The Greek city of Epidamnus or Epidamnos (Strabo Geography vi.316), later the Roman Dyrrachium (modern Durrës, Albania, ca. 30 km W of Tirana) was founded in 627 BC in Illyria by a group of colonists from Corinth and Corcyra (modern Corfu). Aristotle's Politics several times draws for examples on the internal government of Epidamnos, which was run as a tight oligarchy that appointed a ruling magistrate; tradesmen and craftsmen were excluded from power, until internal strife produced a more democratic government. Then the elite exiles appealed to the mother-city Corinth, initiating a struggle between Corcyra and Corinth that is described by Thucydides. Individual trading with the local Illyrians was forbidden at Epidamnos: all traffic was through the authorized city agent or poletes. In the 4th century BC the city-state was part of the kingdoms of Cassander and Pyrrhus.
In 229 BC, when the Romans seized the city the "-damnos" part of the name was inauspicious to Latin ears, and its name became Dyrrhachium. Pausanias (6.x.8) says "the modern [Roman] city is not the ancient one, being at a short distance from it. The modern city is called Dyrrhachium from its founder." The name Dyrrachion is found on coins of the 5th century BC; in the Roman period Dyrrachium was more common. However, the city maintained a semi-autonomy and was turned into a Roman colony.
Dyrrachium was the landing place for Roman passengers crossing the Ionian Sea from Brundisium, which made it a fairly busy way-station. Here commenced the Via Egnatia, the Roman military road to Thessalonica that connected Roman Illyria with Macedonia and Thrace. In 48 BC Pompey was based at Dyrrachium and beat off an attack by Julius Caesar. In 345 BC the city was levelled by an earthquake and rebuilt on its old foundations.
The modern city is built directly over the ancient site, so it is primarily on the basis of inscriptions and serendipitous finds that some idea of its monuments has been formed. Inscriptions offer evidence on the following Roman monuments: an aqueduct constructed by Hadrian and restored by Alexander Severus bears a dedicatory inscription at Arapaj, a short distance from Durazzo: (CIL III, 1-709); the Roman temple of Minerva; the Temple of Diana (CIL III, 1-602), which is perhaps the one mentioned by Appian (BCiv. 2.60); the equestrian statue of L. Titinius Sulpicianus (CIL III, 1-605); the library (CIL m, 1-67). The last inscription mentions that for the dedication of the library 24 gladiators fought in pairs. The conjecture that there was an amphitheater in the city is confirmed by a passage from the 15th-century Vita di Skanderbeg by Marin Barleti: "amphitheatrum mira arte ingenioque constructum".
As a result of occasional discoveries, the following data are available: a 3d century mosaic pavement with a female head surrounded by garlands of vegetables and flowers, which brings to mind those painted on Apulian vases; remains of houses covered by other layers, the lowest of which, of the Greek era, was found at a depth of 5 m.
Columns with Corinthian capitals and sections of finished marble revetment, discovered on the nearby hillside at Stani, belong probably to the Temple of Minerva or to the Capitolium. In the necropolis east of the hills that stand above the city have been found a stele of Lepidia Salvia, a sarcophagus with a scene of the Calydonian Boar hunt (now at Istanbul), and numerous Roman tombs.
Classical sources not mentioned in the text: Strabo 5.283; 6.316,323,327; Ptolemy 3.12; Dio Cassius. 41.49; Pomponius Mela 2.56; Pliny Natural History 3.145; 4.36; 6.217; 14.30; 19.144; 32.18. CIL refers to the series of published inscriptions Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.
- Perseus site: several sources, including William Smith, ed., Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854)