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Arvanites (Αρβανίτες, Arvanitika: Arbëreshë or Αρbε̰ρεσ̈ε̰; see also below about names) are a population group in Greece of, ultimately, Albanian origin who traditionally speak Arvanitika, a form of Tosk Albanian. They settled in Greece during the late Middle Ages and were the dominant population element of some regions in the south of Greece until the 19th century. Arvanites self-identify as Greeks, and in modern times have largely assimilated into mainstream Greek culture.Arvanitika is endangered due to language shift towards Greek and large-scale internal migration to the cities in recent decades.


Arvanites in Greece originated from Albanian settlers who moved south at different times between the 11th and 16th century from areas in what is today southern Albania. The reasons for this migration are not entirely clear and may be manifold. In many instances the Arvanites were invited by the Byzantine and Latin rulers of the time. They were employed to re-settle areas that had been largely depopulated through wars, epidemics, and other reasons, and they were employed as soldiers. Some later movements are also believed to have been motivated to evade Islamization after the Ottoman conquest. The main waves of migration into southern Greece started around 1300, reached a peak some time during the 14th century, and ended around 1600. Arvanites first reached Thessaly, then Attica, and finally the Peloponnese.

In many instances, Arvanite groups placed themselves in the services of local Greek rulers who were descendants of Byzantine noble dynasties. During the 15th and 16th centuries, such groups were renowned as mercenaries, the so-called Stratioti, serving in the armies of the Venetian Republic. Some also fought in European armies further afield, like that of Henry VIII of England. Many of them became bilingual and culturally assimilated to the Greeks. Arvanites also held positions in many Greek Orthodox churches. In 1697, Michael Bouas and Alexander Moscholeon not only chronicled their positions in the Greek Orthodox Church of Naples, but they also professed their Greek identity.

In areas such as Mesogeia, many Arvanitika-speaking populations did not see language as the defining criterion of their Greek identity. Their sense of identity relied upon their adherence to the Greek Orthodox Church, their sense of localism with ties to the land, and their sense of kinship. All of these attributes had long served as cohesive elements of identity within the Ottoman Empire, which provided the Arvanites the ability to establish a form of ethnic unity and a stronger form of Greek self-identification. Throughout the Ottoman period, the Arvanites always maintained their ethnic Greek identity, as well as their loyalty to the Greek Orthodox Church during their conflicts against the Ottomans.

In the 17th and 18th century, Arvanitika-speakers of Epirus constituted a prominent element in the establishment of the effectively independent state of the Souliotes on the mountains of Epirus, which resisted Ottoman domination. During the Greek War of Independence, many Arvanites played an important role fighting on the Greek side against the Ottomans, often as national Greek heroes. With the formation of modern nations and nation-states in the Balkans, Arvanites have come to be regarded as an integral part of the Greek nation. In 1899, leading representatives of the Arvanites in Greece, among them descendants of the independence heroes Markos Botsaris and Kitsos Tzavelas, published a manifesto calling their fellow Albanians outside Greece to join in the creation of a common Albanian-Greek state. In 1903, Arvanites like Vangelis Koropoulis from Mandra, Attica, participated in the Macedonian Struggle.

During the 20th century, after the creation of the Albanian nation-state, Arvanites in Greece have come to dissociate themselves much more strongly from the Albanians, stressing instead their national self-identification as Greeks. They are reported to resent being called Albanians. At the same time, it has been suggested that many Arvanites in earlier decades maintained an assimilatory stance, leading to a progressive loss of their traditional language and a shifting of the younger generation towards Greek. At some times, particularly under the nationalist 4th of August Regime under Ioannis Metaxas of 1936–1941, Greek state institutions followed a policy of actively discouraging and repressing the use of Arvanitika. In the decades following World War II and the Greek Civil War, many Arvanites came under pressure to abandon Arvanitika in favour of monolingualism in the national language, and especially the archaizing Katharevousa which remained the official variant of Greek until 1976. This trend was prevalent mostly during the Greek military junta of 1967–1974.


Regions with a strong traditional presence of Arvanites are found mainly in a compact area in southeastern Greece, namely across Attica (especially in Eastern Attica), southern Boeotia, the north-east of the Peloponnese, the south of the island of Euboea, the north of the island of Andros, and several islands of the Saronic Gulf including Salamis. In parts of this area they formed a solid majority until about 1900. Within Attica, parts of the capital Athens and its suburbs were Arvanitic until the late 19th century.

