The Albanian Nobility
The Albanian Nobility was a social class that included all individuals and families recognized by Albanian customs, bylaws and traditions as members of the aristocratic class, which presupposed enjoying inherited privileges.
The Diverse Composition of the Albanian Nobility
The Albanian nobility was composed mainly of feudal landowners of vast areas, often allied to other states such as the Byzantine Empire, some of the Serbian princely states of the powerful Serbian Kingdom and Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Naples as well as some Albanian principalities. The various aristocrats therefore used derivatives from the Byzantine, Latin or Slavic lines, as Sebastokrator, Despot, Dux, Count and Zupan.
History of the Nobility of Albania
The Muzaka royal and noble family was among the first loyal to the Byzantine Empire. Due to their loyalty to Byzantium, the head of the family, Andrea II Muzaka, obtained the title of despot in 1335, while others Muzaka continued to make a career in the Byzantine administration in Constantinople.
The Principality of Arbanon Period:
The first Albanian state in the middle Ages was governed by the Progoni family and extended from the river Drin to Lake Ohrid to the south. In Catholic sources, its rulers became known as “Judges”, while the Byzantines referred to them as Archons and Panhypersebastos, of Greek tradition.
The Principality of Arbër or Principality of Arbanon was a small nation clearly differentiated from Byzantium from around 1190 to 1255 and was founded by Porgon of Croia, whose title was that of “Achron or Archon”.
- Progon (1190-1198)
- Ghin Progoni (1198-1208)
- Dimitry Progoni (1208-1216)
- Gregor Kamnonas (1216-unknown)
- Golemi (1252-125)
- Constantine Chabaron (1256-57), Ruler of Nicaea
Albanese Nobility and the Kingdom of Serbia:
When Durres was captured in the Kingdom of Serbia, Milutin obtained the title of King of Albania while his government was recognized by the local Albanese nobles at Durres. Several Albanian nobles at that time had titles such as Zupan, Voivode or Kaznac.
The Serbian Empire and the Albanese Aristocracy:
The Albanian nobility was also included in the feudal system of the Serbian Empire without any discrimination and in the institutions of government where the Albanian Archons had the same rights as Serbian Nobility. With this arrangement the Serbian emperor intended to obtain the support of the Albanian nobility confirming the Kruje privileges of the Byzantine Empire.
The Ottoman Empire and the Islamisation of the Nobility of Albania:
A decisive point for the relations between the Albanian nobility and the Ottoman Empire was the Battle of Savra in 1385. After this clash the nobles became vassals of the Ottoman Empire.
The Albanian nobility did not fight against the Ottomans like the Serbian or Bulgarian aristocracy, but remained strong with small independent rulers. The Ottomans from the local song, called “brutal and cruel” by Serbs and Bulgarians, proved to be conciliatory with the Albanian nobility.
When Albania became part of the Ottoman Empire, it was divided into sanjaks with numerous timars. Many members of the Albanian nobility obtained high positions in the Ottoman administration such as Skanderbeg and Ballaban Badera who were both governors. Many members of the Albanian nobility were Ottoman Timariots. With the implementation of the Timar system the Albanian nobility was absorbed by the Ottoman military class in no more than two generations. Then they adopted Ottoman titles of nobility such as Aga, Bey or Pascha.
The Albanian Nobility in the times of the Venetian Republic:
During the period of crisis of the Ottoman Empire after the Battle of Ankara in 1402, many Ottoman vassals of Albania such as Gjon Castriota, Nikolas Thopia and Nicola Zaharia, recognized the Venetian sovereignty over their territories. Many members of the Albanian families were in fact prone to the Venetians. Many Albanian nobles fought against Skanderbeg with the Venetian forces during the Albanian-Venetian war.
The Italian Diaspora of the Albanian Nobility: Migration to the Kingdom of Naples:
Many Albanian, Macedonian and Greek noble families of Christian-Orthodox and Catholic confession in the period from the 13th century to the 16th were forced into the Diaspora by the advance of the Muslim Turks, who occupied their territories, so as not to suffer the cruel Ottoman rule, they took refuge in southern Italy, a land of peoples of great tolerance and openness, who willingly accepted these families forced into exile, who always reciprocated with gratitude, integrating and assimilating the southern popular culture at best, while keeping in mind its origins and still preserving their language, habits and customs.
