George Castrioti Scanderbeg (1405-1468)
Noli, Fan Stylian
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Critical historians generally contend that Scanderbeg's victories have been exaggerated by his biographers and then they jump to the conclusion that the whole story of the Albanian hero is an inflated balloon. They seem to forget that no reasonable doubt can be entertained about the central fact of the story, which is the following: In 1443, Scanderbeg seized the fortress of Croya and defended it against Murad II and Mehmed II successively for a quarter of a century, and Croya fell to the Turks ten years after Scanderbeg's death, in 1478. Consequently the exaggerations of his biographers deal only with minor details, which do not weaken the central fact at all, namely that the two great Sultans failed to defeat Scanderbeg and capture his stronghold. The problem then is only to explain the factors which enabled Scanderbeg to put up such a long and heroic resistance. Two Albanian historians, Antivarino, or the Anonymous of Antivari, and Marinus Barletius of Scutari, wrote extensive biographies of Scanderbeg. Both of them are panegyrists but their story can be checked, corrected and supplemented by archival sources now made available as well as by the writings of contemporary Albanian, Italian, Ragusan, Byzantine and Turkish historians. All these sources are enumerated and critically analyzed. The work done by sixty-two other investigators in the field is reviewed for the first time in Scanderbeg's historiography. Other important features of this dissertation are the following: Various neglected documents and literary sources, especially Fontano, Cribotoulos of Imbros and some Turkish annalists are used extensively; the legends of the early career of Scanderbeg (1405-1443) are eliminated, and this period is reconstructed on the basis of hitherto ignored literary and archival sources; the social and economic factors are duly emphasized. The Albania crusade against the Turks was financed in the first place by the Popes of Rome, because Albania was predominantly Roman catholic. The Kingdom of Naples, the Venetian Republic, the City of Ragusa and the Kingdom of Hungary did their share also in backing the Albanians for reasons of self-preservation. Their support proved to be inadequate. Nevertheless, it was substantial enough to make the Albanian resistance reach epic proportions. The principal reason why the Albanians were still fighting when everybody around them had fallen flat before the Turks is that they were the only free peasants left in the Balkans. They were defending their liberties while their Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek neighbors were serfs, who had no interest whatever in defending their feudal lords. The Albanian crusade was a people's war. Moreover, the mountainous terrain was an ideal ground for guerrilla warfare, in which the Albanians were past masters. Scanderbag spent his youth, not in the Sultan's palace, as the legend has it, but in the Albanian mountains, which explains why he became the greatest guerrilla leader of all times. This contention, which was first advanced by the Czech scholar, Jireček, is confirmed by both literary and archival successes. On this basis the early career of Scanderbeg can be summarized as follows: Born in 1405, he became nominally a Moslem under the influence of his father in 1430, served occasionally with Albanian contingents in the feudal army of Murad II, and obtained a military fief in the region of Dibra in 1463 as a reward for his services. In 1443, after the death of his father, he was allowed to inherit the paternal state as the Sultan's vassal with the exception of the key fortresses which were held by Turkish garrisons since 1430. At the invitation of Pope Eugene IV and immediately after Hunyadi's victory at Nich in 1443, Scanderbeg revolted, seized the fortress of Croya with forged documents, abjured Islam, and initiated his crusade which made him the most famous general of his time in Europe. In 1444, he was elected commander-in-chief by the League of Albanian Chieftains at Alessio and defeated a Turkish army in Torviolli. He soon came into conflict with the Venetians, who were afraid of losing their coastal possessions in Albania. In 1448 he defeated both the Venetians and the Turks in a war of two fronts. The Venetians had to sue for peace and promised to pay him an annual pension to carry on his crusade. Murad II, alarmed by this alliance, led an expedition personally in 1449 but succeeded only in ensuring the frontier