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History of Albania

History of Albania
Middle Ages
Ottoman domination
Birth of Albania
Between wars
World War II
Communism and later

This article briefly outlines each period of History of Albania only; details are presented in separate articles (see the links in the box and below).

Table of contents

The Origin of the Albanians

Main article: Origin of Albanians

A number of scholars consider that the Albanians are direct descendants of an Illyrian tribe that was named "Albanoi" that was located in present day Albania. Many other scholars dispute this. See Origin of Albanians.

Those who support the Illyrian-Albanian continuity theory maintain that all the Illyrian tribes except the Albanians disappeared during the Dark Ages under the waves of migrating barbarians. A forbidding mountain homeland and resilient tribal society enabled the Albanians to survive into modern times with their identity and their Indo-European language intact.

The name Albania is said by these scholars to be derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Arber, or Arbereshë, and later Albanoi, that lived near Durrës.

Ancient Illyria

Main article: Illyria

The Illyrians were Indo-European tribesmen who appeared in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula about 1000 B.C., a period coinciding with the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age. They inhabited much of the area for at least the next millennium. Archaeologists associate the Illyrians with the Hallstatt culture, an Iron Age people noted for production of iron and bronze swords with winged-shaped handles and for domestication of horses. The Illyrians occupied lands extending from the Danube, Sava, and Morava rivers to the Adriatic Sea and the Sar Mountains. At various times, groups of Illyrians migrated over land and sea into Italy, such as the Messapians and Iapyges.

The Illyrians carried on commerce and warfare with their neighbors: Macedonians, Greeks, Paionians, Thracians, and other peoples. The ancient Macedonians may have had an Illyrian (as well as a Thracian) element, but their ruling class adopted Greek culture and language. The Illyrians also mingled with the Thracians, another ancient people with adjoining lands on the east. In the south and along the Adriatic Sea coast, the Illyrians were heavily influenced by the Greeks, who founded trading colonies there. The present-day city of Durrës evolved from a Greek colony known as Epidamnos (earlier, known as Dyrrhachion), which was founded at the end of the seventh century B.C. Another famous Greek colony, Apollonia, arose between Durrës and the port city of Vlorë.

The Illyrians produced and traded cattle, horses, agricultural goods, and wares fashioned from locally mined copper and iron. Feuds and warfare were constant facts of life for the Illyrian tribes, and Illyrian pirates plagued shipping on the Adriatic Sea. Councils of elders chose the chieftains who headed each of the numerous Illyrian tribes. From time to time, local chieftains extended their rule over other tribes and formed short-lived kingdoms. During the fifth century B.C., a well-developed Illyrian population center existed as far north as the upper Sava River valley in what is now Slovenia. Illyrian friezes discovered near the present-day Slovenian city of Ljubljana depict ritual sacrifices, feasts, battles, sporting events, and other activities.

The Illyrian kingdom of Bardhyllus became a formidable local power in the fourth century B.C. In 358 B.C., however, Macedonia's Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians and assumed control of their territory as far as Lake Ohrid. Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain Clitus in 335 B.C., and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied Alexander on his conquest of Persia. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., independent Illyrian kingdoms again arose. In 312 B.C., King Glaucius expelled the Greeks from Durrës. By the end of the third century, an Illyrian kingdom based near what is now the Albanian city of Shkodër controlled parts of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Hercegovina. Under Queen Teuta, Illyrians attacked Roman merchant vessels plying the Adriatic Sea and gave Rome an excuse to invade the Balkans.

The Roman Period

In the Illyrian Wars of 229 and 219 B.C., Rome overran the Illyrian settlements in the Neretva River valley. The Romans made new gains in 168 B.C., and Roman forces captured Illyria's King Gentius at Shkodër, which they called Scodra, and brought him to Rome in 165 B.C. A century later, Julius Caesar and his rival Pompey fought their decisive battle near Durrës (Dyrrachium). Rome finally subjugated recalcitrant Illyrian tribes in the western Balkans dwing the region of Emperor Tiberius in A.D. 9. The Romans divided the lands that make up present-day Albania among the provinces of Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Epirus.

For about four centuries, Roman rule brought the Illyrian-populated lands economic and cultural advancement and ended most of the enervating clashes among local tribes. The Illyrian mountain clansmen retained local authority but pledged allegiance to the emperor and acknowledged the authority of his envoys. During a yearly holiday honoring the Caesars, the Illyrian mountaineers swore loyalty to the emperor and reaffirmed their political rights. A form of this tradition, known as the kuvend, has survived to the present day in northern Albania.

The Romans established numerous military camps and colonies and completely latinized the coastal cities. They also oversaw the construction of aqueducts and roads, including the Via Egnatia, a famous military highway and trade route that led from Durrës through the Shkumbin River valley to Macedonia and Byzantium. Copper, asphalt, and silver were extracted from the mountains. The main exports were wine, cheese, oil, and fish from Lake Scutari and Lake Ohrid. Imports included tools, metalware, luxury goods, and other manufactured articles. Apollonia became a cultural center, and Julius Caesar himself sent his nephew, later the Emperor Augustus, to study there.

Illyrians distinguished themselves as warriors in the Roman legions and made up a significant portion of the Praetorian Guard. Several of the Roman emperors were of Illyrian origin, including Diocletian (284–305), who saved the empire from disintegration by introducing institutional reforms, and Constantine the Great (324–37)--who accepted Christianity and transferred the empire's capital from Rome to Byzantium, which he called Constantinople.

