Queen Teuta (Ancient Greek: Τεύτα) of Illyria was an Illyrian queen of the tribe Ardiaei who reigned approximately from 231 BC to 227 BC.
After the death of her husband, Agron (250 BC–230 BC), former king of the Ardiaei, she inherited the Ardiaean kingdom that included much of Illyria proper, though its exact extent remains unknown and acted as regent for her young stepson Pinnes with the royal seat in Risan (in modern Montenegro). Teuta started to address the neighbouring states malevolently, as her primary stance was to support piratical raids of her subjects.
Illyrian pirates soon captured, later foritified Dyrrachium (modern-day Durrës, Albania) and Phoenice (which was soon liberated with a truce and a fee). While her Illyrian ships were off the coast of Onchesmos, they intercepted and plundered some merchant vessels of Rome. Teuta’s pirates extended their operations further southward into the Ionian Sea, breaching the trade routes between the mainland of Greece and the Greek cities in Italy, and were soon feared as the terror of the Adriatic.
Because the Roman Republic felt threatened by the opposing side of the Adriatic in the very vicinity of its territories (where most of the raids were situated), the senate was compelled to dispatch two ambassadors to the pirate lair at Scodra to solcit reparations and demand an end to all pirate expeditions. Queen Teuta told the ambassadors that according to the law of the Illyrians, piracy was a lawful trade and that her government had no right to interfere with this as a private enterprise. She also implied that “it was never the custom of royalty to prevent the advantage of its subjects they could get from the sea”. One of the envoys reportedly replied that Rome would make it her business to introduce better law among the Illyrians as “we have an excellent custom of punishing private wrongs by public revenge”. At any rate, one of the two present ambassadors expressed himself to the queen so disrespectfully that her attendants were ordered to seize the abassador ship as it embarked back for Rome. One of the ambassadors was killed and the other was put in captivity.
This was too much for Rome to endure. In 229 BC, Rome declared war on Illyria and for the first time armies crossed the Adriatic to Illyria (the Balkan Peninsula in modern usage). An army consisting of approximately 20,000 troops, 200 cavalry units and arguably an entire Roman fleet of 200 ships was sent to conquer Corcyra. Teuta’s governor, Demetrius had little alternative but to surrender and the Romans awarded him a considerable part of Teuta’s holdings (228 BC). The Roman army then landed further north at Apollonia. The combined army and navy proceeded northward together, subduing one town after another and eventually besieging the capital Shkodra. Teuta finally surrendered in 227 BC, having to accept an ignominious peace. The Romans allowed her to continue her reign but restricted her to a narrow region around Scodra, deprived her of all her other holdings, and forbade her to sail an armed ship below Lissus just south of the capital. They also required her to pay an annual tribute and to acknowledge the final authority of Rome.
Her rule was finally dismembered by the politician Aulus Postumius, after she opted against Roman suppression. Very little is known of the rest of her life, but she was eventually succeeded by Gentius in 181 BC.