The Albanians: Sixteenth-Century Mercenaries

Gilbert John Millar introduces Christians from the Ottoman Empire who served in European armies.

If one reads the military history of the sixteenth century, an obvious fact emerges - that few wars were ever waged on a large scale without reliance upon mercenary troops. The latter were drawn from many sources. Indeed, there was virtually no nationality that did not, at one time or another, provide its quota of professional soldiers of fortune. The pikemen of Switzerland, the landsknechts of Germany, the arquebusiers of Spain, and the condottieri of Italy come most readily to mind.

But there were others. Nationals from every state and principality in Europe - and even some from beyond - could be cited. One seemingly mysterious group of mercenaries, who chronically appear in the military despatches of the times, are the Albanians. Who they were, and where they came from is the subject of this essay.

It would be natural to assume, as most current historians do, that the Albanian free lances, who fought in western Europe during the sixteenth century, were inhabitants of Albania. Some of them, no doubt, were. The great majority of these soldiers, however, who were designated by the term ‘Albanian’ resided, not in Albania, but in Christian, as distinct from Turkish, Greece and in the republics and princely states of Italy. To understand this, it is essential to know a little of the history of Albania, the Balkan land that lent its name to these ferocious fighters.

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