The Enchelei (Latin: Encheleae; Greek: Ἐγχέλιοι/Ἐγχελεῖς, translit., Enchelioi/Encheleis; name of the country: Ἐγχέλη, Enchele), were an Illyrian tribe that lived around the region of Lake Ohrid and Lynkestis, in modern-day Albania, the Republic of Macedonia and Greece. Their name in ancient Greek meant "eel-people". They were often at war for domination of the region with the ancient Macedonians who settled in the east. Their neighbors in the north-west were the Illyrian Taulanti, to the north, the Dardani and to the south the Dassaretae, an ancient Greek tribe.
Greek mythology attributes a progenitor to the Enchelei, a son of Illyrius called Encheleus. It is referred that Cadmus from Phoenicia with his wife Harmonia arrived among the Enchelei. As the legend says it, at that time the Enchelei were at war with neighboring Illyrian tribes and Cadmus after orders from the Oracle became leader of the people and came to their aid. After the victory against the other Illyrians, the Enchelei chose Cadmus as their king. Illyrius, the eponymous ancestor of the whole Illyrian people, had multiple sons (Encheleus, Autarieus, Dardanus, Maedus, Taulas and Perrhaebus) and daughters (Partho, Daortho, Dassaro) from which many Illyrian tribes take their name.
The Enchelei lived by fishing on Lake Ohrid, and on trade with Greek products, which have been found in many archaeological excavations. The main town of the Enchelei, Lynkesta, is believed to have been on the shores of Lake Ohrid, near the village of Lin or the town of Pogradec. The old name of the town of Struga is Enchalon, the ancient Greek word for eel that lives in the Lake Ohrid. The Periplus of Pseudo-Skylax from the 4th century BC, mentions the Enchelei as an Illyrian tribe on the Adriatic coast in modern-day Montenegro. That some Encheleans migrated to the coast 300 years later, is explained by the immigration of Dassaretae into their territory.
In southern Illyria organized states were formed earlier than in other areas of Illyria. The oldest known state which can be discussed about from ancient sources is that of the Enchelei. The height of the Enchelean Kingdom was from the 8th-7th centuries BC, but the kingdom fell from dominant power around the 6th century BC.
The Enchelei were often at war with the northern Greeks. From written sources from Greek writers such as Herodotus, the Enchelei army is even recorded attacking the temple of Delphi and even ancient Thebes. After conquests of the Encheleans by Philip of Macedon in 357 BC, some Dassaretae settled in the area of Lynkestis.
- John J. Wilkes, The Illyrians; 1996, ISBN 0-631-19807-5, p. 98.
- John J. Wilkes, The Illyrians, 1996, ISBN 0-631-19807-5, p. 99.
- Strabo, Geography (ed. H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A.), book 7, chapter 7: "...had established their sway, and Encheleii, who are also called Sesarethii. Then come the Lyncestia, the territory Deuriopus, Pelagonia-Tripolitis..."
- Hammond, NGL (1994). Philip of Macedon. London, UK: Duckworth.
- Hammond, Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière. The Cambridge Ancient History - The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries BC. Part 3: Volume 3, p. 284.
- Wilkes, John. The Illyrians. Wiley-Blackwell, 1995, p. 92.
- Cadmus: "After having many children, Cadmus and Harmonia left Thebes in order to defend the Encheleans, a people living in southern Illyria, which is the region north of Epirus, and there defeated the Illyrian intruders..."
- Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 230; Apollodorus & Hard 1999, p. 103 (Book III, 5.4).
- Aleksandar Stipčević - Illyrians, The Illyrian Art, The Illyrian Cult Symbols page 46-47
- Helden und Gottheiten der Antike