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!

Damn, another wargame project – Illyrians and the Great Revolt!

Yes, the bay is there – faintly visible. Invisible is the Bataan peninsula and other landmarks at the mouth of the bay

I’m sitting here, suffering with that most horrible of diseases, man ‘flu, looking out over a hazy, smoggy Manila Bay with a coffee and listening to the wireless playing Christmas Carols (it is the ‘ber months after all). I am also reading Jason Abdale’s recent work, The Great Illyrian Revolt concerning “Rome’s forgotten war in the Balkans AD 6-9” (review to come later – Mal’s review is here).

So as I am reading I am also thinking, “hmm, I am repurposing some Early Imperial Romans to DBA use, and they will make two armies”, followed by, “the Illyrian Revolt Abdale is talking about occurred just before the loss of the four legions in the Battle of Teutoburg … hmmm”.

So I started thinking, here is an excuse to buy some more wargame figures (like a wargamer needs an excuse!). Better, I can double up armies. The Illyrians are basically a loose style (Auxilia) within DBA rules so may need a little tweaking to start to get some historical balance. They also fought themselves as much as external enemies but those external enemies included Romans and Greeks so they fit well with the figures I have painted already as well as the future plans (the Peloponnesian Wars one in particular).

In addition, I could add to the Illyrians a couple of German armies for an additional enemy for the Early Imperial Romans.

Image taken from

As to the look of the Illyrians, I will need to do some more research, always a good thing, but I am thinking from what I have read recently, perhaps a little Thracian like, with some southern Italian, and Greek Thureophoroi rolled in. One of the neat things about the Illyrians will be the ability to raid my spares box and drag out a few of different types of figures to mix it.

The clothing colours of the Illyrians are described as broad, colourful  vertical stripes.

The illustration the the left is from the Warlords Games website, a firm who offers Illyrians in 28mm size, although they are currently out of stock.

My forces will be in 6mm size – probably from Baccus and Rapier as both those ranges are close in size. So yes, just what I need, another project. I think I will stop weighing the lead pile and simply measure the number of incomplete and unstarted projects to estimate the future lifespan of the wargamer!