Albania Table of Contents

Albania's military heritage antedating World War II is highlighted by the exploits of its fifteenth-century national hero known as Skanderbeg, who gained a brief period of independence for the country during his opposition to the Ottoman Empire. In the seventeenth century, many ethnic Albanians, most notably members of the Köprülü family, served with great distinction in the Ottoman army and administration. National feelings, aroused late in the nineteenth century, became more intense during the early twentieth century, and fairly sizable armed groups of Albanians rebelled against their Ottoman rulers. However, Albania achieved national independence in 1912 as a result of agreement among the Great Powers of Europe rather than through a major military victory or armed struggle.

Hardy Albanian mountaineers have had a reputation as excellent fighters for nearly 2,000 years. Nevertheless, they rarely fought in an organized manner for an objective beyond the defense of tribal areas against incursions by marauding neighbors. Occasions were few when Albanians rose up against occupying foreign powers. Conquerors generally left the people alone in their isolated mountain homelands, and, because a feudal tribal society persisted, little, if any, sense of national unity or loyalty to an Albanian nation developed.

The Romans recruited some of their best soldiers from the regions that later became Albania. The territory of modern Albania was part of the Byzantine Empire, and the Bulgars, Venetians, and Serbs took turns contesting their control of Albania between the tenth and the fourteenth centuries. As the power of the Byzantine Empire waned, the forerunners of modern Albania joined forces with the Serbs and other Balkan peoples to prevent the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire into southeastern Europe. The Ottoman victory over their combined forces at Kosovo Polje in 1389, however, ushered in an era of Ottoman control over the Balkans.

The Albanian hero Skanderbeg, born Gjergj Kastrioti and renamed Skanderbeg after Alexander the Great, was one of the janissaries who became famous fighting for the Ottoman Turks in Serbia and Hungary. He was almost exclusively responsible for the one period of Albanian independence before 1912. Although it endured for twenty-four years, this brief period of independence ended about a decade after his death in 1468. In 1443 Skanderbeg rebelled against his erstwhile masters and established Albania's independence with the assistance of the Italian city-state of Venice. He repulsed several Ottoman attempts to reconquer Albania until his death. The Ottoman Turks soon recaptured most of Albania, seized the Venetian coastal ports in Albania, and even crossed the Italian Alps and raided Venice. The Ottomans retook the last Venetian garrison in Albania at Shkodër in 1479, but the Venetians continued to dispute Ottoman control of Albania and its contiguous waters for at least the next four centuries. Albanian soldiers continued to serve in the military forces of the Ottoman Empire around the Mediterranean into the nineteenth century.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress