Monday, June 9, 2008


Skenderbeis, the last resistance fighter against the Ottomans put up much resistance in the Balkans to stop their armies marching across much more of Europe.

Of all the great Balkan heroes, perhaps the least remembered is Giorgos Kastriotis, Scanderbeg. A master of international diplomacy and indomitable freedom fighter, he was one of the last warlords to resist the oncoming Ottoman onslaught even after the fall of Constantinople, carving an empire out for himself in Albania and Epirus. In the process, he conceived of a Balkans united in a trans-national empire. For this ultra-national approach, encompassing schemes as far as Hungary and Wallachia as well as his indomitable spirit which led him to resist the Ottomans for twenty five years, Kastriotis is claimed by both Albanians and Epirots alike as a national hero. That Giorgos Kastriotis left a legacy that approached mythical proportions cannot be doubted. He was born at Kroia, now in northern Albania in 1405. It is said that when his mother was pregnant, a gigantic dragon appeared in her dreams-its head lying at the confines of the Ottoman Empire and its tail stretching as far as the Adriatic Sea. When still in his cradle, he was able to crawl out and reach for his father's guns using them as his playthings. Although his early life is shrouded in obscurity, it seems fairly certain that his father, Ioannis Kastriotis, an Epirot noble in northern Albania, upon becoming an Ottoman vassal, sent Giorgos to the Sultan's court as a hostage.At the Sultan's court, Kastriotis, who was required to convert to Islam was at once noticed for his bearing and good looks. Admired for his bravery and daring a brilliant future was promised to him in the service of the Ottomans. He learned Turkish, Slavonic, Italian and Arabic as well as his native Greek and Albanian and excelled in the study of warfare and horsemanship. His military prowess was so great that taking part in various Ottoman campaigns in Europe and Asia Minor, he became general of Adrianople.Despite enjoying an illustrious career, Kastriotis was to relinquish it for the life of a rebel. Several motives are postulated as to the reason for this. In 1439 the Senate of Ragusa in modern day Croatia, who had in the past honoured Ioannis Kastriotis by bestowing honorary citizenship on his sons, removed the name of Giorgos on the grounds he had embraced Islam. This made the secretly Christian Kastriotis wish to return to his roots. Another legend relates that just before his death, Ioannis Kastriotis secretly sent messengers to his son, lauding the example of freedom fighter Arjanit Komninos, an albanised descendant of one of Byzantium's greatest families whose revolt in Northern Epirus had been brutally suppressed and exhorted him to follow suit. More plausibly, after Ioannis Kastriotis' death in 1442, the Sultan occupied his patrimony and awarded it to Albanian renegade Hassan Bey instead of Giorgos and an enraged Giorgos resolved to desert the Sultan and claim his inheritance.In 1443, Kastriotis abandoned his post at the battle of Nish in Serbia, where the Ottoman army was defeated by a Christian coalition to stem the Ottoman advance into Europe, led by Hungarian prince Janos Hunyadi. Entering the Chancellery of the Sultan with a sword in his hand, Kastiotis bade the Grand Vizier sign a 'firman' granting him title to Kroia. He then gathered 300 Epirot and Albanian soldiers serving under him and entered Kroia. After publicly proclaiming himself a Christian and flying the Byzantine double-headed eagle flag on the battlements of the fortress, he asked the local inhabitants, both Greek and Albanian, to choose between Christianity or death. Many were massacred for refusing to renounce Islam. Although this ruthless policy suggests that Kastriotis, henceforth known both to his followers and the Ottomans as Scanderbeg or 'Lord Alexander' in admiration for his military prowess, saw himself engaged in a religious war against his former masters, it appears he saw himself too as a last defender of Byzantium in the lands that once were under the sway of the Komnenian despots of Epirus.Pitted against the might of the Ottoman Empire at its zenith, such ambition would have been quixotic and futile had Scanderbeg not possessed military genius and political vision unrivalled among his feudal contemporaries. Realising that lack of unity among the tribal leaders of Epirus and Albania had facilitated Ottoman expansion, on 1 March 1444, he engineered an alliance of all chieftains in a struggle against the Ottomans under his command. The multi-ethnic force's first baptism of fire was made on 29 June 1444. Scanderbeg met the army of Ali Pasha