Albanian history developed from the prehistoric period in the 4th century BC, with early records of Illyria in Greco-Roman historiography.
The earliest signs of human existence in Albania were discovered in the villages of Xarr, near Sarand, and Mount Dajt, near Tiran, during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. Items discovered in a cave near Xarr contain flint and jasper objects as well as fossilized animal bones, while those discovered at Mount Dajt include bone and stone tools comparable to those used by the Aurignacian civilization. The Paleolithic discoveries from Albania are very comparable to those from Crvena Stijena in Montenegro and north-western Greece.
The area of current Albania was primarily populated by a variety of Illyrian tribes in ancient times. This region was known as Illyria, and it approximately corresponded to the area east of the Adriatic Sea to the mouth of the Vjos river in the south. Periplus of the Euxine Sea, an ancient Greek book published in the middle of the fourth century BC, contains the earliest description of the Illyrian tribes. The Greek tribe of the Chaonians, whose headquarters was at Phoenice, occupied the south, while many colonies, such as Apollonia, Epidamnos, and Amantia, were founded by Greek city-states on the shore by the 7th century BC.
The Ardiaei were a strong tribe that reigned across modern Albania. Under Agron, son of Pleuratus II, the Ardiaen Kingdom reached its zenith. Agron’s authority was extended to other adjacent tribes as well. Teuta, Agron’s wife, inherited the Ardiaean kingdom after his death in 230 BC. Teuta’s troops expanded their operations into the Ionian Sea to the south. In 229 BC, Rome waged war on Illyria for looting Roman ships extensively. In 227 BC, the Illyrians were defeated. Gentius ultimately replaced Teuta in 181 BC. In 168 BC, Gentius fought with the Romans, kicking off the Third Illyrian War. By 167 BC, the war had ended in Roman victory and the end of Illyrian independence. Following his defeat, the Romans partitioned the area into three administrative districts.
The area now known as Albania remained under Roman (Byzantine) rule until the Slavs started to conquer it in the 7th century, until it was taken by the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century. After the Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarian Empire were defeated in the middle and late 13th centuries, the Serbian Principality took control of parts of modern-day Albania. In general, the invaders destroyed or damaged Roman and Byzantine cultural centers in what would become Albania.
The geographical nucleus of the Albanian state emerged in the Middle Ages as the Principality of Arbr and the Kingdom of Albania. The Principality of Arbr or Albanon (Albanian: Arbr or Arbria) was the first Albanian state during the Middle Ages, founded in 1190 by archon Progon in the Kruja area. Progon, the founder, was followed by his sons Gjin and Dhimitri, the latter of whom rose to the throne of the kingdom. Following the death of Dhimiter, the last of the Progon line, the principality passed to the Greek Gregory Kamonas Lord or Prince (archon) of Kruj, and subsequently Golem. The Principality was abolished in 1255. Pipa and Repishti believe that Arbanon was the earliest sketch of a “Albanian state,” and that it maintained semi-autonomous status as the western end of an empire (under the Doukai of Epirus or the Laskarids of Nicaea). In 1271, Charles of Anjou founded the Kingdom of Albania in the Albanian region he acquired from the Despotate of Epirus. In February 1272, he was proclaimed “King of Albania.” The kingdom stretched from Durrs (formerly known as Dyrrhachium) south along the coast to Butrint. Following the establishment of the kingdom, a Catholic governmental framework provided a solid foundation for the papal ambitions to expand Catholicism throughout the Balkans. This proposal was also supported by Helen of Anjou, a cousin of Charles of Anjou, who ruled over territory in North Albania at the time. During her reign, about 30 Catholic churches and monasteries were constructed in North Albania and Serbia. The Serbian Empire fought for sovereignty of Albania from 1331 and 1355. Following the collapse of the Serbian Empire, many Albanian principalities were established, the most prominent of which were the Balsha, Thopia, Kastrioti, Muzaka, and Arianiti. The Ottoman Empire conquered the majority of Albania in the first part of the 14th century. However, in 1444, the Albanian kingdoms were unified under the leadership of George Castrioti Skanderbeg, (Albanian: Gjergj Kastrioti, Skenderbeu), Albania’s national hero.
The geopolitical environment in Southeast Europe at the time of the Ottoman Empire’s formation was characterized by dispersed kingdoms of minor princes. By 1415, the Ottomans had established garrisons across southern Albania and had conquered the majority of the country by 1431. However, in 1443, a large and long-lasting rebellion led by the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg erupted, lasting until 1479 and defeating significant Ottoman forces commanded by sultans Murad II and Mehmed II on many occasions. Skanderbeg first unified the Albanian princes and subsequently established consolidated control over the majority of the unconquered regions, becoming the reigning Lord of Albania. He also attempted, but failed, repeatedly to form a European alliance against the Ottomans. He foiled every Turkish effort to retake Albania, which they saw as a springboard for an attack of Italy and western Europe. His uneven struggle against the mightiest force of the day earned him the respect of Europe, as well as financial and military backing from Naples, the Papacy, Venice, and Ragusa. With the advent of the Turks, Islam was established as a third religion in Albania. This conversion resulted in a large number of Albanians emigrating to Christian European nations. Along with Bosniaks, Muslim Albanians held a prominent role in the Ottoman Empire, serving as the cornerstones of Ottoman strategy in the Balkans.
