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Thread: Skanderbeg

  1. #1 Skanderbeg 
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    George Kastrioti (Gjergj Kastrioti) (1405 - January 17, 1468), better known as Skanderbeg, is one of the most prominent historical figures in the history of Albania and the Albanian people. He is also known as the Dragon of Albania[1] and is the national hero of the Albanians. He is remembered for his struggle against the Ottoman Empire, through the work of his first biographer, Marin Barleti[2].


    Biography
    In English, his names have variously been spelled: George, Gjergj, Giorgio; Castriota, Kastrioti, Castrioti, Castriottis[3], Kastriotes, Castriot[4], Kastriot; Skanderbeg, Scanderbeg, Skenderbeg, Skanderbeu, or Scander-Begh.

    His father was an Albanian lord of the Gheg Kastrioti family. Gjon Kastrioti[5], descended from an ancient family from Mat, and controlled a principality including Mat, Krujë, Mirditë and Dibër.[6]. Voisava, Skanderbeg's mother, was from the Tribalda family[5], a princess[7] from Polog valley[8]. Although he fought in the service of the Ottoman Empire, Skanderbeg soon switched sides and fought against the Ottoman Empire until the time of his death.


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    Service in the Ottoman Army

    Skanderbeg statue in Tirana, Albania
    Skanderbeg statue in Prishtina, KosovoBorn in Krujë, Skanderbeg was a descendant of the Kastriotis, who were one of the principal Catholic Albanian families in what was called then, Arberia (today Albania).

    According to Gibbon[9], Skanderbeg's father, Gjon Kastrioti was a hereditary prince of a small district of Epirus or Albania. Gjon Kastrioti was among those who opposed[3] the early incursion of Bajazet II, however his resistance was ineffectual; and the Sultan, having accepted his submissions, obliged him to pay tribute and to ensure the fidelity of local rulers, George Kastrioti and his three brothers were taken by the Sultan to his court as hostages. He attended military school and led many battles for the Ottoman Empire to victory. For his military victories, he received the title Arnavutlu İskender Bey, (Albanian: SkĂ«nderbeu Shqiptari, English: Skanderbeg, the Albanian). In Turkish and Albanian this title means Lord Alexander the Albanian, comparing Kastrioti's military brilliance to that of Alexander the Great).

    He earned distinction as an officer in several Ottoman campaigns both in Asia Minor and in Europe, and the Sultan appointed him to the rank of General by giving him a cavalry force of 5,000 men. Some sources claim that he maintained secret links with Ragusa, Venice, Ladislaus V of Hungary, and Alfonso I of Naples.


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    Fighting for freedom

    What remains of the castle in KrujëIn November 28th, 1443, Skanderbeg saw his opportunity to rebel during a battle against the Hungarians led by John Hunyadi in Niš. He switched sides along with 300 other Albanians serving in the Ottoman army. After a long trek to Albania he eventually captured Krujë by forging a letter[3] from the Sultan to the Governor of Krujë, which granted him control of the territory. After capturing the castle, Skanderbeg[9] abjured the prophet and the sultan, and proclaimed himself the avenger of his family and country. He raised his standard (that later became the Albanian flag) above the castle and reportedly pronounced: "I have not brought you freedom, I found it here, among you." Skanderbeg allied with George Arianite[10] and married his daughter Andronike.

    Following the capture of Krujë, Skanderbeg managed to bring together all the Albanian princes in the town of Lezhë[11] (see League of Lezhë, 1444). Gibbon[9] reports that "Albanians, a martial race, were unanimous to live and die with their hereditary prince" and that "in the assembly of the states of Epirus, Scanderbeg was elected general of the Turkish war and each of the allies engaged to furnish his respective proportion of men and money". With this support, Skanderbeg built fortresses and organized a mobile defense force that forced the Ottomans to disperse their troops, leaving them vulnerable to the hit-and-run tactics of the Albanians[12]. Skanderbeg fought a guerrilla war against the opposing armies by using the mountainous terrain to his advantage. Skanderbeg continued his resistance against the Ottoman forces until his death, with a force rarely exceeding 20,000.

    Although it is commonly believed that Skanderbeg took part in the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448, he actually never arrived. He and his army were en route to reinforce the mainly Hungarian army of John Hunyadi, but the Albanians were intercepted and were not allowed passage by Đurađ Branković of Serbia as he had agreed that while he would aid Skanderbeg against the Venetians, he would not against the Turks. About the time of the battle, Mehmed II also launched an invasion into Albania in order to keep Skanderbeg busy. Although Hunyadi was defeated in the campaign, Hungary successfully resisted and defeated the Ottoman campaigns during Hunyadi's lifetime.[citation needed]


    The drawing of Skanderbeg battleIn June 1450, an Ottoman army numbering approximately 150,000 men led by Sultan Murad II himself laid siege to Krujë. Leaving a protective garrison of 1,500 men under one of his most trusted lieutenants, Vrana Konti (also know as Kont Urani), Skanderbeg harassed the Ottoman camps around Krujë and attacked the supply caravans of the sultan's army. By September the Ottoman camp was in disarray as morale sank and disease ran rampant. Murad II acknowledged the castle of Krujë would not fall by strength of arms, and he lifted the siege and made his way to Edirne. Soon thereafter in the winter of 1450-51, Murad died in Edirne and was succeeded by his son Mehmed II.

