Taulantii or Taulantians ('swallow-men'; Ancient Greek: Ταυλάντιοι, Taulantioi or Χελιδόνιοι, Chelidonioi; Latin: Taulantii) were an Illyrian people that lived on the Adriatic coast of southern Illyria (modern Albania). They dominated at various times much of the plain between the rivers Drin (Drilon) and Vjosa (Aoös). Their central area was the hinterland of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion, corresponding to present-day Tirana and the region between the valleys of Mat and Shkumbin (Genusus). The Taulantii are among the oldest attested Illyrian peoples, who established a powerful kingdom in southern Illyria. They are among the peoples who most marked Illyrian history, and thus found their place in the numerous works of historians in classical antiquity.
The Taulantii, along with the Eneti, are the oldest attested peoples expressly considered Illyrian in early Greek historiography. The Taulantii were firstly recorded by ancient Greek writer Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC. The Taulantii are often reported in the works of ancient writers describing the numerous wars they waged against the Macedonians, the Epirotes, and the ancient Greek colonies on the Illyrian coast. They are mentioned, for instance, by Thucydides, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Titus Livius, Pliny the Elder and Appian.
The term taulantii is connected with the Albanian word dallëndyshe, or tallandushe, meaning 'swallow'. The ethnonym Chelidonioi also reported by Hecateus as the name of a tribe neighboring the Taulantii is the translation of the name Taulantii as khelīdṓn (χελιδών) means "swallow" in Ancient Greek. The name suggests the practice of animal totemism, which was widespread among Illyrian peoples.
Hecataeus reported that the tribe of Chelidonioi (Χελιδόνιοι) lived to the north of the Sesarethioi (Σεσαρήθιοι). Furthermore he reported that Sesarethos (Σεσάρηθος) was a Taulantian city, with Sesarethioi as its ethnicon. It has been suggested either that the name Chelidonioi might have been an exonym, and that Hecataeus wrongly differentiated two tribes misjudging the meaning of the name, or that after the name of the local tribe was translated from Illyrian by Greek colonists in Epidamnos, the ethnonym Chelidones might have adhered to the Taulantian people located in Epidamnos, while the ethnonym Taulantii continued to be used as the name of the neighboring Taulantian people.
According to a mythological tradition reported by Appian (2nd century AD), the Taulantii 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.
The Taulantii lived on the southeastern Adriatic coast of southern Illyria (modern Albania), dominating at various times much of the plain between the rivers Drin and Aous. In earlier times the Taulantii inhabited the northern part of the Drin river; later they lived within and around the sites of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion and Apollonia. Their territory was centered in the area of present-day Tirana, and its hinterland between the valleys of the Mat and Shkumbin rivers. In Roman times, their neighbours to the north were the Labeatae, to the east the Parthini, and to the south-east the Bylliones. The Parthini probably have been part of the Taulantian peoples before their first appearance as Roman allies in the late 3rd century BC, neighboring to the east the Dassareti, and to the north-east the Penestae. The Abri or Abroi, a tribe mentioned by Hecataeus (6th century BC) as neighbors of the Chelidonioi likely also have been part of the Taulantian peoples.
The extension of the Taulantii to the limits of the Apollonian territory is not very clear in the data provided by Pseudo-Skylax. The southern border of the Taulantii was likely the Seman river, while the northern border was marked by the Mat river. Livy and Pliny located them in the same place, but according to Ptolemy, Aulon (Vlorë) was in Taulantian territory, which implies an extension of this people towards the south including the territory of Apollonia. In Roman times such a southward extension was not possible before the end of the Roman civil wars, which involved this area.
The Taulantii are one of the most anciently known Illyrian group of tribes. Taulantian settlement at the site of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion is estimated to have happened not later than the 10th century BC. After their occupation of the site, Illyrian tribes most likely left the eastern coast of the Adriatic for Italy departing from the region of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion for the best crossing to Bari, in Apulia. When they settled in the area of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion, it seems that the Taulantii replaced the previous inhabitants, the Bryges. According to another ancient tradition the Taulantii replaced the Parthini, who were pushed more inland losing their coastal holdings.
