The Enchelii (also Enchelei or Encheleans), the inhabitants of Enchele (Greek: Ἐγχέλιοι/Ἐγχελεῖς, Enchelioi/Encheleis; Latin: Enchelii/Encheleae; name of the country: Ἐγχέλη, Enchele; demonym: Enchelean), were an Illyrian tribe that lived around the region of Lake Ohrid and Lynkestis, in modern-day Albania, North Macedonia and Greece.
Their name in ancient Greek meant "eel-people", from Ancient Greek ἔγχελυς ("eel"; cognate to Albanian ngjalë and Latin anguilla). 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 Taulantii, to the north, the Dardani and to the south the Dassaretae, an ancient Greek tribe.
Greek mythology attributes a progenitor to the Enchele, a son of Illyrius called Encheleus. 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.
It is referred in Greek mythology that Cadmus, a prince from Phoenicia with his wife Harmonia arrived among the Enchele and helped them build many towns on the shores of Lake Ohrid, among them Lychnidus (Ohrid) and Bouthoe (Budva). As the legend says it, at that time the Enchele were at war with other 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 Enchele chose Cadmus as their king.
Based on many archeological excavations, the Enchele lived by fishing on Lake Ohrid, and also traded products with the Greek tribes located further south. The old name of the town of Struga is Enchalon, based on the ancient Greek word for eel that is abundant in Lake Ohrid. Ohrid is also founded by the Enchele and was referred to as Lychnidos, which is from the Greek for "city of light" based on dazzling light reflected on the clear lake. The Periplus of Pseudo-Skylax from the 4th century BC also mentions the Enchele as an Illyrian tribe in Budva on the Adriatic coast. This may be explained by some Encheleans migrating to the sea coast by following the Black Drin river.
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 Enchelii. The height of the Enchelean state was from the 8th–7th centuries BC, but the kingdom fell from dominant power around the 6th century BC.
The Enchele were often at war with the northern Greeks. From written sources from Greek writers such as Herodotus, the Enchele army is even recorded attacking the temple of Delphi and even ancient Thebes. After conquests of the Enchele by Philip of Macedon in 357 BC, some Dassaretae settled in the mountain area of Lynkestis.
- Strabo, Geography (ed. H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A.), book 7, chapter 7: "...had established their sway, and Enchelii, who are also called Sesarethii. Then come the Lyncestæ, the territory Deuriopus, Pelagonia-Tripolitis..."
- John J. Wilkes, The Illyrians, 1996, ISBN 0-631-19807-5, p. 96: "The Enchelei [sic] are an Illyrian people, who inhabit the land after Rhizon. From Bouthoe to Epidamnus, a Greek city...".
- Apollodorus, Library, 3.5.4. "As the Encheleans were being attacked by the Illyrians, the god declared by an oracle that they would get the better of the Illyrians if they had Cadmus and Harmonia as their leaders. They believed him, and made them their leaders against the Illyrians, and got the better of them. And Cadmus reigned over the Illyrians, and a son Illyrius was born to him."
- Robin Hard, The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology, Routledge, 2004, p. 643 n. 53.
- 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.
- 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.
- Grimal & Maxwell-Hyslop 1996, p. 230; Apollodorus & Hard 1999, p. 103 (Book III, 5.4).
- 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..."
- Herodotus 9.43.