Albanian-Turkish Wars End Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

After decades of resisting Ottoman attempts to defeat them, the Albanians were forced to capitulate to the Turkish invaders. The decisive end of Albanian independence came in 1482, and Ottoman rule prevailed over Albania for the next four and a half centuries.

Summary of Event

In 1453, when the Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire;Albania and prevailed over the Byzantine Empire, seizing the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, the Ottomans also were involved in an ongoing war with Albania that had begun a decade earlier and would last for another quarter century. Traditionally, northern Albania had been Christian Christianity;Albania and southern Albania had been Islamic Islam;Albania . Albanian-Turkish Wars (1478-1482) Skanderbeg Isa Evrenos Bey Mehmed II Golem, Moïse Hunyadi, János Kastrioti, Hamza Skanderbeg Eugenius IV Murad II (Ottoman sultan) Alfonso V (king of Aragon) Golem, Moïse Evrenos Bey, Isa Kastrioti, Hamza Mehmed II Paul II Hunyadi, János

The Turkish influence was so pervasive in Albania during the fifteenth century that the country was at times essentially subjugated by the Turks, who attempted to establish Albania as an Islamic nation. At this point, Pope Eugenius IV and influential ecclesiastical authorities from Naples and Venice intervened, helping the Albanians to resist the Turks and to scuttle their attempts to establish Islam as Albania’s official religion.

Albania’s national hero, born George Kastrioti, was given the name Skanderbeg when he served in the sultan’s elite Janissary corps. This new name combined the name Skander (Alexander), reminiscent of Alexander the Great, to whom he was frequently compared, with the honorific title “beg,” which was reserved for nobles.

When Skanderbeg defected from the Turkish army in 1443 and returned to Albania, he reverted to his earlier faith, Christianity, and thus made it the official religion of his domain. He gave his subjects two options: conversion to Christianity or execution. Through this move, Skanderbeg garnered substantial support, moral and financial, from Pope Eugenius IV as well as from Church leaders and members of the nobility in Naples and Venice. Both groups derived a princely income from their Albanian interests.

Between 1443 and 1461, when Skanderbeg led Albania into an open revolt against the Turks, the Turks launched thirteen major assaults upon Skanderbeg’s forces in Albania but were rebuffed in most of them. In 1451, a force led by Sultan Murad II besieged KrujË for five months but could not take the town and retreated after King Alfonso V of Aragon (r. 1416-1458) and Naples (r. 1442-1458) came to Skanderbeg’s assistance. After traveling to Naples attempting to gain assistance from his Christian allies, Skanderbeg received some additional help from Alfonso, who provided troops and ammunition to the Albanians in 1453.

More important, Skanderbeg helped to create a military alliance consisting of Albanians, Hungarians, and Serbians, which joined forces to resist the ravages of the invading Ottomans. This alliance gave Skanderbeg the forces he needed to attack the Ottomans, who were now sequestered in Berat. His troops assaulted the city relentlessly until the Ottomans were on the brink of surrender. At that point, however, Moïse Golem, a commander whose traitorous trickery made it possible for forty thousand Ottoman troops to attack Skanderbeg’s coalition from the rear, created a situation in which Skanderbeg’s forces faced defeat. This setback caused Alfonso to withhold further support from the Albanians.

The tide turned in Skanderbeg’s favor in 1456, however, when Golem led an army of fifteen thousand Ottoman cavalrymen into Albania, where they were soundly defeated at Oranik by Skanderbeg’s troops. The following year, the Turks made another assault on Albania, sending an estimated eighty thousand troops, led by the Ottoman commander, Isa Evrenos Bey, into lowland coastal Albania. The Ottomans captured most of the lowlands, only to be driven back by Skanderbeg’s forces when Evrenos Bey’s army approached KrujË, where Hamza Kastrioti had been appointed governor by the Turkish sultan.

In 1461, the warring factions agreed to a decade-long truce, designed to end nearly two decades of unrest and bloodshed. In 1463, however, Skanderbeg violated this truce and once again attacked the Turks, who, in 1466, under the son of Murad II, Sultan Mehmed II, conquered some of Albania but were unable to defeat Skanderbeg’s forces at KrujË. Mehmed was determined to exterminate the Albanians, attacking KrujË with an army of 150,000. One month later, he deployed some of these troops elsewhere and put the remaining army under the command of Ballaban Pasha. The Albanians repulsed troops that were sent in April, 1467, to buttress the Ottoman army. Ballaban Pasha was killed. Mehmed, under great pressure to subdue the Albanians, then sent his entire army into Albania and won a devastating battle, after which his forces moved on to KrujË. After three weeks of fighting there, Mehmed’s forces retreated, leaving Skanderbeg victorious.

