A Reader of Historical Texts
11th - 17th Centuries
Balkanologische Veröffentlichungen, 39
ix + 235 pp.
Geographically, Albania has always
been at the crossroads of empires and civilisations even though
it has often been isolated from the mainstream of European history.
For centuries in ancient times, it formed the political, military
and cultural border between East and West, i.e. between the Roman
Empire of the western Mediterranean including much of the northern
Balkans, and the Greek Empire of the eastern Mediterranean including
the southern Balkans. In the Middle Ages, Albania was once again
a buffer zone, this time between Catholic Italy and the Byzantine
Greek Empire. Later, after its definitive conquest by the Ottoman
Empire in the fifteenth century, it formed a bridgehead between
Christian Europe and the Islamic Orient.
As a geographical and cultural entity,
and as a nation, Albania has always been somewhat enigmatic and
misunderstood. In the eighteenth century, historian Edward Gibbon
(1737-1794) described it as a land within sight of Italy and
less known than the interior of America.
The present volume endeavours to throw
light on this corner of Europe, which is often ignored by historians.
The book is not a history of early Albania, but rather a collection
of important historical documents and texts from the eleventh
to the seventeenth centuries, which will add to an understanding
of the early history and development of the country and its people.
The vast majority of these works has never been published in
The Albanian people were originally a
small herding community in the mountainous terrain of the southwestern
Balkans. Much has been written and speculated about their origins,
in particular by the Albanians themselves who are passionately
interested in tracing their roots and in establishing their autochthony
in the Balkans. Despite this, nothing has been proven conclusively.
What we can say with reasonable certainty is that there is no
evidence indicating that the Albanians immigrated to the southwest
Balkans from anywhere else. As such, it may be safely assumed
that they are indigenous to the region, as opposed to their Slavic
neighbours who invaded the Balkans from the north in the sixth
and seventh centuries.
In view of this autochthony, it can also
be taken for granted that the Albanians are, in some form, descendants
of the ancient inhabitants of the southern Balkans. To what extent
they are the direct heirs of the Illyrians, the Dardanians, the
Thracians, the Bessians, some lesser-known people, or a mixture
thereof, is a matter which has been much discussed and to which
substantial controversy has been attached from the earliest writings
on the subject in the eighteenth century right to the present
Unfortunately, we possess no original
documents from the first millennium A.D. which could help us
trace the Albanians further back into history. They were nomadic
tribes in the interior of the country who seem only rarely to
have ventured down onto the marshy and mosquito-infected coastline.
As such, they long went unnoticed and their early history is
thus shrouded in mist.
A history of the Albanians must best
depart from the moment they entered the annals of recorded history.
The first references to the Albanians date from the eleventh
century, a period in which these tribes were beginning to expand
their settlements and consolidate as a people and as a nation.
It is only in this age that we may speak with any degree of clarity
about an Albanian people as we know them today. Their traditional
designation, based on a root *alban- and its rhotacized
variants *arban-, *albar-, and *arbar-,
first appears from the eleventh century onwards in Byzantine
chronicles (Albanoi, Arbanitai, Arbanites), and from the
fourteenth century onwards in Latin and other Western documents
The first section of this book focusses
therefore on the emergence of the Albanians as a people and provides
the reader with the earliest documents which make reference to
The second, and main section of the volume
provides a broader view of history and geography and, in particular,
of life in Albania from the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries.
It relies primarily on the reports of travellers and chroniclers,
many of whom offer fascinating, first-hand information on what
they saw and experienced during their travels in the country.
Such texts are of particular significance in view of the paucity
of domestic State, dynastic and ecclesiastical documents. As
opposed to their neighbours, the Albanians did not succeed in
creating a genuine State of their own during the Middle Ages
or during the centuries of the European Renaissance. By the time
they were finally in a position to do so, they were overwhelmed
and colonized by the Ottoman Turks.
The most informative texts of this reader,
as human accounts, are no doubt the report of Catholic Archbishop
Marino Bizzi of 1610 and the record of Ottoman writer Evliya
Chelebi from his travels through central Albania in 1670. Some
of the reports comprised in this collection were written by Albanians
themselves: John Musachi, Pjeter Budi and Frang Bardhi.
Excluded from the present volume are
documents and reports of a purely political or military nature,
i.e. concerning the history of Albania during the Ottoman conquest
and, in particular, the organized resistance of the Albanians
under their leader and now national hero, Scanderbeg (1405-1468).
Ideally, a separate volume should be devoted to this subject.
Of great interest for an understanding of these events would
be a critical edition of the writings of historian Marinus Barletius
of Shkodra and of other European historians who chronicled the
conquest of Albania and the Balkans by Ottoman forces. Barletius'
book "Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi, Epirotarum
Principis," Rome ca. 1508-1510 (History of the life and
deeds of Scanderbeg, prince of Epirus), was among the most widely
read and translated works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
This is, nonetheless, beyond the scope of the present volume
and must be left to others.
A short remark must be made, before closing,
on place names. In the documents of this book which provide an
abundance of toponyms, the original manuscript form has been
given for the first instance of usage with the modern form of
the place name, if identifiable, in parentheses. Thereafter,
the modern form is used.
It is to be hoped that the present collection
will provide food for thought as well as a stimulus for further
research into the history and early development of Albania and
the southern Balkans. As has often been said, an understanding
of the past provides a key to an understanding of the present
and the future, and there is certainly nothing in Europe more
decisively incomprehensible than the contemporary Balkans.
It remains for me simply to thank all
the people who have helped and encouraged me during the preparation
of this volume. I am particularly grateful to Janice Mathie-Heck
of Calgary (Alberta) for her assistance with the manuscript.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Emergence of the Albanians
Orthodox and Byzantine Sources
- Anonymous: Fragment on the origins of nations - 1000-1018
- Michael Attaleiates: The first Byzantine references
- 1038, 1042, 1078
- Anna Comnena: The Norman invasion of Albania - 1081
- George Acropolites: An Albanian uprising - 1257
- George Pachymeres: An earthquake in Durrës -
- John Cantacuzene: Unruly nomads pay homage to the emperor
- 1328, 1332, 1336
Reports by Early Travellers and Chroniclers
- Muhammad al-Idrisi: The Book of Roger - 1154
- Anonymous: Description of Eastern Europe - 1308
- Simon Fitzsimons: Itinerary from Ireland to the Holy Land
- Anonymous: Initiative for making the passage - 1332
- Arnold von Harff: Pilgrimage from Cologne - 1497
- John Musachi: Brief chronicle on the descendants of our
Musachi dynasty - 1515
- Piri Re'is: 'Bahriye', a sailor's handbook - 1521
- Anonymous: A physical description of Albania and the defence
of Ulcinj - 1570
- Lorenzo Bernardo: Journey of the Venetian ambassador
- Marino Bizzi: The Archbishop of Bar taken hostage in Albania
- Mariano Bolizza: Report and description of the Sanjak
of Shkodra - 1614
- Pjetër Budi: An Albanian bishop calls for an uprising
- Frang Bardhi: A description of Zadrima - 1641
- Evliya Chelebi: An Ottoman gentleman visits Berat and
Elbasan - 1670