    For the next five years Albania was allowed some respite as the new sultan set out to conquer the last vestiges of the Byzantine Empire. The first real test between the armies of the new sultan and Skanderbeg came in 1455 during the Siege of Berat, and would end in the most disastrous defeat Skanderbeg would suffer. Skanderbeg had sieged the town's castle for months, causing the demoralized Turkish officer in charge of the castle to promise his surrender. At that point Skanderbeg relaxed the grip, split his forces and left the siege location. He left behind one of his generals and half of his cavalry at the bank of the river Osam to finalize the surrender. It would be a costly error.

    The Ottomans saw this moment as an opportunity for attack. They sent a large cavalry force from Fushe in Kosovo to Berat as reinforcements. The Albanian forces had become overconfident and had been lulled into a false sense of security. The Ottomans caught the Albanian cavalry by surprise while they were resting in the shores of the Osam. Almost all the 5,000 Albanian cavalry laying siege to Berat were massacred. When Skanderbeg made it to the battlefield, everything was over; the Ottoman cavalry had already left for Anatolia. A reason of this defeat of Scanderbeg's army, was the betrayal of his nephew, Hamza Kastrioti who was an officer of Scanderbeg's cavalry that passed on the Ottoman side with other Albanian forces and gave the Ottomans important information about the locatin and the organization of the Albanian troops. Later Hamza Kastrioti was captured in the battlefield by Scanderbeg himself, and imprisoned in the castle of Krujë.[citation needed]


    Statue of Skanderbeg, in Krujë, AlbaniaIn 1457, an Ottoman army numbering approximately 80,000 men invaded Albania with the hope of destroying Albanian resistance once and for all; this army was led by Isa beg Evrenoz, one of the the only commanders to have defeated Skanderbeg in battle, and Hamza Kastrioti, Skanderbeg’s nephew. After wreaking much damage to the countryside[citation needed], the Ottoman army set up camp at the Ujebardha field (literally translated as "Whitewater"), halfway between Lezhë and Krujë. After having evaded the enemy for months, Skanderbeg attacked there and defeated the Ottomans in September.

    In 1461 the Sultan proposed[3] terms of accommodation with Skanderbeg and a peace was concluded between them on June 22. In the same year, Skanderbeg launched a successful campaign[11] against the Angevin noblemen and their allies who sought to destabilize King Ferdinand I of Naples. For his services[4] he gained the title Duke of San Pietro in the kingdom of Naples. After securing the Neapolitan kingdom, a crucial ally in his struggle, he returned home. In 1464 Skanderbeg fought and defeated Ballaban Badera, an Albanian renegade who had captured a large number of Albanian army commanders [13], including Moisi Arianit Golemi, a cavalry commander; Vladan Giurica, the chief army economist; Muzaka of Angelina, a nephew of Skanderbeg, and 18 other noblemen and army captains. These men, after they were captured, were sent immediately to Istanbul and tortured for fifteen days[13]. Skanderbeg’s pleas to have these men back, by either ransom or prisoner exchange, failed.


    A statue in the little mountain city of Krujë, portraying Albania's national hero Skanderbeg.In 1466 Sultan Mehmed II personally led an army into Albania and laid siege to Krujë as his father had attempted sixteen years earlier. The town was defended by a garrison of 4,400 men, led by Prince Tanush Topia. After several months, Mehmed, like Murad II, saw that seizing Krujë by force of arms was impossible for him to accomplish. Shamed, he left the siege to return to Istanbul. However, he left a force of 40,000 men under Ballaban Pasha to maintain the siege, even building a castle in central Albania, which he named El-basan (the modern Elbasan), to support the siege. Durrës would be the next target of the sultan, in order to be used as a strong base opposite the Italian coast[14]. The second siege of Kruja was eventually broken by Skanderbeg, resulting in the death of Ballaban Pasha from firearms.

    A few months later in 1467, Mehmed, frustrated by his inability to subdue Albania, again led the largest army of its time into Albania. Krujë was besieged for a third time, but on a much grander scale. While a contingent kept the city and its forces pinned down, Ottoman armies came pouring in from Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece with the aim of keeping the whole country surrounded, thereby strangling Skanderbeg’s supply routes and limiting his mobility. During this conflict, Skanderbeg fell ill with malaria in the Venetian-controlled city of Lezhë, and died on January 17, 1468, just as the army under the leadership of Leke Dukagjini defeated the Ottoman force in Shkodër.
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    Papal relations

    Portrait of SkanderbegSkanderbeg's military successes evoked a good deal of interest and admiration from the Papal States, Venice, and Naples, themselves threatened by the growing Ottoman power across the Adriatic Sea. Skanderbeg managed to arrange for support in the form of money, supplies, and occasionally troops from all three states through his diplomatic skill. One of his most powerful and consistent supporters was Alfonso the Magnanimous, the king of Aragon and Naples, who decided to take Skanderbeg under his protection as a vassal in 1451, shortly after the latter had scored his second victory against Murad II. In addition to financial assistance, the King of Naples supplied the Albanian leader with troops, military equipment, and sanctuary for himself and his family if such a need should arise. As an active defender of the Christian cause in the Balkans, Skanderbeg was also closely involved with the politics of four Popes, including Pope Pius II, who hailed him as the Christian Gideon[4].

