Byllis is a vast archaeological site overlooking the River Vjosa in southern Albania in the Fier County. Founded by the Illyrians in the middle of the 4th century BC, Byllis was the largest city of Southern Illyria and the capital of the League (koinon) of the Bylliones. With its fascinating ruins amid stunning views over the Vjosa valley, the ancient city of Byllis, mentioned by Caesar and Cicero, is one of the numerous hidden treasures of Albania. The remains include an impressive theatre, several Byzantine basilicas paved with outstanding mosaics, Illyrian private houses and Roman public buildings.
The Illyrian settlement of Byllis occupied a dominant position on the summit of a hill 520 meters above sea level, over the road from Apollonia to Epirus and into Macedonia. It became the headquarters of the league of the Bylliones, a Hellenized Illyrian tribe first mentioned around 380 BC by the Greek geographer Pseudo-Scylax. The Bylliones had a sophisticated system of
government, minted their own bronze coins (from around 270 BC to 167 BC when the Romans dissolved the koinon) and controlled an area of about 20km². They fortified their capital with a circuit wall around 2 km long, 3.50m thick and 8m to 9m high. Byllis adopted a fully Hellenised regular street-plan and buildings including a theatre, stoas, stadium, gymnasium and temples.
The state of the Bylliones flourished until 229 BC when the Romans landed in Apollonia, and their territory became a field of battle between the Roman and Macedonian armies for the control of Apollonia. In 49-48 BC, during Caesar’s Civil War, Byllis surrendered to Julius Caesar and became a supply base for his army. The city was later turned into a Roman colony as is shown by several Latin inscriptions found there referring to the city as Colonia Iulia Augusta which became part of the province of Epirus Nova. The city walls were rebuilt, the theatre and stoas were reconstructed and other monuments were erected.
Byllis was attacked and sacked by the Visigoths towards the end of the 4th century AD, but the city was reconstructed under Theodosius II (408-450 AD). The city suffered another attacked by the Sclaveni (a South Slavic tribe) and was again reconstructed under Emperor Justinian I (483-565). During Justinian’s reign, Byllis became an important religious centre and the seat of a bishopric. Several large Palaeo-Christian basilicas were built, all of them featuring lavishly decorated mosaics. Sadly for the visitors, all the mosaics are kept covered with protective layers of sand and are not visible. In 586 AD, Byllis was sacked by foreign invaders and was abandoned. The seat of the bisphoric was moved to Ballsh, preserving the name of the old city.