There are also settlements in some other parts of the Peloponnese, and in Phthiotis. Other groups of Arvanites live in the north of Greece in areas closer to Albania and the historical centers of contiguous Albanian populations (Banfi 1996). Some of them live in Epirus (Thesprotia, Preveza and Konitsa); in Macedonia (Florina); and in some locations further east in Western Thrace. There are no reliable figures about the number of Arvanites in Greece today and their exact number is unknown (no official data exist for ethnicity in Greece) The last official census figures available come from 1951. Since then, estimates of the numbers of Arvanites has ranged from 50,000 to 250,000, with no real effort to distinguish Arvanite-descended Greeks from Arvanitika-speakers. The following is a summary of the widely diverging estimates (Botsi 2003: 97):

  • 1928 census: 18,773 citizens self-identifying as "Albanophone", i.e. Arvanitika-speaking.
  • 1951 census: 22,736 "Albanophones".
  • Furikis (1934): estimated 70,000 Arvanites in Attica alone.
  • Trudgill/Tzavaras (1976/77): estimated 140,000 in Attica and Boeotia together.
  • Sasse (1991): estimated 50,000 Arvanitika speakers in all of Greece.
  • Ethnologue, 2000: 150,000 Arvanites, living in 300 villages.
  • Federal Union of European Nationalities, 1991: 95,000 "Albanians of Greece" (MRG 1991: 189)

Like the rest of the Greek population, Arvanites have been emigrating from their villages to the cities and especially to the capital Athens. This has contributed to the loss of the language in the younger generation.


According to the anthropological studies of Theodoros Pitsios, Arvanites in the Peloponnese in the 1970s were physically indistinguishable from other Greek inhabitants of the same region. This may indicate that either the Arvanites shared extant physical similarities with other Greek populations or that early Arvanite groups extensively incorporated parts of the autochthonous Greek population.

Anthropological studies on the Arvanites reflect historical facts pertaining to the Arvanites' Greek consciousness and allegiance to Greek movements. Arvanites are Orthodox Christians (many belong to the Old-Calendarist Orthodox Church) and their church services are held in Greek, with some rare exceptions of Gospel being read in Arvanitika during Easter. Specific Arvanite cultural activities appear to be limited. Tsitsipis has reported only occasional folklore festivals, music, and poetry contests. Since the 1980s, there has been a creation of Arvanite cultural associations and publication of a magazine and some books on Arvanite culture, however very little has been published in Arvanitika.


The name Arvanites and its equivalents are today used both in Greek (Αρβανίτες, singular form Αρβανίτης, feminine Αρβανίτισσα) and in Arvanitika itself (Arbëreshë or Arbërorë). In Standard Albanian, the name is Arvanitë. Arvanites are thus distinguished from ethnic Albanians, who are called Shqiptarë in Standard Albanian, and Alvaní (Αλβανοί) in Greek.

The name Arvanites and its equivalents go back to an old ethnonym that was at one time used by all Albanians to refer to themselves. It refers to a geographical term, first attested in Polybius in the form of a place-name Arvon (Άρβων), and then again in Byzantine authors of the 11th and 12th centuries in the form Arvanon (Άρβανον) or Arvana (Άρβανα), referring to a place in what is today Albania. The name Arvanites ("Arbanitai") originally referred to the inhabitants of that region, and then to all Albanian-speakers. The alternative name Albanians may ultimately be etymologically related, but is of less clear origin (see Albania (toponym)). It was probably conflated with that of the "Arbanitai" at some stage due to phonological similarity. In later Byzantine usage, the terms "Arbanitai" and "Albanoi", with a range of variants, were used interchangeably, while sometimes the same groups were also called by the classicising names Illyrians. In the 19th and early 20th century, Alvani (Albanians) was used predominantly in formal registers and Arvanites (Αρβανίτες) in the more popular speech in Greek, but both were used indiscriminately for both Muslim and Christian Albanophones inside and outside Greece. In Albania itself, the self-designation Arvanites had been exchanged for the new name Shqiptarë since the 15th century, an innovation that was not shared by the Albanophone migrant communities in the south of Greece. In the course of the 20th century, it became customary to use only Αλβανοί for the people of Albania, and only Αρβανίτες for the Greek-Arvanites, thus stressing the national separation between the two groups.

