Last updated
Triballian area. Triballi territory.jpg
Triballian area.

The Triballi (Greek : Τριβαλλοί, romanized: Triballoí) were an ancient tribe whose dominion was around the plains of modern southern Serbia, [1] [2] northern part of North Macedonia and western Bulgaria, at the Angrus and Brongus [3] (the South and West Morava ) and the Iskar River, roughly centered where Serbia and Bulgaria are joined. [2]


The Triballi were a Thracian tribe that received influences from Celts, Scythians and Illyrians. [4] [5]


The written sources on the Triballi are scarce but the archaeological remains are abundant. The scientific research of the Triballi was boosted with Fanula Papazoglu's book The Central Balkan Tribes in Pre-Roman Times (1968 in Serbia, 1978 in English). Other historians and archaeologists who wrote on the Triballi include Milutin Garašanin  [ sr ], Dragoslav Srejović, Nikola Tasić, Rastko Vasić, Miloš Jevtić and, especially, Milorad Stojić (Tribali u arheologiji i istorijskim izvorima, 2017). [6]

Based on the archaeological findings, the history of the Triballi can be divided in four periods: Proto-Triballian (1300–800 BC), Early Triballian (800-600 BC), Triballian (600–335 BC) and period from 335 BC until Roman conquest. [6]

In 424 BC, they were attacked by Sitalkes, king of the Odrysae, who was defeated and lost his life in the engagement. [3] [7] They were pushed to the east by the invading Autariatae, an Illyrian tribe; the date of this event is uncertain. [3]

In 376 BC, a large band of Triballi under King Hales crossed Mount Haemus and advanced as far as Abdera; [3] they had backing from Maroneia and were preparing to besiege the city when Chabrias appeared off the coast, with the Athenian fleet, [3] and organized a reconciliation. [7]

In 339 BC, when Philip II of Macedon was returning from his expedition against the Scythians, the Triballi refused to allow him to pass the Haemus unless they received a share of the booty. Hostilities took place, in which Philip was defeated [3] and wounded by a spear in his right thigh, but the Triballi appear to have been subsequently subdued by him. [8] [3]

After the death of Philip, Alexander the Great passed through the lands of the Odrysians in 335-334 BC, crossed the Haemus ranges and after three encounters (Battle of Haemus, Battle at Lyginus River, Battle at Peuce Island) defeated and drove the Triballians to the junction of the Lyginus at the Danube. [3] 3,000 Triballi were killed, the rest fled. Their king Syrmus (eponymous to Roman Sirmium) took refuge on the Danubian island of Peukê, where most of the remnants of the defeated Thracians were exiled. The successful Macedonian attacks terrorized the tribes around the Danube; the autonomous Thracian tribes sent tributes for peace, Alexander was satisfied with his operations and accepted peace because of his greater wars in Asia.

They were attacked by Autariatae and Celts in 295 BC. [9]

The punishment inflicted by Ptolemy Keraunos on the Getae, however, induced the Triballi to sue for peace. About 279 BC, a host of Gauls (Scordisci [10] ) under Cerethrius defeated the Triballi with an army of 3,000 horsemen and 15,000 foot soldiers. The defeat pushed the Triballi further to the east. [11] Nevertheless, they continued to cause trouble to the Roman governors of Macedonia [3] for fifty years (135 BC–84 BC).

The Illyrian Dardani tribe settled in the southwest of the Triballi area in 87 BC. The Thracian place names survives the Romanization of the region. [12]

Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) registers them as one of the tribes of Moesia. [13]

In the time of Ptolemy (90–168 AD), their territory was limited to the district between the Ciabrus (Tzibritza) and Utus (Vit) rivers, part of what is now Bulgaria; their chief town was Oescus. [3]

Under Tiberius, mention is made of Triballia in Moesia; and the Emperor Maximinus Thrax (reigned 235–237) had been a commander of a squadron of Triballi. The name occurs for the last time during the reign of Diocletian, who dates a letter from Triballis. [3] [14]


