The History of Albania began over two millennia ago with tribes of uncertain origin populating the area. After being conquered by the Roman empire and later the Ottoman empire, Albania became an independent state. Albania has recently started the conversion from communism to capitalism, and expects to be a full member of NATO in 2009. The country is applying to the European Union.
Those who support the Illyrian-Albanian continuity theory maintain that all Illyrian tribes, except the Albanians, were assimilated or driven southwards into Albania and Greece during the Early Middle Ages after the waves of migrating barbarians. A formidable mountain homeland and resilient tribal society enabled the Albanians to survive into modern times with their identity and their language intact. According to these scholars, the name 'Albania' is derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Arbër, or Arbëreshë, and later Albanoi, that lived near Durrës.
Albanians were originally an extension of the southeast Illyrian peoples. By contrast with other areas, the coastal hinterland between the Narenta and the Drilon was occupied by a considerable number of smaller tribes, most of whom lost their identities during the final stages of Roman occupation. The twenty peoples listed by Pliny were only a fraction of the eighty-nine civitates attested by Varro a century earlier at the Narona conventus.
The southeast of Dalmatia was populated by "real Illyrians," and the evidence from personal names produces a uniform picture with very little influence from other parts of the province, except for a group of Celtic names in the upper Neretva valley around Konjic. In the later 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., all these peoples were part of the Illyrian kingdom, but with the removal of King Genti they all attained some form of independence, mostly through treaty arrangements with the Romans.
The Illyrians carried on commerce and warfare with their neighbors: Greeks, Paionians, Thracians, and other peoples. To the east in Dardania, there was a broad area of intermingling, or a "contact zone," between Illyrians and Thracians. This area encompassed the Danube below Belgrade down the west of the Morava valley to the Vardar and the northern border of Macedonia. In the south and along the Adriatic Sea coast, the Illyrians were heavily influenced by the Greeks, who founded trading colonies there. At the end of the 7th century B.C., Corinthian Greek settlers from Corfu established ports on the coast at Apollonia (Pojanë, near modern Vlorë) in 588 B.C. and farther north at Lissos (Lezhë) and Epidamnos (modern Durrës) in 623 B.C. The Illyrians living in Albania's rugged mountains, however, resisted Greek settlement. Illyrian raiders attacked the coastal cities and Illyrian pirates threatened Greek trading ships in the Adriatic Sea.
Illyrians produced and traded cattle, horses, agricultural goods, and wares fashioned from locally mined copper and iron. Feuds and warfare were constant facts of life for the Illyrian tribes, and Illyrian pirates plagued shipping on the Adriatic Sea. Councils of elders (bulae) chose the chieftains who headed each of the numerous Illyrian tribes. From time to time, local chieftains extended their rule over other tribes and formed short-lived kingdoms. During the fifth century B.C., well-developed Illyrian population centers existed as far north as the upper Sava River valley in what is now Slovenia. Illyrian friezes discovered near the present-day Slovenian city of Ljubljana depict ritual sacrifices, feasts, battles, sporting events, and other activities.
The Illyrian kingdom of Bardhyllis became a formidable local power in the fourth century B.C. He fought against Greek settlers and particularly Macedonia, a powerful Greek kingdom to the southeast. In 358 B.C., however, Macedonia's Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians and assumed control of their territory as far as Lake Ohrid. Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain Clitus in 335 B.C. and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied Alexander on his conquest of Persia. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., new Illyrian kingdoms were established. In 312 B.C., King Glaucius expelled the Greeks from Durrës. By the end of the third century, the Illyrian king Agron had united many independent cities and greatly expanded Illyrian territory. Agron made Shkodër his capital and built an army and navy to protect Illyrian cities and ports. His kingdom, which stretched from Dalmatia in the north to the Vijosë River in the south, controlled parts of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Hercegovina. After Agron's death in 231 B.C., control of Illyria passed to his widow, Teuta. The queen ordered several attacks on neighboring states, but the pirate raids on merchant vessels in the Adriatic Sea made Teuta's realm an enemy of Rome. Roman troops defeated Teuta's army and seized the port of Epidamnos, which the Romans renamed Durrachium.