    Profoundly shaken by the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Pius II tried to organize a new crusade against the Ottoman Turks, and to that end he did his best to come to Skanderbeg's aid, as his predecessors Pope Nicholas V and Pope Calixtus III had done before him. This policy was continued by his successor, Pope Paul II. They gave him the title Athleta Christi, or Champion of Christ.


    After death

    A horseman statue portraying the Albanian folk hero, George Castriota Scanderbeg, in the square Piazza Albania in Rome, Italy.The Albanian resistance went on after the death of Skanderbeg for an additional ten years under the leadership of Dukagjini, though with only moderate success and no great victories. In 1478, the fourth siege of Krujë finally proved successful for the Ottomans; demoralized and severely weakened by hunger and lack of supplies from the year-long siege, the defenders surrendered to Mehmed, who had promised them to leave unharmed in exchange. As the Albanians were walking away with their families, however, the Ottomans reneged on this promise, killing the men and enslaving the women and children[14].

    In 1479, the Ottoman forces captured the Venetian-controlled Shkodër after a fifteen-month siege[15]. Shkodër was the last Albanian castle to fall to the Ottomans and Venetians evacuated Durrës in 1501. Albanian resistance continued sporadically until around 1500.

    The union[1] which Skanderbeg had maintained in Albania did not survive him. Without Skanderbeg at their lead, their allegiances faltered and splintered until they were forced into submission. The defeats triggered a great Albanian exodus[15] to southern Italy, especially to the kingdom of Naples, as well as to Sicily, Greece, Romania, and Egypt. Following this, most of its population converted to Islam. Albania remained a part of the Ottoman Empire until the early 1900s, never again posing a serious threat to the Ottomans.

    Effects on the Ottoman expansion
    The Ottoman Empire's expansion was ground to a halt during the timeframe in which Skanderbeg and his Albanian forces resisted. He has been credited with being the main reason for delaying Ottoman expansion into western Europe, giving Vienna time to better prepare for the Ottoman arrival. This is not entirely true. While the Albanian resistance certainly played a vital role in this, it was one piece of numerous events that played out in the mid-15th century. Much credit must also go to the successful resistance mounted by Vlad III Dracula in Wallachia, as well as the defeats inflicted upon the Ottomans by Hunyadi and his Hungarian forces.
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    Descendants
    Skanderbeg's family, the Castriots [9] were invested with a Neapolitan dukedom, as the Turkish pressure became too strong. They obtained a feudal fiefdom, the Duchy of San Pietro di Galatina. John, Skanderbeg's son, married[16] Irene Palaeologus of the Byzantine royal family, the Palaeologus.

    An illegitimate branch of that family lives onwards in south Italy, having used the name Castriota Scanderbeg for centuries. They have been part of Italian lower nobility. The legitimate line of George Castriota went extinct as to males within a few generations, but apparently the family continues through a Sanseverino branch. There is also a Spanish nobleman by the name of Juan Alandro Castriota who contributed a great deal towards Albania's struggle for independence [citation needed].
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    Seal of Skanderbeg

    Seal of SkanderbegA seal, that is assumed to be a seal of Skanderbeg, has been kept in Denmark since it was discovered in 1634. It was bought by the National Museum in 1839. According to the interpretation of the symbols and inscriptions on the seal as they have been studied and analysed by Danish scholars, the seal is made of brass, is 6 cm in length and weighs 280 g. The inscription is in Greek and reads Alexander (Skender) is an Emperor and a King. Emperor of the Romaic nation (Greeks) and King of the Turks, the Albanians, the Serbs and the Bulgarians. It naturally follows the inscription is laterally reversed. It is possible that the seal was made after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, since Skanderbeg is referred to as an Emperor of the Byzantines. The double eagle in the center of the seal is derived from the eagle of the Byzantine emperor, and this fact is also the most agreed upon among educated Albanians. Some claim it is a famous ancient Illyrian symbol. This seal is the origin of the flag of modern Albania. Furthermore, Skanderbeg never was a King of the Serbs or the Bulgars. It is possible the seal was 'designed' while Skanderbeg was organizing a crusade against the Ottomans or that it was manufactured when Skanderbeg was an ally the King of Naples. It is also possible the seal was commissioned by the family of Skanderbeg some time in the 16th century, or even that it is a fake from the 15th or 16th century.
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    Skanderbeg in literature

    A page from Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi Epirotarum principisSkanderbeg gathered quite a posthumous reputation in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. With virtually all of the Balkans under Ottoman rule and with the Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683, nothing could have captivated readers in the West more than an action-packed tale of heroic Christian resistance to the "Moslem hordes".

    Books on the Albanian prince began to appear in Western Europe in the early 16th century. One of the earliest of these histories to have circulated in Western Europe about the heroic deeds of Skanderbeg was the Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi, Epirotarum Princeps (Rome ca. 1508-1510), published a mere four decades after Skanderbeg's death. This: History of the life and deeds of Scanderbeg, Prince of the Epirotes was written by the Albanian historian Marinus Barletius Scodrensis (ca. 1450 - ca. 1512), known in Albanian as Marin Barleti[2], who after experiencing the Turkish occupation of his native Shkodër at first hand, settled in Padua where he became rector of the parish church of St. Stephan. Barleti dedicates[11] his work to Donferrante Kastrioti, Scanderbeg's grandchild and to the next generations. The first time this book was published in Italy in Latin language and since then it was translated in many languages.