On January 17, 1468, Skanderbeg died of a fever contracted the previous month. By now his forces, which were seriously overextended, had been severely weakened and were drastically underfinanced. His death thwarted his plan to have a meeting of nobles, scheduled for later in 1468 and designed to enlist more extensive aid.

Shortly before Skanderbeg’s death, Pope Paul II, who supported a crusade against the Turks, declared him a “Champion of Christendom.” His Albanian followers continued to fight the Turks for another decade, but their efforts proved futile because their opponents kept pressing into Albania. In 1478, the Turks conquered ShkodËr (present-day Scutari), the last Albanian outpost to submit to them. This surrender essentially marked an end to the Albanian-Turkish Wars, although scattered resistance continued in the lowlands for another year.

In 1479, when Venice pulled its forces out of Albania, the Turks readily snuffed out most of the remaining Albanian resistance. Skanderbeg’s son, John, still hoping to defeat the Turks, was driven out in 1482.

Significance

The history of fifteenth century Albania reflects the remarkable ability of a small country—actually of several small feudal states—to hold off a compelling and well-established force. It is unlikely that Skanderbeg would ever have been able to return from Turkey to KrujË and to mobilize his forces had János Hunyadi, the celebrated Hungarian commander, not drawn Turkish forces into the conflict in the north, where a Turkish-Hungarian war was raging. At this point, the timing was perfect for Skanderbeg to return to Albania, defecting from the Turkish army, in which he fought brilliantly up to and including the Battle of Niš Niš, Battle of (1443) in 1443.

An early Balkan uprising, although unsuccessful, presaged the discontent of the Albanian people against Turkish rule. This discontent festered through much of the following decade, so that when Skanderbeg returned to KrujË late in 1443 to reaffirm his Christianity and to claim leadership in the feudal state that his family had ruled for many decades, the populace very much needed a leader who could free them from the oppression and exploitation of Turkish rule. Skanderbeg was such a leader, but Albania faced overwhelming odds that, in the end, resulted in its capitulation to the powerful Turks, who gained control in 1478 and retained it until the early twentieth century.

Skanderbeg’s son, John, still hoping to shake loose from Turkish rule, lingered in Albania until 1482. Fearing assassination, he left Albania and sought safe haven in Italy. His departure quite definitively established that the fight for Albanian independence had been lost.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chekrezi, Constantine A. Albania Past and Present. 1919. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1971. Chekrezi offers a brief overview of Skanderbeg’s life and achievements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giaffo, Lou. Albania: Eye of the Balkan Vortex. Princeton, N.J.: Xlibris, 1999. A worthwhile discussion of Skanderbeg and his contributions to Albanian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hutchings, Raymond. Historical Dictionary of Albania. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996. A splendid overall resource with a detailed entry on Skanderbeg and a shorter but valuable entry on Albanian-Turkish relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power. New York: Macmillan, 2002. Includes a number of references to the conflicts between the Turks and the Albanians and to the involvement of the Ottoman sultans Mehmed I and Murad II in gaining control of Albania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacques, Edwin E. The Albanians: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1975. The most comprehensive overall history of Albania. Strongly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Somel, Selcuk Aksin. Historical Dictionary of the Ottoman Empire. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. Contains a brief but informative entry on Albania. Also provides useful information about the Ottoman sultans who tried to impose Turkish rule on Albania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vickers, Miranda. The Albanians: A Modern History. Rev. ed. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1997. Concentrates largely on recent Albanian history, but offers illuminating and accessible background material on the Albanian-Turkish conflicts of the fifteenth century.

1454-1481: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Apr. 14, 1457-July 2, 1504: Reign of Stephen the Great

1481-1512: Reign of Bayezid II and Ottoman Civil Wars

June 28, 1522-Dec. 27, 1522: Siege and Fall of Rhodes

1526-1547: Hungarian Civil Wars

Aug. 29, 1526: Battle of Mohács

1534-1535: Ottomans Claim Sovereignty over Mesopotamia

1566-1574: Reign of Selim II

1593-1606: Ottoman-Austrian War

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