The origins of the Albanian people, as was mentioned before, are not definitely known, but data drawn from history and from linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological studies have led to the conclusion that Albanians are the direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians and that the latter were natives of the lands they inhabited. Similarly, the Albanian language derives from the language of the Illyrians, the transition from Illyrian to Albanian apparently occurring between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.
Illyrian culture is believed to have evolved from the Stone Age and to have manifested itself in the territory of Albania towardthe beginning of the Bronze Age, about 2000 BC. The Illyrians were not a uniform body of people but a conglomeration of many tribes that inhabited the western part of the Balkans, from what is now Slovenia in the northwest to and including the region of Epirus, which extends about halfway down the mainland of modern Greece. In general, Illyrians in the highlands of Albania were more isolated than those in the lowlands, and their culture evolved more slowly--a distinction that persisted throughout Albania's history.
In its beginning, the kingdom of Illyria comprised the actual territories of Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, with a large part of modern Serbia. Shkodra (Scutari) was its capital, just as it is now, the most important center of Northern Albania.
The earliest known king of Illyria was Hyllus (The Star) who is recorded to have died in the year 1225 B.C. The Kingdom, however, reached its zenith in the fourth century B.C. when Bardhylus (White Star), one of the most prominent of the Illyrian kings, united under scepter the kingdoms of Illyria, Molossia (Epirus*) and a good part of Macedonia. But its decay began under the same ruler as a result of the attacks made on it by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.
In the year 232 B.C. the Illyrian throne was occupied by Teuta, the celebrated Queen whom historians have called Catherine the Great of Illyria. The depredations of her thriving navy on the rising commercial development of the Republic forced the Roman Senate to declare war against the Queen. A huge army and navy under the command of of Santumalus and Alvinus attacked Central Albania, and, after two years of protracted warfare, Teuta was induced for peace (227 B.C.)
The last king of Illyria was Gentius, of pathetic memory. In 165 B.C. he was defeated by the Romans and brought to Rome as a captive.
Henceforth, Illyria consisting of the Enkalayes, the Taulantes, the Epirotes, and the Ardianes, became a Roman dependency. She was carved out into three independent republics the capitals of which were respectively Scodar (Shkoder), Epidamnus (Durres) and Dulcigno (todays' Ulqin in Montenegro).
Authors of antiquity relate that the Illyrians were a sociable and hospitable people, renowned for their daring and bravery at war. Illyrian women were fairly equal in status to the men, even to the point of becoming heads of tribal federations. In matters of religion, Illyrians were pagans who believed in an afterlife and buried their dead along with arms and various articles intended for personal use. The land of Illyria was rich in minerals--iron, copper, gold, silver--and Illyrians became skillful in the mining and processing of metals. They were highly skilled boat builders and sailors as well; indeed, their light, swift galleys known as liburnae were of such superior design that the Romans incorporated them into their own fleet as a type of warship called the Liburnian.
From the 8th to the 6th century BC the Greeks founded a string of colonies on Illyrian soil, two of the most prominent of which were Epidamnus (modern Durr's) and Apollonia (near modern Vlor'). The presence of Greek colonies on their soil brought the Illyrians into contact with a more advanced civilization, which helped them to develop their own culture, while they in turn influenced the economic and political life of the colonies. In the 3rd century BC the colonies began to decline and eventually perished. Roughly parallel with the rise of Greek colonies, Illyrian tribes began to evolve politically from relatively small and simple entities into larger and more complex ones. At first they formed temporary alliances with one another for defensive or offensive purposes, then federations and, still later, kingdoms. The most important of these kingdoms, which flourished from the 5th to the 2nd century BC, were those of the Enkalayes, the Taulantes, the Epirotes, and the Ardianes. After warring for the better part of the 4th century BC against the expansionist Macedonian state of Philip II and Alexander the Great, the Illyrians faced a greater threat from the growing power of the Romans. Seeing Illyrian territory as a bridgehead for conquests east of the Adriatic, Rome in 229 BC attacked and defeated the Illyrians, led by Queen Teuta, and by 168 BC established effective control over Illyria.
*) "Epirus" means "mainland" or "continent" in Greek, and was originally applied to the whole coast northward of the Corinthian Gulf in contradistinction to the neighboring islands, Corfu (Corcyra), Leucas, etc. In consequence it does have not any ethnical meaning, as it is sometimes proclaimed. The name of Epirus, as applied to Southern Albania, is misleading inasmuch as its Greek sound gives the idea that one is dealing with a Greek territory. This is due to the unfortunate fact that the principal sources of the history of this section of Albania, are the writings of Greek historians, some of whom tend to hellenize everything. Yet, all the ancient Greek writers, including Theopompus, Thucydides, and the more modern Plutarch, are in full accord in stating that Epirus was exclusively inhabited by non-Hellenic barbarous populations.