    The work was widely read in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was translated and/or adapted into a number of foreign language versions: German by Johann Pincianus (Augsburg, 1533), Italian by Pietro Rocca (Venice, 1554, 1560), Portuguese by Francisco D'Andrade (Lisbon, 1567), Polish by Ciprian Bazylik (Brest-Litovsk, 1569), French by Jaques De Lavardin, also known as Jacques de Lavardin, Seigneur du Plessis-Bourrot ("Histoire de Georges Castriot Surnomé Scanderbeg, Roy d'Albanie", Paris, 1576), and Spanish by Juan Ochoa de la Salde (Seville, 1582). The English version, translated from the French of Jaques De Lavardin by one Zachary Jones Gentleman, was published at the end of the 16th century under the title, Historie of George Castriot, surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albinie; containing his Famous Actes, his Noble Deedes of Armes and Memorable Victories against the Turkes for the Faith of Christ. Gibbon was not the first one[17] who noticed that Barleti is sometimes inaccurate in favour of his hero - for example Barleti claims that the Sultan was killed by disease under the walls of Kruje.[18]

    Skanderbeg's posthumous fame was not confined to his own country. Voltaire, starts his chapter The Taking of Constantinople[19] with the phrase "Had the Greek Emperors acted like Scanderbeg, the empire of the East might still have been preserved". A number of poets and composers have also drawn inspiration from his military career. The French 16th century poet Ronsard wrote a poem about him, as did[20] the 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Antonio Vivaldi composed an opera entitled Scanderbeg. For Gibbon, "John Huniades and Scanderbeg... are both entitled to our notice, since their occupation of the Ottoman arms delayed the ruin of the Greek empire."

    In 1855, Camille Paganel, wrote "Histoire de Scanderbeg"[5] inspired from the Crimean War.
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    Bibliography
    ^ a b This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
    ^ a b Marin Barleti, 1508, Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi Epirotarum principis, theeuropeanlibrary.org
    ^ a b c d James Emerson Tennent, 1845, The History of Modern Greece, from Its Conquest by the Romans B.C.146, to the Present Time
    ^ a b c Catholic World Encyclopedia VOL. XXIII, Number 134, 1876, Scanderbeg entry
    ^ a b c Camille Paganel, 1855, "Histoire de Scanderbeg, ou Turcs et Chrétiens du XVe siècle"
    ^ Edwin E. Jacques, The Albanians: An Ethnic History, 1994, p. 179
    ^ M. Barleti, ibid.
    ^ located today in the north-western part of the Republic of Macedonia
    ^ a b c d e Edward Gibbon, 1788, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 6, Scanderbeg section
    ^ John V Fine, 1994, The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest, ISBN 0-472-08260-4
    ^ a b c Minna Skafte Jensen, 2006, A Heroic Tale: Marin Barleti's Scanderbeg between orality and literacy
    ^ L.S. Stavrianos, 2000, The Balkans Since 1453, ISBN 1-85065-551-0
    ^ a b John Musachi, 1515, Brief Chronicle on the Descendants of our Musachi Dynasty
    ^ a b Franz Babinger, 1992, Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time, ISBN 0-691-01078-1
    ^ a b This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain.
    ^ Steven Runciman, 1990, The Fall of Constantinople 1453, ISBN 0-521-39832-0
    ^ see also Chalcondyles, l vii. p. 185, l. viii. p. 229
    ^ Gibbon, ibid, note 42
    ^ Voltaire, 1762, Works, Vol 3, translated from the French by T. Smollet, T. Francklin and others
    ^ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863, Scanderbeg
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    Weapons of Skanderbeg


    Main article: Arms of Skanderbeg

    During his reign Skanderbeg issued many laws (census of the population, tax collecting etc) based on Roman and Byzantine law.[citation needed]

    When the Ottomans found the grave of Skanderbeg in Saint Nicholas church of Lezhë, they opened it and made amulets of his bones[9], believing that these would confer bravery on the wearer.


    Skanderbeg MuseumSkanderbeg today is the national hero of Albania. Many museums and monuments, such as the Skanderbeg Museum next to the castle in Krujë, are raised in his honor around Albania and in the predominantly Albanian-populated Kosovo. Skanderbeg's struggle against the Ottoman Empire became highly significant to the Albanian people, as it strengthened their solidarity, made them more conscious of their national identity, and served later as a great source of inspiration in their struggle for national unity, freedom, and independence.

    In Arbëresh poems he is not only the defender of their home country, but also the defender of Christianity. For the Albanians in Albania, a large majority of whom are Muslims, Skanderbeg is a national argument proving Albania's cultural affinity to Europe. Many have argued he was Muslim himself, although he was not. He had converted while held captive in Anatolia, but later reverted back to Christianity upon his escape.
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    SKANDERBEG EXPEDITION IN ITALY

    (fn1)........ÒAs soon as the storm ceased (fn2) the fleet turned its course again toward Italy. A favorable wind filled their sails, and the following day at the first rays of the sun the coast of Puglia and a very high mountain appeared. It was the part of Italy that stretches out along the Adriatic. It is Puglia that divides it in two parts. one Greek and the other Italian, and it includes Mount Gargano too. Skanderbeg, knew that Mount Gargano (Mount S. Angelo) was noted for the appearance of Saint Michele shouting out ÒGod be praisedÓ. Ahead, the warlike Archangel was in such great credit, that the prince (Skanderbeg) kneeled, imploring his intercession to God that he would have success in his undertaking.

