Book Review: The Great Illyrian Revolt: Rome's Forgotten War in the Balkans, AD 6–9


by Jason R Abdale

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xiv, 270.. Pp. xiv, 270. Illus., maps, chron., diagr., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1526718170

Rome’s Great Forgotten War

The author of Four Days in September, an excellent account of the Roman disaster in the Teutoburg Forest in Germany in AD 9, Abdale gives us an impressive account of the final Roman conquest of Illyria, more or less what until recently was Yugoslavia. Abdale begins well before the revolt of the title, devoting one chapter to the origins, history, and culture of the Illyrians, a poorly known people of considerable importance for several centuries. He follows this with a chapter covering several centuries of Romano-Illyrian relations, usually hostile, from the mid-third century BC, culminating in the Roman conquest of the region up to the Danube by 9 BC.

Abdale then covers the revolt of AD 6-9 in four chapters. It began when a strong force of Illyrians recruited as auxiliaries for what was to be a major campaign against the Germans, rose against Roman rule. These troops, soon reinforced by the many Illyrian tribes, and led by two chieftains named Bato, proved stout opponents. For a time the Illyrians even seemed poised to threaten Italy. More than half the Roman Army – fifteen legions – and two of Rome’s best generals, the future Emperor Tiberius and his nephew Germanicus – took more than three years to crush the revolt, after which Illyria remained tightly bound to the empire and became a reservoir of excellent manpower.

Abdale is very good at explaining and reconciling the frequent conflicts among the various ancient sources, often detailing his reasoning behind his conclusions about events, numbers, geography, and so forth, noting when he makes assumptions based on other events or institutions in the period.

The Great Illyrian Revolt is a very good read for anyone interested in ancient military history and historiography.


Note: The Great Illyrian Revolt is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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