Exonym of Serbs

The Seal of the Serbian Parliament, 1805 Praviteljstvujusci sovjet serbski.JPG
The Seal of the Serbian Parliament, 1805
Golden pitcher from Vratsa Vratsa-history-museum-Mogilanska-tumulus-golden-pitcher.jpg
Golden pitcher from Vratsa

The term "Triballians" appears frequently in Byzantine and other European works of the Middle Ages, referring exclusively to Serbs. [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] Some of these authors clearly explain that "Triballian" is synonym to "Serbian". [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] For example, Niketas Choniates (or Acominatus, 1155–1215 or-16) in his history about Emperor Ioannes Komnenos: "... Shortly after this, he campaigned against the nation of Triballians (whom someone may call Serbians as well) ..." [26] or the much later Demetrios Chalkondyles (1423–1511), referring to an Islamized Christian noble: "... This Mahmud, son of Michael, is Triballian, which means Serbian, by his mother, and Greek by his father." [27] or Mehmed the Conqueror when referring to the plundering of Serbia. [28]

Mihailo Vojislavljević succeeded as Knez of "Duklja" in 1046, or as his realm was called by contemporary Cedrenus: "Triballorum ac Serborum principatum". [29] According to George Kedrenos (fl. 1050s) and John Skylitzes (fl. 1057), he was the Prince of Triballians and Serbs (Τριβαλλών και Σέρβων...αρχηγός [30] / Τριβαλλῶν καὶ Σέρβων...ἀρχηγός). [31]

In the 15th century, a coat of arms of "Tribalia", depicting a wild boar with an arrow pierced through the head (see Boars in heraldry), appeared in the supposed Coat of Arms of Emperor Stefan Dušan 'the Mighty' (r. 1331–1355). [32] The motif had, in 1415, been used as the Coat of Arms of the Serbian Despotate and is recalled in one of Stefan Lazarević's personal Seals, according to the paper Сабор у Констанци. [33] Pavao Ritter Vitezović also depicts "Triballia" with the same motif in 1701 [34] and Hristofor Zhefarovich again in 1741. [35]

Marin Barleti (1450–1513), wrote in his biography of Skanderbeg (published between 1508–10), that father of Skanderbeg's mother Voisava was a "Triballian nobleman" (pater nobilissimus Triballorum princeps). [36] In another chapter, when talking about the inhabitants of Upper Debar that defended Svetigrad, he calls them "Bulgarians or Triballi" (Bulgari sive Tribali habitant). [37]

With the beginning of the First Serbian Uprising, the Parliament adopted the Serbian Coat of Arms in 1805, their official seal depicted the heraldic emblems of Serbia and Tribalia. [38]

Even though the two names were used as synonyms by some Byzantine sources and certain heraldic inheritance, Serbian official historiography is not equalizing the Serbs and the Triballi, nor does it fabricate a cultural continuity between the two. [6]

Tribals and Tribalia are often identified in a historical context with Serbs and Serbia, as these interpretations refer only to Laonikos Chalkokondyles of the 15th century, who often resorted to archaisms in his historical writings that have come down to us (Mizi, Illyrians, etc.). ) to indicate the subjects of the individual rulers, without attaching ethnic meaning to their content.

Archaeological findings



Archeological findings prove that the Triballi inhabited the Morava Valley (Great Morava and South Morava) region in the Iron Age. [39]

Related Research Articles

Illyria Historical region in Western Balkan, Southeast Europe

In classical antiquity, Illyria was a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by numerous tribes of people collectively known as the Illyrians. Illyrians spoke the Illyrian language, a Indo-European language, which in ancient times perhaps also had speakers in some parts in Southern Italy. The geographical term Illyris was sometimes used to define approximately the area of northern and central Albania down to the Aoös valley, including in most periods much of the lakeland area. In Roman times the terms Illyria / Illyris / Illyricum were extended from the territory that was roughly located in the area of the south-eastern Adriatic coast and its hinterland, to a broader region stretching between the Adriatic Sea and the Danube, and from the upper reaches of the Adriatic down to the Ardiaei. From about mid 1st century BC the term Illyricum was used by the Romans for the province of the Empire that stretched along the eastern Adriatic coast north of the Drin river, south of which the Roman province of Maceodnia began.