    When the fleet landed, Skanderbeg sent men out to scout the land. Informed by his courriers that the enemy was not far away, they re-boarded their ships and set sail for Bari. It was just in time because Ferdinand had been cornered by the Duke of Angio and the famous Count Piccinino and had no alternative except to surrender or be taken by the sword of the hand. But at the happy appearance of SkanderbegÕs ships he and his forces hastily pulled back ten (leghe?). Then free, Ferdinand went to meet with Skanderbeg. The meeting was quite affectionate, and after the first effusion of mutual recognition, the two princes set out together toward Bari.

    All along the way people rushed up eagerly to gaze at the hero Skanderbeg whose name was so renowned. The air resounded with their acclamation mixed with the roar of artillery that had been brought up to form a field of operations. The question was whether to set it up around Bari or near Abruzzi where they could open a passage way so that confederates Ferdinand expected could join them, and they could advance at the head of a re-united force against the enemy. This last opinion prevailed.

    Leaving a garrison in the city, the rest of the army left with provisions for five days. Favored by deep darkness, passing near the enemy, the enemy did not attack them. When they arrived in Abruzzo they threw themselves down unexpectedly on the guard posts, which, after (di avere dispersi, si mise) in communication with allied generals Frederico dÕUrbino and Allesandro Sforza. Thus having re-united all their forces, they set up a position near Ursara, a small town in Puglia loyal to Ferdinand.

    Learning that Count Piccinino was heading for Bari, Skanderbeg and his Albanese soldiers took responsibility for this expedition. They had scarcely arrived there when the enemy appeared, but without starting any action. Days passed with skirmishes and despite the fact that the albanesi were outnumbered, they always were victorious. A battle was inevitable and, doubtful of the outcome, Piccinino asked to see Skanderbeg. This (non si fece) to wait, and separated from the troops the two leaders met in a place that was open on all sides.

    When Piccinino, who was thin and small in stature saw the athletic figure (fn3) of his enemy Skanderbeg in front of him he was disconcerted and was silent for a few moments. When he recovered from his excitement/emotion the wily Count entered into a discussion of the matter at hand. (A sentirelo), thanks to his (whose??) skills and mysterious ways, the Kingdom of Naples soon would be assured to Ferdinand; and the Duke of AngioÕ and the French would have to withdraw. And since settling such an important question as this required much time, it was agreed that they would meet again the following day, Piccinino proposing a temporary postponement of fighting between the two armies that soon would be only one.

    The following day Skanderbeg and the fair and honest aAbanesi set out to the meeting with only seven cavalry men. On the way they met a soldier from the enemy camp who, charmed by the admiration that Sk.
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    The Arbreshe and Contessa Entellina



    There exists in New Orleans today a very unique benevolent society. Unique not only because it is the oldest such society in New Orleans, but moreover due to the composition of its membership. This society, the Contessa Entellina, or as it was originally named, "la Societa Italiana de Beneficenza Contessa Entillina", was founded on September 8, 1886, and is composed of the descendents of the Arbreshe or Albanian settlers who founded the small Sicilian town of Contessa Entellina some five-hundred years ago.

    The Arbreshe, as speakers of the Albanian (Arbreshe) language, at one time populated a much greater land area than the present-day country of Albania. They comprised the populations of the Illyrian and Macedonian empires as well as the empire of Epirus. These people have yielded such great sons as the Emperor Diocletian, Constantine the Great and Alexander the Great. This, though, is the ancient history of the Arbreshe people.

    Modern Arbreshe history begins in the fifteenth century. Although in the west the Moors were being driven out of Spain by the Christians, in the east the situation was reversed. The Ottoman Muslims had captured Adrianople. Albania was quickly becoming one of their fallen victories. It was around the year 1431 that John Kastriot was forced to surrender Croja, the capital city of his Albanian state, to the Turks. Moreover, he was forced to surrender his four sons, among whom was George Kastriot, soon to be proclaimed by the Turks, Skanderberg (literally, "Prince Alex", an honorary reference to Alexander the Great).

    Young George Kastriot was educated in the Ottoman religion and ways of life and was soon to become a favorite of Sultan Amurat II, a commander of Ali Pasha. Amurat II appointed George Kastriot commander in charge of five thousand of his warriors. During his first campaigns, Skanderberg exhibited a high degree of dexterity, valor and prudence, especially for his young age. Yet a strong fire still blazed in his heart for his old country and the religion of his ancestors. Finally, after having learned many Turkish military secrets, Skanderberg joined with many of the Albanian tribal chiefs and revolted against his longtime Ottoman captors. He sent a messenger to ask Alfonso V of Aragon, Pope Eugene IV, the Republic of Venice and all Christian leaders to help him stop the Turkish invasion and to help restore Christianity to the east.

    In 1448, while Skanderberg was victoriously fighting off the Turkish invasions, three military colonies, commanded by Demetrio Reres along with his sons Giorgio and Basilio, were dispatched to help Alfonso V of Aragon, King of Naples and Sicily, defeat the barons of Naples who had rebelled against him. After the defeat of the rebellious barons, Alfonso V sent Demetrio Reres and his son Giorgio to Sicily. Demetrio, promoted to commander, and his son, Giorgio, to captain, they left Naples to defend Sicily against the raids of the Angioni. Thus, in 1449 Giorgio Reres, leaving his father in Calabria, took his Arbreshe troops to Sicily where they stationed themselves in the old Castle of Bisiri, located between Mazara del Vallo and Marsala. In 1450, after two years of battling the Angioni, the Arbreshe left the castle victorious. After leaving the Castle of Bisiti the Arbreshe, led by Giorgio Reres split up into three groups.

