Albanian Chieftains Unite Under Prince Skanderbeg Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Albanian chieftains united under Skanderbeg as part of the League of Lezha, which preserved Albanian freedom for nearly forty years and established Albanian national identity.

Summary of Event

Born George Kastrioti, Skanderbeg was the youngest son of John Kastrioti, Kastrioti, John prince of Emathia. Although John Kastrioti was a vassal of the Ottoman Turks, he participated in a series of unsuccessful revolts against them during the 1430’. His youngest son, George, was sent to the sultan as a hostage in 1414, and probably was sent again in 1423. Here, George was given the name Skander (Alexander) and was enrolled as a Janissary, a corps of troops recruited by taking non-Muslim children as slaves of the sultan. Skander attended the military school for pages. [kw]Albanian Chieftains Unite Under Prince Skanderbeg (1444-1446) [kw]Skanderbeg, Albanian Chieftains Unite Under Prince (1444-1446) Skanderbeg Albania Albania;1444-1446: Albanian Chieftains Unite Under Prince Skanderbeg[3190] Government and politics;1444-1446: Albanian Chieftains Unite Under Prince Skanderbeg[3190] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1444-1446: Albanian Chieftains Unite Under Prince Skanderbeg[3190] Kastriote, John Skanderbeg Golem, Moïse Murad II Mehmed II

In 1426 or 1427, Skander became a siphai, a landed vassal required to supply mounted troops to the sultan. In 1438, Skander was made a beg (or bey, a title of nobility) and was appointed governor (vali) of three small communities in the vilayet, or province, of Kruja. Later, in 1440, he apparently moved to the large province of Dibra.

In 1443, the Hungarian leader János Hunyadi Hunyadi, János organized a campaign against the Ottomans and called the Balkan princes to join him as his Hungarians marched south. The sultan rallied his vassals, and Skanderbeg marched to join him. On November 3, the Hungarians attacked at Niš and forced an Ottoman retreat. At this point, Skanderbeg deserted the Ottomans and returned to Dibra with three hundred Albanian horsemen. Finding Dibra ready for revolt, Skanderbeg proceeded to Kruja, where he presented a false firman (order from the sultan) giving him command of the town and citadel. That night, Skanderbeg attacked and annihilated the Ottoman garrison. He then spread the rebellion, evicting Ottoman landed vassals from the region. After triumphantly returning to Kruja, he proclaimed Albanian freedom on November 28, 1443, and raised the Kastrioti banner over the citadel. Skanderbeg then organized volunteers to capture several citadels in central Albania during December. He also called a conclave of Albanian lords in Venetian territory at Lezha.

At this conclave, he organized an alliance or confederation known as the League of Lezha Lezha, League of . This league was an important innovation, since it marked the first embryonic centralized state in the region. A league army supported by a common fund was organized to counter the much larger Ottoman forces. Skanderbeg was appointed commander in chief and head of the league. Loyal garrisons were installed in fortresses, some lords were deposed, and outstanding soldiers were rewarded with domains of their own. The league, however, was a confederation in which individual nobles retained local authority and the right to withdraw. Encroachments on feudal authority and opportunism made defections a recurring problem and ultimately destroyed the league.

During the spring of 1444, Skanderbeg enrolled an army of some 8,000 to 10,000 regular troops with approximately 10,000 reserves. He also reinforced fortresses and organized a look-out system to warn of attack. About 3,000 troops, mostly mounted cavalry, were under his direct command with another 3,000 under Moīse Golem Moīse Golem guarding the eastern frontier. The remaining troops were under the command of individual nobles.

In June, 1444, 25,000 Ottomans under the command of Ali Pasha Ali Pasha invaded Albania through Ochrid. After they were routed by Skanderbeg, the Ottomans withdrew to combat a Hungarian-Polish invasion. After annihilating the Hungarians and Poles at Varna Varna, Battle of (1444) in November of 1444, the Ottomans again invaded Albania. Skanderbeg and his troops defeated the Ottomans at Modr in October, 1445, and at Dibra in September, 1446. The Ottomans did not attempt another invasion in 1447, but war did break out between the league and the Venetian Republic over Danja and Lezha. Lacking artillery, the Albanians were unable to take these citadels.

In 1448, Murad II Murad II laid siege to Sfetigrad (Kodjadjik) on Albania’s eastern border. Failing to arrange a peace, Skanderbeg quickly defeated the Venetians near Drin in July, 1448, and immediately set off to relieve Sfetigrad. The city capitulated in August, however, so Skanderbeg compromised with the Venetians, giving up Danja for a payment of fourteen thousand ducats per year. The Venetians also agreed to subsidize a Hungarian-Albanian alliance under which Skanderbeg joined János Hunyadi’s new offensive against the Turks. The Hungarians, however, were defeated in the Second Battle of Kosovo Kosovo, Second Battle of (1448) on October 12, 1448, and the alliance ended.

Skanderbeg demands that the Ottomans surrender.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

In early May of 1450, Murad again invaded Albania with a force of about 100,000. Skanderbeg’s call to arms raised nearly 18,000 men. Besieged by Murad’s army, Kruja was garrisoned with 1,500 men, but Skanderbeg held 8,000 troops on nearby Mount Tumenisht, from which he repeatedly attacked Murad’s troops. The remaining Albanian units ambushed Ottoman reinforcements and supply caravans. After a siege of four and a half months, Murad purportedly lost 20,000 men and was forced to retreat to Adrianople (now Edirne).