The first arrivals of large groups of Albanians in Southern Italy, occurred in the mid-1400s, when, after the death of Alfonso I of Aragon, the son ascended the throne, Ferdinand. The new King was recognized by both the Pope and almost all the Barons of the Kingdom.
Some great feudal lords, however, did not accept this new sovereign, and coalesced against him, rebelling.
Many princes, including the Orsini family, Princes of Taranto, Girolamo Sanseverino, Prince of Bisignano, or the notorious Caracciolo family, Dukes of Venosa, and many others, invited the Duke of Calabria, John of Anjou, who was in Genoa on behalf of the King of France, with the status of Protector, to descend into the kingdom to take control of the rebel Barons.
The Anjou dynasty soon gathered a strong army, also hiring the famous Giacomo Piccinino, who was at the head of many mercenaries. John of Anjou, arrived in Puglia, with his army. The clash with King Ferdinand took place in the countryside of Sarno. The outcome of the battle was nefarious for the King of Naples, who was defeated, and who took refuge in the castle of Bari, where he suffered the siege of the rebels.
The news of the defeat of the King arrived in Rome, and Pope Pius II did his best to find and send aid to the unfortunate sovereign. In this occasion, he addressed the Duke of Milan and the Duke of Urbino, so that they could descend into the Kingdom, and bring aid to the besieged King.
Skanderbeg, National Hero and Founding Father of the Albanian Nobility and Nation
In 1451, many Albanian nobles became vassals of the Kingdom of Naples. The first of these was a very brave Albanian Prince whose name was Skanderbeg, who signed the Treaty of Gaeta on March 26, 1451, and after he did the same other influential characters of Albania at the time as George Araniti, Ghin Musachi, and Carlo Toco, among many others, behaved in the same fashion. Skanderbeg, in order to fulfil his newly acquired obligations, was forced to send an army to Italy to support Ferdinand I of Naples in his battle against the dynasty of the Angevins. In return, the Kingdom of Naples provided funding and military supplies to its vassals in Albania and maintained a permanent garrison in Kruje.
Giorgio Castriota, called Scanderbeg, born in Kruje the 6th of May 1405 and died in Alessio the 17th of January of 1468, was an Albanian nobleman, military leader and patriot.
Among the most representative figures of the fifteenth century, this Albanian prince and King of Epirus, was a very skilled leader and diplomat, who united the principalities of Albania by animating the resistance of the Albanians and blocking for decades the advance of Turks-Ottomans to Europe. National hero of Albania and The Albanians, defending his country and his Christian moral and religious values from the Muslim invasion, for this reason he obtained from Pope Callistus III gave him the title of Defender of the Faith, and his deeds inspired in the centuries rhapsodies, literature, the arts and kept the spirit of freedom alive in the Albanians.
Among the sovereigns to whom the Holy Pontiff asked for help, there was also the Albanian Prince Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg.
It is only right to say a few words about this great hero of the Albanian Nation.
The Castriota family owned a small state, the Principality of Croia, which still aroused the appetites of the Sultan Murat II, who occupied it.
Given the superiority of forces of the enemies, the Sovereign of the small State, he agreed with the Sultan, and sent his son Giorgi to the court of the Sublime Porte.
This young prince, was bred and educated in the art of war, and so valiant and enterprising was, that the Ottomans themselves nicknamed him Skanderbeg (Sikander Bey), which means, “Alexander the Lord”, comparing it to the great leader Alexander the Great.
His father, the young George, died when he returned home to take the reins of the government. The situation of the small state was serious. The son of Murat, Muhammad I, was constantly struggling with the territory of the Castriota, so the Albanian Prince asked the King of Naples, Alfonso I of Aragon for help. The latter sent a good number of soldiers to support the Castriota, who managed to stem the actions of the Ottomans.