Arvanites are distinguished in Greece from Cham Albanians (Greek: Τσάμηδες), another Albanian-speaking group in the northwest of Greece. Unlike the Christian Arvanites, the Chams were predominantly Muslims and identified nationally as Albanians. Muslim Chams were expelled from Greece at the end of World War II, after violent clashes and atrocities committed during and after Axis occupation of Greece.

There is some uncertainty to what extent the term Arvanites also includes the small remaining Christian Albanophone population groups in Epirus and West Macedonia. Unlike the southern Arvanites, these speakers are reported to use the name Shqiptarë both for themselves and for Albanian nationals, although this is reported not necessarily to imply Albanian national consciousness. The word Shqiptár is also used in a few villages of Thrace, where Arvanites migrated from the mountains of Pindus during the 19th century however they also use the name Arvanitis speaking in Greek, while the Euromosaic (1996) reports notes that the designation Chams is today rejected by the group. The report by GHM (1995) subsumes the Epirote Albanophones under the term Arvanites, although it notes the different linguistic self-designation, on the other hand, applies the term Arvanites only to the populations of the compact Arvanitic settlement areas in southern Greece, in keeping with the self-identification of those groups. Linguistically, the Ethnologue () identifies the present-day Albanian/Arvanitic dialects of Northwestern Greece (in Epirus and Lechovo) with those of the Chams, and therefore classifies them together with standard Tosk Albanian, as opposed to "Arvanitika Albanian proper" (i.e. southern Greek-Arvanitika). Nevertheless it reports that in Greek the Epirus varieties are also often subsumed under "Arvanitika" in a wider sense. It puts the estimated number of Epirus Albanophones at 10,000. Arvanitika proper () is said to include the outlying dialects spoken in Thrace.

Language use and language perception

While Arvanitika was commonly called Albanian in Greece until the 20th century, the wish of Arvanites to express their ethnic identification as Greeks has led to a stance of rejecting the identification of the language with Albanian as well. In recent times, Arvanites had only very imprecise notions about how related or unrelated their language was to Albanian. Today, many Arvanites prefer to regard Arvanitika as different from Albanian. Since Arvanitika is almost exclusively a spoken language, Arvanites also have no practical affiliation with the Standard Albanian language used in Albania, as they do not use this form in writing or in media. The question of linguistic closeness or distance between Arvanitika and Albanian has come to the forefront especially since the early 1990s, when a large number of Albanian immigrants began to enter Greece and came into contact with local Arvanitic communities.

Since the 1980s, there have been some organized efforts to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of Arvanites. The largest organisation promoting Arvanitika is the "Arvanitic League of Greece" (Αρβανίτικος σύλλογος Ελλάδος).

Minority status

Although sociological studies of Arvanite communities still used to note an identifiable sense of a special "ethnic" identity among Arvanites, the authors did not identify a sense of 'belonging to Albania or to the Albanian nation'. Arvanite identity is subordinated to that of being part of the Greek nation. Arvanites not only reject the designation as Albanians but also object to the term "minority" being applied to them, a term that is politically highly charged in Greece. No political desire to obtain any officially recognized minority status for themselves or protection for their language has been reported on the part of Arvanite groups.

Arvanitic culture


Phara (Greek: φάρα, from Albanian fara 'seed' or from Aromanian fara 'tribe') is a descent model, similar to Scottish clans. Arvanites were organised in phares (φάρες) mostly during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The apical ancestor was a warlord and the phara was named after him (i.e. Botsaris' phara). In an Arvanitic village, each phara was responsible to keep genealogical records (see also registry offices), that are preserved until today as historical documents in local libraries. Usually, there were more than one phares in an Arvanitic village and sometimes they were organised in phratries that had conflicts of interest. Those phratries didn't last long, because each leader of a phara desired to be the leader of the phratry and would not be led by another.

Role of women

Women held a relatively strong position in traditional Arvanitic society. Women had a say in public issues concerning their phara, and also often bore arms. Widows could inherit the status and privileges of their husbands and thus acquire leading roles within a phara, as did, for instance, Laskarina Bouboulina.

Arvanitic songs

Traditional Arvanite folk songs offer valuable information about social values and ideals of Arvanitic societies. Arvanitic songs share similarities with Arbëresh, Albanian and Greek Epirote music.

Notable Arvanites

See also



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