Paleo-BalkanThe Illyrians (Ancient Greek: Ἰλλυριοί, Illyrioi; Latin: Illyrii or Illyri) were a group of Indo-European tribes, who inhabited the western Balkan Peninsula in ancient times. They constituted one of the three main groups of Indo-European populations in the Balkans prior to 2000 BC, along with Thracians and Greeks.
The territory the Illyrians inhabited came to be known as Illyria to later Greek and Roman authors, who identified a territory that corresponds to most of Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo,[a] much of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, western and central Serbia and some parts of Slovenia between the Adriatic Sea in the west, the Drava river in the north, the Morava river in the east and the mouth of the Aoos river in the south. The first account of Illyrian peoples dates back to the 6th century BC, in the works of the ancient Greek writer Hecataeus of Miletus.
The name "Illyrians," as applied by the ancient Greeks to their northern neighbors, may have referred to a broad, ill-defined group of peoples. The Illyrian tribes never collectively identified as "Illyrians," and it is unlikely that they used any collective nomenclature at all. Illyrians seems to be the name of a specific Illyrian tribe who were among the first to encounter the ancient Greeks during the Bronze Age. The Greeks later applied this term Illyrians, pars pro toto, to all people with similar language and customs.
In archaeological, historical and linguistic studies, research about the Illyrians, from the late 19th to the 21st century, has moved from Pan-Illyrian theories, which identified as Illyrian even groups north of the Balkans to more well-defined groupings based on Illyrian onomastics and material anthropology since the 1960s as newer inscriptions were found and sites excavated. There are two principal Illyrian onomastic areas: the southern and the Dalmatian-Pannonian, with the area of the Dardani as a region of overlapping between the two. A third area, to the north of them - which in ancient literature was usually identified as part of Illyria - has been connected more to the Venetic language than to Illyrian. Illyric settlement in Italy was and still is attributed to a few ancient tribes which are thought to have migrated along the Adriatic shorelines to the Italian peninsula from the geographic "Illyria": the Dauni, the Peuceti and Messapi (collectively known as Iapyges).
The term "Illyrians" last appears in the historical record in the 7th century, referring to a Byzantine garrison operating within the former Roman province of Illyricum.