The Scordisci were a Celtic Iron Age cultural group centered in the territory of present-day Serbia, at the confluence of the Savus (Sava), Dravus (Drava) and Danube rivers. They were historically notable from the beginning of the third century BC until the turn of the common era, and consolidated into a tribal state. At their zenith, their core territory stretched over regions comprising parts of present-day Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, while their influence spread even further. After the Roman conquest in the 1st century AD, their territories were included into the Roman provinces of Pannonia, Moesia and Dacia.

Dardani Ancient tribe in the Balkans

The Dardani were a Paleo-Balkan tribe, which lived in a region which was named Dardania after their settlement there. The eastern parts of the region were at the Thraco-Illyrian contact zone. In archaeological research, Illyrian names are predominant in western Dardania, while Thracian names are mostly found in eastern Dardania. Thracian names are absent in western Dardania; some Illyrian names appear in the eastern parts. Thus, their identification as either an Illyrian or Thracian tribe has been a subject of debate; the ethnolinguistic relationship between the two groups being largely uncertain and debated itself as well. The correspondence of Illyrian names, including those of the ruling elite, in Dardania with those of the southern Illyrians suggests a "thracianization" of parts of Dardania. Strabo in his geographica mentions them as one of the three strongest Illyrian peoples, the other two being the Ardiaei and Autariatae.

Autariatae Illyrian people

The Autariatae or Autariatai were an Illyrian people that lived between the valleys of the Lim and the Tara, beyond the northern Albanian mountains, and the valley of West Morava. Their territory was located inland from the Ardiaei and the Lake Skodra, extending east to the Dardani and north or northeast to the Triballi.

The Moesi was a Thracian tribe which inhabited present day Northern Bulgaria and Serbia, which gave its name to the Roman province of Moesia after its defeat in 29 BC. Moesia was first established as a separate province in 45–46 AD.

Dardania (Roman province)

Dardania was a Roman province in the Central Balkans, initially an unofficial region in Moesia (87–284), then a province administratively part of the Diocese of Moesia (293–337). It was named after the tribe of the Dardani who inhabited the region in classical antiquity prior to the Roman conquest.

Celticisation, or Celticization, was historically the process of conquering and assimilating by the ancient Celts. Today, as the Celtic inhabited-areas significantly differ, the term still refers to making something Celtic, usually focusing around the Celtic nations and their languages.


The Dentheletae, also Danthaletae (Δανθαλῆται) or Denseletae, were a Thracian tribe that in antiquity lived near the sources of the River Strymon, and are mentioned in texts by Polybius, Cassius Dio, Tacitus and by Livy. They lived in the neighbourhoods of the modern towns Kyustendil and Dupnitsa, stretching to as far as the mountains to the west towards the valleys of the Morava and the Vardar river, with territories situated next to the Thracian tribes Agrianes and the Maedi. Their main city, called Dentheletica, was presumably Pautalia as this was the capital of the Roman region Dentheletica. They possibly built fortifications around Stara Planina in the 1st century BC, lived around Sofia and Skaptopara was their town.

Serbia in the Roman era

Much of the territory of the modern state of Serbia was part of the Roman Empire and later the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. In particular, the region of Central Serbia was under Roman rule for about 600 years, from the 1st century BC until the arrival of the Slavs into the Balkans during the 6th century. The territories were administratively divided into the provinces of Moesia, Pannonia and Dardania. Moesia Superior roughly corresponds to modern Serbia proper; Pannonia Inferior included the eastern part of Serbia proper; Dardania included the western part of Serbia proper.

The best known cultural archaeological discoveries from the prehistoric period on the territory of modern-day Serbia are the Starčevo and Vinča cultures dating back to 6400–6200 BC.

Syrmus or Syrmos was a king of the West Thracian Triballi tribe during the 330s BC.

Epicaria Former settlement in ancient Illyria

Epicaria or Durnium was a settlement in ancient Illyria, of the Illyrian tribe called the Cavii. It was close to Bassania.