    The first of these three Arbreshe groups ventured into the interior of Sicily, to the lands of the house of Cardona-Peralta, and founded a small town in the vicinity of the ancient military fortress and Trojan settlement of "la Rocca di Entella" (Rock of Entella). They named their newly found home Contessa, after Countess (Contesssa) Cardona-Peralta dei Colonna, who had given them this land. During the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century, the "Contessiotti" (citizens of Contessa) added to the name of their town, Entellina. They did this to record the fact that their town was founded near the site of "la Rocca di Entella". Thus, that first Arbreshe settlement in Sicily is known by us today as Contessa Entellina.

    The second of the three Arbreshe groups ventured still deeper into the interior of Sicily, near the lands of the monastery of "San Giovanni degli Eremiti" and of the house of Cardona- Peralta. They settled near the ruins of the old castle of Mensel Juspuh, (Castle of Joseph), and founded the town of Mezzojuso.

    The last group went, following the previous two, westward onto the slopes of the "Montagna delle Rose" (Mountain of the Roses). There, on a high plain, dominated by a very fertile valley which is irrigated by the River Sosio, they founded Palazzo Adriano.

    Evidence that these three towns were originally part of the military colony of Giorgio Reres is easily seen. The Arbreshe language is spoken, with few exceptions, with equivalent pronunciations in three towns, unlike the pronunciation in Piana degli Albanesi. Also, all three communities, Contessa Entellina, Mezzojuso and Palazzo Adriano, originally shared the same patron saint, San Nicolo di Mira. San Nocolo di Mira, or "Shen Nikolli" as he is known in Arbreshe, was also the patron saint of the Reres family.

    It was also around this time that another group of Arbreshe immigrants founded Piana degli Albanesi (Plain of the Albanians). This town was mistakingly called Piana dei Greci (Plain of the Greeks) for a long time, until Mussolini corrected its name to reflect the town's true, Arbreshe founders. From Piana degli Albanesi a nucleus of Arbreshe later settled in the nearby town of Santa Cristina Gela.

    There are four other Sicilian towns, that are of Arbreshe origin, they are: Sant'Angelo Muxaro, San Michele di Ganzaria, Biancavilla and Bronte.

    In 1453, Maometto II, Sultan Amurat's successor, conquered Constantinople. This meant that the Turks could intensify and concentrate their strength on the Albanian populus. This led to the immigration of many prominent people, coming from many regions of Albania, to Contessa.

    In 1462, the "Bisirioti" of Contessa, those who had fought the Angioni in the Castle of Bisiri, left for their homeland. Seeing the eminent danger to "Shqipria" (Arbreshe for Albania meaning "land of the eagles") they naturally wanted to rejoin the ranks of Skanderberg and their fellow countrymen to fight for Christianity and their beloved "Shqipria". Skanderberg was having great success battling the Ottomans, who were now commanded by Maometto II. At times, Skanderberg and his twenty-thousand Arbreshe warriors had defeated up to two-hundred thousand Turks.

    On January 17, 1468, at the age of sixty-five, Prince George Kastriot Skanderberg died, thus leaving his Holy War against the Ottoman Turks in the hands of his son, John. Young John Kastriot, though a brave Albanian soldier, could not contain the Turks as his illustrious father had done. Not long after, Maometto II and his men finally crushed the Arbreshe forces and dominated Albania.

    The Turks, as much of an enemy to Skanderberg as they were, visited his tomb to secure pieces of his bones to make potions to cure fear and to strengthen oneself.

    After the death of Skanderberg and the fall of Albania, the Arbreshe who remained in Albania were forced either to convert to the Muslim religion and forsake their ByzantineCatholic faith, or die. In order to preserve their Holy Catholic tradition, these remaining Arbreshe resolved to leave their homeland. This large migration was delayed until 1521, when the first founders of Contessa along with other families from Pelopensia (Greece) returned to Contessa. The evacuation of their homeland was to be the saddest event in their lives.

    "When the boats had put out to sea

    And our mountains descended below the horizon,

    All the warriors sighed profoundly,

    And the women loudly cried out

    O Albania! Farewell! Farewell Albania!"

    "Gjaku Ine I Shprishur!"

    The last line, "Gjaku Ine I Shprishur!", when translated from Arbreshe reads, "Our blood has been scattered!"

    Thus, the Arbreshe were destined to live a life in Contessa, very different from their past. They were to put away their weapons and begin new lives, which although filled with nostalgia for Albania, these new lives were to serve as the beginning of a whole new epic of Arbreshe history. One can still stroll through the streets of present-day Contessa and almost relive the past. When the founding fathers were laying out their streets, they called upon their rich, Arbreshe heritage. In Contessa there are such streets as: VIA ALBANIA-recalling the beloved homeland; VIA CIACCIO-a family of old Contessa; VIA CLESIan old Albanian family; VIA CUCCIA-an old Albanian family; VIA SCHIRO-a distinguished family of Contessa; VIA SCIAMBRA-an Albanian family, VIA VERGINE -honoring the Blessed Mother whom we celebrate as patroness of our society as "Shen Meria e Favars", VIA ZAMANDA-an Albanian family; and one of the main streets, VIA KASTRIOTTA -named after the great Albanian hero, George Kastriot Skanderberg, and many other such symbolically named streets.

