Apollonia was an ancient Greek city founded in 588 BC – one of many classical cities named in honour of the god Apollo. The city prospered on account of its large port and strategic location on the Thracian coast. At its height, it is said to have had between 50 and 60,000 inhabitants. Aristotle described Apollonia as a prime example of oligarchy, with no trace of democratic institutions. The small Greek community held complete dominion over the large Illyrian population. Greeks and Illyrian lived in separate communities.
Apollonia continued to thrive during the rise of Rome, coming under the control of the Roman Republic in 229 BC. Cicero described it as a great and important city. It was here that Octavian Augustus, who was studying philosophy in Apollonia at the time, received news of Julius Caesar's murder.
The city suffered damage from a series of earthquakes in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC. The quakes shifted the path of the Vjosa river southwards, depriving Apollonia of its port. As the harbour silted up and the land gradually was consumed by swamp, the city declined. It was first investigated by archaeologists during the First World War, when the area was under Austrian control.
Apollonia is only one of many important archaeological sites in Albania which testify to the region's importance to the great cultures that have shaped European history. The most famous is the UNESCO world heritage site of Butrint in Sarande, another ancient Greek city close to the southern border with Greece.