The Enchelii (also Enchelei or Encheleans), the inhabitants of Enchele (Ancient Greek: Ἐγχέλιοι/Ἐγχελεῖς/*Σεσαρήθιοι, Enchelioi/Encheleis/*Sesarethioi; Latin: Enchelii/Encheleae/Sesarethii; name of the country: Ἐγχέλη, Enchele; demonym: Enchelean), were an ancient people that lived around the region of Lake Shkodra and Lake Ohrid, in modern-day Albania and North Macedonia. They are one of the oldest known peoples of the eastern shore of the Adriatic. In ancient sources they sometimes appear as an ethnic group distinct from the Illyrians, but are mostly mentioned as one of the Illyrian tribes.
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. During Classical and Hellenistic antiquity the Enchele were more a historical memory than a contemporary group. Their Illyrian origin is debatable.
The Enchelei are mentioned for the first time by Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC. 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.
Greek mythology attributes a progenitor to the Enchele, a son of Illyrius called Encheleus. Illyrius, the eponymous ancestor of the whole Illyrian people, 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) 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). 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.
In southern Illyria organized states were formed earlier than in other areas of this region. The oldest known state which can be discussed about from ancient sources is that of the Enchelii. 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.
The Enchele 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.