    Even the coat of arms of Contessa retains a bit of old Albania. The coat of arms depicts the two headed eagle of Albania, upon which a warrior's shield rest. Upon the shield there is a column which is surmounted by a crown. In between the eagles' heads there is a female sphinx grasping two snakes.

    Contessa itself lies in the brim of Mount Genuardo. The town is framed by three hills which the "Contessiotti" call, "Brinjat" (Arbreshe for "Horns", because of their peering, hornlike appearance). Contessa belongs to the province, military district and postal district of the capital city, Palermo, Many "Contessiotti" live in and/or work in Palermo, which is only ninety kilometers or fifty-four miles away.

    When the Arbreshe settled in Contessa, they did so by the hundreds. This gave Contessa the population necessary to sustain a town. Naturally, Contessa began to grow, but this growth was never so large as to crowd the town. Between the years 1516 and 1554, under the rule of Emperor Carlo V, Contessa's population numbered over five-hundred. The chart below shows the growth and partial decline of the "Contesssiotti". The population had grown

    from 1,565 inhabitants in 1718 to over 3,400 in 1861. It was around 1861 that Contessa reached her peak in population. It was around that year (1861) that the Arbreshe of Contessa made their second great immigration in over four-hundred years. Due to the social and economic conditions of Italy at that time, and also due in part to the bright promise of the United States, the "Contessiotti" left their town to find a brighter future. The major part of this immigration, which soon numbered almost three thousand, settled here in New Orleans. These Arbreshe immigrants came to New Orleans as strangers, but in time they were to assume meaningful roles in New Orleans life. It was on the feast day of "Shen Meria e Favars" or "Santissima Maria della Favara" that the Contessa Entellina Society was founded. On September 8, 1886 the "Contessiotti" of New Orleans united into a brotherhood, where each member could find shelter, relief and help from within their own ranks. Incorporated on October 22nd of that same year, the Contessa Entellina Society sought, and still seeks to preserve the rich heritage of the Arbreshe people and to keep their people united.

    __________________________________________________ _________________________

    Year 1516-54 1583 1653 1718 1798 1861 1881 1911 1921 1976

    Population 500+ 676 990 1565 3018 3472 3293 2117 1910 3500

    __________________________________________________ _________________________

    This unity of the Arbreshe has proved to be one of their strong points. This unity plus their fierce religiosity has helped to preserve the Arbreshe, both in Contessa and here in New Orleans.

    This religious fervor is attested to by the ample number of churches in Contessa. There are four churches within Contessa, these being; the Church of the Annunciation and San Nicolo di Mira, the Church of "Shen Mena e Favars", the Church of San Rocco and the Church of the Purgatory.

    Up until the year 1624. the religion of Contessa was strictly Byzantine Catholic. It was around this year (1624), due to the large influx of Latins or Roman Catholics, that the Latin rites were introduced to Contessa.

    The Byzantine Catholic Church is the descendent of the Church of the primitive Christians in the Middle East. The Byzantine, or Greek Catholic Church was the Church in Jerusalem. The Church spread to Antioch where Saint Peter founded the See of Antioch before moving to Rome. The Patriarch of the Byzantine Catholic Church is the successor of Saint Peter in Antioch. In the tenth century, when the Moslems were occupying the Middle East but not as of yet in Constantinople, the Byzantine Church looked over to Rome, rather than the Eastern Church of Constantinople. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks occupied Constantinople. The Sultan gave all the rights to the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. It was at that time that the Byzantine Church looked to him and the Orthodox Church, although they had remained Catholic in past centuries. In 1724 the Church divided again. The Byzantine Church choose the Roman Catholic section. The Byzantine Church has thus remained Catholic since 1724.

    Although the Byzantine Church (the Church of Contessa) has been Catholic for over two hundred and fifty years, it has retained its own traditions, vestments, liturgies, brevity and canon law. In relation to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, the Byzantine Catholics remain autonomous but obedient.

    The priests of the Byzantine Rite are called "Papas", as opposed to "Padre" or "Father".

    In Contessa, the "Papas" are held in high esteem, just as the "Contessiotti" hold their religion. During the early years of Contessa Entillina, the "Papas" were the teachers in the elementary schools. The "Papas" have always been the scholars and men of learning. This tradition of scholarly priests is carried on even today.

    Possibly the greatest author of Contessa was a priest or "Papas" of the Byzantine Church. Born in 1740 in Contessa Entellina, Papas Nicolo Chetta was the rector of the Greek-Albanian Seminary of Palermo. He is considered to be the only author who has been able to amply illustrate the dialect of Contessa. Among his other works he wrote an Albanian-Italian dictionary, a history of Epirus and Macedonia, accounts of the Albanian colonies of Sicily and an autobiography. He died on November 15, 1803.

    The "Contessiotti", being as religious as they are, have always held their patron saint, San Nicolo di Mira in high esteem. San Nocolo di Mira, or "Shen Nikolli" as he is known in Arbreshe, was the patron saint of the Reres family. As Giorgio Reres was the leader of the "Bisirioti", it was only natural they would choose to worship San Nicolo as their patron saint.