For about four centuries, Roman rule brought the Illyrian-populated lands economic and cultural advancement and ended most of the enervating clashes among local tribes. The Illyrian mountain clansmen retained local authority but pledged allegiance to the emperor and acknowledged the authority of his envoys. During a yearly holiday honoring the Caesars, the Illyrian mountaineers swore loyalty to the emperor and reaffirmed their political rights. A form of this tradition, known as the kuvend, has survived to the present day in northern Albania.
The Romans established numerous military camps and colonies and completely Latinized the coastal cities. They also oversaw the construction of aqueducts and roads, including the extension of the Via Egnatia, an old Illyrian road and later famous military highway and trade route that led from Durrës through the Shkumbin River valley to Macedonia and Byzantium. Copper, asphalt, and silver were extracted from the mountains. The main exports were wine, cheese, oil, and fish from Lake Scutari and Lake Ohrid. Imports included tools, metalware, luxury goods, and other manufactured articles. Apollonia became a cultural center, and Julius Caesar himself sent his nephew, later the Emperor Augustus, to study there.
Illyrians distinguished themselves as warriors in the Roman legions and made up a significant portion of the Praetorian Guard. Several Roman emperors born in the Balkans are claimed by Albanians to be of Illyrian origin, including Gaius Decius, Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, and Constantine the Great.
When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in A.D. 395, Illyria east of the Drinus River (Drina between Bosnia and Serbia), including the lands that now form Albania, were administered by the Eastern Empire but were ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. In A.D. 732, a Byzantine emperor, Leo III the Isaurian, subordinated the area to the patriarchate of Constantinople. For centuries thereafter, the Albanian lands became an arena for the ecclesiastical struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Remaining under Roman influence, most Albanians living in the mountainous north maintained their Roman Catholicism, whereas in the southern and central regions, the majority became Orthodox while forging closer links with Greek peoples to the south.
After the formation of the Slav principality of Dioclia (modern Montenegro), the metropolitan see of Bar was created in 1089, and dioceses in northern Albania (Shkodër, Ulcinj) became its suffragans. Starting in 1019, Albanian dioceses of the Byzantine rite were suffragans of the independent Archdiocese of Ohrid until Durrës and Nicopolis (Preveza) were re-established as metropolitan sees. Thereafter, only the dioceses in inner Albania (Elbasan, Krujë) remained attached to Ohrid. In the 13th century during the Venetian occupation, the Latin Archdiocese of Durrës was founded.
Thanks to their protective mountains, close-knit tribal society, and sheer pertinacity, however, the Albanian people developed their distinctive identity and language. Indeed, Albania's ancient communities evolved into fiercely independent clans. Albania remained an isolated place where landowning families ruled over large, private domains. Small principalities developed near port cities and in fertile river valleys. In the mountains, the Albanian clans fought for territory and for scarce natural resources.
In the fourth century, barbarian tribes began to prey upon the Roman Empire, and the fortunes of the Illyrian-populated lands sagged. The Germanic Goths and Asiatic Huns were the first to arrive, invading in mid-century; the Avars attacked in A.D. 570; and the Slavic Serbs and Croats overran Illyrian-populated areas in the early seventh century.
For a time, southern Illyricum remained an important source of manpower for the imperial army. Most of the reconquests in the western Mediterranean were achieved by troops from the southern Balkans. The security of these homelands was now based on local strongholds, either new or refurbished. The network of small forts, whose construction would have been a burden on local communities, represented a passive defense from a basis of limited control over the countryside. In Old and New Epirus, 50 existing forts were repaired, but according to Procopius in his Secret History, the region was ravaged almost every year of Justinian's reign by Huns and Slavs, causing many Roman casualties and so much destruction that the area was deserted. The refortifications had proven insufficient.
