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Illyrian-Albanian Continuity and Its Political Topicality.. by Dr. Stipcevic

February 13 2002 at 12:43 AM
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Dr. Aleksander STIPCEVIC


The question of the ethnic and cultural continuity between the early Illyrians and the mediaeval Albanians, besides being one of the most attractive issues of Balkan history, has also acquired a political dimension in recent decades. This is not the first time such a thing has happened in history.
It was the Croats who before anyone else put forward the claim of being descended from the glorious Illyrian people, to the point of identifying themselves with them and giving themselves the name of Illyrians. For centuries, the Croatian language was simply called Illyrian. It is thought that Vinko Pribojevic (Vincentius Priboevius) in the 16th century was the first to include the history of the Illyrians in what might be called a political program. Pribojevic idea; countering the ideology and threat of pan-Germanism, hi used the splendid history of the Illyrians in order to demonstrate a cultural and especially historical superiority to the GERMANS, Italians, and Hungarians. According to Pribojevic, both Queen Teuta and King Agron were Slavs, as were Alexander the Great, Diocletian, and even Aristotle and St. Jerom. (1)

After him, Mauro Orbini, another Croat historian, relaunched the pan-Slavic idea in his well-known book, "Il Regno degli Slavi, hoggi corrottamente detti Schiavoni," published in Pesaro in 1601. The book met with great success and exerted a major influence on historians and politicians of subsequent centuries. Now nobody doubted that the Slavs, especially those of the western portion of the Balkan peninsula, were the direct descendants of the Illyrians. Illyrian was the tongue spoken on the east coast of the Adriatic, and the land inhabited by the southern Slavs, especially the Croats, was Illyria. The Croats adopted the name Illyrian for themselves, though more when abroad and in foreign-language publications than within Croatia itself. (2)

In the first half of the 19th century, the title Illyrian acquired a clear political function among the Croats. The leaders of the Croatian national movement called themselves "Illyrians" (Ilirci). Moreover, the theory of the Illyrian origin of the Croats was at this time embodied in academic form by Ljudevit Gaj, the greatest ideologue of the national movement. It was hi who published a book entitled "Who Were the Old Illyrians?"(3)

This treated the question from a historical angle, but which political aims. Gay knew full well that any theory of a direct descent of today’s Croats from the old Illyrians was somehow an exaggeration. However, he believed that the name Illyrian would be the cement binding together the South Slavs in a new cultural and economic entity and a powerful political alliance that could confront the age-old enemies of the South Slav peoples.

The Illyrian ideology of the Croatian national movement was leavened with same doubtful ideas. It was not by chance that, after initial enthusiasm, critics of the idea grasped its weak points and easly refuted Gaj’s basic thesis of the South Slavs.
The political and police authorities of Vienna and Budapest rightly saw the notion of the Illyrian origin of all the South Slavs as a dangerous idea, because it could become an acceptable basis to devise a political program for all the south Slavs. It is therefore no wonder that in 1843 the authorities banned the use of the name Illyrian to designate the Croat national movement.

As time passed, the idea of a direct link between the Illyrians and the Croats was graduallyabandoned. It was the writer and philologist Bogoslav Sulek who delivered the final blow to the theory of the Illyrian origin of the South Slavs. In 1844, he published a treatise on the idea that the South Slavs could not be considered the direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians, but that the Slavs living in the western part of the Balkan peninsula were the result of a long and complicated ethnogenetic process involving the Illyrians but also the Romans, Celts, Goths, and, finally, the Slavs.

It was in the second half of the 19th century and especially in the 20th century that the Illyrian problem acquired a political meaning for another Balkan people, the Albanians.

The problem of the direct descent of the Albanians from the ancient Illyrians was originally purely academic. Researchers attempted to solve this problem on the basis of data that were not always certain or complete, relying mainly on historical and especially linguistic evidence.

The question has for years been obscured by political arguments that have frequently prevailed over academic ones. Of course, this is not the first such case in history. On the contrary, it is enough to recall the way in which Italian archaeologists at the time of fascism attempted to justify Mussolini’s conquests in the Mediterranean basin, how the Greeks today exploit data for the sake of their plans to annex Northern Epirus, and how the Serbs claim that any place where Serbian monuments or graves are found must belong to the Serbian state.

There is no need to recall other similar cases, for those we have mentioned suffice to show how archaeologists have placed their skills at the behest of national politics and ideology. Serbian archaeology and historiography have subjected the Albanians in general to such treatment, especially in Kosova.

After World War II, but especially after the serious events in Kosova in 1981, Serbian archaeologists set to work to refute the theory of the Illyrian ethnic of Albanians.

