New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
New Advent
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > A > Albania


Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...

The ancient Epirus and Illyria, is the most western land occupied by the Turks in Europe. Its extreme length is about 290 miles, and its breadth from forty to ninety miles. On the west and southwest it is bounded by the Adriatic and the Ionian seas. It is generally divided into three regions: Upper Albania, from the Montenegrin frontier to the river Shkumbi; Lower Albania, or Epirus, from the Shkumbi to the Gulf of Arta; and Eastern Albania, to the east of the Schar-Dagh chain. It is a mountainous and rugged territory, some of its peaks reaching a height of 8,500 feet, and has only one plain of note, that of Scutari (the ancient Scodra, 'e Skódra), which holds the lake of the same name and is watered by its affluent, the Drin. Many rivers flow from savage, inaccessible heights to the Ionian Sea: the Mati, Shkumbi, Ergent or Devol, Voynassa, Kalamas. Among them are the celebrated Acheron and Cocytus of antiquity. Albania shares with Greece the peculiar phenomenon of subterranean rivers; the waters of the lake of Jamina flow through one of these underground channels into the Gulf of Arta, and this gave rise to the myth that here was the entrance to the infernal world of the ancient Greeks. The surrounding country is covered with Cyclopean ruins. In the region of Lakes Ochrida and Presba there are passages through the mountains, which facilitates communication between Albania and Macedonia; and the Turkish mail post actually follows the old Via Egmatia of the Romans from Durrazzo (the ancient Dyrrachium) to Salonica, passing by Bitolia. Further down, between the Grammos and the Pindar chains, a defile allows communication with the road from Jamina to Larissa. The Mavropotamas, or Acheron, formerly received the affluents of the Cocytus and Phlegeton, which have now disappeared. The soil is barren from want of cultivation and the exports are few, consisting principally of hides, bark for dyeing, and tobacco. If the Boyana river were made navigable, Scutari would be connected with the sea, and trade would assuredly lead to progress of all kinds; but Mussulman rule precludes the attempt.

The Albanians (more of an ethnographic than a geographic term) are called Arnauts (Arnaoots, Arnaouts) by the other peoples of the Balkan peninsula; they give themselves the name of Skipetars or "mountaineers". They claim descent from the Epirots and Illyrians, and, like the latter, have always been distinguished by their warlike spirit. After having been conquered in the Illyrian wars by Rome, the tribes of this region furnished the best soldiers of the empire, several emperors were of Illyrian stock (Freeman, The Illyrian Emperors, Historical Essays, London, 1892, III, 22-68). Christianity probably penetrated these mountain fastnesses through the Roman soldiers and traders from Epirus and Macedonia; it is doubtful whether any traces of the original apostolate survived the ruin of the Roman State in the West. After the dismemberment of the Roman Empire, the Illyrian population, gradually driven southward by the invading Slavs, became known as Albanians, were long subject to schismatic Constantinople, then fell under the sway of the Serbs, and finally became (1336-56) a province of the medieval Servian Empire under Tsar Stephen Duschan. (See SERVIA.) On its dismemberment, after the battle of Kosovo which took place (1389), the victorious Turks overran the country, but Prince George Castriota, the famous Scanderbeg who was known also as Iskander Bey, or Prince Alexander, maintained an independent rule in Upper Albania for a quarter of a century (1443-67). This hero, whose feats of valour are almost legendary, was bred as a Moslem at the court of Murad II to whom he had been given as a hostage by his father, an Albanian chief; but after having won fame and honour in the Sultan's service, his race asserted itself, and he broke away to place himself at the head of his own people and embrace Christianity. He defeated the Turkish army in several engagements and secured an honourable peace on his own terms. But, encouraged by the Pope and the promise of help from the Venetians, he again attacked the Turks and gained numerous victories. On his death at Alessio (1467), the Sultan exclaimed: "Now that the infidels have lost their sword and buckler, who can save them from my wrath?" The Albanians became disorganized and were finally subjected (1479) to Mussulman dominion. They have, however, never been subdued, and are, even today, treated more like allies than subjects. They now supply the Turkish army with its best soldiers as they once did the legions of Rome, and are exempted from taxes and from compulsory military service. As volunteers, they receive high pay and many privileges. While several tribes have embraced Islam and others belong to the Greek schism, the best of the population is Catholic, and while guarding traditional customs and a primitive manner of life, practise their religion devoutly. The purity of their morals is proverbial throughout the Balkan peninsula, and the zealous Austrian and Italian missionaries have met with conditions most favourable for their teaching. Schools have been opened in all the villages of note by Franciscan and Jesuit Fathers, but the spread of education is hindered by the lack of a gramatically organized language. Many attempts have been made to decide upon an alphabet, but none has yet succeeded owing to the difficulty of expressing the oral sounds by any known combination of European letters. A cultured Albanian, therefore, takes Roumanian, Greek, Servian, or Italian, for his medium of intercommunication. An Albanian journal is published in Bukarest and another in Belgrade. In the country itself there is no attempt at a newspaper, and the periodicals most prevalent in the towns are Italian publications of a religious tone. The tribes which have resisted Mussulman rule successfully and retained their creed have, notwithstanding this, adopted many Moslem customs.