Thermidava is a toponym used by Ptolemy in relation to a settlement in the route of the Roman army during the Dacian campaign of Emperor Trajan. In the context of Ptolemy's narrative the settlement was located along the Lissus-Naissus route. The only other information about the settlement provided is that when Trajan passed through he was "greeted by friendly Dacians". Many locations have been proposed and rejected since the 19th century. A reading of the toponym hinted at a compound of Greek thermos and the Thracian suffix -dava or a toponym derived from Dacian. This led to theories that this was a settlement close to thermal springs and Banja of Peja was proposed as a location, but it has been rejected in modern research. The reference to a -dava settlement within a definitely Illyrian district made its localization within Illyria more unlikely. In contemporary analysis, Ptolemy's account is considered to refer to two different aspects of Trajan's route. Thermidava is most probably a misreading of Theranda. No pro-Roman Dacians have been recorded in the region, nor is their presence considered likely. Most scholars consider Ptolemy's account to refer to a settlement north of the Danube, near the Banat area where the interests of the locals aligned with those of the Romans in the Dacian campaign.

Sithōnes is the name of a Thracian tribe.

Voisava Kastrioti 14th-15th Albanian noblewoman

Voisava was the wife of Gjon Kastrioti, a member of the Albanian nobility with whom she had nine children, one of whom is Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg. She is mentioned in passing in two sources from the start of the 16th century. The first source, comes from the testament of Gjon Muzaka. In his genealogy he writes: Dominicus alias Moncinus [genuit]: 1. Agnese Andre Angeli mater, & 2. Voisava Ivani uxorem. Uxor is Latin for "wife, spouse" and Dominicus alias Moncinus is Voisava's father according to the document. The second source, a biography on her son, mentions her as the daughter of a "Triballian nobleman", which is interpreted as her being Serbian, modern scholars pointing to the Branković dynasty. The other view is that Voisava Kastrioti was a member of the Muzaka Noble family.

Hales or Chales was the king of the Triballi, a Thracian tribe that inhabited the region between West Morava and South Morava rivers, called the "Triballian field" in what is today south-eastern Serbia.

Coat of arms of Triballia

The Coat of arms of Triballia is a historical coat of arms attributed to medieval Serbia by various armorials, and is today depicted in several Serbian municipality coat of arms in Šumadija. The motif is of a severed wild boar's head with an arrow in its mouth or through its head.

Dardanian invasion of Epirus

Invasion of Molossia was a military conflict between Dardanian and Molossian tribes.

The Eneti or Enetoi were an Illyrian people dwelling inland of Illyria, in an area located to the north or north-west of Macedonia in classical antiquity. They were neighbors of the Dardani and the Triballi.