on the field of Torviolli and owing to his intimate and thorough knowledge of Ottoman military theory and practice, completely annihilated it, causing the deaths of eight thousand Ottomans. Scanderbeg's victory reverberated around Europe. In Rome Pope Eugene IV thanked God for the triumph of Christian arms and the courts of Europe knew there was another power in the East besides Hunyadi which could confront the Ottomans. The battle of Torviolli captured the imagination of Alfonso the Magnanimous of Naples, who dreamed of establishing a Catalan empire stretching from Barcelona to Constantinople. Pope Eugene began organising a crusade against the Ottomans and invited Scanderbeg to participate. Nevertheless, Murat II succeeded in obtaining a ten year peace treaty from Hunyadi, to avert the threat of crusade. The treaty was a triumph of diplomacy for Scanderbeg, who intrigued with Hungarian nobles to link Hunyadi's crusade with his own cause. Pursuant to the treaty, signed on 12 July 1444 at Szeged, the Ottomans pledged never again to set foot in the territory under the rule of Scanderbeg. Scanderbeg saw little reason to desist from striking at Ottomans. He continued to launch attacks against them, deflecting further punitive strikes against him by Murad. Scanderbeg was never subdued. His military successes were due to the flexibility of his skilful guerilla tactics which were likened by the Ottomans as the attack of an eagle swooping down from its eyrie. Yet Scanderbeg was not just a guerilla fighter. He sought to unite the Balkans into a coalition which would be the stepping stone for the expulsion of the Turks from Europe and Asia Minor, so as to re-vitalise the Byzantine Empire, now reduced to Constantinople and its environs. To achieve this, he sought to assist Polish King Ladislaus and Hunyadi's strike against the Ottomans in Bulgaria. In a gigantic pincer movement, Scanderbeg's troops would attack the Ottomans from behind and destroy them. However, Scanderbeg's followers refused to follow him. Their homeland was free and saw no reason to become involved in affairs that did not concern them. Scanderbeg stressed that if the coalition was defeated, there would no longer be any Christian troops to disturb the Ottomans and keep them away from his lands before the tribes acceded to his request. However the delay in taking this decision proved fatal to King Ladislaus. Clashing with the Ottoman army alone at Varna on 10 November 1444 before Scanderbeg could get his troops there, he lost the battle and his life. As he was delayed in his advance by the Serbs, who fought with the Ottomans, Scanderbeg pillaged Serbia, while recruiting Poles and Magyars, fleeing from the desolation of the Varna plain, under his banner. Scanderbeg hurried home in 1450 upon learning that Ibrahim Pasha had laid siege to the key town of Beration in Northern Epirus. For five months the Ottomans squandered men and munitions on the walls of the fortress; the Sultan promising to recognise Scanderbeg as King of Epirus and Albania in exchange for his submission in vain. On 26 October 1450, he lifted the siege at a cost of twenty thousand men. Scanderbeg gave chase to the Ottoman army, pursuing it beyond the frontier. Humiliated and desperate, Murat returned to Adrianople, dying of a stroke the following year. For a while peace reigned and during that brief interlude, Scanderbeg married the daughter of Arjanit Komnenos. Shortly after the wedding, King Alfonso of Naples placed him under his protection as a vassal and he found himself at the head of his troops, defeating Dalip Pasha and Hamza Pasha (1452). He then defeated the Ottomans at Skopje in 1453, vainly attempting to cross Macedonia and relieve Constantinople of its Ottoman besiegers. Scanderbeg's forces had to suppress a rebellion by his erstwhile Albanian lieutenant Mojsi of Dibra, who was promised a kingdom by new Sultan, Mehmet. Scanderbeg could not reach Constantinople and on 29 May 1453, Constantinople fell. Incensed but powerless, Scanderbeg focused on expelling the Ottomans from the Balkans. After dealing with rebellions by his Islamised nephew, Hamza Kastriotis, and the Albanian Djukagini and Mallesori tribes, Scanderbeg was called upon as a vassal of King Alfonso's successor, Ferrante to defend the Kingdom of Naples against the incursions of the French Duke D'Anjou. Mehmet's envoys were making repeated peace overtures to Scanderbeg and Pope Pius II promised aid for a crusade to the Epirot prince if he would aid Ferrante. Scanderbeg compromised, signing a peace treaty with Mehmet on 27 April 1461. The Epirot and Albanian chieftains welcomed the advent of peace after eighteen years of uninterrupted