With the eventual collapse of Illyricum, the condition of the region worsened. There seems to have been a collapse of the inland towns which had arisen in the Hellenistic period, while the more secure coastal cities continued to enjoy a relatively prosperous existence. Some inland places were protected with the latest type of defenses, including Scampis (Elbasan) on the Via Egnatia and Vig near Shkodër. The passage of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths through the area caused the building of several new hill-fortresses, such as Sarda overlooking the river Drin, sometime after the 5th century. The population of this area were Latin-speaking provincials, in the interior mainly of Illyrian origin, but more cosmopolitan in the coastal towns.
The dispersal of Slavs in the southern Balkans following the unsuccessful siege of Thessalonika in 586 led to an occupation of Praevalitania and the region south of the Shkumbin, a distribution indicated by place-names of Slav origin. During the 7th and 8th centuries Durrës and the coast remained under imperial control, but the old cities of Lezhë and Shkodër sank to within their acropolis. This is due in large part to the wholesale withrdrawal of Byzantine forces from the Balkans to reinforce the Middle Eastern provinces in 620, leaving Albania to fend for itself.
The key evidence for the population of this time is the Komani-Krujë group of cemeteries centered on Durrës, town-based and Christian. These cemeteries went out of use by the early 9th century when the new military command theme of Durrës came into existence in 862. They indicate the survival of a Romanized population of Illyrian origin driven out by Slav settlements further north, the Romanoi mentioned by Constantine Porphyrogenitus. This interpretation is supported by the concentration of Latin place-names around the Lake of Shkodër, in the Drin and Fan valleys and along the road from Lezhë to Ulpiana in Kosovo, with some in the Black Drin and Mat valleys, a distribution limited on the south by the line of the Via Egnatia.
Another population to the south is evidenced by an early tumulus culture, and this is considered to represent the Albëri of the tenth and eleventh centuries, for whom the region of Arbëri (Gheg Albëni), north of Tirana between the Mat and Erzen rivers, is named. A third region indicates movement from high altitudes between the Shkumbin and Mat, concentrated between Elbasan and Krujë, into the plain of the Mat - a likely place for Arbanon. However, the main brunt of the northern mountaineer population probably came from the northern Albanian mountains, in Dukagjin and Mirditë, and the mountains of Drin, descending into the lowlands of western Albania, the Black Drin river valley, and into parts of Old Serbia during the summer.
In the 8th and 9th century, the Bulgars conquered much of the Balkan Peninsula and extended their domain to the lowlands of what is now central and southern Albania. The Bulgarian tsar Simeon I defeated the Byzantine army and established colonies along the Adriatic seacoast. Samuil, conquered Durrës, the former Roman port of Durrachium that still traded with cities in Greece and Italy. Many Illyrians fled from coastal areas to the mountains, exchanging a sedentary peasant existence for the itinerant life of the herdsman. Other Illyrians intermarried with the conquerors and eventually assimilated. In general, the invaders destroyed or weakened Roman and Byzantine cultural centers in the lands that would become Albania.
But the Byzantine emperor Basil II, nicknamed the “Bulgar-slayer”, counterattacked in 1014. The Byzantine forces smashed the Bulgarian army, seized the Adriatic ports, and conquered Epirus, which lies south of Albania. These territories were far from the Byzantine capital at Constantinople, however, and Byzantine authority in the area gradually weakened. While the clans and landowners controlled the countryside, the people of the coastal cities fought against Byzantine rule.
It was during this period of rebellion and turmoil that the name Albania arose, the first historical mention of Albania and Albanians was in 1081, in an account of resistance by Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to a Vatican-backed Norman fleet.
