Foundation for Medieval GenealogyFoundation for Medieval Genealogy
Menu

INTRODUCTION

The Bulgars in the 5th century, and the Slavs who started their incursions into the Balkans in the 6th century, had changed the ethnic structure of the Balkan peninsula by the end of the 7th century. Croatia, Serbia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and parts of Macedonia lost their Illyrian language and were Slavicized. The Albanians remained the only direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians. The name from which "Albania" later evolved is first mentioned in the 2nd century AD by the geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria, who refers to the "Albanoi" tribe which inhabited what is now central Albania. The name spread to include the rest of the country as "Arbri" and, finally, "Albania". The origin of "Shqipria", the Albanian name for the territory which was used by the 16th and 17th centuries, is unknown but probably derives from "shqipe" (eagle) which became the country's national symbol.

Part of the Roman Empire from earliest times, Albania remained under Byzantine rule until the fall of the empire in 1204, although the Albanian population settled in remote mountain regions where Byzantine jurisdiction was nominal. During the 10th and 11th centuries, Durrës (Durazzo) and its castle of Kanina were attacked by the Bulgarians (989-1005), the Normans (1082-1083 and 1185), and Venice (1205). There was no centrally organised state in the territory, which was controlled by tribes whose chieftains ruled different mountainous areas. The area north of the Drin River was oriented towards Serbia and Zeta, while that to the south centred around Dürres was subject to Greek influence[1].

The first Albanian feudal state was declared at Krujë (Kroja) by the Archon Progon around 1190, and lasted until the mid-13th century when the country relapsed into disunity. The leading families of the Albanian feudal nobility were the Thopia, Balša, Shpata, Muzaka, Araniti, Dukagjini and Kastrioti, the first three of which became rulers of principalities which were practically independent of Byzantium.

Under the terms of the treaty under which the Venetians and the Crusaders agreed to partition the Byzantine empire before the fall of Constantinople in 1204, Albania fell to Venice. However, the Venetian republic only established direct rule in Dürres. Mikhael Angelos, illegitimate son of one of the last Byzantine governors of Epirus and relative of Emperor Isaakios II, became ruler of Epirus and established a powerful new force in the western part of the former Byzantine territories which came to equal in strength the newly established Greek empire at Nikaia. Mikhael recognised the suzerainty of Venice in 1210, but captured Dürres in 1213 in breach of his treaty obligations. His successor, and legitimate half-brother, Theodoros Komnenos Doukas Angelos, concentrated his attention mainly on Thessaloniki, where he declared himself emperor in 1225.

The Bulgarians defeated Emperor Theodoros at Klokotniça in 1230, after which his empire was dismembered. His nephew, Mikhael [II] Komnenos Doukas Angelos, whom Theodoros had exiled in 1214, succeeded in Epirus under Bulgarian suzerainty. Mikhael reasserted his autonomy in 1240, although prolonged disputes with the emperors at Nikaia enabled local Albanian lords to enjoy another period of relative freedom from their foreign conquerors. The Albanian territories of Valona, Durrës, and Berat formed part of the dowry of Helena Doukaina Angelina, daughter of Despot Mikhael [II], when she married Manfred King of Sicily in 1259. After her husband was killed in battle by the Angevins at Benevento in 1266, Helena was imprisoned in Naples by the new Angevin king. Dürres submitted to Charles I King of Sicily [Anjou-Capet] in 1272, but during the following decades the sovereignty over Albania switched between the Angevins, the Byzantines, and the Serbs. Philippe Prince of Tarento [Anjou-Capet] assumed the titles Despot of Romania, Lord of Albania and of Vlakia in 1309, but Stefan Uroš II King of Serbia adopted the rival title of king of Albania.

