Hapsburg, Maria Theresia, Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Empress, Letter signed, LS, addressed to Count Esterhazy, dated in Latin at the bottom of the black-bordered folio folded once, 23 Martii 766. A reference citation is given at the top of the letter, “H.152.orig.Ref.1766,” and the secretarial hand is in German. Having fought and won the War of the Austrian Succession to secure her throne and her power as an enlightened autocrat, she won for her husband, Francis I of Lorraine (1745-1765), the title of Holy Roman Emperor. Francis I died only seven months before this letter was written, hence the mourning stationery. Their son, Joseph II, became the Holy Roman Emperor upon the death of his father, Francis I, but his mother, Maria Theresia, retained her power as a co-regent with Joseph II until her death in 1780. The text of the letter translated reads as follows: “Since matters concerning the Illyrian religion affairs require instant addressing, the Chancellery is to see to it that those matters be dealt with without any delay whatsoever.”
An ancient term, “Illyrian,” was used by the ancient Greeks to name their northern neighbors in an area that is generally known as the Balkans. More precisely, Illyricum was a Roman province and corresponds to modern Albania and Croatia. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans (Romans 15:19) , wrote: “so that from Jerusalem and round about into Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ.” Paleo-Balkan mythology included the religious practices of the Illyrians, but little is known about the rituals and mythology of these Iron Age people. Some of their statuary survives, and there are some descriptions in Greek sources. There appears not to have been any single chief Illyrian god, and there would likely have been variation between practices of individual Illyrian tribes. Human sacrifice was practiced, and the burials were in a tumulus, or burial mound. The higher the status of those buried, the higher the mound. Artifacts were placed within these tumuli to equip the deceased for the afterlife. The use of the term “Illyrian” in this letter is interesting because the area referenced was under Ottoman administration until 1878, when it was ceded to Austria in the Treaty of Berlin, more than a century after the date of this letter. Very good condition.