The Enchelei[a] were an ancient people that lived around the River Drin and the region of Lake Shkodra and Lake Ohrid,[4][5][6] in modern-day Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. They are one of the oldest known peoples of the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea.[7] In ancient sources they sometimes appear as an ethnic group distinct from the Illyrians, but they are mostly mentioned as one of the Illyrian tribes.[8] They held a central position in the earlier phase of Illyrian history.[9] In ancient Greek literature they are linked with the end of the mythical narrative of Cadmus and Harmonia, a tradition deeply rooted among the Illyrian peoples.[10][11][6]

The name Sesarethii was used by Strabo as an alternative name for the Enchelei in the lakeland area of Ohrid. Mentioned for the first time by Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC, the name Sesarethii/Sesarethioi is also considered a variant of Dassaretii/Dassaretioi,[12] an Illyrian tribe that has been recorded since Roman times and that is attested in coinage and inscriptions found around lake Ohrid. The weakening of the kingdom of the Enchelei presumably led to Enchelei's assimilation and inclusion into a newly established Illyrian realm at the latest in the 6th–5th centuries BC, marking the arising of the Dassaretii, who appear to have replaced the Enchelei in the lakeland area.[13][14] During Classical and Hellenistic antiquity the Enchelei were more a historical memory than a contemporary group.[15]

The region inhabited by the Enchelei was known as Enchele.[16] 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.[17][18]


Attestation and variants

The Enchelei are mentioned for the first time by Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC.[19] A variant in ancient Greek literature is Εγχελάνες Enchelanes, which bears the suffix -anes typical in the western Greek dialects spoken by the Greek neighbors of the Enchelei. As such this makes it a native form of the name compared to Enchelei which has been influenced by Ionic Greek.[20] 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.[3]


The name Enchelei is thought to have meant "eel people", as in Ancient Greek ἔγχελυς means "eel", like in modern Albanian ngjalë "eel" < Illyrian *engella, possibly cognates to Latin: anguilla "eel" and Lithuanian: ungurỹs "eel".[6] The 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.[3] An Indo-European pre-form of the root still can not be reconstructed. For this reason, Robert S. P. Beekes considers it Pre-Greek, which matches the timeframe of an early Illyrian origin of the ethnonym through the legendary story of Cadmus and the Enchelei.[6]

Other names

An alternative name for the Enchelei in the lakeland area of Ohrid is recorded by Strabo as Sesarethii. The name Sesarethioi is mentioned for the first time by Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC. Hecataeus reported that the tribe of Chelidonioi (Χελιδόνιοι) lived to the north of the Sesarethioi (Σεσαρήθιοι). Furthermore he reports that Sesarethos (Σεσάρηθος) was a Taulantian city, with Sesarethioi as its ethnicon.[21] The name Sesarethii/Sesarethioi is also considered a variant of Dassaretii/Dassaretioi, an Illyrian tribe that has been recorded since Roman times and that is attested in coinage and inscriptions found around lake Ohrid.[12]

Mythological accounts

A legend widespread in antiquity reports that Cadmus – a Phoenician prince who became king of Thebes, and a Boeotian and Enchelean figure[9][22][23][24] – with his wife Harmonia arrived among the Enchelei and helped them build many towns on the shores of Lake Ohrid and Lake Shkodra, among them Lychnidus (Ohrid) and Bouthoe (Budva).[25] As the legend says it, at that time the Enchele were at war with 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 Illyrians, the Enchele chose Cadmus as their king.[26]

A mythological tradition reported by Appian (2nd century AD) tells that the Enchelei were among the South-Illyrian tribes that took their names from the first generation of the descendants of Illyrius, the eponymous ancestor of all the Illyrian peoples.[27][28][29] According to Appian's account the progenitor to the Enchele was Encheleus, a son of Illyrius.[30] [31]

According to a legendary account reported by Polybius, cited by Stephanus of Byzantium, after the disappearance of Amphiaraus during the siege of Thebes, his carioteer Baton settled in Illyria, near the country of the Enchelei.[32]


Illyrian tribes in the 7th–4th centuries BCE.