About the 9th century BC the Liburni expanded their dominion southwards, and took possession of the site of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion expelling the Taulantii. In that period the Taulantii expanded southwards and controlled the plain of Mallakastër reaching as far as the mouth of the Aous.
When describing the Illyrian invasion of Macedonia ruled by Argaeus I, somewhere between 678–640 BC, the historian Polyaenus (fl. 2nd-century AD) recorded the supposed oldest known king in Illyria, Galaurus or Galabrus, a ruler of the Taulantii who reigned in the latter part of the 7th century BC. Some scholars consider the authenticity of Polyaenus' passage as disputable. Whether or not this account is historically reliable, and despite Polyaenus' interest in the anecdote, it implies the widespread thought throughout antiquity about a significant animosity between the Macedonians and the Illyrians as early as the 7th century BC, if the consensus in modern scholarship in dating the reigning period of Argaeus I is correct.
Friendly relationships were created between Corinthians and certain Illyrian tribes. In the 7th century BC the Taulantii invoked the aid of Corinth and Corcyra in a war against the Liburni. After the defeat and expulsion of the Liburni from the region, the Corcyreans founded in 627 BC on the Illyrian mainland a colony, mixing with the local population and establishing the Greek element to the port. The city was called Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion, thought to have been the names of two barbarian/Illyrian rulers of the region. The double name was determined by the presence of a pre-existing Illyrian settlement presumably located on the hills (Epidamnos), while the plain, formerly occupied by a lagoon communicating with the sea, provided favorable conditions that created a natural harbor (Dyrrachion). The Greek colony was therefore founded in a territory that corresponded to a narrow promontory surrounded by the sea that gave the city the appearance of an island. A flourishing commercial centre emerged and the city grew rapidly. It thrived for about two centuries, mainly as a result of trade with the neighboring Illyrians of the hinterland, which was mediated by a magistrate, called poletes ('seller'). The poletes was chosen each year from among the citizens who were deemed worthy by the Epidamnians.
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. 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.
The Taulantii continued to play an important role in Illyrian history between the 5th and 4th–3rd centuries BC, and in particular in the history of Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion, not only as its neighbors but also as part of its population.  Although the Epidamnians established the figure of a trade magistrate (poletes) to avoid the influence of the native people surrounding Epidamnos, it wasn't enough to prevent intervention of neighboring Illyrians in the internal affairs of the city. The constitution of Epidamnos was initially oligarchic, and many inhabitants were not citizens. In 435 BC, the city suffered an intence civil war undertaken between the democratic faction and the aristocratic faction. After the democrats had seized power, the exiled oligarchs joined with the neighboring Taulantii to retake the city. The Illyrians besieged the city in strength, and through the occupation of the surrounding region, they caused much damage to the economy of the city. The social crisis caused the intervention of the two mother cities: Corinth on the side of the democrats and Corcyra on the side of the aristocrats and native Illyrians. Corcyra won the naval battle against Corinth, taking Epidamnos and driving out the demos. At the end of the naval battle Athens, the leader of the Delian League, took sides with the Corcyreans, as Corinth was already allied with Sparta within the Peloponnesian League. This was the pretext for the Peloponnesian War as reported by Thucydides.
In the well attested historical period, the Taulantian kingdom seems to have reached its apex during Glaucias' rule, in the years between 335 BC and 302 BC. After Glaucias' rule, the Taulantian territory likely were absorbed partly by Pyrrhus in the Epirotan state and partly by other Illyrian realms established in southern Illyria.
See also: Illyrian language
The idiom spoken by the Taulanti is included in the southern Illyrian onomastic province in modern linguistics. The territory they inhabited belongs to the area that is considered in current scholarship as the linguistic core of Illyrian.
The Abri, a northern subgroup of the Taulantii, were known to the ancient Greek writers for their technique of preparing mead from honey.
The following names are recorded in ancient sources as Taulantian chieftains and/or Illyrian kings:
The Illyrian king Monounios, who minted his own silver staters bearing the king's name and the symbol of Dyrrhachion from about 290 BC, is considered the successor of Glaucias, and probably his son. Their realm also included the southern part of the kingdom of Agron and Teuta.
This enterprising and martial people expanded again after 800 B.C.... the Taulantioi seized the Malakastra plain and reached the mouth of the Aoous