With this privileged position in the empire, Muslim Albanians held a variety of high administrative positions, with over two dozen Grand Viziers of Albanian origin, including Gen. Köprülü Mehmed Pasha, who led the Ottoman armies during the Ottoman-Persian Wars; Gen. Köprülü Fazl Ahmed, who led the Ottoman armies during the Austro-Turkish War; and, later, Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt.
When the Ottomans established a strong footing in the area in the 15th century, Albanian cities were divided into four major sanjaks. By establishing a sizable Jewish colony of refugees escaping persecution in Spain, the government encouraged commerce (at the end of the 15th century). Vlor witnessed imported commodities from Europe like as velvets, cotton goods, mohairs, carpets, spices, and leather travel via its ports from Bursa and Constantinople.
Some Vlor residents had commercial contacts all throughout Europe.
Albanians may also be found as important military and administrative retainers across the empire, including Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, and the Maghreb. This was attributed in part to the Devşirme system. The process of Islamization was gradual, beginning with the advent of the Ottomans in the 14th century (to this day, a minority of Albanians are Catholic or Orthodox Christians, though the vast majority became Muslim). Timar holders, the basis of early Ottoman authority in Southeast Europe, were not always Muslims and sometimes revolted; Skanderbeg is the most renowned of these rebels (his figure would rise up later on, in the 19th century, as a central component of the Albanian national identity). The most important effect on Albanians was the gradual Islamization of a vast majority of the people, which took place only in the 17th century.
The majority of Catholics converted in the 17th century, with Orthodox Albanians following suit in the next century. Initially restricted to the major metropolitan centers of Elbasan and Shkoder, the new religion had spread to the countryside by this time. According to certain academics, the reasons for conversion varied depending on the circumstance. When examining such problems, a lack of source material is not helpful.
Albania remained under Ottoman rule as part of Rumelia province until 1912, when it proclaimed independence.
Era of nationalism and League of Prizren
On June 1, 1878, the League of Prizren was founded in Prizren, Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman authorities initially backed the League of Prizren, whose original stance was based on the religious unity of Muslim landowners and Ottoman administrative officials. The Ottomans encouraged and preserved Muslim unity, and they advocated for the protection of Muslim territories, including modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is why the league was named The Committee of the Real Muslims (Albanian: Komiteti I Myslimanve t Vrtet). The Kararname edict was issued by the League. Its wording said that the people of “northern Albania, Epirus, and Bosnia” are ready to protect the Ottoman Empire’s “territoriality” “by whatever means” against the soldiers of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro. On June 18, 1878, it was signed by 47 Muslim League deputies. Around 300 Muslims attended the conference, including delegates from Bosnia and the Sanjak of Prizren’s mutasarrif (sanjakbey) as representatives of the central authority, but no delegates from Scutari Vilayet.
When the League, influenced by Abdyl bey Frashri, grew concentrated on working for Albanian autonomy and sought the merger of four Ottoman vilayets (Kosovo, Scutari, Monastir, and Ioannina) into a single vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans withdrew their support (the Albanian Vilayet). The League employed armed force to prevent Montenegro from annexing the territories of Plav and Gusinje allocated to it by the Berlin Congress. Under the weight of the great powers, the League of Prizren was forced to withdraw from its disputed territories of Plav and Gusinje after many victorious engagements with Montenegrin forces, notably as in Novsice, and was subsequently crushed by the Sultan’s Ottoman army. The Albanian revolt of 1912, the Ottoman loss in the Balkan Wars, and the advance of Montenegrin, Serbian, and Greek troops into areas claimed by Albanians all culminated to Ismail Qemali’s declaration of independence in Vlora on November 28, 1912.
On November 28, 1912, during the All-Albanian Congress in Vlor, the Assembly of Vlor was formed. In November 1912, an assembly of eighty-three leaders gathered in Vlor proclaimed Albania independent and established a temporary government. The Provisional Government of Albania was formed on December 4, 1912, during the second session of the parliament. It was a ten-member administration headed by Ismail Qemali until his resignation on 22 January 1914. The Assembly also created the Senate (Albanian: Pleqsi), which consists of 18 Assembly members and serves as an advisory body to the government.
