Illyrian World: Architecture, Rituals, Gods And Religion – Book Review


In late 2022, Prof. Dr. Apollon Baçe published a most important book on Albanian Archaeology in English language. It is certainly the principal scholarly work, supported by the Albanian Academy of Sciences, that demonstrates scientifically the origin of Albanian nation, through archaeological facts and depicts a clear image of the Proto-Illyrian and Illyrian periods in South East Europe. 

This book is the result of a long range of expeditions, mainly in Albania and less abroad (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Greece, Southern Italy). Prof. Baçe’s five years of specialization in Germany (Alexander von Humboldt research fellowship, DFG- German Research Foundation) helped him to complete the theoretical framework of this project. This book is dedicated to the father of Prof. Apollon Baçe, whose patriotism and statecraft has constantly impacted the professional accomplishments of the author.

At its core there are five of his books that subtly deal with the architecture, rituals and religion of the Illyrians.  [1] After the unsuccessful multiple attempts to have it translated into English language by a professional translator, he found himself immersed and obliged to translate this volume.  This reminded him the passage of Procopius of Caesarea: “To cross a great sea in an ill-appointed ship is a woeful task, beset with the greatest dangers (Prok. ktism. 4.1.1).” 

Publishing a book in a purely professional format would have been comfortable, however assimilated for a handful of professionals, resembling to the selfish “thing in and of itself” (Ding an und für sich). This led him to experiment with the dangerous hybrid model that is accessible to other audiences and not only to experts.  Comparable to walking on a razor’s edge, with the risk of falling on one or the other side of the blade: the specialists’ evaluation considering it as an amateurish book, and the amateurs’ evaluation call it a book for specialists.

To reduce the risk, Prof. Baçe skipped to the notes the boring technical argumentation, which, like the building’s foundations, are not laid to be admired, but to ensure the necessary sustainability to avoid collapse. For interested scholars, the arguments are in the notes. Similarly, he placed the excerpts from the ancient authors, partly retranslated, in the notes. Again, if anyone doubts the translation, the original excerpts are in the notes. 

For ease of reading, he shifted the irritating load of lengthy descriptions to the sketches and photographs, paying special attention to their layout. To create a “virtual reality” relied on the hypothetical reconstruction of the inherited monuments: stages where the plays were performed, stoae where citizens walked and debated hearth-rooms where the family and the guests gathered around the fireplace. 

He did not use the standard lens of a single discipline but the interdisciplinary analysis of architectural, archaeological, historical, and epigraphic data. Considering them not goals but tools for the discovery of the “psyche”: soul, mind and spirit all together. Nor he has treated the monuments and artefacts merely as a physical object, but as a dual physical – metaphysical connection, beyond physics. In the sense that a monument perceived by the senses as a physical occurrence (phenomenon), is a derivative of extrasensory preconditions (noumenon): of the economic, technological and aesthetic level. In full dependence of the financial resources, construction dexterity, and subjective appreciation of beauty. [2] Vice-versa, the architectural objects reflect these preambles through the impression of power, wealth and aesthetic refinement. 

Concluding, in order to escape the Shakespearean trap “your wish was the father of this thought (King Henry IV, Part 2, Act 4)”, Prof. Baçe sharply separated the facts from the analysis of facts. In the sense that analysis is his, but the facts are taboo. Ultimately, in order to avoid ethnocentrism, Prof. Baçe always had in mind the advice “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Mark. 12. 17). Acknowledging to others what belongs to others and arguing what belongs to his ancestors. 

The prominent representative of Greek architecture is the temple, with tectonic quality based on the “lego assembly” of the column-entablement modules. It reached the zenith with the Parthenon (447-432 BC), after which began the serial production of eternally magnificent, admired and cloned Parthenons. The sad epilogue of the Dinsmoor’s vademecum “The Architecture of Ancient Greece” is “Greek architecture began its decline from the end of the 5th century BC, a time after which it could no longer offer anything new and better, compromising the ideals of strength and dignity of the structure.”  [3] 

Immediately after erection of Parthenon the Peloponnesian War broke out (431-404 BC) and started the polis-crisis which ultimately flung Greece off the state-building chessboard, paving the way for new political systems. According to Justin, in 334 BC, “Alexander, the king of Epirus, having been invited into Italy had gone as eagerly as if, in a division of the world, the east had fallen by a lot to Alexander, the son of his sister Olympia, and the west to himself (Justin. 12. 2).” Alexander Molossus was killed without expanding westwards” (Liv. 8. 24.3), still, Alexander the Great stretched his imperia from the Adriatic to the Indian River Ganges. Throws into the cauldron dozens of civilizations and cultures, from Egyptian and Greek to Babylonian and Persian, mixed them with a sword and produced the cosmopolitan amalgam which Droysen speculatively christened the Hellenistic period (323-31 BC). The architecture of this blending was not a result of an evolutionary process but of a violent intrusion which cut all classical totems and taboos: Rigid classical structures were replaced with flexible structures and the coldness of the heroic was replaced with human warmth. All this created an atmosphere that Germans classify “Experimentierfreude”, [4] experimenting because of the curiosity and joy of the successful attempt. Hence, Hellenistic architecture is by no means the decadence of “ideals and dignity”, but the next gem of the architectural world heritage.