The Coming of Christianity

Christianity came to the Illyrian-populated lands in the first century A.D. Saint Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum, and legend holds that he visited Durrës. When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in A.D. 395, the lands that now make up Albania were administered by the Eastern Empire but were ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. In A.D. 732, however, a Byzantine emperor, Leo the Isaurian, subordinated the area to the patriarchate of Constantinople. For centuries thereafter, the Albanian lands became an arena for the ecclesiastical struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Most Albanians living in the mountainous north became Roman Catholic, while in the southern and central regions, the majority became Orthodox.

Ottoman domination

Main article: Albanian lands under Ottoman domination

Ottoman supremacy in the Balkan region began in 1385 but was briefly interrupted in the 15th century, when an Albanian warrior known as Gjerg Kastrioti(Skanderbeg) allied with some Albanian chiefs and fought-off Turkish rule from 1443-1478. Upon the Ottomans' return, a large number of Albanians fled to Italy, Greece and Egypt and many of the Albanians who remained (about two-thirds of the Albanian population), converted to the Islamic faith. Many Albanians won fame and fortune as soldiers, administrators, and merchants in far-flung parts of the empire. As the centuries passed, however, Ottoman rulers lost the capacity to command the loyalty of local pashas, who governed districts on the empire's fringes. Soon pressures created by emerging national movements among the empire's farrago of peoples threatened to shatter the empire itself. The Ottoman rulers of the nineteenth century struggled in vain to shore up central authority, introducing reforms aimed at harnessing unruly pashas and checking the spread of nationalist ideas.


Main article: National awakening and the birth of Albania

At the end of the 19th century, efforts by the Turks to suppress Albanian nationalism failed. Albanians had created The Prizren League held in what is now Kosova, attempting to unify Albanian territory and established the current-day Albanian alphabet in Monastir, which is now Bitola, FYROMacedonia. The Albanians waged their War of Independence from 1908 to the summer of 1912, during which they soundly defeated the Young Turks and won autonomy. Following the conclusion of the First Balkan War, which commenced in Autumn 1912, Albanians issued the Vlorë Proclamation of November 28, 1912, declaring independence after losing half their population and half their land to Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. The truncated Albania was internationally recognized as an independent state in 1913.


Main article: Albania between wars

Albania's territorial integrity was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after U.S. President Woodrow Wilson dismissed a plan by the European powers (England, France, Italy) to divide Albania amongst its neighbors.

With the complete collapse of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires after World War I, the Albanians looked to Italy for protection against predators. After 1925, however, Benito Mussolini sought to dominate Albania. In 1928 Albania became a kingdom under Zog I, the conservative Muslim clan chief and former prime minister, but Zog failed to stave off Italian ascendancy in Albanian internal affairs. In 1939 Mussolini's troops occupied Albania, overthrew Zog, and annexed the country.

World War II

Main article: Albania during World War II

Albanian communists and nationalists fought each other as well as the occupying Italian and German forces during World War II, and with Yugoslav and Allied assistance the communists triumphed.

Communist era

Main article: Communist and post-Communist Albania

Following the Second World War, in which both Italy and Germany occupied Albania, communism became the prevailing political ideology within Albania and remained an influential part of its culture for the next 50 years.

Communist strongmen Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu eliminated their rivals inside the communist party and liquidated anticommunist opposition. Concentrating primarily on maintaining their grip on power, they reorganized the country's economy along strict Stalinist lines, turning first to Yugoslavia, then to the Soviet Union, and later to the People's Republic of China for support. In pursuit of their goals, the communists repressed the Albanian people, subjecting them to isolation, propaganda, and brutal police measures. When Communist China opened up to the West in the 1970s, Albania's rulers turned away from Beijing and implemented a policy of strict autarky, or self-sufficiency, that brought their nation economic ruin. The government ordered the abolishment of all previous classes of society. The rich farmers and merchants were called the "exploiting class" and were liquidated in "the name of people". All mosques and churches were destroyed, changed into museums or used for other non-religious purposes and any kind of religious ritual or ideology was declared illegal. People's personal possessions were eliminated and cooperatives were created. The number of political prisoners steadily grew.

Transition to Democracy

Hoxha died in 1985 and Ramiz Alia took his place. He tried to follow his footsteps, but the changes had already started and the fall of communism throughout south central Europe led to widespread changes within Albanian society. Mikhail Gorbachev had appeared in the Soviet Union with new policies (Glasnost and perestroika). The totalitarian regime was pressured by the US and Europe and the hate of its own people. After Nicolae Ceauşescu (the communist leader of Romania) was executed in a revolution, Alia knew he would be next if changes were not made. He signed the Helsinki Agreement (which was signed by other countries in 1975) that respected some human rights. He also allowed pluralism, and even though his party won the election of 1991 it was clear that the change would not be stopped.Pursuant to a 1991 interim basic law, Albanians ratified a constitution in 1998, establishing a democratic system of government based upon the rule of law and guaranteeing the protection of fundamental human rights. The communists managed to retain control of the government in the first round of elections under the new constitution, but fell two months later during a general strike. A committee of "national salvation" took over but also collapsed in half a year. In 1992 Communists were trumped by the Democratic Party in national elections. The change from dictatorship to democracy had many challenges. The Democratic party had to implement the reforms it had promised, but they were either too slow or didn't solve the problems, so the people were disappointed from their hopes for fast prosperity. In the general elections of June 1996 the Democratic Party tried to win an absolute majority and manipulated the results. This government collapsed in 1997 in the wake of the additional collapse of pyramid schemes, which caused anarchy and rebellion throughout the country. This caused a socialist government to return to power in the early elections of 1997.

Recent Events

Since 1997 Albania has been oriented towards the West, was accepted in the Council of Europe and has requested membership in NATO. The workforce of Albania has continued to emmigrate to Greece, Italy, Europe and North America. Corruption in the government is becoming more and more obvious. The political leadership has not fulfilled the people's hope for a short and not too painful transition.


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