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.[33][13] 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.[33] 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 6th–5th century BC, marking the arising of the Dassareti, who appear to have replaced the Enchelei in the lakeland area of Ohrid and Prespa.[13][14] While the Enchelean area of river Drilon and lake Shkodra in northern Albania saw in later times the emergence of the Labeates, an Illyrian tribe who retained their distinct identity until the early Roman period.[6] As reported in a fragment of Hecataeus of Miletus (around 6th century BC), Enchelei neighbored the Dexaroi, a Chaonian tribe.[34][35][36]

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.[20] Justin (2nd century AD) reports that at a time when the ruler of Macedonia was the infant Aeropus I (around 6th century BC), the Illyrians attacked successfully Macedonia until the infant ruler was brought to a battle by his Macedonian subjects, benefitting from his presence and avenging their initial defeat against the Illyrians. The name of the specific Illyrian tribe or group of tribes that attacked Macedonia is not reported in Justin's account, but it has been suggested that they would have been either the Enchelei, whose realm was centered at that time in the area of Lake Lychnidus, or the Taulantii, who were based farther west, in the coastal area within and around Epidamnos and Apollonia.[37] The Illyrian raids against the Argeads who were based at Aegae indicate that Illyrian attacks also involved the Upper Macedonian regions of Lynkestis, Orestis and Eordaea, Elimea, and Tymphaea, as they were located between Illyrian territory and Argead lands.[38]

See also


  1. ^ The Enchelei are alternatively known as Encheleans,[1] Enchelii/Encheleioi,[2] Enchelanes/Engelanes,[3] Encheleae.


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ 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..."
  3. ^ a b c Šašel Kos 1993, p. 119.
  4. ^ Wilkes 1992, pp. 98–99.
  5. ^ Hammond 1982, p. 265.
  6. ^ a b c d e Dedvukaj 2023, p. 7.
  7. ^ Dzino 2014, p. 53.
  8. ^ Katičić 1977, p. 81: "Bald ist es, als verträten sie in ältester Zeit für die Griechen das illyrische Volkstum schlechthin, manchmal erscheinen sie als eigene Volksgruppe n eben den Illy riern , meistens aber werden sie als einer unter den illyrischen Stämmen erwähnt."
  9. ^ a b Katičić 1977, p. 5.
  10. ^ Katičić 1977, p. 81: an sie knüpft sich der Mythos vom Ende des Kadmos und der Harmonia. Bald ist es, als verträten sie in ältester Zeit für die Griechen das illyrische Volkstum schlechthin,
  11. ^ Šašel Kos 1993, p. 113.
  12. ^ a b Theodossiev 1998, p. 348.
  13. ^ a b c Šašel Kos 2004, p. 500.
  14. ^ a b Castiglioni 2010, pp. 93–95.
  15. ^ 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."
  16. ^ Robin Hard, The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology, Routledge, 2004, p. 643 n. 53.
  17. ^ Hammond 1982, p. 284.
  18. ^ Wilkes 1992, pp. 93, 96, 98, 99.
  19. ^ Castiglioni 2007, p. 15.
  20. ^ a b Šašel Kos 1993, p. 118.
  21. ^ Eichner 2004, p. 97.
  22. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 98: "This was the territory of the Enchelei, whose rulers claimed descent from the hero Cadmus".
  23. ^ 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"
  24. ^ Castiglioni 2010, p. 41: Cette imagerie aurait eu pour fonction d’établir, en vertu des ressemblances avec l’icône – familière au public athénien – d’Athéna et d’Erichthonios, un parallélisme entre le cycle d’Erichthonios et la représentation de la fondation cadméenne de Thèbes, en se servant de la rhétorique de l’autochtonie. Ce serpent thébain inoffensif et placide aurait été assimilé par les Athéniens du Ve siècle au paisible gardien autochtone de l’acropole de Thèbes, le serpent d’Arès, dont le meurtre aurait permis au barbare Cadmos son installation sur le sol de Thèbes, usurpé et souillé par un crime.
  25. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 99.
  26. ^ 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..."
  27. ^ Papazoglu 1978, p. 213: "The tribes which took their names from the first generation of Illyrius' descendants belong mostly to the group of the so-called South-Illyrian tribes: the Taulantii, the Parthini, the Enchelei, the Dassaretii".
  28. ^ Šašel Kos 2004, p. 502.
  29. ^ Mesihović & Šačić 2015, pp. 23–24.
  30. ^ Wilkes 1992, p. 92.
  31. ^ Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 230; Apollodorus & Hard 1999, p. 103 (Book III, 5.4).
  32. ^ Cabanes 2008, pp. 157–158.
  33. ^ a b Stipčević 1989, p. 34.
  34. ^ Bogdani 2012, pp. 364–365.
  35. ^ Angeli, Maria Gabriella Bertinelli; Donati, Angela (2006). Le vie della storia: migrazioni di popoli, viaggi di individui, circolazione di idee nel Mediterraneo antico : atti del II Incontro internazionale di storia antica (Genova 6-8 ottobre 2004) (in Italian). G. Bretschneider. p. 176. ISBN 978-88-7689-230-1. the Enchelei who had lived north of the Chaones and along Lake Lychni- dus
  36. ^ Šašel Kos 2004, p. 276.
  37. ^ Greenwalt 2011, p. 281.
  38. ^ Greenwalt 2011, pp. 281–282.