The ports of Albania remained a valuable prize for several rival nations. The Normans, who ruled a kingdom in southern Italy, conquered Durrës in 1081. The Byzantine reconquest of 1083 required the help of Venice, which soon gained commercial privileges in Albanian towns as a reward. This wealthy trading city in northern Italy built fortresses and trading posts in Albania's lowlands to bolster its power. The Normans returned in 1107 and again in 1185 but were quickly expelled.
Again during the late medieval period, invaders ravaged the Illyrian-inhabited regions of the Balkans. Norman, Venetian, and Byzantine fleets attacked by sea. Bulgar, Serb, and Byzantine forces came overland and held the region in their grip for years. Clashes between rival clans and intrusions by the Serbs produced hardship that triggered an exodus from the region southward into Greece, including Thessaly, the Peloponnese, and the Aegean Islands.
Divided into warring clans, the Albanians were unable to prevent the occupation of their country by outsiders. The Serbs occupied parts of northern and eastern Albania toward the end of the 12th century and conquered Shkodër in the 1180s. In 1204, after Western crusaders sacked Constantinople, Venice won nominal control over central and southern Albania and the Epirus region of northern Greece and took possession of Durrës. A prince from the overthrown Byzantine ruling family, Michael Comnenus, made alliances with Albanian chiefs and drove the Venetians from lands that now make up southern Albania and northern Greece, and in 1204 he set up an independent Byzantine principality, the Despotate of Epirus, with Janina (now Ioannina) as its capital. His successor, Theodore, conciliated the Albanian chiefs in 1216, repulsed an attack on Durrës in 1217 by western Crusaders and Venetian ships, and turned his armies eastward before being defeated in 1230 by the revived Bulgarian Empire of Ivan Asen II.
A restored Byzantine Empire smashed Bulgaria in 1246 and pushed to the north Albanian coast, where the Albanian tribes were briefly weaned away from their alliance with the Despotate of Epirus. The Byzantines gained Durrës in 1256 but lost it in 1257 to Manfred, king of the Two Sicilies, who also acquired Vlorë and Berat in 1268. In 1272 his successor, Charles I of Anjou, the ruler of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, attacked from his base in southern Italy. Charles conquered Durrës and much of central Albania; he called his new domain the Albanian kingdom that would last until 1336.
Internal power struggles further weakened the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century, and by this time Serbia, a realm to the northeast, had already established a dynasty at Shkodër to take control of northern Albania. In the mid-1300s, Stefan Dušan, a powerful Serbian king, conquered much of the western Balkans, including all of Albania except Durrës. Dušan drew up a legal code for his realm and crowned himself "Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Albanians." But in 1355, while leading an attack against Constantinople, Dušan suddenly died. His empire quickly broke apart, and his lands were divided among Serb and Albanian noblemen. Strong families came to the fore, especially the Balshas in the north and the Thopias in the center. Southern Albania fell to a Serbian chieftain, Thomas Preliubovich, in 1367. He was succeeded in 1385 by a Florentine noble.
The constant warfare in Albania caused poverty and deadly famines. Beginning in the 14th century, many Albanians left their troubled homeland and migrated southward into the mountains of Epirus and to the cities and islands of Greece. Albanian exiles also built communities in southern Italy and on the island of Sicily.
Albanian leaders formed the League of Prizren in 1878 with the backing of sultan Abdulhamid II, through which they pressed for territorial autonomy and defending their lands from the onslaught of their neighbours. After decades of unrest a major uprising exploded in the Albanian-populated Ottoman territories in 1912, on the eve of the First Balkan War. When Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece laid claim to Albanian lands during the war, the Albanians declared independence.
The European Great Powers endorsed an independent Albania in 1913, after the Second Balkan War leaving outside the Albanian border more than half of the Albanian population and their lands, that were partitioned between Montenegro,Serbia and Greece. They were assisted by Aubrey Herbert, a British MP who passionately advocated their cause in London. As a result, Herbert was offered the crown of Albania, but was dissuaded by the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith, from accepting. Instead the offer went to William of Wied, a German prince who accepted and became sovereign of the new Principality of Albania.
