Updated: Dec 5, 2022
To recap, Albania has a very interesting history as a nation and, like so many other parts of eastern Europe has suffered from arbitrary lines drawn on a map.
The question I've asked is: how did it get to that point? Here is my very brief history of Albania told in the most succinct way I could!
In Part One I told the story behind the Princedom of Albania, however it was just one of around twelve that were established during this period of Albania's history (specifically the mid-fourteenth century). Here is a short run down of some of the others:
Period: c. 1242 – 1395,
Location: Central-eastern Albania and Western North Macedonia
Fate: Fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1395
About: Established by the Albian noble family, Gropa, they received the favour of Charles of Anjou to secure their loyalty to him. The principality fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1395 however the Gropa family are noted as serving in the military of Skanderbeg against the Ottoman’s in 1444 (see below).
Name: Muzaka (also known as the Lordship of Berat)
Period: 1280 – 1343; 1355 - 1714; 1444-1450
Location: Central-south Albania and Western Macedonia
Fate: Eventually conquered by the Ottoman Empire
About: Centred around Berat it is unclear when the Muzaka family assumed control. In 1343 the Princedom was conquered by the Serbian Empire however Muzaka reclaimed independence in 1355.
In 1417 Berat was conquered by the Ottoman Empire however following the allegiance with Skanderbeg (see below) the family was able to rule for another six years from 1444 to 1450 until they finally succumbed to the Ottoman Empire.
Location: Covering modern day Fierit, Beratit and Vlores
Fate: Conquered by the Ottoman Empire
About: Initially under the control of Serbia from 1355-1417, Valona was an independent principality with rulers hailing from the Bulgarian and Serbian nobility.
The last ruler of Valona was Duchess Rudina Balsic, a Serbian noblewoman who inherited the throne after her husband Mrska Zarkovic died in 1414. Initially she attempted to sell Valona to the Venetians however after this failed the Ottomans captured the principality in June 1417 and she was forced to flee to her homeland Zeta (modern day Montenegro/Albania near Lake Skadar, a Serbian Princedom).
Once in Zeta, her nephew, Balsa III (the current ruler of Zeta) entrusted her with the role of Governor of Budva. Safe to say she didn’t do the best job, as when the Venetians turned up in 1820 to capture the town she surrendered without a fight and took off to Dubrovnik with the town’s treasury. At the time Dubrovnik was part of the Republic of Ragusa, to which she and her mother were granted citizenship. What happened to her after this is unknown.
Period: 1359 - 1416
Location: southern Albania
Fate: Re-claimed by the Greek's
About: Established after the Battle of Achelous in which Albanian tribesman defeated the Empire of Epirus (a Greek Kingdom) in 1359, led by Peter Losha. He was a member of the Losha tribe and was a clansman. Upon his death, his ally John Spata succeeded him.
Unlike Losha, Spata was of a noble family however after rising up against the Byzantine feudal lord’s the new leadership had to become accustomed to living in towns with most Albanian’s more used to living amongst the mountains. Eventually, Epirus would regain control over Arta in 1416 and the Ottoman’s would conquer Epirus in 1479.
Arta would never join Skanderbeg's league as at the time of his resistance they were under Byzantine rule.
Period: 1373 – 1418
Location: South-west Albania
Fate: Fell to the Ottoman's
About: Established by the local Zenevisi family, they had internal politics to contend with and so often found themselves under the control of surrounding Empire’s as factions fought for an upper hand. The Principality would eventually fall to the Ottoman’s in 1418 and were thus not part Skanderbeg's League (see below).
Period: 1387 - 1393
Location: Situated in the north of modern-day Albania and western Kosovo
Fate: Ceded to Venice to avoid being conquered by the Ottomans however eventually Ottoman rule came to the region
About: The Dukagjini claimed to descend from the earlier ruling Progoni Family who occupied the similar region.
In 1387 the family broke from Zeta (monarchy in northern Albania and Montenegro), to establish the Principality of Dukagjini however in 1393 they ceded the territory to the Republic of Venice to avoid being conquered by the Ottoman Empire.