They are indeed not the first to cast doubt over the historical continuity between the Illyrians and the Albanians. Some specialists, especially Germans, including C. Pauli, H. Hirt, G. Mayer, and F. Cordignano , raised the question of the origin of the Albanian language and the Albanians in general. On the basis of what they considered to be scientific data they drew conclusions that disagreed with the theory that the Albanians are an indigenous population. Even though we do not today agree with their conclusions, we must emphasise that their arguments had no political or still less anti-Albanian overtones, and that they must be taken into consideration with proper seriousness when the problem of the ethnogenesis of the Albanians is discussed.

The politicisation of the problem that was later to become the hallmark of Serbian archaeology and historiography began with the Croat linguist Henrik Baric, who had close ties with Serbian academic and political circles. (6) Baric was a very capable linguist, but the motives impelling him to formulate his Thraco-Moesian theory of the origin of the Albanians remain dubious. His theory rests on linguistic data. The fact that the same linguistic material can be used in support of such diverse theories may alarm any student approaching this problem. Without denying linguists their right to formulate their conclusions on the basis of linguistic material, we must say that there also exist today a large quantity of archaeological, anthropological, ethnological, and ethnomusicological data. The large amount of research in recent decades has thus made it much easier today to tackle the problem of the ethnic origins of the Albanians than 50 or 100 years ago. The result achieved by workers in different disciplines in recent decades have reduced the importance of the work that relied on now obsolete linguistc evidence, and have made the autochthony of the Albanians, i.e. increasingly indisputable.

This conflict between new scientific result and the defenders of now obsolete theories is a phenomenon that can be explained by the increasing politicisation of the issue of Albanian ethnogenesis. In fact, the theory of Albanian autochthony has never been disputed with such determination and savagery as today, precisely when so much scientific proof has been produced in its support. Nevertheless, the number of researchers still today refusing to take into consideration the many arguments supplied by different academic disciplines has shrunk, or, more accurately, absolutely the only researchers who deny the theory of Albanian autochthony are Serbian. (7) Serbian archaeologists and historians began long ago to dispute the autochthony theory, but this opposition increased especially after the great Albanian revolt in Kosova in 1981. It was therefore a consequence of a political event rather than of new scientific data.

The Serbian archaeologist Milutin Garasanin represents a special case. In 1955, he wrote an article in the Prishtina periodical "Përparimi", in which he asserted that the Albanians are the direct descendants of the Illyrians. (8) In the years that followed, Garasanin increasingly fell into line with other Serbian researchers who denied any such descent. This shift became still more evident in connection with the problem of the ethnic allegiance of the Dardanians, who inhabited the Kosova region. This problem became one of the most disputed in archaeology and history, assuming apolitical character after 1981. The Serbs vigorously attacked the idea that the Dardanians were ethnically Illyrian. Not because they were led to this conclusion by scientific evidence, but purely because Kosova was "the cradle of Serbian history" and "holy soil" for the Serbs, and as such could not have been inhabited by a people that were of Illyrian stock and hence claimed by their descendants, the Albanians.
In the past, Serbian researchers had not always been of one mind in allocating the Kosova region to the ancient Daco-Moesians. Milutin Garasanin himself, in his survey of prehistoric Serbia in 1973, openly admits that on the basis of their place names and personal names the Dardanians can be considered Illyrians, and that a Thracian and perhaps Dacian element is evident only in the eastern parts of their territories. (9)

However, when the Serbian Academy of Arts and sciences in 1986 organized a series of conferences on the ties between the Illyrians and the Albanians, this same Garasanin announced that the Dardanians cannot be considered Illyrians because they were ethnically more closely connected with the Daco-Moesian substratum. (10)

It is easy to explain this change in Garasanin’s stand. We are now in a period of history in which relations between the Albanians and Serbs of Kosova, and not only within this region, have dramatically deteriorated and no Serbian researcher can freely express his opinion over the Illyrian-Albanian question without exposing himself to the danger of changes of high treason.

It would be impossible to trace here the progress of the press, television, and radio campaign waged by Serbian researchers against the idea of Albanian autochthony. It is enough to recall an entertaining incident in this campaign which took place in Zagreb in 1982. Two years previously, in 1980, the first volume of the Encyclopaedia of Yugoslavia (Secon Edition) had been published, in which there were two entries, one entitled "Albanci" (Albanians), and the other "Albansko-Jugoslavenski odnosi" (Albanian-Yugoslavian relations). On pages 75-79, the Albanian historian from Kosova, Ali Hadri, had written the part of the entry under "Albanci" that dealt with "the origin and development of the Albanian people," in which he stated that the Albanians are the descendants of the Illyrians. The linguist Idriz Ajeti said the same, considering the Albanian language a successor to the Illyrian tongue.
When this volume had come off the press, the Albanian revolt in Kosova had broken aut, and when the Serbian edition of this same book was under preparation, the Serbian representatives on the Encyclopaedia’s central editorial board rejected the text that had already been published in the Croat edition (which they themselves had approved), and insisted that the two entries should be reformulated according to the ideas of Serbian historians. A long and bitter debate then took place within the editorial board, and was soon reflected in the Zagreb and Belgrade newspapers.(11) Ten contributions from historians and archaeologist were commissioned in order to prepare new versions of these entries.