The Treaty of Gaeta Gaeta, Treaty of (1451) between Skanderbeg and Alfonso V Alfonso V (king of Aragon) of Aragon on March 26, 1451, brought minor support against Ottoman offensives in 1452-1453. In 1453, Skanderbeg traveled to Naples and persuaded Alfonso to send troops and artillery to Albania. He also persuaded Ragusa to organize a coalition of troops from Albania, Hungary, and Serbia to fight against the Ottomans. With this support, Skanderbeg laid siege to Berat. Just as the citadel was at the point of surrendering, however, he was assaulted from the rear by 40,000 Ottoman troops who had crossed the frontier through the connivance of Moīse Golem, who had defected. Skanderbeg’s defeat renewed Venetian opposition, and Alfonso withdrew his support. In 1456, Golem led 15,000 Ottoman cavalry into Albania, but was defeated by Skanderbeg at Oranik. Skanderbeg’s nephew, George Stres Balsa, became the next to defect and gave up the frontier citadel of Modrica to the Ottomans. Skanderbeg’s other nephew, Hamza Kastrioti, Kastrioti, Hamza also joined the Ottomans.

In 1457, some 80,000 Ottomans under the command of Isaac Bey Evernos entered Albania accompanied by Hamza Kastrioti, who had been named governor of Kruja by the sultan. Skanderbeg avoided direct combat with the invaders until September 7, when he surprised the Ottomans near Kruja and captured thousands of prisoners, including Hamza Kastrioti. Skanderbeg then signed a three-year truce; during this period, he took his army to Italy to support Ferdinand of Naples Ferdinand of Naples in 1461. In Italy, Skanderbeg won battles at Barletta and Trani. Returning to Albania in 1462, he defeated three separate invasions at Mokra, Pollog, and Livad. After these victories, Skanderbeg persuaded Mehmed II Mehmed II to sign a ten-year peace treaty in April, 1463. Shortly thereafter, Venice declared war on the Ottomans and promised aid to the Albanians. Pope Pius II Pius II announced a crusade, and Skanderbeg renewed hostilities. Unfortunately, the crusade collapsed after Pius II’s death in 1464, leaving the Albanians unsupported.

Mehmed sent an army of 14,000 into Albania from Ochrid, but was promptly crushed in August, 1464. In June, 1466, he proclaimed a holy war of extermination and besieged Kruja with the entire Ottoman army of 150,000 men. In July, Mehmed left with part of the army, leaving Ballaban Pasha Ballaban Pasha to continue the siege. During the winter of 1466-1467, Skanderbeg went to Rome and Naples seeking aid, but accomplished little. In April, 1467, the Albanians defeated reinforcements who were advancing to strengthen Ballaban Pasha; a few days later, they broke the siege and killed Ballaban. Mehmed countered by again invading Albania with his entire imperial army. Winning a bloody battle at Buzurshek (near what is now Elbasan), he again laid siege to Kruja. After three weeks, however, Mehmed left the field of battle, and Skanderbeg again freed his capital.

In the face of continuing hostilities, depleted forces, and low finances, Skanderbeg planned an assembly of nobles at Lezha to be held in 1468. In midwinter, however, Skanderbeg contracted fever, and he died on January 17, 1468. His son, John, fled with his mother to Naples. Resistance continued but depended heavily on Venetian support. Venice quit the war in 1479, and the Ottomans quickly captured the Albanian citadels. At this point, Skanderbeg’s son returned but was unable to stem the tide. After he fled the country in 1482, Albanian independence was lost.


Skanderbeg’s League of Lezha began the process of creating a nation-state in Albania. It successfully maintained an independent Albania for some twenty-five years, thus delaying and partially checking the Ottoman advance into Europe. Skanderbeg’s successors, however, were unable to keep the league together, and most of Skanderbeg’s accomplishments were undone. As a result of his efforts to establish Albanian independence, Skanderbeg has been honored as the national hero of modern Albania.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chekrezi, Constantine A. Albania Past and Present. 1919. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1971. This work on Albanian history includes a section on Skanderbeg and covers the highlights of his career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giaffo, Lou. Albania: Eye of the Balkan Vortex. Princeton, N.J.: Xlibris, 1999. Comprehensive survey of Albanian history from 1500 b.c.e. through the fall of Communism. Includes discussion of Skanderbeg.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacques, Edwin C. The Albanians: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1995. Written by an American who was a former Protestant missionary teacher, this work presents a history of Albania through the early 1990’.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marmullaku, Ramadan. Albania and the Albanians. Translated by Margot Milosavljevic and Boško Milosavljevic. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1975. Includes a brief account of Skanderbeg’s career, placing him within the context of his times.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pollo, Stefanaq, and Arben Puto. The History of Albania from Its Origins to the Present Day. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981. Contains a fairly detailed discussion of Skanderbeg from the perspective of communist historians.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Swire, J. Albania: The Rise of a Kingdom. 1929. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1971. This work includes a readable short account of the military and political accomplishments of Skanderbeg.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vickers, Miranda. The Albanians: A Modern History. Rev. ed. London: I. B. Tauris, 1999. Includes extensive discussion of Ottoman rule and the rise of Albanian nationalism.

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