For four centuries the Catholic Albanians have defended their faith with bravery, greatly aided by the Franciscan missionaries, especially since the middle of the seventeenth century, when the cruel persecutions of their Mussulman lords began to bring about the apostasy of many villages, particularly among the schismatic Greeks. The College of Propoganda at Rome was especially prominent in the religious and moral support of the Albanian Catholics. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly, it educated young clerics for service on the Albanian missions, contributed then as now to their support and to that of the churches, in which good work it is aided by the Austrian Government, which gives yearly to those missions about five thousand dollars, in its quality of Protector of the Christian community under Turkish rule. The Church legislation of the Albanians was reformed by Clement XI, who caused a general ecclesiastical visitation to be held (1763) by the Archbishop of Antivari, at the close of which a national synod was held. Its decrees were printed by Propaganda (1705), and renewed in 1803 (Coll. Lucensis Conc. Recent., I, 283 sq.). In 1872, Pius IX caused a second national synod to be held at Scutari, for the renovation of the popular and ecclesiastical life. Apropos of the Austrian interest in Albania, it may be stated that it is the Austrian ambassador who obtains from the Sultan the Berat, or civil document of institution for the Catholic bishops of Albania (Neber, in K. L., XI, 18, 19).

Albania is divided ecclesiastically into several archiepiscopal provinces: (1) Antivari (since 1878 a part of the principality of Montenegro; since 1886, without suffragans, and separated from Scutari, with which it had been united in 1867 on terms of equality); (2) Scutari, with the suffragan Sees of Alessio, Pulati, Sappa and (since 1888) the Abbatia millius of St. Alexander of Orosci; (3) Durazzo; (4) Uskup. The latter two are without suffragans, and depend immediately on the Holy See. A seminary, founded in 1858 by Archbishop Topich of Scutari, was destroyed by the Turks, but was later re-established on Austrian territory and placed under the imperial protection. In Scutari the Catholic women, as well as the Mohammedan, go veiled. The Albanian woman works unceasingly in the field and in the home; so that every household care devolves upon her in the frequent absence of the men who are either regular or irregular fighters in the Albanian or Turko- Albanian bands. The women are dressed in tight skirts of light colour striped with black, and their heads and shoulders are covered on feast days with masses of gold and silver coins. In the Catholic churches, the women appear unveiled, and the humbler class generally remove their shoes at the entrance. The service in the Cathedral of Scutari is most impressive, although primitive to an extreme degree. There is little quiet, for the congregation rasps out the responses with a fervour that precludes either modulation or rhythm, and the incessant rattle of the coins on the women's breasts and heads as they bend forward and again kneel upright accompanies every intonation. The scarlet colour predominates in the altar decorations, as well as in the clothes of the worshippers. It is impossible to witness the attitude of the Catholic Albanian at worship and remain unmoved at his simple, whole-hearted demonstration of living faith. The admirable work of the friars in dispelling the old vendetta custom is one of the chief factors in the evolution of this semi-barbaric race. The Albanians of to-day give the same promise of a vigorous Christian development as the Franks of the time of Clovis, and it is characteristic of their steadfastness that no bribes or threats have succeeded in drawing them from their first allegiance. While every other race in the Balkans, with the exception of the Western Serbs, called Hroats (Croats), went over to schism, the Roman Catholic faith remained secure in the fastnesses of northern Albania.