At that time, the Serbian members of the editorial board could not impose their ideas on others. This meant that the new version that was printed in subsequent editions of the Encyclopaedia of Yugoslavia included textual changes in the sections dealing all mention of the continuity between the Illyrians and Albanians.(12)

Although unable to change what had already been published in the Croat edition, the publisher of the Encyclopaedia of Yugoslavia printed the new versions of the two entries and sent them to subscribers, requesting them to insert them in the appropriate place. The debate within the Encyclopaedia’s editorial board was also echoed in political circles. At the ninth Congress of the Serbian Communist Party held in Belgrade on 27-29 May 1982, a bitter argument broke out over the ethnic origins of the Albanians. The congress of a political party was of course not the proper place to discuss an academic problem of this kind, but the question had apparently assumed a political character and could not be confined to academic circles.

It was nothing les than the incident involving the two entries in the Encyclopaedia of Yugoslavia that became the spark setting off this unexpected debate at the Serbian Communist Party: Congress. The Albanian linguist Idriz Ajeti referred to this scandalous incident in his speech in order to show that many Serbian researchers and journalists were politicising the issue to the extent that only a political forum could settle it, by political means.
Disgusted by the assaults of the newspapers, Professor Ajeti movingly defended at this congress the theory of the linguistic ties between the Illyrian and Albanian languages, and also the ethnic continuity between the Illyrians and the Albanians (13).

His speech met with an immediate response in the congress hall.

Pretending not to understand why a purely academic problem should become a discussion topic at a political congress, the Serbian historian Jovan Deretic asked in pathetic tones what point there was in politicising the question of the Albanians’ ethnic origin.

Why should the Albanians be the descendants of the Illyrians and not of the Thracians ? There was no point in dragging this question out of its academic context – on condition that the Thracian theory was accepted. The Illyrian theory could not be correct, simply because it was an expression of Albanian imperialism, nationalism, etc. (14) According to Deretic, the Illyrian theory had "a slight whiff of racism" that reminded him of the theory of a pure Aryan race, "and we know very well who inspired that theory." (15) Immediately after Deretic, Petar Zivadinovic took the floor. Zivadinovic was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Serbian Communist Party at this congress. For him, science had still not solved the problem of the ethnic origins of the Albanians, but, although he had never dealt with such academic questions, he knew very well that the Albanians could not be descended from the Illyrians.

The historian Sima Cirkovic also though that the Illyrian theory "stank of racism." (16)
The newspapers at this time were full of articles about the speeches at the conference. "Politika," a Belgrade newspaper with little tolerance for the Albanians, published an article under the headline, "No Campaign, But Creative Criticism."
This newspaper apparently did not stop to consider that this stream of articles written by people who did more to compromise these authors than the Illyrian theory of the ethnic origin of the Albanians.
The book "The Albanians and Their Territories," published by the Albanian Academy of Sciences in Tirana in 1982, and in an English edition in 1985, caused considerable commotion. Albanian authors from Kosova were attacked especially harshly because their work demonstrated the autochthony of the Albanians in the province of Kosova. (17)

These authors attempted in vain to explain that all the articles included in this volume had been previously published in Yugoslavia and were therefore common knowledge long before the book appeared. (18) The attacks persisted because this book discussed what was the most delicate political problem in Kosova.

The campaign against the Illyrian theory intensified alongside the progressive deterioration of the political situation in Kosova. Serbia’s best-known historians appeared on the scene, including the linguist Pavle Ivic, who proceeded to ruin a large part of his own scientific work in order to prove that Serbian and Croatian are a single language. He had never tackled the problems of the Illyrians or Albanians, but it nevertheless emerged that the Albanians could only be of Thracian, not Illyrian origin.

In an interview for the Belgrade weekly NIN, Professor Ivic listed the linguists who have considered the Albanian language a descendant of Thracian and then recalled the well-known but now obsolete argument that the Albanians could not have lived on the Adriatic and Ionian coast, because they possessed word for fish.

