over Paeonia. Thus, Dardanian forces participated directly in military actions against Macedon during the Second Roman-Macedonian war (200 -197). A Dardanian assault took place in early a hundred ninety nine against northern Macedon. 

Soon, Dardanians realized they would not be granted Paeonia from the Romans. Thus, they began to doubt the alliance with the Republic. They even carried out some underground actions against the Romans in early 197 by providing a mercenary force to the Aetolians, at that time Roman enemies. Dardanian forces of Bato may have even tried to conquer Paeonia on their own sometime after the conclusion of the Second Macedonian war. It took Philip 6,000 infantrymen and 500 horsemen to defeat these Dardanians somewhere near Stobi (modern Gradsko) in Paeonia. 

View from within the walls of Prizren castle.

Perseus, successor of Philip V on Macedonian throne, encouraged the Bastarnae to invade Dardania. Clondicus, who led them, stormed in Dardanian territory by late 179. This invasion was so serious that it took Dardanians two years of resistance until they came up victorious against them in a decisive battle. During the winter of 176-175, all the rest of the invaders were driven out from Dardania. Yet, the Dardanians had to deal with another invasion from certain Thracian tribes in 169. This meant it took years after this period for Dardania to recover. 

New Allies & Curio’s Campaign

Neighbouring Macedon was conquered by Rome in 168 and twenty years later turned officially into a Roman province. After this process, Dardania left the alliance with Rome, an alliance from which they had only had the right to trade salt (salis commercium). In the new geopolitical reality, Dardania established an alliance with the Thracian Maedi and other tribes. In 98, the combined forces of the Dardanians, Maedi, and the Scordisci were partially defeated by Cornelius Sulla. However, they rebounded quickly and repelled the Roman assaults of 97 and 85. During 84 and 83, Dardanian forces along with those of the Maedi and the Scordisci conducted a military raid across the Roman province. Some think this raid reached south as far as Delphi. 

In 77, the Romans under the leadership of Clausius Pulcher, who was assigned proconsul of Macedonia one year before, achieved some level of success against the Dardanians and the Maedi, probably around the mountains of Rhodopa, south of today’s Bulgaria. A year later, the leadership of the Macedonian province was assigned to Scribonius Curio who arrived in the Balkans at the head of five legions.

The first fully successful military campaign of Rome against the Dardanians must have been the one headed by Scribonius Curio during the years 75-73 (bellum Dardanicum). Few things are known about this campaign since there is a lack of written sources on this event. However, it can be suggested that the campaign was carried out with a great determination, coarseness, and impact. Ammiani Marcellini compares the cruelty that Curio exercised over the Dardanians with the cruelty that emperor Valentian exercised over his own troops.

The main and quickest road linking the Adriatic with the Danube River was the so-called “Via Lissus-Naissus-Ratiaria”. The longest section, Via Lissus-Naissus went right through Dardanian territory, This route would have been preferred by the Roman troops in the early times of Roman expansion within the Balkans.

Regarding the campaign in itself, a force of 30,000 soldiers spread into four legions led by Curio was enough to crush every resistance from the Dardanians. However, it should be mentioned that the Dardanians of that time were still one of the greatest powers in the region and the Romans themselves were aware of this even before the initiation of their campaign. For this, it is useful to consider a fragment of the author Frontini who writes about an event occurring in the eve of the campaign as follows:

The council S.Curio during the campaign against Dardania in the outskirts of Dyrrachium (Durrës), when one of the legions rebelled and avoided military service and stated that they had no intention to follow the unreasonable general into a difficult and dangerous expedition, ordered the four legions to position in fighting formation and with the arms engaged. Then, he ordered the soldiers of the rebelled legion to come unarmed and unclothed and, in front of the armed military, forced them to cut straw. Unaffected by the begging of this legion, he withdrew their flags, removed their name and redistributed them in the other legions.” (Frontini, Strata Gematon).

After he defeated the Dardanians, Curio advanced up north until he reached the banks of the Danube, becoming the first Roman general to reach there. In 72, Curio returned to Rome and celebrated the Dardanian triumph publicly. The campaign of Scribonius Curio has traditionally been considered as putting Dardania under Roman rule.

Dardanian Rule & Administration

After Curio’s campaign, the Dardanian territory turned into a semi-independent state (foedus iniquum). Yet, it remained largely free from Roman control so much so that in 63 Dardanians destroyed the military force of the Roman proconsul Gaius Antonius Hibridda. Later, the Dardanians get involved in the battle between Pompey and Julius Caesar. A contingent of Dardanian cavalry joins the army of Pompey.

Items found across Kosovo/Kosova (ancient Dardania) dated 4,200-3,000 B.C.E. Museum of Prizren Castle.

Roman campaigns against Dardania continued with a campaign led by Marc Antonius himself in 38 and with another led by Marcus Crassus in 29. The campaign of Marcus Crassus seeked to use Dardania as a base against more northern populations such as the Dacians and the Bastarnae. Cassius Dio revels the following: 

Bastarni [Bastarnae], having then crossed the Ister [Danube], conquered Moesia which was opposite their land, and then also the Triballi who were her neighbours, and the Dardani [Dardanians] living in their [Triballian] land. And all the time they did that, they had nothing to do with the Romans, but when they crossed Mount Haemus… [modern Stara-Planina]” (Cass. Dio, Historia Romana)

The Roman rule over Dardania seems to have been established officially in 28 through the Moesian War and enforced during the reign of Octavian. During 28-15, Dardanian lands may have temporarily been included within the administrative boundaries of the Macedonian province. In 16 an advance of the Scordisci against the province of Macedonia did not face any resistance in Dardanian territory. This seems to show an absence of permanent Roman garrisons in Dardania up until this event. 