    In Contessa, San Nicolo is known as, "Shen Nikolli, Buke e Burr". This endearing term means, "Saint Nicholas, Bread and Fiance". This devotion to "Shen Nikolli" is probably derived from the episode in the saint's life when he procured gifts of food and clothing, etc. for some peasant girls. Without the saint's gifts, the girls would not have been able to accumulate the proper dowry necessary for marriage. The girls of Contessa thus believe that as "Shen Nikolli" saved those girls, so will he procure husbands for them. "Shen Nikolli" is still faithfully worshipped in Contessa today.

    In Contessa, as well as in some of the other Arbreshe towns, the Arbreshe language is still spoken and preserved as a native tongue. This Arbreshe language belongs to the IndoEuropean family, though it is the sole survivor of its kind. The language of the northern part of Albania (Ghegeria) is known as "Ghego"; the language of the south (Toskaria) is known as "Tosko".

    Just as the Arbreshe founders of Contessa were from both "Ghegeria" and "Toskaria" so is the language part of both regions. The dialect of Contessa. and most of the ArbresheSicilian towns, is mainly a "Tosko" dialect. The particular dialect of Contessa Entellina bears a Close resemblance to the dialects of Mezzojuso and Palazzo Adriano. This is understandably so as the people of all three towns share a common ancestry. The dialects of these three towns differ slightly from the Arbreshe which is spoken in Piana degli Albanesi.

    Just as the language of Contessa is a mixture of northern and southern Albania, so were the founding families of Contessa. Many family names reoccurring in the rolls of the Contessa Entellina Society, also among those first families of Contessa Entellina, were: Caliva, Carlisi, Carnesi, Chetta, Chisesi, Ciaccio, Clesi, Cuccia, Curbi, Custagliorsi, Ermi, Foto, Gassisi, Grisaffi, Lala, Lopes, Manale, Masaracchia, Nicolosi, Petta, Plescia, Reres, Sagali, Schiro, Sciambra, Serveja, Spata, Stassi and Zamanda.

    When the "Contessiotti" of New Orleans formed the Contessa Entellina Society in 1886. they elected as their first officers: Luigi C. Tortorich, president, Giuseppe Terranova, Ist vicepresident; Salvatore Valenti, 2nd vice-president; Luigi Genovese, secretary: Antonino Licalzi. financial secretary; Giuseppe Foto, treasurer, Giovanni Schilleci, collector and as grand marshal they chose Giuseppe Vaccaro.

    At one time in our history, "la Societa Italiana di Beneficenza Contessa Entellina" numbered nearly six hundred members. Today, the Society's membership, which is limited to the direct male descendents of the "Contessiotti", numbers approximately one hundred and twenty-five.

    During its ninety years, the Contessa Entellina Society has carried with it the pride of the Arbreshe. This pride stemming from its unity, longevity and such honors as eight of its members being knighted or raised to the title of "Cavaliere" by the Italian government and church. The "Cavalieri'' of our Contessa Entillina Society are: Cav. Peter N. Ciaccio,* Cav. Phillip C. Ciaccio, Cav. Rosario Graffagnini,* Cav. Ted R. Liuzza, Cav. W. N. Parrino,* Cav. Dr. John P. Schiro, Cav. Joseph G. Schiro, Cav. Lucas J. Schiro.* Among other honors, the Contessa Entellina Society has one of the three Arbreshe families admitted to the Order of the Knights of Malta. In the year 1500, a Clesi was accepted into the Order of Malta. A descendent of Skanderberg was accepted into the Order of Malta in 1565, and another Arbreshe soldier of the family of Bruno was accepted into the Order in 1571.

    Above all else, we are proud of the present and past members of the Society, who have sustained our Contessa Entillina Society for the past ninety years and who have helped to preserve our rich Arbreshe heritage.

    Thus, the Arbreshe have suffered many harsh setbacks which could have easily doomed any creed. This is not the case with our people. After losing our beloved Albania we went on. Seeking to preserve our Holy religion and creed we established new lives in Sicily. Even here in New Orleans we can be proud representatives of our Arbreshe ancestors. The history of the Arbreshe people is one of great pride. Of our Arbreshe history Dr. Giuseppe Schiro of the University of Rome says, "Our history, then, can be sad but heroic. First, from a heroism that tolerated the use of the sword and a continually dangerous life with agriculture; a humble and silent humility, and a life of sadness and nostalgia. "

    Although the Arbreshe have produced many great sons, this energy has never produced a great nation. This may be due to the fact that we have always been a rebellious and independent people. The historically well known Byzantine princess, Anna Comnena, once called the Arbreshe, "a people without a king."

    When the Arbreshe left Albania and exclaimed, "Gjaku Ine I Shprishur!" (Our blood has been scattered!). Little did they know that they were beginning a whole new period of Arbreshe history.

    Were they here today, perhaps they would rejoice and exclaim, "Sa Te Mbiedem Gjakum Shprishur!" (Our scattered blood has been gathered!).

    We, the Arbreshe should dedicate ourselves to preserving our rich heritage. Remembering our Arbreshe pride and unity, we should and shall stand here together, again, on September 8. 1996 and thank "Shen Meria e Favars" for our society's centennial.

    With our reflections on the past ninety years of our Contessa Entellina Society, let us also reflect on over five hundred years of Arbreshe freedom, and pray for at least that from the future.
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