According to Professor Ivic, the problem of the Illyrian origin of the Albanians is complicated, but there is nevertheless no question of any doubt that the Albanians are not descendants of the Illyrians and are therefore not indigenous to the province of Kosova. This is precisely what the journalist interviewing him and the magazine’s readers wanted to hear. (19)

A controversy then sprang up in the pages of this magazine between Professor Ivic, Mehmet Hyseni, and Shkelzen Maliqi. (20)

On one hand, all this controversy and debate encouraged the Albanians to study more deeply the problem of their ethnic origin from the archaeological and ethnographic point of view, while it drove Serbian researchers to the point of denying the results of their own work. In 1982, when this problem had become an inflammatory one in what was then Yugoslavia, the Academy of Sciences in Albania organised a national conference on the formation of the Albanian people, their language, and culture. At this conference, which was attended by many foreign historians, many specialists tried to present all the evidence that their different academic disciplines could offer to solve the problem of Illyrian-Albanian continuity. (21)

As in reply to this conference, the Serbs had the idea of organising in Belgrade, under the auspices of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, a series of conferences that were to tackle problems also dealt with in Tirana. The conferences, that were attended solely by Serbian historians, took place in May and June 1986. Their papers were later published in a book, in Serbian and French editions. (22)
A careful reading of the contributions of Ms. F. Papazoglu and Professor M. Garasanin reveals at least a kind of uncertainty in their arguments. These writers sometimes even imply that they do not favour an unconditional rejection of the Illyrian theory of the Albanians’ ethnic origin.

Of course, writers of propaganda have paid no attention to the academic evidence, and have not grasped these authors’ doubts, but only the evidence that suit their anti-Albanian campaign. Aware of the simplification which the complicated problem of the Albanians’ ethnic origins had undergone, professor Garasanin was careful to point out that the Albanians are undoubtedly a palaeo-Balkan people and that the Illyrian element played a part, albeit a minor one, in their formation.

Garasanin asserted that there can be no question of a direct continuity between the Illyrians and the Albanians, because the Illyrians disappeared from history during the five centuries of Roman occupation. The Albanians are therefore a people who were formed in the middle ages from small remnants of peoples, including the Illyrians, who inhabited the western Balkans in classical and mediaeval times.
There is no need to continue. However, we would like to end by emphasising that the misrepresentations of the Serbian academic community in connection with the ethnic origin of the Albanians are part of a long and painful story of abuses of this kind, which have been nothing but political propaganda paving the way for military repression. This is the meaning of the way for military repression. This is the meaning of the campaign by Serbian historians and journalists against the autochthony of the Albanians in the lands they inhabit.