When one recalls that to adopt Islamism meant to become a lord and a recognized warrior, while to remain Christian meant to become a slave, deprived of the right to carry weapons, it is easily seen why so many Albanian tribes fell away. The chief tribes of Upper Albania, the Shoshi and the Mirdites, are at once the pioneers of nationality and Catholicity. Long ago the Mirdites were wont to carry off Turkish girls of good family and, after baptizing them, made them their wives, so that there is a strong strain of Turkish blood in the Catholic Mirdites of to-day. This tribe has special privileges, such as the place of honour in the Sultan's army under the command of its own chieftain. In accepting a comradeship of arms with Mussulman troops it guards the creed and nationality with the same fidelity with which it serves the Sultan when called upon. The Mirdites, about 40,000 in number, and with a chief town of some four hundred houses, Orosci, treat on equal terms with the Porte. The force of circumstances has driven the Albanian into fierce espousal of one or other of the causes which are being periodically fought out between antagonists whose success or defeat leaves his own condition almost unchanged. It was an Albanian who led the Greeks in the War of Independence, and again an Albanian who commanded the Turkish troops sent to quell the rebellion. The Kings of Naples kept an Albanian regiment styled the Royal Macedonian, and the famous resistance of Silistria in 1854 is due to dogged Albanian bravery. Courage and heroism are inborn qualities of this singular and gifted race. The revival of the national aspirations of Albania dates from the Congress of Berlin (1878), when Austria, in order to compensate Servia and Montenegro for her retention of the Servian lands of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thought to divide the land of Albania between them. The Turks secretly fostered the opposition of both Mussulmans and Catholics, and the Albanian League was formed "for the maintenance of the country's integrity and the reconstitution of its independence". The territories alloted to Servia were already occupied by her troops when resistance broke forth, and the idea of dislodging them had to be abandoned; but Montenegro was unable to obtain possession of her share, the rich districts of Gusinie and Plava. The Albanians, undaunted by the unexpected opposition of their former allies, the Turks, now forced by Russia to assist Montenegro, made face against all their enemies with a determination that baffled and dismayed Europe. Mehemet- Ali was routed, his house at Diakovo burned down, and himself massacred. The Albanians had much to avenge. They had not yet forgotten the war of a century before when their women precipitated themselves by hundreds over the roads near Yamina to escape Ali-Pasha's soldiers. The Turks finally relinquished their efforts to quell the movement they had themselves helped to precipitate, and Montenegro had to content herself with the barren tracts of the Boyana and the port of Dulcigno. She could not have aspired even to these, had not Russia, anxious to spread the doctrines of "Orthodoxy", advocated the dismemberment of Catholic and Mussulman Albania in favour of the Servian race.

After Scutari, Yanina is the largest and most interesting town of modern Albania. Near it are the ruins of the temple of Dodona, the cradle of pagan civilization in Greece. This oracle uttered its prophecies by interpreting the rustling of oak branches; the fame of its priestesses drew votaries from all parts of Greece. In this neighbourhood also dwelt the Pelagic tribes of Selles, or Helles, and the Graiki, whose names were afterwards taken to denote the Hellenes, or Greeks. The plateau of Tanina is fertile and favourably situated for defence, and the inhabitants of the city have been able to develop many industries, such as the inlaying of metal, weaving gold-threaded stuffs, and the fabrication of fire-arms. It is difficult to get the exact statistics of any province of the Turkish Empire; the population of Albania is variously estimated, from 1,200,000 to 1,600,000, of which 1,500,000 are strictly Albanian. In the Kirchenlex. (Freiburg, 1899), XI, 18, Father Neher estimates the population at about 1,400,000, one million of which is made up of Mussulmans. There are 318,000 members of the Greek schismatic church, and about 120,000 Catholics. It must be added that there are in Greece proper about 250,000 Albanians, and in Italy about 100,000, the latter being all Catholics. In summing up the characteristics of the race, there are two points on which travellers invariably agree: the chivalry toward the weaker sex of even the unreclaimed Albanian, and the spotless chastity of their women. For the rest, human life is as cheap as in all lands where individuals must reckon on themselves for its preservation. (See ANTIVARI, SCUTARY, DURAZZO, and the other dioceses of Albania.)


LEAKE,Travels in Northern Greece (London, 1835); ELISÉE RECLUS,The Earth and its Inhabitants (New York, 1895, Eng. tr.): Europe, I, 115-126; NIOX, Péninsule des Balkans; DURHAM'S Travels; WILKINSON, Dalmatia and Montenegro; HERDER, Konvers. Lex., s.v.; BONÉ, Turquie d'Europe (Paris, 1889); DEGRAND, Souvenirs (Paris, 1901); PORTAL, Note Albanesi (Palermo, 1903).—The documents of the medieval religious history of Albania are best found in the eight volumes of FARLATI, Illyricum Sacrum (Venice, 1751- 1819). See also THEINER, Vetera Monumenta Slavorum meridionalium historiam illustrantia (Rome, 1863 sqq.). Recent ecclesiastical statistics may be seen in O. WERNER, Orbis Terrarum Catholicus (Freiburg, 1890), 122-124, and 120; also in the latest edition of the Missiones Catholicæ (Rome, Propaganda Press, triennially).

About this page

APA citation. Christitch, E. (1907). Albania. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Christitch, Elisabeth. "Albania." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. In memory of Agnes Bojaxhiu, Mother Teresa.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2023 by New Advent LLC. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.