The Conference of London acknowledged Albania’s independence on July 29, 1913, but the newly formed Principality of Albania’s boundaries disregarded the demographic realities of the moment. On October 15, 1913, the International Commission of Control was formed to oversee the administration of newly constituted Albania until its own political institutions were in place. Its headquarters were located in Vlor. The International Gendarmerie was formed as the Principality of Albania’s first law enforcement organization. The first gendarmerie personnel arrived in Albania in early November. As the first prince, Wilhelm of Wied was chosen.
In November 1913, Albanian pro-Ottoman troops presented the crown of Albania to Izzet Pasha, the Ottoman army minister of Albanian descent. The pro-Ottoman peasants saw the new government of the Principality of Albania as a tool of the six Christian Great Powers and local landlords who controlled half of the arable land.
The Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was declared by the local Greek community in Gjirokastr on February 28, 1914, in opposition to Albanian annexation. This effort was short-lived, as the southern regions were eventually absorbed into the Albanian Principality in 1921. Meanwhile, an Albanian peasant rebellion against the new Albanian government arose, led by a group of Muslim clerics assembled around Essad Pasha Toptani, who declared himself the savior of Albania and Islam. To secure the support of the Mirdita Catholic volunteers from the northern highlands, Prince of Wied nominated their commander, Prênk Bib Doda, as the Principality of Albania’s foreign minister. In May and June 1914, the International Gendarmerie, aided by Isa Boletini and his troops, mostly from Kosovo, and northern Mirdita Catholics, were beaten by the insurgents, who had taken control of much of Central Albania by the end of August 1914. The Prince of Wied’s government fell apart, and he fled the nation on September 3, 1914.
Republic and monarchy
The first Albanian Republic (1925–1928) followed the short-lived principality (1914–1925). The four-member Regency was dissolved in 1925, and Ahmed Zoguwas was chosen president of the newly established republic. Tirana was formally designated as the country’s permanent capital. Zogu ruled an authoritarian and conservative government whose major goal was to maintain peace and order. Zogu was compelled to pursue a strategy of collaboration with Italy. On January 20, 1925, Italy and Albania struck an agreement in which Italy acquired a monopoly on shipping and commercial privileges.
In 1928, the Albanian republic was replaced by another monarchy. Zogu prioritized road development in order to expand his direct authority over the whole nation. Every male Albanian above the age of 16 was constitutionally obligated to provide the state with 10 days of free work each year. King Zogu maintained his conservatism while instituting changes. For example, in an effort to modernize society, the practice of adding one’s area to one’s name was abandoned. Zogu also donated land to foreign organizations for the construction of schools and clinics. Italian instructors taught and oversaw the armed forces. As a counterbalance, despite heavy Italian pressure, Zogu retained British officers in the Gendarmerie. The fascist government in Italy backed the monarchy, and the two nations maintained strong ties until Italy’s surprise invasion of the country in 1939. During World War II, Albania was invaded by Fascist Italy and subsequently by Nazi Germany.
World War II
After being militarily conquered by Italy, the Albanian Kingdom was a protectorate and a dependent of Italy from 1939 to 1943, ruled by the Italian King Victor Emmanuel III and his administration. Following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, areas of Yugoslavia with a significant Albanian population were annexed to Albania, including most of Kosovo, Western Macedonia, the town of Tutin in Central Serbia, and a strip of Eastern Montenegro. In November 1941, tiny Albanian Communist organizations in Tirana formed the Albanian Communist Party, which had 130 members and was led by Enver Hoxha and an eleven-man Central Committee. Initially, the party had limited broad appeal, and its youth section drew few recruits.
Following Italy’s surrender in 1943, Nazi Germany seized Albania as well. The nationalist Balli Kombetar, which had fought against Italy, established a “neutral” government in Tirana and fought with the Germans against the communist-led Albanian National Liberation Movement. According to the Geneva-based Center for Relief to Civilian Populations, Albania is one of Europe’s most damaged nations. 60,000 homes were destroyed, and about 10% of the population was displaced. In January 1944, communist partisans reorganized and took control of most of southern Albania. They were, however, subjected to German assaults, which drove them out of some regions. The NLF established an Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation at the Congress of Prmet to serve as Albania’s administration and legislative. By the last year of WWII, Albania had devolved into a civil war between communists and nationalists. By mid-summer 1944, communist fighters had destroyed the remaining Balli Kombtar troops in southern Albania. By the end of November, the majority of German soldiers had left Tirana, and the communists had taken control by assaulting it. On November 29, 1944, the partisans completely freed Albania from German control. Albania was governed by a temporary administration established by the communists in Berat in October, with Enver Hoxha as Prime Minister.