1."Oratio fratris Vincentii Priboevii sacrae theologiae professoris ordinis praedicatorum De origine successibusque slavorum, "Venetiis, 1532. Modem bilingual (Latin and Croatian) edition by Professor Grga Novak (Vinko Pribojevic, "O podrijetlu i zgidama Slavena," Zagreb, Jugoslovenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 1951. Compare Pribojevic’s ideas on pan-slavism with Professor Novak’s introduction to his 1951 edition, and to Alois Schmaus, "Vincentius priboevius, ein Vorlaeufer der Panslavismus," in "Jahrbuecher fuer die Geschichte Osteuropas," I, 1952, pp. 243-254; Veljko Gortan, Sizgoric i Pribojevic," "Filologija," 2, 1959, pp. 149-152.
2.The history of the illyrian idea among the slavs has been written Reinhard Lauer, "Genese und Funktion des Illyrischen Ideologems in den suedslawischen Literaturen, 16. Bis anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts," in "Ethnogenese und Staatsbildung in Suedosteuropa," Klaus-Detlev Grothusen, Goettingen, 1974, pp. 116-143.
3.Ljudevit Gaj, "Tko su bili stari Iliri?," "Danica ilirska," 5 (1839), Nr.10, pp.37-39; Nr.11, pp.41-43; Nr.12, pp. 46-48; Nr. 13, pp. 49-51; Nr.15, pp. 58-59.
4.For example, S. Popovic, "Skiti, Iliri, Slavi," in "Letopis Matice srpske," 64 (1844) pp. 67-80.
5.Bogoslav Sulek, "Sta namjeravaju Iliri?" Beograd, 1844. See the historical commentary on this pamphlet by Antun Barac, Hrvatska knjizevnist, I. Knjizevnost ilirizma, zagreb. Jugoslovenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 1954, pp. 43-44, etc.
6.See his studies, "Ilirske jezicne studije," Rad. JAZU knj.272, 1948, pp.157-208; "Poreklo Arbanasa u svetlu jezika," in "Lingvisticke studije," Sarajevo, 1954, pp.7-48; "Mbi origjinen e gjuhës shqipe," "Jeta e re." 4, 1952, Nr.3, pp. 205-211.
7.There are exceptions, e.g. Slobodan Jovanovic, "Jugosloveni i Albanci," "Ideje: Casopis za teoriju savremenog drustva," 1987, Nr. 5-6, pp. 181-185.
8.Milutin Garasanin, "Ilirët dhe prejardhja e tyre," "Përparimi," 1953, Nr.6, pp. 323-331.
9.Milutin Garasanin, "Preistorija na tlu SR Srbije," vol.II, Beograd, Srpska knjizevna zadruga, 1973, p. 523.
10.Milutin Garasanin, "Zakljucna razmatranja," in: "Iliri i Albanci," Beograd, 1988, p. 362.
11.Ibro Osmani, "Dogovor o spornim tekstovima?," "Vjesnik," 19 June 1982, p.17; Ibro Osmani, "Kriterium i vetem – ai shkencor," "Rilindja," 19 June 1982, p. 12; Milos Misovic, "Kuda ide Jugoslavija?" "NIN," Nr. 1,678, 27 February 1983, p.31-32.
12.The Prishtina historian Ali Hadri strongly rejected the objections raised by the Serbian group on the editorial board in a long reply that was published in Albanian under the title "Reply to Comments on the Historical Text of the Entries "Albanians," and "Albanian-Yugoslav Relations" in the Encyclopaedia of Yugoslavia," published in the review "Kosova," Nr.11, 1982, pp.217-259. A summary of this text was published in the Zagreb weekly "Danas," Nr. 16, 8 June 1982, p. 14.
13.His report was published in prishtina: "Mbi origjinen ilire të gjuhës shqipe," "Rilindja," 29 May 1982, p.14.
14.Jovan Deretic, "Cemu sve to sluzi?," "Danas," Nr. 16,8 June 1982, pp. 62-63.
15.This assertion was strongly criticised by the Croat writer Ivan Lovrenovic in his article, "Miris kao kriterij," "Danas," Nr. 17, 15 June 1982, p. 17.
16.For further information about this dispute, see Teodor Andjelic, "Ilirsko-albanske enigma," "NIN," Nr. 1,640, 6 June 1982, pp. 30-32.
17.Milos Misovic, "Grehovi i gresnici," "NIN," Nr. 1,660, 24 November 1982, pp. 16-17.
18.Provodom knjige "Albanci i njihova ognjista," "NIN," Nr. 1,665, 28 November 1982, p. 2.p.
19.Milo Gligorijevic, "Albanija i Kosovo: seobei teritori," "NIN," Nr. 1,664, 21 November 1982, pp. 32-35.
20.Mehmet Hyseni, "Za nauku, bez spekulacija," "NIN," Nr. 1,666, 5 December 1982, pp. 2-3; Shkelzen Maliqi, "Mistifikacija istoriografije," "NIN," Nr. 1,667, 12 December 1982, pp. 3, 6; Pavle Ivic, "Naucna tastina radi osporovanja nauke," "NIN," Nr. 1,667, 12 December 1982, pp. 6, 19;Pavle Ivic, "Istorijski mitovi i indoktrinacija," "NIN," Nr. 1,671, 9 January 1983, pp. 6,13; Shkelzen Maliqi, "Mistifikacija istoriografije," "NIN," Nr. 1,673, 23 January 1983, pp. 2-3; Pavle Ivic, "Pravo nauke na istinu," "NIN," Nr. 1,675, 6 February 1983, p.19.
21.The papers of this conference were published in French, "Problemes de la formation du peuple albanais, de sa langue et de sa culture (Choix de documents), " Tirana, Editions "8 Nëntori," 1985.
22.Iliri i Albanci – Les Illyriens et les Albanais, Beograd, Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti, 1988.

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February 13 2002, 9:32 PM 

It is a widely known and an uncontested postulate of the modern historiography that the ancient inhabitants of Kosova were the Dardans and that ancient authors considered the Dardans to be Illyrians. The Dardans lived in the Southern region of Illyria. This region was characterized by a relatively high level of cultural, economic, and social development. In the Southern Illyrian region, we find political formations such as the Illyrian state, the state of Epirus, and the Dardan Kingdom. This region, that today is inhabited by Albanians, was developed within a diversified Illyrian etnos. The Dardans, although clearly belonging to the Illyrian ethnie, had their distinctive etno-linguistic and cultural features.

Earlier arguments suggesting the Dardans were not a part of the Illyrian etnos but were either a distinct Balkanic ethnie or linked to the Eastern region of the Balkan peninsula, have not been supported by archeological, historical, and linguistical data.

