The city was located on the territory of the Illyrian tribe of Bylliones. The massive walls of Byllis were built before the end of the 4th century, and literary sources report them as an Illyrian rather than Epirote or Macedonian foundation. Later Byllis acquired the trappings of a Hellenistic town, and because the southernmost Illyrian tribes, including the Bylliones, were inclined to become bilingual, it was also a Greek-speaking city. On the other hand the citizens of Byllis were called Byllideis (Greek: )
Byllis received sacred Greek envoys, known as theoroi during the early 2nd century BC, which seems to indicate that it was a Greek city, or that its inhabitants had become Greek-speaking.
Byllis, being a Greek-speaking city, on the borders of Illyria and Epirus, had its own stadium and theatre during the Hellenistic era. About its foundation it has been suggested that Byllis was founded by Greek settlers. The predominantly Greek character of the city is confirmed in the vast majority of the corpus of the names which mainly belong to the northern Greek onomastic area (Alexander, Andriscus, Archelaus, Kebbas, Maketa, Machatas, Nikanor, Peukolaos, Phalakros, Philotas, Drimakos and Alexommas) with an exception of a few Illyrian names (Preuratos, Triteutas, Trasos). The city had its own coinage which was different from that of the tribe of the Bylliones. M. B. Hatzopoulos believes that Byllis is the northernmost non-colonian Greek city in the region. Fanula Papazoglou states that Byllis together with nearby Nikaia were "Greek foundations on barbarian territory".
The walls of Byllis were 2,200m long, enclosing 30 hectares of a plain atop a hill 524m above sea level. There were 6 gates in the city walls. The road coming from Apollonia passed through two of them, crossing Byllis in the direction of the narrows of gorges of the Vjosa river on the way to Macedonia or those of Antigonia in the direction of Epirus. In 2011 during a road reconstruction near the archaeological park found in the site a statue of the Hellenistic era, which may depict an Illyrian soldier or a war deity, was discovered. However, there is little point in proposing an Illyrian label for city in which language, institutions, officials, onomastics, city-planning and fortifications were Greek.
Image of the ancient site of Byllis and the river Vjosa in the distance.
League of the Bylliones
The League (Koinon) of the Illyrian tribe of the Bylliones (Ancient Greek: ?), which had been hellenized to a degree and was bilingual, was a coalition of one or two poleis, as attested after 232 BC. The league was restricted to Byllis and Nikaea, and Byllis considered Nikaia as one of its demes. Nikaia was a member of the league, as a 2nd-century BC inscription indicates. The only attestation of the city as polis is in the work of Stephanus of Byzantium in the 6th century. On the other hand, the citizens of Byllis were called Byllideis (Greek: ).
Roman and Byzantine rule
Under the Roman Empire, Byllis became part of the province of Epirus Nova. Its name often occurs at the time of the civil wars. In the time of Pliny the Elder, it was a Roman colony, and was called Colonia Bullidensis. Its territory is called Bylliake () by Strabo. The walls of Byllis carry more than four inscriptions written in Greek with details regarding their construction by the engineer Victorinus, as ordered by Emperor Justinian I (483-565).
During the early Christian period Byllis remained an important settlement in Epirus Nova though it was reduced in size. A significant number of basilica churches have been unearthed which contained mosaic floors and various carvings. Two of those basilicas had possibly diaconicon chambers attached, while a baptistery was established at basicila B.
Association with see of Apollonia
One of the participants in the Council of Ephesus in 431 was a Felix who signed once as Bishop of Apollonia and Byllis, at another time as Bishop of Apollonia. Some assume that the two towns formed a single episcopal see, others suppose he was, strictly speaking, Bishop only of Apollonia, but was temporarily in charge also of Byllis during a vacancy of that see. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, Eusebius subscribes simply as Bishop of Apollonia. In the letter of the bishops of Epirus Nova to the Byzantine Emperor Leo I in 458, Philocharis subscribed as Bishop of what the manuscripts call "Vallidus", and which editors think should be corrected to "Byllis". Whether Philocharis is to be considered Bishop also of Apollonia depends on the interpretation of the position of Felix in 431.
