The Great Illyrian Revolt by Jason R. Abdale – Review

Jason R Abade’s previous work was Four Days in September: the Battle of Teutoburg (published by Pen and Sword). While researching and writing that, Abade came across references to the Illyrians and the interest that generated led to the writing of his current work, The Great Illyrian Revolt — Rome’s Forgotten War in the Balkans, AD 6–9. This has been published by Pen & Sword Military, is 268 pages long (ISBN: 9781526718174) and was published on 25 February 2019.

This book has sat on my desk waiting for me to read it for several months now. I regret not starting it sooner. It is a very interesting work.

The year 9 BCE was not a good year for Rome. Today we mostly remember that year for the efforts of the German warlord Arminius leadings a confederation of German tribes crushing three Roman Legions in the battle (or more correctly, series of battles, skirmishes and ambushes, that we know as Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The three years leading up to that event, however, had been tough for Rome as well as there was an uprising in the western Balkans, an area known as Illyria. This revolt tied down 15 Roman legions in the area around the Dinaric Mountains, a revolt that was not finally subjugated until 14 BCE.

I’m not sure why that revolt is not well known today, perhaps the events in Teutoburger Wald where the armies of Publius Quinctilius Varus and Marcus Caelius were crushed by the German tribes, leading to the withdrawal of Roman forces and control to the east of the river Rhine overshadows Rome’s difficult but ultimately successful controlling of Illyria.

Jason Abdale has produced an excellent study of the Great Illyrian Revolt. As you read the book, apart from the history and culture of the Illyrians being discussed and the lead up to Rome’s eventual involvement in this are, you can also feel the author’s love for his topic. I do not know of another history specifically covering just the Great Illyrian Revolt and Abdale has done an excellent job of pulling together various primary sources, secondary informatii  and archeological evidence to weave a coherent and readable history of the Illyrian Revolt.

The book is commences with a Chronology — from about 6,000 BCE to 37 CE — followed and Introduction. The meat of the work is broken up into the following chapters:

  1. The Illyrians
  2. Rome and the Balkans
  3. Outbreak
  4. The Tide Turns
  5. A Long Hard Slog
  6. The End of the Road
  7. The Aftermath

The book is then rounded out with an Epilogue, Endnotes, Bibliography and Index.

The Illyrians over the years fought the Romans, Greeks and Macedonians as well as themselves. They were famous pirates in the Adriatic Sea. On land, they may well have started as lightly armed and irregular tribesmen types but slowly acquired some of the fighting style of the Greeks they were exposed to, remembering that much of their terrain was mountainous.

I really enjoyed this book, sort of an everything you wanted to know about the Illyrians but were too afraid to ask. On a personal basis, I am considering the figures needed to build an Illyrian army to face off against my Romans.

As this is probably the only general work that I am aware of dealing exclusively with the Illyrians, and given that it is so well written, clear and easy to understand, I can see this on the bookshelves of anyone interested in the general, political or military history of the period of Augustus Caesar’s reign in particular. Recommended!

3 thoughts on “The Great Illyrian Revolt by Jason R. Abdale – Review

  1. Duncan Head 19 November 2019 / 11:50 pm

    I’ve also written a review of the Abdale book, which will be appearing in Slingshot 327 – due out shortly. It is by no means a bad book, but my review is not quite as positive as yours. Probably the worst thing about it is the lack of maps – how can the reader be expected to follow a campaign account without them?

    There are other general books dealing with the Illyrians – John Wilkes “The Illyrians” (Blackwell 1996) and Aleksandar Stipcevic “The Illyrians: History and Culture” (1980), for instance, are both good books and Abdale draws on them – but this certainly seems to be the only boook on the Revolt.



  2. Thomo the Lost 21 November 2019 / 9:50 am

    I did notice the lack of maps but given the number of maps in other works that show bits of the area it was at best a small annoyance. The other books you mention are 25 and 40 years old so it is refreshing to have one in modern English 🙂

    I’ve not read his Four Days in September: the Battle of Teutoburg so not so sure how good he is against a well covered subject. I will admit however that this book has me thinking about Illyrians on the tabletop.


  3. Historian 4 July 2020 / 3:45 am

    This book is almost absolutely bullshit. Abdale dont even know when Rome is founded. Also he dont have any knowledge about Balkan. There is several excellent studies about this question on croatian and Bosnian language. Reading this book is almost dangerous.


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