Archeological excavations, the typological analysis of their material culture, distinct elements of their spiritual culture and onomastic examinations indicate convincingly that, in ancient times and the Early Middle Ages, Dardania was a part of Illyricum.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire at the beginning of the last quarter of the fifth century, the region of Kosova was included in the province of Dardania. This province, like the other Southern Illyrian provinces, became a part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. The relatively few sites of archeological excavations in Kosova dating from this period have shown that Dardania was similar to other states of the Southern Illyrian region. This is seen in the manufactured goods, ceramics, in the construction of buildings and in numerous other aspects. The existence of the same distinct material culture during the late antiquity in the provinces of Southern Illyria (regions now inhabited by Albanians) is further proof that the ‘Romanization’ did not go to the point where we could say that the Southern Illyrians had been assimilated by Romans or that their culture and language were extinct. On the other hand, this does not mean that they were not influenced by the Roman culture; through the intensive contacts with the Roman culture, new elements were introduced in Illyricum, and this is clearly evidenced by the archeological excavations in Kosova.

However, underneath this crust of Romanization, it appears that at the lower strata of the provincial Illyrian population a distinct material and spiritual culture was preserved intact. This culture preserved ancient and distinct features inherited for millennia. Later, during the new social and economic conditions created by contact with Byzantium, and especially under the influence of the Byzantine culture, these distinct characteristics of the Albanian culture continued to be developed in their specific mode.

The Dardania, like the large part of Southern Illyricum, remained either unaffected or slightly affected from the massive migratory waves of the sixth and seventh century AD, including the migratory waves of the Slavs. The direction and the itinerary of the migratory waves and migrations directed towards the Southern Illiricum usually began at the shores of the river Danube, at the ford near Singidum (the ancient Roman name of the city of Belgrade). Then, their itinerary followed the valleys of the rivers Vardar and Morava to end at the city of Thesalonic. A flourished trading center, Thesalonic was a central attraction of the ‘barbarian’ hordes.

For the Albanian people, the Early Middle Age is one of the most important periods in their history. By all available indications, this is the period when the Albanian nation, its culture and language were formed.

As with other Balkan nations this period is one of the least documented in history. The written Byzantine documents dating from this period that are currently available are very few. Precisely because of the lack of the written materials other sources of information become particularly important. Among these sources that are reliable are the archeological and the linguistic sources. Based on the archeological findings that shed light on that particular period in time, we can argue that the culture of the Arbër (the medieval name of the Albanians), was a link in the chain of the uninterrupted Illyro-Albanian continuity.

This is a strong argument in favor of the auctochthony of the Albanians as the ancient indigenous inhabitants of these territories. The archeological discoveries made in the village of Koman have helped us get a better idea of the culture of Arbër. As we have learned from the archeological excavations of sites contemporaneous to Koman, the culture of Arbër was extended in the area from the Lake of Shkodra to the city of Ohrid, including here the region of Kosova.

The names we have inherited from the ancient and medieval toponymy, are explainable only through the Albanian language. This is further proof of the auctochthony of the Albanians in the regions of Kosova, Montenegro and Macedonia. Some of the ancient names of these areas are preserved as appellatives in the Albanian language. For example, the name Dardania itself (the territory of contemporary Kosova was part of the ancient Kingdom known by that name) is explained with the Albanian Dardhë. Similarly, the name of Ulqin, from the ancient name Ulcinium is linked by the scientists to the word ulk, ujk, of the Albanian language. Other ancient toponyms that belong to the Albanian territories in the former Yugoslavia have evolved in accordance to the historical phonetic rules of the Albanian language.

Such cases are Naissus-Nish, Scupi-Shkup, Astibos-Shtip, Scardus-Shar, Ulpiana-Lipjan and many more. The explanation of why these ancient names have arrived to us in the form they did, is that these territories have been inhabited by Albanians continuously and not intermittingly. The presence of an Albanian speaking population has been preserved mostly in the names of the towns. This evidence demonstrates that the Albanian population could not have been made up of shepherds sheltered in the highlands or the mountains. Quite on the contrary, that population was urbanized and apparently with an advanced standard of living for its time.

Among other factors, the ancient toponomastic data, such as the contemporary names of places used by Slavs, which are explainable only through the phonetic rules of the ancient Albanian language, has convinced scientists that these territories were inhabited by Albanians. Distinguished linguists such as Norbert Jokl, Gustav Weygand, and Petrovici, and even some Yugoslav scholars like Henrik Baric and others, have argued that it was precisely the Dardania, defined as an enclave by the use of the ancient names such as Nish, Shkup, Shtip that was one of the centers of the formation of the Albanian people.