fortress of Sfetigrad. He returned in 1450 and besieged Croya for five months but was compelled by Scanderbeg to raise the siege and withdraw from Albania. In 1451, Scanderbeg placed himself under the protection of Alphonse V of Naples and reorganized the League of Albanian Chieftains, who had deserted him under Turkish pressure and Venetian instigation during the siege of Croya. With Neapolitan assistance Scanderbeg took the offensive. In 1455 he besieged Berst in an effort to eliminate the Turkish salient of Valona on the Adriatic Sea. His army was annihilated by Issa Beg Evranos. The Venetians incited Scanderbeg's allies to revolt and crush him after this disaster. The rebels, Moses Araniti and Hamza Castrioti, Scanderbeg's own nephew, invaded Albania with Turkish armies but were defeated one after the other in 1456 and 1457. After the loss of his two best friends, Alphonse V and Pope Calixtus III, who died in 1458, Scanderbeg patched up his differences with the Venetians, with whom he had been in a state of undeclared war ever since 1450. In 1460 Scanderbeg concluded an armistice with Mehmed II and in 1461 he went to Italy to help King Ferdinand of Naples against the French pretender René d'Anjou. His expedition was financed by Pope Pius II with crusade money raised in Ragusa and in Dalmatia. According to Pontano, whose testimony is confirmed by other literary and archival sources, Scanderbeg saved Ferdinand from disaster. Hs broke the siege of Barleta, where Ferdinand was encircled by Piccinino, Jean d'Anjou and the rebellious Neapolitan barons; he captured the fortress of Trani by a ruse de guerre; he outmaneuvered the enemy with his blitz cavalry raids; and enabled Ferdinand to take the offensive which led him to final victory. Ferdinand rewarded Scanderbeg with fiefs in Apulia, granted him a hereditary annual pension, helped him with soldiers, ammunition, money and supplies; gave his widow and son a refuge and protection after his death. Albanian light cavalry became famous in Italy and in Europe as a result of this expedition. In 1462 Scanderbeg returned to Albania and defeated three Turkish armies one after the other, in the same year. Threatened by the Venetians in the roar, he had to conclude peace with the Turks but six months later, at the invitation of Pope Pius II, he joined the Venetians and the Hungarians and declared war against Turkey in 1463. After the successive defeats of Balaban Pasha in 1464-1465, Mehmed II led in person two expeditions and besieged Croya twice In 1465 and 1467. Each time the siege was broken by Scanderbeg with the assistance of Pope Paul II and the Venetians. Scanderbeg died on Jan. 17, 1468, at Alessio, where he had gone to organize an expedition against the fortress of Elbassan. The contention of Saad-ed-Din, Gibbon and Jorga that Scanderbeg died there as a refugee is contradicted by archival sources published by Ljubić. In 1479, eleven years after Scanderbeg's death, Albania was ceded by the Venetians to the Turks. It was a cession on paper. Turkish rule remained nominal until Albania regained her independence in 1912. Scanderbeg was great in three different respects and won a place in history as peasant leader, strategist and crusader: The social class to which he belonged was that of the petty, or rather patriarchal aristocracy, but he identified himself with the Albanian free peasant clans, and became their greatest and most typical national leader in their long war on two fronts against the Turkish feudal lords and the Venetian merchant princes. According to General Wolfe of Quebec, "he excels all the officers, ancient and modern, in the conduct of a small defensive army", and according to Fallmerayer, he is "one of the greatest masters of all times in the art of war." The title of Champion of Christendom, given to him by Pope Nicholas V and confirmed by three succeeding Popes, can be left to him safely, as he deserved it, according to Calixtus III, "more than any other Christian Prince with his memorable achievements." He stopped Murad II and Mehmed II long enough to make them miss the boat for Rome. His long delaying action, coming at a critical period, did much to save Italy and Europe from the greatest calamity that could have befallen them, Turkish conquest. His share in this highly important service can hardly be overestimated. A bibliography of 169 items and an appendix containing 28 archival and literary excerpts, mostly neglected, has been added at the end of the dissertation as supporting evidence.
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