The young state, however, collapsed within weeks of the outbreak of World War I. Before this, Albanians rebelled against the German prince and declared the independence of their country from the jurisdiction of the great powers and established throughout the country a Muslim regime under the leadership of a local warrior, Haji Qamil. This situation did not last for a long time as the World War I erupted and Albania was invaded by Montenegro, Serbia, Austria-Hungary, Greece, Italy, and France. After World War I, Albania was still under occupation of Serbian and Italian forces. It was a rebellion of the respective populations of the Northern and Southern Albania that pushed back the Serbs and Italians behind the recognized borders of Albania
Albania achieved a degree of statehood after World War I, in part because of the diplomatic intercession of the United States. The country suffered from a debilitating lack of economic and social development, however, and its first years of independence were fraught with political instability. Unable to survive a predatory environment without a foreign protector, Albania became the object of tensions between Italy and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (the later Yugoslavia), which both sought to dominate the country.
With Yugoslav military assistance, Ahmed Bey Zogu, the son of a clan Chieftain, emerged victorious from an internal political power struggle in late 1924. Zogu, however, quickly turned his back on Belgrade and looked instead to Benito Mussolini's modernist Italy for patronage. Under him, Albania joined the Italian coalition against Yugoslavia of Kingdom of Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria in 1924-1927. After the United Kingdom's and France's political intervention in 1927 with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the alliance crumbled. In 1928 the country's parliament declared Albania a kingdom and Zogu King. King Zog remained a conservative, but initiated reforms, for example, in an attempt at social modernisation the custom of adding one's region to one's name was dropped. Zog also made donations of land to international organisations for the building of schools and hospitals Mussolini's forces overthrew King Zog when Italy invaded Albania in 1939.
During World War II, Albanian fascists supported Italy in its invasion on Greece in October 1940. Some Albanians took a part in Moslim formations which helped German SS force in repression on Yugoslavian and Albanian resistance movements. Communist partisans fought Italian and German occupation forces as well as various nationalist Albanian partisans. However, they were victorious in World War II and took over the country which became communist immediately after that.
In the late 1980s, very limited tourism was permitted into the country, mostly by entering from Greece on bus tours. Foreigners however were followed everywhere they went by secret service agents to make sure they "behaved".
Soon after Hoxha's death, voices for change emerged in the Albanian society and the government began to seek closer ties with the West in order to improve economic conditions, and initial democratic reforms were introduced including multi-party elections in 1991. Pursuant to a 1991 interim basic law, Albanians ratified a constitution in 1998, establishing a democratic system of government based upon the rule of law and guaranteeing the protection of fundamental human rights.
In the 1997 unrest in Albania the general elections of June 1997 brought the Socialists and their allies to power. President Berisha resigned from his post, and Socialists elected Rexhep Meidani as president of Albania. Albanian Socialist Party Chairman Fatos Nano was elected Prime Minister, a post which he held until October 1998, when he resigned as a result of the tense situation created in the country after the assassination of Azem Hajdari, a prominent leader of the Democratic Party. Pandeli Majko was then elected Prime Minister, and he served in this post until November 1999, when he was replaced by Ilir Meta. Albania approved its constitution through a popular referendum which was held in November 1998, but which was boycotted by the opposition. The general local elections of October 2000 marked the loss of control of the Democrats over the local governments and a victory for the Socialists.
Although Albania has made strides toward democratic reform and maintaining the rule of law, serious deficiencies in the electoral code remain to be addressed, as demonstrated in the June 2001 parliamentary elections. International observers judged the 2001 elections to be acceptable, but the Union for Victory Coalition, the second-largest vote recipient, disputed the results and boycotted parliament until January 31, 2002. The Socialists re-elected Ilir Meta as Prime Minister in August 2001, a post which he held till February 2002, when he resigned due to party infighting. Pandeli Majko was re-elected Prime Minister in February 2002.