Although sometimes he tends to overestimate the role played by the Roman-Romanian population in the Balkans, Petrovici has affirmed that “the population found by the Slavs in the Eastern region of contemporary Serbia was not Romanized.” One of the arguments brought by Petrovici to support his theory are the contemporary names of the cities mentioned above. Linguists like Van Wejk have concluded that according to the toponymical arguments, the separation of the Serbs and Bulgarians from a non-Slavic population in the early Middle Ages, could be explained only with the presence of the Albanian population in these areas. According to him, the presence of a population which had Romanic origins belonged to a later phase of the Slav expansion. Some of these scholars, particularly Henrik Baric, have convincingly demonstrated this through the study of the ancient and medieval onomastic of the Dardania. Examining these ancient toponyms, Baric argues that,

“the phonetic characteristics show that they are ancient names that Southern Slavs have taken through the Albanian language. The reason for making this argument is that in these toponyms we find that the phonetic changes were performed before the arrival of the Southern Slavs in the historic territories of the Albanians.”

As we can see, Dardania was a center of formation for the Albanian ethnie and the Albanian language; an enclave where the Albanian language evolved without suffering the influence of the Slav languages surrounding it. Many scientists explain the intensive contacts between the Albanian and Romanian languages precisely through the ancient and the uninterrupted presence of Albanians in these areas. Under these conditions, the expansion of the Serb State in Kosova, during the twelve century onward was by no means a ‘liberation’ of the Serb lands but an annexation and occupation of Albanian territories.

Moving from antiquity to Middle Ages, it must be noted that studies on the medieval onomastics have convincingly proved the presence of the Albanian ethnie in Kosova, Montenegro and in Macedonia. A large number of place names and names of individuals, used in this enclave during the Middle Ages, has been accumulated mostly by the examination of numerous documents and various historical sources, such as church registers and documents, cadastral registers, chrisobulas, and other historical sources. It must be noted that an overwhelming majority of them are of Albanian origin.

A careful examination of the medieval onomastics of Kosova, Montenegro and Macedonia during the fourteenth and the fifteenth century not surprisingly yields a very extended list of Albanian toponyms. These toponyms can only be explained by the presence of an ethnic Albanian population in these areas. The list of these toponyms, even in the areas that nowadays are inhabited by Slavs, is being continuously expanded by scholars. Among the toponyms added recently are Pantalesh, Barzan (Bardhan) Bytidosi, Bankeqi, Lopari, Bardiçi, Kuçi (Kuc-Montenegro) Bukmir, Bushat (Pipër-Montenegro) Burmaz (Burmadh) in Stolac of Hercegovina, Zhur (Montenegro and Prizren). Also, there is a considerable number of Albanian anthroponyms which are used as microtoponyms or toponyms. For example, in the area of Prizren, there are Rudina e Le****, the ground of Gjon Bardhi (a place to keep horses), Llazi i Tanu****, the Site of Komani, the House of Bushati, names of fraternities such as Gjinovci, Flokovci, Gjonovci, Shpinadinci, and many more.

The Albanian toponyms of the fifteenth and sixteenth century are also found in the area of Kosova and the Plain of Dukagjini. Among these names mentioned for the first time in the fourteenth century is Ujmirë, the name of a village on the east of Peja. Such toponyms in the nahija of Vuçitern are Shalc, Kuciq, Guri i Kuq. In the nahija of Llapi we find the village Arbanas; according to the cadastral registration of 1487 in the nahija of Morava we find the village Marash; in the nahija of Ostrolic we find the village Arbanashka Petrila; in the nahija of Treboshnica we find Arbanashka Brenica, Arbanas, Gjinofc Kulla; in the nahija of Morava we find Gjinofc e Marash.

According to the cadastral registration of 1566-1574 in the nahija of Karatonlu we find the village Tanushofc. Similarly, in the region of Has we find the villages of Bunjaj, Guri and even the name of the whole district Shullan.

On the other hand, Albanian speeches in Yugoslavia are not linguistic islands, as would be expected if Albanians came late to the area of Kosova. The Albanian speeches there are a continuation of the Albanian dialects within the territory of Albania. The high degree of the unity of the dialects of the Albanian language could be evaluated as evidence that the inhabitants of these areas are living in their territories, and that they are auctochthonous and not a people who came only recently.

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Illyrian, Albanian linguistic evolution........

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February 13 2002, 9:34 PM 

Albanian is to be characterized as a Balkan Indo-European language. In the Balkan area Albanian has been exposed to external influences. Despite the powerful pressures on the part of Greek, Latin, Slavonic and Turkish, the Albanian language has preserved its essential features. As summarized by prof. SH. DEMIRAJ (1988), "Albanian can be characterized as an Indo-European language which has followed a course of evolution of its own even in those cases, when it manifests concordances with some of other Indo-European languages".