In 15, the province of Moesia was established incorporating the Dardanian realm. The inclusion within Moesia put Dardania under an unusual administrative and legal framework. This division hindered Dardania’s traditional ties with the Adriatic Sea. The province of Moesia was more oriented towards regions far north, along the Danube. This was a main drive for the Dardanian population to disobey the Romans by constantly raiding their cargoes and merchants. These Dardanian rebels (latrones Dardanianicii) continued to cause trouble until the administrative reform of Domitian in 86 C.E.. According to this reform, the large and difficult to manage province of Moesia was divided into two new provinces: Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior. Dardania stood as part of Moesia Superior. 

Dardania as part of the Roman province of Upper Moesia.

Although Dardania remained part of a province with a northern orientation, the division increased the weight and importance of the Dardanian realm. The Dardanian lands received special attention especially due to their richness in ores in a province roughly twice as small as the previously united Moesia. Along with a gradual Romanization, the Roman rule could be exercised more efficiently over Dardania. 

Upper Moesia was decentralized into four constituent areas, each named after its major tribe. Dardania was one of these areas, with the others being those of the Pincenses/Picenses, Tricornienses/Tricornenses, and the Moesi. Within these areas developed other estates not based on any native attachment such as legionary territories in form of forts, municipal territories in form of colonies, and private estates of major Roman owners. Soon, Upper Moesia in general and Dardania especially turned into a region of crucial mining importance. Dardanian lands were for Roman metallurgy as important as Africa proconsularis was for agriculture.  

The rich mining lands across Dardania became part of the imperial treasure (fiscus). All the remaining territory remained occupied by native settlements (civitates peregrinae). These native inhabitants were obliged to work in mines or other estates of the imperial treasury. In terms of economic administration linked with the Dardanian mines (Metalli Dardanici), at least five mining centres emerged across Dardanian territory. These were I) Municipium Dardanorum (Socanica), II) Ulpiana, III) Remesiana (Bela Palanka), IV) Timacum Minus (Ravna) and an additional centre located somewhere near Lamudum (Lopate), Vizianum (Konjuh), or Kratiskara (Kratovo).

Integration of the Locals into Roman Military and Administration during Late Antiquity

The Roman troops stationed in Dardania were primarily focused in protecting the mining areas, peregrinae, and the road network. Precious cargoes going through the country required serious defence especially after 250. The main defending units were the cohort/local militias I Aurelia Dardanorum and II Aurelia Dardanorum (apparently established by emperor Marcus Aurelius in around 169 during the wars against the Marcomanni). Local latrons were apparently levied to create these cohorts, each 600 men strong. The I Aurelia Dardanorum seem to have been usually based somewhere at Timacum Minus (Ravna) and/or Timacum Maius (Knazhevc). The II Aurelia Dardanorum generally stood at Naissus (one of the four Dardanian towns according to Ptolemy) but epigraphic evidence suggest it also served in other forts such as Timacum Minus (Ravna), and Praesidium Pompei (near Aleksinac). 

Other units, established during the I-II centuries C.E., were specifically responsible for the security of the mining districts alone. Such unit was the Ala Vespaziana Dardanorum, formed by 500 Dardanian knights and that protected exclusively the mining region of Artanë/Novobërdë-Kopaonik.

In 279, the Roman province named Dardania was established as part of the prefecture of Illyricum (praefectura praetorio per Illyricum). Emperor Diocletian made this reform reestablishing Dardania’s traditional relations with the Mediterranean realm. The borders of this Dardanian province were similar to those of the ancient Dardanian kingdom except from the northeastern part that was awarded to the already established province of Dacia Ripensis

The period from the rule of Costantine the Great (306-337) until the rule of Justinian (527-565) marks the construction of extensive fortifications across Dardania. These measures were mainly meant to prevent Barbarian invasions especially those of the Goths and Huns. As noted by Procopius of Caesarea, Justinian constructed eight new castles along Dardania and reconstructed 61 other forts. Some of these fortifications were those in Prizren, Korisha, Hisar of Kastric, Suka of Cermjan, Zatric, Rahovec, etc. Justinian himself was of Dardanian origin, one of the many in the series known as Illyrian emperors. 

Fortifications of the late antiquity in modern Kosovo/Kosova and northern Albanian Republic.

Bibliography

Appiani, Historia Romana, Illyrike, 28.

Dionis Cassii Cocceiani, Historia Romana, LI.

Frontini, J. Strata Gematon.

Hammond, N.G.L. & Wallbank, W. (1972). A History of Macedonia 336-167 B.C.

Iustini, M.I. Historiarum Philippicarum.

Petrović, V.P. (2007). Pre-Roman and Roman Dardania. Historical and Geographical Considerations. Balcanica, 27, 7-22.

Shukriu, E. (2008). Prehistory and Antique History of Kosovo. Thesis Kosova.

Livy, T. Ab Urbe Condita.

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