  1. Papazoglu 1978, p. 58-61.
  2. 1 2 George Grote: History of Greece: I. Legendary Greece. II. Grecian history to the reign of Peisistratus at Athens, Vol 12, 1856 "...from the plain of Kossovo in modern Servia northward towards the Danube..."
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Triballi"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 261.
  4. Alexander the Great at War: His army - His battles - His Enemies (General Military) by Ruth Sheppard, 2008, page 69, "... for savagery and their contact with the Scythians, Illyrians and Celts left influences upon the Triballi, and these influences may be ..."
  5. The Thracians 700 BC–AD 46 (Men-at-Arms) by Christopher Webber and Angus McBride, 2001, ISBN   1-84176-329-2, page 6
  6. 1 2 3 4 Sofija Petković, Milorad Stojić (20 January 2018). "Tribali - najstariji stanovnici Srbije" [Triballi - the oldest inhabitants of Serbia]. Politika-Kulturni dodatak (in Serbian). pp. 06–07.
  7. 1 2 The Greek Settlements in Thrace Until the Macedonian Conquest at Google Books
  8. Interpreting a Classic: Demosthenes and His Ancient Commentators at Google Books
  9. The Thracians by Ralph F. Hoddinott, 1981, ISBN   0-500-02099-X, Chapter "South and para-Dunavian Thrace", "Thracian art in the valley of the Lower Danube", page 197
  10. Appianus
  11. "Theodossiev" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  12. "BALCANICA XXXVII" (PDF). Belgrade. 2007. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  13. The Cambridge Ancient History at Google Books
  14. Encyclopædia Britannica: a new survey of universal knowledge, Volume 22, (1956) p. 465
  15. Stuck Whilhelm (Guilielmus Stukius Tigurinus), Comments on Arriani historici et philosophi Ponti Euxini et maris Erythraei Periplus, Lugduni, 1577, p. 51
  16. John Foxe (1517–1587) Acts and Monuments, Published by R.B. Seeley & W. Burnside, London, 1837, vol. 4, p. 27
  17. "Balkan history - Thracian tribes". Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  18. The letters of Manuel II Palaeologus at Google Books
  19. Fanula Papazoglu (1978). The Central Balkan Tribe in Pre-Roman Times: Triballi, Autariatae, Dardanians, Scordisci and Moesians. Hakkert. ISBN   978-90-256-0793-7. The Triballi lived deep in the interior of the Balkan Peninsula, between the lower course of the Southern Morava and the ... many centuries later, learned Byzantine writers, seeking the ancient name for the Serbs, chose the term Triballi as the ...
  20. Zbornik radova Vizantološkog instituta. 44. Naučno delo. 2007. The Serbs were often called Triballi by Byzantine authors.
  21. Potter, G. R. (1938). "Reviews of Books". The English Historical Review. 53 (209): 129–131. doi:10.1093/ehr/LIII.CCIX.129. JSTOR   554790.
  22. Mehmed II the Conqueror and the fall of the Franco-Byzantine Levant to the Ottoman Turks Page 65, 77: "Triballians = Serbs"
  23. The letters of Manuel II Palaeologus , p. 48, at Google Books: "The Triballians are the Serbs"
  24. The Journal of Hellenic studies Page 48: "Byzantine historians [...] calling [...] Serbs Triballians"
  25. Studies in late Byzantine history and prosopography , p. 228, at Google Books: "Serbs (were) Triballians"
  26. Historia ed J. van Dieten, Nicetae Choniatae historia ..., Berlin, DeGruyter, 1975, chapter "Reign of Lord Ioannes Komnenos", pp. 4-47 (in medieval Greek language)
  27. D. Chalkocondyles (Chalkondyles) cited in C. Paparrigopoulos History of the Greek nation, Athens, 1874, vol. 5, p. 489, in Greek language.
  28. History of Mehmed the Conqueror , p. 115, at Google Books
  29. Cedrenus II, col. 338
  30. Georgius (Cedrenus.); Jacques Paul Migne (1864). Synopsis historiōn. Migne. p. 338. Τριβαλλών και Σέρβων
  31. Skylitzes 475.13-14
  32. The first Serbian uprising and the restoration of the Serbian state, p. 164
  33. "- О грбу Града :: Званичан сајт града Крагујевца". Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  34. Stemmatographia sive armorum Illyricorum delineatio, descriptio et restitutio, 1701
  35. Balkanika, Issue 28, p. 216
  36. Noli 1947 , p. 189: "writes: "Uxori Voisavae nomen erat, non indignam eo viro, tum pater nobilissimus Tribalorum princeps ...""; Barletius, l. I, fo 2: "... Triballorum princeps"
  37. Barletius (1537). De vita, moribus ac rebus. pp. 139–140.; Barletius, l. V, fo. 62: "Superior Dibra montuosa est et aspera, ferax tarnen et Macedoniam tum ipsa loci vicinitate, tum similitudine morum contingens. Bulgari sive Tribali habitant"
  38. East European quarterly, Volume 6, p. 346
  39. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2010-07-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  40. "Praistorijska kopča". Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  41. " - Katastrofalna poplava u mestu Jaša Tomić opština Sečanj (BANAT)". Archived from the original on 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  42. Srejović, D (1989). "Tribalski grobovi u Ljuljacima" [Tribal graves in Ljulaci]. Starinar (in Croatian). 40–41: 141–153. INIST:6505462.