After the Serbian empire collapsed following the death of Stefan Dušan in 1355, the local feudal lords reasserted their power in Albania, the Thopia and Dukagjini families ruling in the north, while the Muzaka and Shpata ruled in the south. The first count of Albania of Albanian origin appears to have been a knight named Casnesio, son of Blada Blavist (Blevisti), who is recorded as count in 1304. His son Guglielmo was marshal of Albania in 1304, was awarded the Byzantine title protosébastos, and succeeded as Count of Albania in 1318. On his death in 1328, Guglielmo's territories fell to the Thopia family, who controlled the area between Mati and Skhumbi in central Albania, in the hinterland of Dürras, based at Matija. Tanish Thopia's position as Lord of Matija was confirmed by Robert King of Naples [Anjou-Capet] in April 1338. Andrea Thopia's son Karlo played a leading role in the coaIition which defeated Nikephoros [II] Angelos Orsini, Despot of Epirus, at the battle of Achelaos in 1358. Karlo captured the fortress of Kroja and occupied Dürres and Elbasan. At the height of his power, his territory comprised Matija, Kroja, Petrella and Elbasan, and the area around Skutari. In 1366, he became a citizen of the republic of Venice.

The Kastriota family became the dominant force in the coastal areas of Albania in the late 14th century. Gjon Kastriota was Lord of Matija and Dibra. In 1407, he was recorded as "dominus satis potens in partibus Albaniæ" and in 1410 as "dominus partium Bosniæ", as a vassal of Venice. Gjon Kastriota changed religion depending on his current masters. From 1407, as an ally of Venice, he was Catholic. After concluding an alliance with Serbia in 1419, he converted to Orthodoxy. In 1430, he converted to Islam as the ally and vassal of the Turks. After the Ottomans confiscated part of his property in 1438, he reconverted to Catholicism and became a citizen of Venice.

Although the Ottomans defeated the Serbs and Albanians at the battle of Kosovo 15 Jun 1389, the first Ottoman occupation of Albania did not occur until 1415, and only lasted a short time. Resistance to Ottoman occupation was led by Gjergj Arianiti, whom Pope Eugene IV took under his protection in 1433. In 1451, Gjergj Arianiti's eldest daughter, Andronika, married Gjergj Kastriota, fourth son of Gjon Kastriota, who had converted to Islam in 1430 and adopted the name Iskander-bey. Gjergj Kastriota fought against the Persians, and was awarded the title "Skender-beg". In 1444, he became Captain-General of the League of Alessio, formed by all the noble Albanian families, and was recognised as leader of Albania in 1455 by Gjergj Arianiti. The final Ottoman occupation of Albania began in 1478.

As will be seen below, it has been possible to verify only a small part of the information about the ruling families of Albania against primary source documentation. Chapter 2 of this document has been reviewed in detail by Morris Bierbrier, who has made additions where indicated. I am grateful for his helpful collaboration.

Chapter 1. Family of PROGON

The first Albanian feudal state was declared at Krujë (Kroja) by the Archon Progon in [1190]. Progon's older son, Gjin Progonović was Lord of Krujë and Elbasan from [1200] to [1208]. The independent state of Albania founded by Progon lasted until the middle of the 13th century, after which the country relapsed into disunity. The primary sources which confirm the parentage and marriages of the members of this family have not yet been identified, unless otherwise stated below.

1. PROGON . He gained possession of the castle at Krujë and the territory around it[2]. m ---. The name of Progon's wife is not known. Progon & his wife had two children:
a) GJIN Progonović (-[1208] or after). Lord of Krujë and Elbasan from [1200] to [1208]. m ---. The name of Gjin's wife is not known. Gjin & his wife had one child:
i) daughter (-before 1216). m as his first wife, GRGUR Kamonas, son of ---. Sébastos. Lord of Krujë. Archon of Krujë and Elbasan.
b) DIMITRIJE Progonović (-1215). Lord of Krujë by 1208[3]. His territory was conquered in [1214/15] by Mikhael Komnenos Doukas Lord of Epirus[4]. m as her first husband, KOMINIA of Serbia, daughter of STEFAN Grand Župan of Serbia & his first wife Evdokia Komnene Angelina. She married secondly ([1216]) as his second wife, Grgur Kamonas Archon of Krujë and Elbasan. Dimitrije & his wife had one child:
i) daughter . m GOULAMOS Lord of Krujë .

Back to Top