Twenty years later, the Neapolitan Sovereign needed help, and the Albanian Prince, mindful of the aid received in the past, immediately responded to the Pope’s appeal, gathering an army and taking the Calabria and Puglia. The Albanians were of great help, the rebels were defeated and the order was restored. These Levantine warriors, they were used to face the enemy with guerrilla actions, as they did in their mountainous territories and not in the open field, however, victory won them and to the army of King Ferdinand.
The French were definitively expelled from the Kingdom after the terrestrial battle of Troy and, mainly, in the naval battle of Ischia in 1464; decisive was the contribution given by the powerful Neapolitan family of Sanseverino, as can be seen from the Strozzi Pictures, celebrating the naval success, on each ship waved the insignia of the Sanseverino in the bow, those of the Aragonese aft.
In honour of the Spanish-Aragonese Sovereign, several feudal titles were granted to Giorgio Castriota, including the fiefs of Monte Sant’Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo, with tax rights on the ports of Siponto and Trani. Many of the Albanians who had accompanied their prince in Italy, asked and obtained permission to stay with their families.
The valiant hero died in Alessio, January 17, 1468, due to malarial fevers and, after some years of strenuous resistance, with the Albanian “kapedan” deprived of a real guide and divided in defence of the particular interests of each, the Ottomans succeeded to complete the invasion attempted so long in vain. The Albanians, to escape the Turkish yoke, moved, both in Veneto and in Puglia.
The family of Skanderbeg – his son John and the widow Donika Araniti – expressed to the king of Naples, Ferrante of Aragon the desire to move to the fiefs of Giorgio. The Spanish-Aragonese sovereign, in a letter of 24 February 1468 that he had addressed to Donika, greeted her as “Ill. [Ustris] dominates tamquam mater carissima”, adding “we have understood that the Illustrious Scanderbeg, your dearest husband and second father was pleased to our holy and dead God .They will have those privileges and honours that a child must have in mother and father and as a son and not only will we lease that which we have given”
Many families followed Prince John and his mother, establishing themselves in different regions of the Kingdom of Naples. These Albanians repopulated many abandoned villages, and founded new ones.
A few years later, Giovanni’s niece (daughter of his son Ferrante, 2nd Duke of San Pietro in Galatina, today Galatina) Irene or Erina (sometimes referred to as Elena or Helen), married Pietro Antonio Sanseverino, prince of Bisignano, nephew of that Girolamo, who participated in the Conspiracy of the Barons.
The Sanseverino family had returned to a situation of allegiance and loyalty to the Aragonese sovereigns. Pietro Antonio sent many of the Albanians arrived with his new wife, to populate his fiefdoms in Calabria (see for example Saint Sophia of Epirus), others settled in the lands of the Counts of Molise, where in large numbers settled in Portocannone, Ururi, Campo Marino and Montecilfone.
In the following years, there were other arrivals of “Shkipetare” Albanian noble families in the Kingdom, and they had several privileges granted by the Governors, such as exemptions from the payment of taxes and permission to carry the weapons even in the king’s rooms. They were allowed to keep their Orthodox rite, and the Bishops had indications in this regard, not to hinder those religious practices. These families settled in Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and Molise. Only a few communities today have retained the Greek Rite.
With time, the bishops of the Church of Rome replaced the Orthodox Greek priests with those of the Latin rite. However, the Albanian language is still preserved, even if it is no longer the “pure” one, having included many Italian terms.
The Albanian nobles were military valiant even at the time of the splendour period of the Spaniards and of the Royal House of Bourbon, as evidenced by the many historical testimonies in Naples.
Albanian Royalty and Nobility in Genoa:
Arrived on the Italian coast at the end of the fourteenth century, due to the Ottoman invasion of the Balkan Peninsula, the Albanian noble Giorgio Durazzo and his family were bought as slaves by the Genoese Emmanuel of Valente in Messina in 1387. Transported to Genoa, they were freed from slavery and began slowly their social climb. Towards the middle of the fifteenth century, the activity of tanners and merchants allowed the Durazzo family to start to establish itself as one of the most important Genoese families. In 1528, in fact, appear in the register of the Ligurian nobility, under the wing of the Grimaldi family, with the title of “new nobles”, those families that have reached beyond the rank of commoners. And it will be in the sixteenth century that the family will become one of the richest in the Ligurian capital.
