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!

Henry Every – A Picture

One of the recent searches here related to a picture of Henry Every. Every was, of course, a quite famous pirate. He was also famous as the pirate that developed the skull ad crossbones flag. See the post here at Thomo’s Hole on Henry Every that covers part of his life and career.

Every seems to have been one of the few pirates who actually managed to retire and live off his ill-gotten gains.

Henry Ebery or Henry Every

Woodcut of Henry Every
Woodcut of Henry Every

Every so often I go through the search results of Thomo’s Hole – it is quite enlightening seeing what terms people are searching for in the Hole. It also tweaks my interest and leads to some posts. Of course, if you’d like something specific you only need ask and I’ll try and accommodate.

Anyway, it was a hot weekend in Sydney, very hot, so I thought I’d add to the heat by researching unsuccessful searches to Thomo’s Hole. I came across two search terms in the logs, namely, “Henry Ebery” and then immediately after that, “Henry Every”.

Well, I may not be an intellectual genius but I do type a lot, and whilst I am not a touch typist (more chopsticks style), I am savvy enough with a keyboard to notice that “B” and “V” are next to each other and that probably the search for Henry Ebery was really someone searching for Henry Every.

The other thing I know, having been a Googler for many years now, is that search engines still are not really all that bright – unless you tell them exactly what you are looking for. So, if you search Thomo’s Hole with the terms “Henry” and “Every” in the search box, the search engine here will return an article about H.M.S. Mæander (because the Captain’s name was Henry Keppel and because (to quote from that post)

I don’t always have information about every ship that sailed however the name of this ship fascinated me

See how a search on Henry Every returns something apparently unrelated? The other article it returned was Busk’s Navies of the World – 1859 – The French I because there was mention of an Henry in there as well as an every.

Now, if a search was made for “Henry Every” – that is, with both terms inside double quotes, then the search engine would return nothing as there was nothing about Henry Every in Thomo’s hole … up until now that is 🙂

Popular Image of Every's flag
Popular Image of Every's flag

I searched for both “Henry Every” and “Henry Ebery” on the Internet. Now I am sure that my readers are not all that interested in Henry Ebery. There is a record in the 1881 census of young Henry Ebery, born in West Bromwich, Stafford in 1873, father Eli Ebery. There is also a Henry Ebery in Wales listed in the 1891 census as Henry Ebery, boarder, age 43, born in Shropshire, cattle dealer. The reference was from the census of the Hotel Keeper at 10 Lewis Terrace – the Commercial Hotel, also known as Cambrian Hotel in Alexandra Road, Aberystwyth in Wales. That is also not the type of character my readers are normally interested in. Now, if he was a cattle duffer ((rustler for those who do not understand the Australian term)) then it would be a whole lot different

However, all is not lost. Henry Every was born in Plymouth in 1653 and was a somewhat famous pirate – the picture of the woodcut here is Henry himself. He was also known as John Avary, Long Ben, and Benjamin Bridgeman. Now this is more like it for the readers of Thomo’s Hole.

What distinguishes Henry Every from most of the other pirates? Two things really. One was the taking and plundering of the Moghul ships, the Fateh Muhammed and Ganj-I-Sawaithe of around £650,000 of gold, silver and other plunder. the other was that Henry actually appears to have retired from pirating and managed to live off the fat of his jolly rogering, even allowing for the Whigs having commissioned Captain William Kidd as a pirate hunter and set him on Every’s trail (amongst others)

Every is remembered in the Shantyman song “The Ballad of Long Ben”:

In ’94 we took the Charles and set Gibson ashore
And set a course for southern seas, to sail for evermore
Round the Cape in a hurricane with the devil on our beam
And clear to Newgate London Town you could have heard us scream:

Here’s to gentlemen at sea tonight, and a toast to all free men
And when the devil comes to take us home, we’ll drink
To old Long Ben!

Now off the coast of Hindoostan we spied a musselman
She’d 60 guns and musket men, but still away she ran
“Ho!”, cried Ben and ran the grinning skull atop the mast
“I’ll wager half my share me lads, there’s not a ship this fast!”

Here’s to gentlemen at sea tonight and a toast to all free men
And when the devil comes to take us home, he’ll drink
With old Long Ben!

We ran her down off Malabar as she lay becalmed
And there beneath the burning sun stood Al Ibrahim Khan
He twirled his ‘stache and raised his sword and gave a might roar
Then cowered like a dog below and hid amongst his whores

Here’s to gentlemen at sea tonight, and a toast to all free men
And when the devil comes to take us home, we’ll drink
To old Long Ben!

We turned the Fancy from the wind and ran out 40 guns
And soon the sky was filled with smoke that hid us from the sun
Then up and down the ship we fought, until the decks ran red
And when the fight was done we drank and this is what we said:

Here’s to gentlemen at sea tonight, and a toast to all free men
And when the devil comes to take us home, we’ll drink
To old Long Ben!

For thirteen days aboard the Ganj, we made a merry sport
A thousand pounds of Mughal gold, and whisky, rum and port
Some men we shot and some we walked and some of them did hang
And while we made free with the girls, well this is what we sang:

Here’s to gentlemen at sea tonight, and a toast to all free men
And when the devil comes to take us home, we’ll drink
To old Long Ben!

Now there is something about Henry Every 😆