The era of Gjergj Kastriot-Skanderbeg
George Kastriot (known in English as Scanderbeg) was born around 1405. He was the second youngest child in the family of the many children of John and Voisava. Since the time when George was a child, the Kastriot family had felt the devastating consequences of the Ottoman invasions. In about 1415, John Kastriot is believed to have been forced to hand his son George over to the Ottomans when George was about nine years old. Having been educated at Enderun School of Janissaries, trained in special skills, and given the Muslim name Iskander, his military career in the Ottoman army quickly advanced. He moved from a cavalry (spahiu) position and took over the post of a district commander (Sanjak-Bey). Scanderbeg then served as an Ottoman functionary in Kruja, a position he held until 1438.
On 3 November 1443, a battle between the Ottoman and Hungarian armies was fought near Nis and the Ottomans were routed. Afterwards on 28 November 1443 Scanderbeg returned to Kruja, whose inhabitants were overcome with joy and, as Barleti wrote: “Everyone was talking about freedom, the sweet voice of freedom was echoing everywhere”.
On 2 March 1444, the Assembly of the Albanian Nobles was initiated at St Nicolas Cathedral in Lezha. It was attended by members of the Albanian aristocracy such as: Scanderbeg, Gjergj Arianiti, Andrea Thopia, George Stres Balsha, Nicholas and Pal Dukagjini, the young Teodor Muzaka, Leke Zaharia, Stefan Gjurashi (Crnojevic) etc. The Assembly decided to unite the Albanians in the form of a political covenant between the leaders of the free territories and other nobles known as the Albanian League of Lezha. The first military victories of the Albanian League under Scanderbeg’s leadership were of great importance to the country’s political life. The reason for the start of the war against Venice is attributed to the Dagnum Castle being taken by the Venitians after the death of Leke Zaharia. In 1448 a peace treaty was concluded.
In 1448 the Second Battle of Kosovo was fought, at which it had been planned that the Hungarian and Albanian armies would fight against the Ottoman army. However, the Albanian forces did not take part in the battle because the Serbian Despot Djuradj Brankovic, did not allow the Albanian army to pass into his territory. Hence the Hungarian forces lost this battle against the Ottomans which took place in Kosovo near Pristina.
The countries of southeast Europe, threatened by the same enemy, had the common task of coping with the Ottoman danger. Albania was increasingly seen by contemporaries as an important leading power, and this fueled hopes the Ottomans would be expelled from occupied Europe. Within this context, the Albanians’ relations with Hungary were of particular significance and up until 1456, when (the Hungarian commander and ruler) Hunyadi died, Hungary fought decisively against the Ottoman invaders and was thus the most important ally of the Albanians. Relations with the Slavic states were not so strong and it was mainly during the wars against Venice in 1448 when some detachments of Stefan Tomasevic, King of Bosnia, fought alongside the Albanians.
With the ultimate fall of the Rascian Despotate at the hands of the Ottomans, its Despot Stefan, the son of George Brankovic, came to Albania in 1459 and took refuge for several years living near Scanderbeg, with whom he also became brother-in-law, marrying Angelina, Gjergi Arianiti’s daughter.
In 1460 Scanderbeg wrote to an Italian prince: “If I were to be defeated, Italy would probably feel it, and therefore, the lands you say are yours would belong to the Turks.” Scanderbeg paid particular attention to relations with Venice, the Papacy and Naples, both because of their proximity to the Balkans and the interests and aspirations of those countries in the Balkans. The Papacy highly praised the Albanians’ fight against the Ottomans, supported it morally, and widely propagated it. It gave Scanderbeg the title of Protector of Christianity of the Holy See and Captain General.
Albanian Academy of Sciences, Historia e Popullit Shqipar I, (Tirana, Toena, 2002), 376-402.
Love for the homeland is the highest idea that pervades (Marinus) Barletius’s work. Scanderbeg, encouraging his fighters to fight for their homeland, says: “Therefore, if love for the homeland, chastity, the honour of ancestors can revive one’s feelings of pride, then reach for your weapons, sharpen your swords for God’s justice, defend, if necessary, with blood…. Perform the task of the homeland, which it can never be thought too much blood was spilled for, that there was war enough, because the love of the homeland transcends every other love. “
Marin Barleti, Historia e Skënderbeut. (Tiranë, Infbotues, 2005), XXII.. (Tirana, Infotainment, 2005), XXII.
The Second Battle of Kosovo sealed the fate of Kosovo. The Serbian despot did not support the Catholic army and paid for it with the loss of Kosovo (1455) and after his death with the sinking of the entire Serbian principality. Part of his family fled to Scanderbeg, who had family ties with Brankovic. In the medieval elites, there were no ethnic contradictions between Serbs and Albanians – the close ties between the Serbian and Albanian nobles were opposed to these contradictions; Skanderbeg’s mother was a daughter from the Brankovic house and his son Ivan (John) married a woman of the Brankovic family (Irene).
Oliver Jens Schmitt. Kosova – Histori e shkurtër e një treve qendrore ballkanike. (Prishtinë, Koha, 2012), 46.
Skanderbeg was to keep up his resistance to Ottoman forces for an extraordinary twenty-five years, until his death in 1468. His campaigns would have little direct military impact on Kosovo, though they did of course increase the strategic importance of the Kosovo territory as a base or staging-post for some of the Turkish armies that were sent to attack him. But the greatest military significance of Skanderbeg’s for the history of Kosovo is a negative one: it consists of his narrow failure to join up with the army of Janos Hunyadi, which penetrated as far as Kosovo Polje in 1448 and was destroyed there by the Turkish sultan…
This second battle of Kosovo is one of the great might-have-beens of Balkan history. If it is true that the battle lasted for three days, this must indicate that the forces were quite evenly balanced. The arrival of large and fresh Albanian force, under a charismatic leader with five years of experience in anti-Ottoman campaigns, might well have been decisive.
Noel Malcolm. Kosovo, A Short History. (London, 1998), pp 88 and 90.
Skanderbeg’s helmet, according to historian Oliver Jens Schmitt, was a meticulous copy of Alexander the Great’s helmet. .Skënder Blakaj. Skënderbeu. (Prishtinë, A-print, 2006), 68.
•―•―•―• Venic-adminstered territories.
Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë. Historia e Popullit Shqipar I. (Tiranë, Toena, 2002), 398.
Map of Albanian battles with Ottomans and Venetians in the 1440s and 1450s
Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë. Historia e Popullit Shqipar I. (Tiranë, Toena, 2002), 405.
The great seal of Skanderbeg.
Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë. Historia e Popullit Shqipar I. (Tiranë, Toena, 2002), 433.
Kruja, The Skanderbeg Museum
G. B. Fontana and Domenik Kusto (Engraving): George Kastriot Skanderbeg (Engraving of 1602) (Engraving obtained from the German translation of Marin Barleti’s work, 1577)
Skender Blakaj. Skënderbeu. (Prishtinë, A-print, 2006), 56.
Skanderbeg warns his soldiers not to plunder enemy sites. (Engraving obtained from the German translation of Marin Barleti’s work, 1577) Skender Blakaj. Skënderbeu. (Prishtinë, A-print, 2006), 56.