Skanderbeg: National Hero of Albania

In the mid-fifteenth century, writes Anthony Bryer, George Kastriota, surnamed Skanderbeg, was acclaimed as a powerful champion of Christianity on the eastern shores of the Adriatic.

The Albanians call their country Shqipenia, which means “Eagle’s Land.” The Turkish chronicler, Urudj, explains that their mountains are inaccessible, even to crows; only eagles and demoniac Albanians can live among them.

Their land is not much larger than Wales, and Albanians have lived there since long before the Slavonic invasions of the Balkans: Ptolemy mentions them in the second century A.D.

They are a chaotic race, divided into some fifty clans, to which they owe greater loyalty than to a religion or to the whole nation, the clans being broadly divided into the Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the south.

In the fifteenth century, the Ghegs were largely Catholic and the Tosks Orthodox; today, most Albanians are Muslim, but Gheg and Tosk remain two distinct and almost impenetrable languages.

Albanians are most effectively united in hatred of their neighbours—who seem equally agreed in their feelings about them. In a footnote to Childe Harold, Byron writes: “No nation are so detested and dreaded by their neighbours as the Albanese.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week

The world's finest history magazine 3 for £5