fighting. Meanwhile, in direct parallel with ancient Epirot King Pyrrhus, Scanderbeg crossed the Adriatic and reached Puglia on 25 August 1461, just in time to rescue King Ferrante from the siege of Barletta as well as capturing Trani and expelling D'Anjou.After these victories, his wife sent word that Ottoman armies were moving towards Epirus. On 23 September 1463, Scanderbeg declared war on the Sultan, shattering his army under Shermet Bey, at Achrida. He then returned to Kroia to await the troops that were due to arrive under Pope Pius' leadership. Fate decided otherwise, Pius dying in Ancona while preparing to sail to Epirus. With the death of Pius, his crusade collapsed. This in itself was a great victory for the Sultan, who sent out an army under Ballaban Pasha, an Albanian renegade. Ballaban fought Scanderbeg in April 1465 at Ahrida and Dryinoupolis in Northern Epirus and was outdone. In rage, Mehmet personally led a vast army to Kroia and placed Scanderbeg's stronghold under siege. Scanderbeg slipped out of the castle and secretly made his way to Rome, where he received a hero's welcome from Pope Paul II, naming him defender of the Christian faith. Little help was forthcoming, despite being showered with honours. A Cardinal took Scanderbeg aside and advised him he would have to abandon his Orthodox faith and embrace Catholicism. Scanderbeg refused.He returned to Kroia at once, accompanied by a small contingent of Venetian soldiers, and attacked Ballaban, who had taken over the siege, killing him and destroying his army with a stratagem. As there was no other way out, Scanderbeg at night let a flock of goats with candles on their horns, through a secret passage. The Ottomans, deceived by the lights of the candles, followed the flock through the passage. Taking advantage of the enemy's confusion, Scanderbeg trapped them and destroyed them. Since that time Scanderbeg kept a goat's head on his helmet to commemorate his victory. This was a great blow to the Sultan, who in the spring of 1467, entered Epirus, burning and destroying everything in his path. Realising his forces were diminishing, he called a Council of Chieftains to determine a war plan at Episkopi in 1468. Upon his arrival at Episkopi, just before the opening of the Assembly, he was struck down with malaria. From his deathbed, the indomitable fighter directed the defence of Skodra. News of a victory at Skodra reached him as he was dying. He called together all his princes and the Venetian ambassador and exhorted them to continue the fight against the Ottomans until they were expelled. Giorgios Kastriotis Scanderbeg, known also as 'the eagle' died on 17 January 1468. A last beacon of hope in a world that was to fall under Ottoman rule for the next four hundred years, his conquests barely survived him. Internecine struggles between his sons and rival chieftains soon provided an opportunity for the Ottomans to conquer the eagle's eyrie. During his remarkable life, Scanderbeg not only was a thorn in the side for the Ottomans. More than any other Greek potentate, he was heavily involved in the affairs of the West, assuming legendary status. His career gave both Albanians and Epirots the necessary self-confidence and will to resist foreign domination. The Albanians adopted his coat of arms as their national flag and consider themselves 'Shqiptare' - sons of the Eagle while the Epirots revere him as a last prince of Byzantium. Both claim him as their own.Scanderbeg's posthumous renown was by no means confined to his own lands. Voltaire thought the Byzantine Empire would have survived had it possessed a leader of his quality. His life inspired poems by French poet Ronsard and Henry Longfellow. In the eighteenth century, when the Ottomans were suffering defeats in the Balkans, there was a revival of interest in the life of Scanderbeg, inspiring operas by Vivaldi, Francouer and Lacepede as well as plays by Harvard, Whincop and Lillo in London.Scanderbeg's legacy remains. His son married Irene Palaiologina, of the Byzantine royal family and fled to Italy. His descendants lived in Naples, Lecce and Ruffano. One of these, Isabella Castriota Scanderbeg was a noted poet of the eighteenth century while her namesake Isabella Stasi Castriota Scanderbeg is an Italian TV documentary writer and producer who lives in Rome. Old habits die hard. Recently, Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg, a bank employee of Naples, has made a claim to the Albanian throne. Paradoxically enough in the light of his achievements, except in Epirus this great revolutionary, who transcends nationalism and overcame immense obstacles to ensure the freedom of the Balkans, is largely forgotten by the Greeks.

