The Enchelii[1] (also Enchelei[2] or Encheleans),[3] the inhabitants of Enchele (Ancient Greek: Ἐγχέλιοι/Ἐγχελεῖς/*Σεσαρήθιοι, Enchelioi/Encheleis/*Sesarethioi; Latin: Enchelii/Encheleae/Sesarethii; name of the country: Ἐγχέλη, Enchele; demonym: Enchelean),[4] were an ancient people that lived around the region of Lake Shkodra and Lake Ohrid,[5][6][1] in modern-day Albania and North Macedonia. They are one of the oldest known peoples of the eastern shore of the Adriatic.[7] In ancient sources they sometimes appear as an ethnic group distinct from the Illyrians, but are mostly mentioned as one of the Illyrian tribes.[8]

They were often at war for domination of the region with the ancient Macedonians who settled in the east. Their neighbors to the west were the Taulantii, to the north the Autariatae, to the north-east the Dardani, to the south-east the Paeones, and to the south the Dexaroi.[9][10] During Classical and Hellenistic antiquity the Enchele were more a historical memory than a contemporary group.[11]


The Enchelei are mentioned for the first time by Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC.[12] Their name in Ancient Greek meant "eel-people", from Ancient Greek ἔγχελυς, "eel". cognate to Latin: anguilla. According to E. Hamp, a connection with Albanian ngjalë makes it possible that the name Enchele was derived from the Illyrian term for eels, which may have been anciently related to Greek and simply adjusted to the Greek pronunciation. In Polybius the word is written with a voiceless aspirate kh, Enchelanes, while in Mnaseas it was replaced with a voiced ng, Engelanes, the latter being a typical feature of the Ancient Macedonian and northern Paleo-Balkan languages.[13]

In Greek mythology

Greek mythology attributes a progenitor to the Enchele, a son of Illyrius called Encheleus.[14] Illyrius, the eponymous ancestor of the whole Illyrian people,[15] had multiple sons (Encheleus, Autarieus, Dardanus, Maedus, Taulas and Perrhaebus) and daughters (Partho, Daortho, Dassaro) from which many Illyrian tribes take their name.

It is referred in Greek mythology that Cadmus, (a prince from Phoenicia that became king of Thebes; Boeotian and Enchelean hero)[8][16][17] with his wife Harmonia arrived among the Enchele and helped them build many towns on the shores of Lake Ohrid, among them Lychnidus (Ohrid) and Bouthoe (Budva).[18] As the legend says it, at that time the Enchele were at war with other neighboring Illyrian tribes and Cadmus after orders from the Oracle became leader of the people and came to their aid. After the victory against the other Illyrians, the Enchele chose Cadmus as their king.[19]

Enchelean state

In southern Illyria organized states were formed earlier than in other areas of this region. The oldest known state in the region which can be discussed about from ancient sources is that of the Encheli.[20][21] The Enchelei were often at war with the northern Greeks. From written sources from Greek writers such as Herodotus, the Enchelean army is even recorded attacking the temple of Delphi.[22]

The height of the Enchelean state was from the 8th–7th centuries BC, but the kingdom fell from dominant power around the 6th century BC.[20] It seems that the weakening of the kingdom of Enchelae resulted in their assimilation and inclusion into a newly established Illyrian realm at the latest in the 5th century BC, marking the arising of the Dassareti, who appear to have replaced the Enchelei in the lakeland area (Ohrid and Prespa).[21][23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Strabo, Geography (ed. H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A.), book 7, chapter 7: "...had established their sway, and Enchelii, who are also called Sesarethii. Then come the Lyncestæ, the territory Deuriopus, Pelagonia-Tripolitis..."
  2. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 96: "The Enchelei are an Illyrian people, who inhabit the land after Rhizon. From Bouthoe to Epidamnus, a Greek city...".
  3. ^ Apollodorus, Library, 3.5.4. "As the Encheleans were being attacked by the Illyrians, the god declared by an oracle that they would get the better of the Illyrians if they had Cadmus and Harmonia as their leaders. They believed him, and made them their leaders against the Illyrians, and got the better of them. And Cadmus reigned over the Illyrians, and a son Illyrius was born to him."
  4. ^ Robin Hard, The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology, Routledge, 2004, p. 643 n. 53.
  5. ^ Wilkes 1992, pp. 98–99.
  6. ^ Hammond 1982, p. 265.
  7. ^ Dzino 2014, p. 53.
  8. ^ a b Katičić 1977, p. 5.
  9. ^ Hammond 1982, p. 284.
  10. ^ Wilkes 1992, pp. 93, 96, 98, 99.
  11. ^ Hatzopoulos 1997, p. 145: "The Illyrian origins of the Encheleis, too, are debatable, but the question is of rather academic character, since in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, there were rather a historical memory than a contemporary ethnic group."
  12. ^ Castiglioni 2007, p. 15.
  13. ^ Šašel Kos 1993, p. 119.
  14. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 92.
  15. ^ Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 230; Apollodorus & Hard 1999, p. 103 (Book III, 5.4).
  16. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 98: "This was the territory of the Enchelei, whose rulers claimed descent from the hero Cadmus".
  17. ^ Winnifrith 2002, p. 46: "The Enchelidae, an Illyrian tribe, lived near Lake Ohrid, but a legend associated them and their founder, the Greek hero Cadmus"
  18. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 99.
  19. ^ Cadmus: "After having many children, Cadmus and Harmonia left Thebes in order to defend the Encheleans, a people living in southern Illyria, which is the region north of Epirus, and there defeated the Illyrian intruders..."
  20. ^ a b Stipčević 1989, p. 34.
  21. ^ a b Šašel Kos 2004, p. 500.
  22. ^ Šašel Kos 1993, p. 118.
  23. ^ Castiglioni 2010, pp. 93–95.


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