Giacomo Grimaldi Durazzo, Doge of Genoa, was born in 1503, son of Giovanni Durazzo and Margherita Monsa, the first of six children. Giovanni Grimaldi Durazzo occupied several important political offices. His family, already included in the Genoese nobility, had already engaged on several occasions in the public life of the Republic. Initially appointed as ambassador of the Papal State in 1533, he was also a senator between 1556 and the first years of 1570, occupying in 1573 the position of supreme jury. Also in 1573 he was elected by the Senate of the Republic of Genoa as a new doge. Two years later, at the end of the mandate and with a civil war between the noble factions just ended, Giacomo Grimaldi Durazzo was replaced by Prosper Centurione.
Political Career: The Durazzo family did not finish their career in Genoese politics with the sole election of Giacomo Grimaldi Durazzo. The family gave the republic thirty senators, two cardinals, five bishops, sixteen ambassadors and, above all, eight other doges – Pietro Durazzo from 1619 to 1621, Giovanni Battista Durazzo from 1639 to 1641, Cesare Durazzo from 1665 to 1667, Pietro Durazzo from 1685 to 1687, Vincenzo Durazzo from 1709 to 1711, Stefano Durazzo from 1734 to 1736, Marcello Durazzo from 1767 to 1769 and also Girolamo Luigi Durazzo, elected under the Napoleonic protectorate from 1802 to 1805 and honoured by Napoleon himself at his death with the preservation of his heart at the Pantheon in Paris.
Owners of the splendid villa Durazzo-Pallavicini in the Genoese district of Pegli, in the western part of the city, the Durazzo family has been involved for about 3 centuries of Genoese politics, settling in the highest office of the Republic and contributing to the splendour of Genoa. They started as an émigré family, whom today we would call “a clan of refugees”, but they successfully mixed with the Genoese elites and became owners of a palace in Genoa. The Albanians tended to be very successful expatriates, capable of high quality contributions to their adopting countries.
Religion and Language issues in the Nobility of Albania:
The religion of the Albanian nobility depended on the region where the family lands were located. Until the end of the fourteenth century, the Albanian nobility was completely Christian (Catholic or Orthodox). After the Battle of Savra in 1385, when most of the local nobility became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, almost all the Albanian aristocracy converted to Islam. There was however a tiny minority of noblemen that did not convert, keeping different versions and rites of the Orthodox or Catholic Christianity. At the end of the seventeenth century, the Albanian nobility could now be said to be completely Islamized. However, while Albania belonged for more than six centuries to the Ottoman Empire, the Albanians refused to learn Turkish Ottoman, and kept the use of ethnic Albanese language.
The official language of the aristocratic classes during the medieval period was Greek, Latin and Slavic. Slowly, the nobility of Albania started speaking the Albanian Language. Many also spoke Greek, Italian, German and French. A highly educated minority linked to the high bureaucracy of the Ottoman Empire was also fluent in Turkish Ottoman and even Persian. Probably, the Albanian Nobility was the most polyglot aristocratic class of the world, as it was not uncommon for an Albanian Nobleman to be fluent in at least two or three languages and probably at least two or three local dialects.
List of the best known and most influential Albanian noble families:
- Bua or Shpata
- Koprulu 
List of Albanian Nobility Titles and Styles:
Zupan, Voivode or Kaznac: Albanese noble titles of Serbian Origin, meaning governor or sometimes Baron.
Aga, Bey or Pascha: Turkish-nobility titles. The most common noble title was that of Bey, which means Lord in Ottoman Turkish language.
“Shkipetare”: it was a common term meaning military nobility, as Albanian nobles had a great reputation as mercenaries and soldiers of fortune.
Dux and Count were titles of Italian influence through Venice and Genoa, only used by Royalty and owners of Principalities.
Sebastokrator, Despot, Archons and Panhypersebastos of Greek, Macedonian and Byzantine origin, mainly used by Albanian Ruling Princes, Kings and also some Feudal Princes of the Albanian Nobility.