There might be some indicators of Illyrian-Albanian continuity, but there is a lack of sufficient evidence to make any decisive conclusion. People and tribes have been on the move since time immemorial, that includes before the Roman empire when there were enormous movements of people, what we would generally call migration today. These people were not monolithic entities. Albanians and Illyrians would not have called themselves by these names, it is rather names which were used starting in the 19th century. These people would have seen themselves as members of a particular family, clan, region and later a religion. Our ancestors do not all come from the same people, we are a mixture of different human influences, whatever national membership we regard ourselves as belonging today. Centuries of coexistence in a multiethnic empire, make it almost impossible to define clearly the cultural and linguistic borders dividing people.
The Pelasgians were the oldest people in the Balkans, while the Illyrians were their descendants and the ‘Pelasgian language was very similar to the Illyrian tongue and Illyrian derived from it, and the traditions and customs of the Pelasgians were very similar to those of the Illyrians’. The Illyrians are the ancestors of the Albanians: ‘the Illyrians had special customs, similar to those of the Albanians of today’, ‘Illyrian hospitality can be compared to the hospitality offered to guests by the Albanians of today’, ‘the Illyrian form of dress is similar to Albanian dress today’ because ‘Illyrians wore on their head a woollen cap just as Albanians of the mountains wear the white plis today’. ‘The Illyrian language was very similar to today’s Albanian’ because the Albanian language has ‘many words from Illyrian which are still used today, such as the names Gent, Teuta, Agron, Bardhyl…’. ‘In the territory of Illyria many cities were founded, and their remains are still found in all ethnic Albanian lands and beyond’. The Illyrians are the indisputable ancestors of the Albanians and as an indigenous population within Balkan lands, once inhabited by them across almost all the territory of the former Yugoslavia.1
1. [Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 5. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 8-21; Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 6. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 24, 70-98 and 105; Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 10. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 26-59.]
The textbooks of Serbia do not mention the ancestry of the Albanians, although they mention the Illyrians as one of the peoples who lived in ancient times on the Adriatic coast and within the Balkan peninsula.2
2. [Smirnov-Brkiq, Aleksandra. Historia 5. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2011, pages 148-51; Mihaljčić, Rade. Istoria 6. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2011, page 42; Katić, Tatjana and Dušan Ilijin. Istorija za I razred gimnazije. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2013, pages 184-187.]
«The Albanians are the descendants of the Illyrians» is one of the hypotheses, although that which is most prominent and dominant, because as well as the hypothesis that identifies early Albanians as Illyrian (that Albanian has the Illyrian language as an ancestor), an outline is also given of the rival hypothesis which considers the early Albanians as Thracians (and that the Albanian language has Thracian as an ancestor).
The claims about the similarities between Albanian and Illyrian customs are entirely generalised and should be taken with significant reservations when they are considered within their particular time context, which makes the Illyrian tribes of antiquity noticeably different from the Albanians of today.
Similarly, it cannot be said categorically that the Illyrian language is very similar to the Albanian of today as long as there is no even one text preserved in Illyrian. There are some ‘glossa’ or commentaries which explain the meaning of words, but the evidence is still marginal and insufficient to allow us to draw conclusions.
The existence today of names of people such as Gent, Teuta, Agron, Bardhyl etc. cannot be used as an argument for the similarity of Illyrian and the Albanian of today. The current use of these names shows a particular political and cultural influence during the second half of the twentieth century.
The place names are largely the remains of earlier languages. Likewise, the cities whose remains are found in the areas where Albanians live, can not be considered proof of Illyrian-Albanian continuity because there are no evidences from material remains to tell us what language was spoken by their inhabitants, unless there are inscriptions, which are absent here.
There could be indicators of Illyrian-Albanian continuity, but there is a lack of sufficient evidence for final conclusions. In the end, as Noel Malcolm notes:
– ancestors become a mystery if we investigate deep into the past of almost all peoples;
– the peoples or tribes who were on the move in earlier times cannot be considered as monolithic entities who were not subject to changes in their identity as a result of migration from one place to another;
– the ancestors of all individuals are a mixture and we cannot suppose that all our ancestors were from the same people.3
3. [Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. London: Pan Books, 2002, pages 22-40; Schmitt, Oliver. Shqiptarët – një histori midis Lindjes dhe Perëndimit. Tirana: K&B, 2012, pages 41-49; Matzinger, Joachim. Shqiptarët si pasardhës të ilirëve nga këndvështrimi i gjuhësisë historike. published in the book compiled by Oliver Schmitt and Eva Anne Frantz. Historia e Shqiptarëve – gjendja dhe perspektivat e studimeve. Tirana: Botimet Përpjekja, 2012, pages 13-39.]