Despite being ruled for a brief period by the Ottoman’s from 1398-1402 and taking part in Skanderbeg’s League (see below) they remained under Venetian control until 1478.
At various times the Dukagjini family attempted to regain power however this never eventuated. Leke Dukagjini would continue the battle against the Ottoman’s after Skanderbeg’s death (again see below).
Period: 1396 – 1436, followed by periods of instability)
Location: South-Western Albania
Fate: The site of the Albian-Venetian War, the Venetians took the region until it eventually fell to the Ottoman's in 1474.
About: In 1396 Koja Zaharija captured the castle of Dagnum and declared himself a vassal of the Ottomans, however prior to this he had ruled Budva for around a decade. Around 1412 his daughter married Balsha III, the last ruler of Zeta.
In 1430 direct Ottoman rule was imposed however after the Albian revolt of 1432-1436 Leke Zaharia was reinstated as governor.
Upon the death of Leke Zaharia, in 1444, Skanderbeg claimed Dagnum for the League (see below) however, Zaharia’s Mother surrendered the castle to the Republic of Venice which began the Albanian-Venetian War of 1447-48. Like most wars there was no winner with a truce declared. Over the subsequent years the Venetians would re-take the city but in 1474 the Ottoman's solidified their hold and conquered the region.
Name: Kastrioti (Family crest pictured here)
Period: 1389 – 1481
Location: Central Albania
Fate: Eventually fell to the Ottoman's in 1481 (however there had been earlier conquests)
Fate: Would eventually fall to the Ottoman's
About: Established by the local Kastrioti family in 1389, one of Albania’s national hero’s Gjergi Kastrioti (better known as Skanderbeg) was a descendent of this family.
Skanderbeg's Father consolidated the family's rule across much of Central Albania and opposed the Ottoman incursion into the region however he failed to stop it. Quickly, the Princedom fell under the rule of the Sultan.
Skanderbeg, just a child at the time, was taken as a hostage to the Ottoman Court where he was placed in the service of the Sultan. While there he was educated and converted to Islam. He served in the Ottoman military and remained with the Sultan for twenty years.
During a battle in 1443 he deserted to the Ottoman’s and established himself as a strong Albanian ruler and would go on to become a national hero.
Skanderbeg's Albanian League (the League of Lezhe)
On 2 March 1444, Skanderbeg managed to bring all of the remaining Albanian Prince’s together in Lezhe to create the Federation of Albanian Principalities which marched against the advancing Ottoman Empire.
By 1450 just Skanderbeg’s Kastrioti Princedom and the Arianiti family (a historic Albanian Nobel family that ruled over much of Albania) remained fighting but the later brokered a peace deal with the Ottoman's leaving just the core resistance active. This resistance would continue for over thirty years until 1481 when they were forced to accept the Ottoman conquest.
The resistance movement outlived Skanderbeg who died in 1468. After his death Leke Dukagjini continued the campaign.
The League was officially abolished in 1479 when Dukagjini died. Despite the outcome of this League and fall of Albania to the Ottoman’s in 1481, this is considered the early stages of the Albanian state.
Now secured, Ottoman rule would remain over Albania until the twentieth century - yes for over 450 years! (There is one exception to this but I'll share that story in part three - coming soon)!
Note: Skanderbeg has been depicted over the years in many ways by different groups and artists. Some are included in this blog and it is interesting how he is depicted differently in each one.
"The World, First Edition", Lonely Planet (2014)
"The Medieval World Vol. 12" (Routledge, 1997)
"Geographica: World Atlas and Encyclopaedia", (Random House Australia, 1999)
Alfred Znamierowski, "The World Enclyclopedia of Flags", (London: Lorenz Books, 2004)
Websites and articles:
Encyclopaedia Britannica (multiple pages), https://www.britannica.com/
"Albania Country Profile", BBC World News (1 March 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17679574
"Albanian Studies", https://albanianstudies.weebly.com/
"Albanian Heraldry", https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Albanian_heraldry