Among Albanian language scholars there is practically no dispute over the thesis that Albanian is related to Illyrian: Albanian is a direct descendant of a south-west group of Illyrian dialects. However, there have been other hypotheses proposed, among which the following merit to be mentioned.

a. The Pelasgian hypothesis. Albanian is the continuation of the language of an ancient people called Pelasgians, a hypothesis rather diffused in the 19th century. J.G. von HAHN (1854) formulated in a strict manner the hypothesis that the Albanians are direct descendants of the Illyrians, Macedonians, and Epirotes, and that in the remotest times they formed a united race together with the Latins and the Hellenes called Pelasgians, with their language, the Pelasgian. A. SCHLEICHER gave full authority to this theory of Pelasgian origin with his family tree of languages.

b. The Thracian (Dacian) hypothesis. Albanian is the continuation of the Thracian language. This thesis, implying an Albanian-Rumanian symbiosis, is supported by students of Rumanian: H. HIRT, K. PAUL, G. WEIGAND, H. BARIC, I. POPOVIC, andI. I. RUSSU. Only scant remains of Thracian exist, but HIRT saw Albanians as descendants of the Thracians. This means that in the early Middle Ages the Albanians moved westward
from the central part of the Balkans, but there are no historical records of such a massive migration. To BARIC Albanian is an Illyricized Thracian dialect.

c. The Illyrian-Thracian hypothesis. Albanian is derived from a mixture of Illyrian and Thracian. N. JOKL supported the idea of an intermediate position between Illyrian and Thracian. However, Thracian is not better known than Illyrian, and it is difficult to distinguish their specific elements, or to trace a dividing line between Illyrian and Thracian. For JOKL the Albanians are probably the descendants of the Illyrian tribe of Dardanians, living in the interior of the Balkan peninsula, who migrated westward some time in the late Roman period.

d. The Daco-Moesian hypothesis is sustained by the Bulgarian academician V.GEORGIEV.

e. The independent hypothesis. H. KRAHE affirms that Albanian presents an independent Indo-European language.

The vast work of Prof. E. ÇABEJ on Albanian etymology (1976), an unrivaled synthesis of everything known in this field, refers to remote periods of Albanian as an Indo-European language, without considering the Illyrian language. Following a strict method, the Albanian etymologies would go back to Illyrian forms, which in turn would be traced back to Indo-European roots, like the Italian etymologies going back to Latin forms. E. HAMP (1972) states: "Albanian shows no obvious close affinity to any other Indo-European language; it is plainly the sole modern survivor of its own subgroup".

The whole question of origin is closely connected to the question of the area where the Albanian was formed, and of the place where its transformation ocurred. It is not by chance that the Illyrian origin of Albanian was suggested on a historical base by H.E.
THUNMANN in 1774. Archeological finds of our days substantiate the theory of the autochthony of the Albanians, and the supporters of the Illyrian origin theory comprise many historians. The continuity of the same material culture on the same territory is a proven fact, but the linguistic argumentation is not very substantial.

The Illyrian language is only known from certain words reported by ancient writers, from a few rare inscriptions and, to a gretaer extent, from surviving names of persons and places. Despite remarkable studies by H. KRAHE, A. RIBEZZO, A. MAYER, and others,
the question of the place that the Illyrian occupies in the Indo-European family is still debatable. Most German, Austrian and Italian historians and linguists, such as: G. MEYER, F. MIKLOSISCH, H. PEDERSEN, P. KRETSCHMER, V. PISANI, W.CIMOCHOWSKI, and others have supported the Illyrian kinship of the Albanian.

Albanian linguists in general - E. ÇABEJ, S. RIZA, M. CAMAJ, SH. DEMIRAJ,M. DOMI, A. KOSTALLARI - advocate the Albanians’ autochthony and the Illyrian filiation of the Albanian language. Albanian was formed through the gradual evolution of a group of south-western Illyrian dialects during the period between the final stage of the intensive influence of Latin upon Illyrian and the arrival of the Slavs. This rather long and complicated process occurred in the first centuries A.D. The linguistic arguments put forward by the opposers of the Illyrian origin of Albanian cannot resist criticism. SH. DEMIRAJ (1988): "The Albanian language was formed precisely in the regions of the eastern Adriatic and Ionian seas inhabited in ancient times mostly by Illyrian tribes".

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Read son!

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March 4 2002, 2:44 PM 

You've got to read more Zeta.

You lost your language to the Slavs and the Albanians didn't.

Very good theory!

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Good read

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April 1 2003, 2:42 PM 

Great info!

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