Illyrians are considered to be one of the most ancient people of Europe, who left behind an incredible inheritance, both material and cultural. They were not Greeks, nor Romans, but rather took pride in their own identity and fought bravely to preserve it.

Alongside their ancient neighbors, Illyrians built one of the greatest civilizations that the world has ever known. Illyrians built their own cities, from them descended powerful kings and queens. They had their own system to govern society, their own laws, and rules. The Illyrians had armies and naval fleets, they won wars and stood heroically even at lost battles. They produced art, music, and culture.

Illyrians cultivated their fertile lands and ran the seas. They did trade, had their coins, and signed agreements and treaties with other ancient countries. Illyrians had their own religious beliefs and cults, which they worshiped, spoke their unique language, and became famous for their heroism. For Illyrians wrote ancient historians, they are to be found in Europe's oldest documents and are even mentioned in the Holy Scriptures of the Bible. 

Today, more than 4 thousand years after the start of their civilization, the descendants of Illyrians, Albanians still preserve a lot, from their rich inheritance. It takes just a few observations on today’s Albanian national identity, to distinguish ancient history's deep roots. 

​Albanian language.

Albanian language, which forms a unique branch in the Indo- European family of languages, is probably the most important and precious asset we have inherited from our ancient grandfathers. Even the word Illyrian has a literal meaning in Albanian meaning free men. The Albanian language still preserves many names of people, cities, mountains, rivers, etc, that are from ancient Illyrian.  There are many examples, such as the names Gent, Teuta, Bardhyll, Glauk, Pirro, etc.

The names of many Albanian cities still preserve the Illyrian form. For example Scodra – Shkodra, Lisus- Lezha, Ulpiana – Lipjan, Dyrrah – Durres, Theranda – Saranda, etc. 
"Albanian since ancient times has been spoken more or less in the areas where it is spoken today. It is normal and natural for Albanian to be considered (by scholars) as a descendant of Illyrian language” (Radoslav Katicic, well-known Croatian historian and linguist)

In the “The Genomic History of Southeastern Europe” study, bones of ancient DNA from Southeast Europe from different periods have been analyzed.
Based on the DNA of ancient bones to date as well as phylogenetic distribution, two of the main haplogroups found among Albanians today, J2b2-L283 and R1b-Z2103, appear in the Balkans in the Balkans, does not appear to have been a factor until the Bronze Age.  More ancient DNA samples from the Balkans are needed to give me something definitive, but currently, it seems that our ethnogenesis was formed in the Bronze Age, probably in the Western Balkans, which coincides with the appearance of Paleo-Balkan populations, such as previously the Illyrians.

Illyrian heritage in Albanian tradition, culture, and ethnography
The old towns, castles, and fortresses, the numerous archeological sites in the Albanian territories, attract thousands of visitors every year. But this is only a part of the Illyrian heritage in today's Albanian culture.

What if I told you that Albanians themselves are a living, breathing testament of their Illyrian ancestor’s legacy? 
It is very rare for a nation of people to uninterruptedly preserve certain traditions and elements, for hundreds of thousands of years, but that is exactly what has happened.

If you ever happen to see an Albanian elder wearing a plis, you should know that that is not just some kind of a hat. The Albanian Plis is a very important element of Illyrian tradition, which is closely related to their ancient beliefs and cults. In many of the sculptures and paintings, the Illyrian men are wearing the plis. 

Men and depicted ancient characters wearing a special hat called plisi

Or perhaps you may find yourself in an Albanian wedding or celebration, where you’ll see beautiful women wearing the Albanian national costume, called the “xhubleta”. What makes this costume so special is not just the unique model or the colors, but the fact that Xhubleta is at least four thousand years old, worn even as far as during the Neolithic times and is closely related to the Illyrian civilization. It’s one of the most important and significant elements of Albanian cultural heritage.

The Albanian xhubleta- a four thousand old traditional dress

Here you can see an Illyrian dance, carved in stone, with men wearing the Plis and women wearing the Xhubleta.

Stone carving depicting Illyrians dancing
An Illyrian dance carved in stone

 Albanians also preserve from their ancient Illyrian ancestors many pagan cults, practices, and beliefs, despite the influence of different Abrahamic religions. 

“The summer day”, which is a national holiday in Albania is an old pagan holiday, from times that Illyrians celebrated the coming of the warm season. Also, Albanians have preserved many elements of the Illyrian cults, such as the cult of the sun, the eagle, the goat, the mountains, etc.  

There are plenty of examples, found even in the most unexpected ways. The “fli” dish, which is a very popular and old recipe, honors the cult of the sun and it is made in such a way to resemble it. 

The Albanian dish called fli

Even our national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg made sure to honor his Illyrian ancestors, which he admired and pas proud of, by using the symbol of the goat, in his crown. 

Gjergj Kastrioti with the goat helmet

Written by Eldolina Këputa that lives and works in Tirana, Albania. She loves to read, research, and write on Albanian history and culture. Eldolina is a graduate of Journalism and Communication at the University of Tirana. 

Alban Selami
Tagged: Illyrians