Kostas Kalymnios


ElvisPrifti said...

This men is an Albania hero and you can not include his name in your History so please stop

George Drake said...

The Albanian flag which has the double-headed eagle is a rip-off from the Greek Byzantine war flag which was later also used as a family crest by George Kastriotis (Skanderbeg)

Read you history correctly, George Kastriotis (Skanderbeg) never ever said he is Albanians but an Epirotus, he spoke Greek and Latin and never Albanian, born a Greek Orthodox converted to Islam and then a Catholic, he commanded a rebel group of Albanians and Greeks against the Ottomans and stopped the invading armies reaching Venice..

- ORIGIN - Grandfather of his was Konstatninos Kastriotis (+ 1390), sovereign of Imathia and Kastoria (hence the name Kastoriotis, Kastrjotis). Son of Konstantinos was Ioannis Kastriotis, the sovereign of Krougias (Kroias),with spouse his Serb wife Voisava. They brought in the life 9 children:5 daughters and 4 sons, with last one in the line (1404) the ''Georgios Kastriotis (Skanderbeg)''.

•Marini Barletii, his first Biographer from the Skodra (beginnings 16th
AD), him calls "Epirote prince" and "Sovereign of Epirus", while entire
biography is reported only in Epirotes and never in Albanians.
• Also, himself Georgios Kastriotis addressing to the sovereign of TarantaIoannis Antonio and giving out his origin and his genuine feelings, writes(in Greek of course): "my forefathers were Epirotes from which Pyrrhus rose that only the Romans could push back.
•Similarly as a descendant of Epirotes and not of the Illyrians he mentions in his letter to the Italian Ursini in 1460.
• Still to the King Alfonso, monarch of Aragon, Naples and Sicily he writes(in Greek of course): "The shining and mighty king Alfonso, monarch of Aragon, Naples and Sicily Skenderbeis hails and wishes well ".
• Speaking in the presence of the Pope Paul B he stresses: "After the subjection of Asia and Greece, after the slaughter of her hegemonic spawns of Constantinople , the Trapezounta ... and the desolation of biggest part of Macedonia and Epirus, against the savage conqueror that seeks to ruin the cross the cross, and elevate on the Capitol the crescent and fulfillment of slavery of all the world ... alone i stand with the relic of my soldiersand with my small territory...".
• He had Greek Education and spoke the Greek Language, after by his Letters were sent written in the Greek language.
• Moreover the All Turkish biographer of Ali Pasha of Ioannina, Ahmet
Moyfjt, writes for Georgios Kastriotis: "in the year 1443 he escaped
from the Ottoman camp of Morava the Greek sovereign Kastriotis and went to the seat of his ancestors, the Kroia".
• Italian, English and Swedish reports consider Georgios Kastriotis a Greek. Thus Italian A. Salvi in the tragedy of (1718) he mentions him as a Greek (Greco Georgios Kastriotis). The English C. Randall in 1810 him calls Greek Hero (Grecian Hero) and the Swedish Barrau initially and Rudbeck later (1835) considers the Georgios Kastriotis a Greek.
• The History of French of historical Paganel (Paganel: Histoire de Scanderbey), that was published in Paris in 1855 about him says he is evidently a Greek.
• Want also a Albanian admission of Greek Epirote origin of Georgios
Kastriotis The Albanian stamp of 1968, supplementing that year 500 years from his death, presents the cover of mentioned before History of Barletii, that is entered in this clearly, that was Epirote prince
(Epirotarum Principis) and not Albanian or Illyrian. It writes the
• Consequently, equitably Danish Franz Nte Zesse'n, military
correspondent of the newspaper "Le Temps of" Paris, doubts for the
Albanian origin of Georgios Kastriotis, stressing in his lecture:
"Question is, if also this Georgios Kastriotis is able to be considered
Albanian, after he was son of Greek of Ioannis Kastriotis
Not even word, especially from the same KASTRIOTIS about anything Albanian or something similar.