Beaudry, Nicolas, Chevalier, Pascale (2020). 'Les espaces domestiques et économiques du groupe épiscopal protobyzantin de Byllis (Albanie)', Archaeology of a World of Changes. Late Roman and Early Byzantine Architecture, Sculpture and Landscapes, Oxford, pp. 201-218.
Beaudry, Nicolas (2010). 'Një punishte për prodhimin e verës në Bylisi', Monumentet 28, pp. 41-50.
Beaudry, Nicolas, et al. (2003). 'Byllis (Albanie)', Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 126.2, pp. 659-684.
Bowden, William (2003). Epirus Vetus: The Archaeology of a Late Antique Province. Duckworth. ISBN0-7156-3116-0.
Chevalier, Pascale (2018). 'Une ville du VIe s. retournant à la ruralité : désurbanisation et abandon du siège épiscopal de Byllis', L'Illyrie méridionale et l'Épire dans l'Antiquité VI, vol. 2, Paris, pp. 435-448.
Chevalier, Pascale, et al. (2003). 'Trois basiliques et un groupe épiscopal des Ve-VIe siècles réétudiés à Byllis (Albanie)', Hortus Artium Medievalium 9, pp. 155-165.
Ceka, Neritan; Muçaj, Skënder (2005). Byllis, its history and monuments. Tirana.
^Abdy, Richard Anthony (2007). Roman Butrint: An Assessment. Oxbow Books for the Butrint Foundation. p. 190. ISBN978-1-84217-234-6. the Caesarean colony at Corinth, and possible Caesarean colonies at Dyme and Byllis, represent the most obvious impact of Roman settlement in Epirus and Achaea .
^ abcTom Winnifrith. Perspectives on Albania. Macmillan, 1992. ISBN978-0-333-51282-1, p. 37: The southernmost Illyrian tribes tended to become bilingual. Thus Byllis, the largest city in the territory of the Illyrian Bylliones, was a Greek-speaking city, visited by Greek envoys from the shrines of Greece.
^ abWinnifrith 2002, p. 58: "There are however, some other sites in Southern Albania which cannot be attributed to sudden Macedonian or Molossian advance, notably Amantia, Byllis and Selce, thought by some to be Pelium, where Alexander the Great fought a difficult campaign. Their massive walls were constructed before the end of the fourth century , and the literary sources talk of them as Illyrian rather than Epirote or Macedonian foundations. Later Amantia and Byllis acquired the trappings of a Hellenistic town." harvnb error: no target: CITEREFWinnifrith2002 (help)
^Peter Allan Hansen. Carmina epigraphica Graeca. Novus Eboracus, 1983. ISBN978-3-11-008387-3, p. 295: "Sacred envoys from Greek sanctuaries visited Greek cities only: Dyrrachium, Apollonia, Oricum, Amantia and Byllis (BCH 45 , 1f.), from which it appears that Byllis was a Greek city, founded probably by Pyrrhus, or that its citizens, the Byllideis, had become Greek-speaking.".
^Hatzopoulos, Sakellariou & Loukopoulou 1997, p. 144: "... the omasticon of Byllis , Nikaia and their regions consists of Greek names...This important testimony to the basically Greek character of the inhabitants is not invalidated by the presence of a few Illyrians names (Preuratos...)"
^Chalkia, Eugenia (1997). "Early Christian Art". Epirus. Ekdotike Athenon: 166-81. ISBN9789602133712. A similar shrinkage occurred at Byllis ... was reduced to only 11 , but the town did not lose its importance , which is attested by the discovery of a great number of basilicas richly adorned with carving and mosaic floors.
^Chalkia, Eugenia (1997). "Early Christian Art". Epirus. Ekdotike Athenon: 166-81. ISBN9789602133712. "Among the southern annexes , an apsidal room with its own atrium stood apart and seems to have served as the diakonikon of the church , where the faithful deposited their offerings .
^Chalkia, Eugenia (1997). "Early Christian Art". Epirus. Ekdotike Athenon: 166-81. ISBN9789602133712. In basilica B at Byllis... the baptisteries take the form of a simple rectangular room on the south side of the church
^Daniele Farlati-Jacopo Coleti, Illyricum Sacrum, vol. VII, Venezia 1817, pp. 395-396