By the conclusion of WWII, the Communist Party, the country’s dominant military and political power, had deployed troops to northern Albania against the nationalists in order to remove its competitors. They encountered open opposition in Nikaj-Mertur, Dukagjin, and Kelmend (Kelmendi was led by Prek Cali). On 15 January 1945, a battle occurred at the Tamara Bridge between partisans of the First Brigade and nationalist troops, culminating in the defeat of the nationalist forces. Approximately 150 Kelmendi were murdered or tortured. This incident was the catalyst for a slew of other problems that arose under Enver Hoxha’s rule. Human freedom and human rights were denied, and class warfare was rigorously enforced. For the next 20 years, the Kelmend area was isolated by both the border and a lack of roads, and the establishment of agricultural cooperatives resulted in economic collapse. Many Kelmendi escaped, and others were killed while attempting to reach the border.
After Albania was liberated from Nazi control, it became a Communist state, the People’s Republic of Albania (renamed “the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania” in 1976), headed by Enver Hoxha and the Labour Party of Albania.
Albania’s socialist rebuilding began soon after the monarchy was abolished and a “People’s Republic” was established. Albania’s first railway line was built in 1947, followed by the second eight months later. New land reform legislation were enacted, giving workers and peasants who tilled the land ownership. Agriculture became cooperative, and output rose considerably, resulting in Albania’s agricultural self-sufficiency. By 1955, illiteracy among Albania’s adult population had been eradicated.
During this time, Albania industrialized and saw tremendous economic development, as well as remarkable advances in education and health. Albania’s average yearly rate of national income was 29% higher than the global average and 56% higher than the European average. Albania’s Communist constitution prohibited taxes on individuals; instead, cooperatives and other organizations were taxed, which had a similar impact.
During the Communist era, religious liberties were severely restricted, with all kinds of worship being prohibited. The Agrarian Reform Law of August 1945 nationalized vast tracts of land held by religious organizations (primarily Islamic waqfs), as well as the estates of monasteries and dioceses. Many Christians, as well as the ulema and a number of priests, were imprisoned and killed. In 1949, a new Decree on Religious Communities mandated that all religious communities’ operations be sanctioned only by the state.
After the destruction of hundreds of mosques and dozens of Islamic libraries holding valuable manuscripts in 1967, Hoxha declared Albania the “world’s first atheist state.” Churches in the nation were not spared, and many were transformed into cultural centers for young people. A legislation passed in 1967 outlawed any “fascist, religious, warmongering, antisocialist action and propaganda.” Religion was punishable by three to 10 years in jail. Despite this, many Albanians continued to practice their faith in secret. A decade later, the Hoxha dictatorship’s anti-religious crusade found its most fundamental legal and political expression: “The state recognizes no religion” and “supports and carries out atheistic propaganda in order to implant in people a scientific materialistic world outlook,” declared Communist Albania’s 1976 constitution.
During the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s, Ramiz Alia, Hoxha’s political successor, supervised the dismantling of the “Hoxhaist” state.
Following demonstrations that began in 1989 and changes implemented by the communist government in 1990, the People’s Republic of Albania was dissolved in 1991–92 and the Republic of Albania was established. Following public support in the 1991 elections, the communists maintained a dominance in parliament. However, despite liberalization measures that resulted in economic collapse and social upheaval, a new front headed by the new Democratic Party seized power in March 1992.
In the years that followed, most of the country’s amassed wealth was invested in Ponzi pyramid banking scams, which were extensively backed by government officials. The projects engulfed anything from one-sixth to one-third of the country’s population. Despite IMF warnings in late 1996, then-President Sali Berisha defended the schemes as major investment companies, prompting more people to divert remittances and sell their houses and livestock for cash to put in the schemes. The scams started to fail in late 1996, prompting many investors to stage initially peaceful demonstrations against the government, demanding their money returned. In February, the demonstrations became violent when government troops opened fire. The police and Republican Guard fled in March, leaving their armories exposed. Militias and criminal groups quickly emptied them. As a consequence of the crisis, a large number of foreign nationals and refugees were evacuated.
The crisis forced Prime Minister Aleksandr Meksi to resign on March 11, 1997, and President Sali Berisha to resign in July after the June General Election. Operation Alba, a UN peacekeeping force headed by Italy, invaded the country in April 1997 with two objectives in mind: to aid in the evacuation of expatriates and to secure the ground for international organizations. This was mainly due to WEU MAPE’s collaboration with the government in reforming the judiciary and police systems. After the Socialist Party won the elections in 1997, there was some political stability.
The nation was impacted by the Kosovo War in 1999, when a large number of Albanians from Kosovo sought shelter in Albania.
Albania joined NATO as a full member in 2009 and has sought to join the European Union. The Socialist Party won the national elections in 2013. The Republic of Albania became an official candidate for membership in the European Union in June 2014.