Chronologically, the time of illumination of the potent Illyrian state, stretching from the Ambracian Gulf to the island Pharos (Hvar) and from Corcyra to the Paeonian kingdom begins in the V Century, year 433 BC. The reliable translation explains a series of features that follow:      the minting of coins in Dyrrhachium for the kings Monun and Mytil (approximately 350 – 325, BC), the reason why citizens of Dyrrhachium, after liberating it from Cassandra, “handed the city to Glaukias, the king of illyrians (312, BC Diod. 19. 78).”  Prof. Apollon Baçe is Europe’s best Archaeologist and Historian focused on the ancient archaeological sites of Southeast Europe; his wealth of expertise, rare wisdom, and unbridled scholarship, is demonstrated in his latest book dedicated to the Illyrian World and its ancient cities, merchant routes and fortifications.  Republic of Albania and all Albanians are honored and dignified when an outstanding European scholar such as Prof. Dr. Apollon Baçe, immerse into the Illyrian World and clarify many dark periods of ancient European History.   


[1]  Arkitektura në Iliri. Parë si refleks i strukturës sociale dhe botës shpirtërore, Tiranë 2017 (Architecture in Illyria. Seen as a reflection of the social structure and the spiritual world, 452 pages).

Qytetet dhe Qytezat Ilire dhe në Iliri: 1. Iliria Veriore (Istria- Drin), Tiranë 2018. (Volume 1, Northern Illyria: Istria- Drini River, 564 pages 21.5 x 21.5); 2. Iliria Qëndrore (Drin-Karaburun-Tomor ), Tiranë 2020. (Volume 2, Central Illyria, 516 pages 21.5 x 21.5); 3. Iliria Perëndimore (Korçë-Kosovë-Maqedoni Veriore), në shtyp. (Western Illyria (Korça-Kosovo-Northern Macedonia, in press.); 4. Iliria Jugore.

[2] Einstein: “If there were no human beings anymore, the Apollo Belvedere no longer would be beautiful?”  Tegore: “No” (The nature of reality) July 14, 1930)

[3] DINSMOOR 1950, 217. 

[4] LAUTER 1986 Ἄγρων ἦν βασιλεὺς Ἰλλυριῶν μέρους ἀμφὶ τὸν κόλπον τῆς θαλάσσης τὸν Ἰόνιον, ὃν δὴ καὶ Πύρρος

ὁ τῆς Ἠπείρου βασιλεὺς κατεῖχε καὶ οἱ τὰ Πύρρου διαδεξάμενοι. Ἄγρων δ᾽ ἔμπαλιν τῆς τε Ἠπείρου τινὰ καὶ Κόρκυραν ἐπ᾽ αὐτοῖς καὶ Ἐπίδαμνον καὶ Φάρον καταλαβὼν ἔμφρουρα εἶχεν.

Ἐπίδαμνός ἐστι πόλις ἐν δεξιᾷ ἐσπλέοντι ἐς τὸν Ἰόνιον κόλπον: προσοικοῦσι δ᾽ αὐτὴν Ταυλάντιοι 

βάρβαροι, Ἰλλυρικὸν ἔθνος.  (Thuk. 1.24) The Aeacides extension to Rhison proves the inscription of Lambeasa“Thou, Sacred Medaurus, who take care of the walls of Aeacidian Rhizonus, Dalmatian stronghold (CIL 8. 2581)” BAÇE 2020.

  ἅμα δὲ τούτοις πραττομένοις Κορκυραῖοι μὲν βοηθήσαντες Ἀπολλωνιάταις καὶ τοῖς Ἐπιδαμνίοις τοὺς 

μὲν στρατιώτας Κασάνδρου ὑποσπόνδους ἀφῆκαν, τῶν δὲ πόλεων Ἀπολλωνίαν μὲν ἠλευθέρωσαν, Ἐπίδαμνον δὲ Γλαυκίᾳ τῷ τῶν Ἰλλυριῶν βασιλεῖ παρέδωκαν.

Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a freelance writer and journalist of International Relations, Latin American and Southern Caucasus current affairs. He is the author of America's first book published on the historical and archeological treasures of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Republic of Azerbaijan); has authored and published four books on the Foreign Policy and current economic – political events of the Government of Azerbaijan. Tase has written about International Relations for Eurasia Review Journal since June 2012.

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