Short Remarks on the so called Illyrian theory of the origin of modern day Albanians
Commentary by hieromonk Sava
The question of Albanian - Illyrian continuity besides being one of the most disputable issues of Balkan history, has also acquired a distinctive political dimension in recent decades. This problem would not be of a serious historical concern for historical science if the Illyrian theory of Albanian origin had not found way in the modern popular historical books and is usually taken as granted by those who fail to understand comlexity of historical developments in the Balkans.
An Illyrian sculpture of the Phaphos culture found in Kosovo and Metohija
Illyrians were a mish-mash of different tribs which inhabited the wider area of the Balkans in the last centuries BC and in beginning of the New Era. Becoming culutrally and politically a part of the Roman Civilization in the 1st century A.D. they slowly lost their ethnic and linguistic identity by the time of the first barbarian invasions in the 5th century. The arrival of Slavs on the Balkans in the 6-7th century created even more complex ethnic mixture of Slav inhabitants and romanized peoples inhabiting the wider region of Illyricum.
It is not excluded that some pockets of native Illirian population managed to resist romanization in the mountainous regions and survived to see the new invaders, but there are no reliable documents of existance of any organized group of this kind. There is only a vague belief of historians that these groups were the cores around which later formed Albanian and Vlach identity.
The population of Illyricum slowly assimilated, intermarried and assumed the culture of the Slavs in the larger part of today's Balkans. After such ethnic and cultural perturbations not a single of the modern Balkan nations could firmly claim to have direct and uninterrupted link with any of the ancient peoples of the Roman Empire.
That specially stands for modern Albanians which were first mentioned as a distinct group under this name only in the Middle Ages 11th century, thus appearing out of a blue in the historical records of Byzantine historians. Centuries of ethnic turmoils created a gap which does not allow any serious theory of exclusively Illyrian origin of modern Albanians.
Of course, this does not mean that modern Albanians do not have absolutely any ethnic and linguistic links with ancient Illyrians or even more Thracians, but this theory does not give way to quasi-historical and political aspirations of some modern Albanian historians and politicians who try to reconstruct a palace out of a few bricks.
On the other hand today's Slav nations of Serbs and Croats absorbed a lot of non-Slavic elements throughout the history and equally cannot boast of being thoroughly Slav in ethnic structure.
More than any other part of Europe the Balkans was a real ethnic melting pot, especially in the turbulent period between the Great Migrations which marked the beginning of the early medieval period.
Nevertheless, 19th cenutry romantic national ideologies employed rather mythological ideas of ethnic origin as a standing point for contemporary political and territorial claims.
It is also important to know that a firm notion of an Albanian nation did not exist before the 19th century because different tribes, divided between two Christian and a Moslem confession and sharing similar but not identical linguistic elements had a rather loose feeling of being one whole, especially because Albania appeared first time as a political entity in the XX century.
Despite political developments in the XX century Albanian people still retained its tribal structure and mentality, much more than any other Balkan nation. A frustrating scarcity of authentic Albanian cultural monuments prior to 19th century created a basis for a series of completely unfounded "historical" theories according to which Albanian culture encompasses a good part of ancient Hellenic, Roman and Slav cultural traditions especially in the areas of subsequent Albanian migrations out of their native territory ie. Serbia (Kosovo), Macedonia, Greece.
It is not uncommon to hear that even Aristotle and Alexander the Great "were Albanians" and not to mention at least dozen of ancient Roman emperors. A good basis for ethnic Albanian spreading gave the Ottomans after their conquest of the Balkans. Under Ottoman sultans Albanians who massively converted to Islam enjoyed significant preference to the oppressed and second-class Christian population of Slavs and Greeks.
The most compelling historical arguments are archeological sites and cultural heritage which bear witness of the peoples which lived on one territory. The modern Albanian claim that Kosovo province has always been nothing but Albanian territory cannot be confirmed by any material evidence.
In fact more than 95% of cultural monuments and ruins in the region of Kosovo and Metohija are of Serbian origin, especially more than 1400 Christian Orthodox sites, not to mention the toponyms which are predominantly Slav not only in Kosovo but can be very often found all over the nothern Albania.
Prior to 19th century kullas - Albanian country fortress-like houses not a single cultural monument in Kosovo can be exclusively and directly associated with Albanian ethnicity. There are no inscriptions, endowments, pictoral art - absolutely nothing. Ottoman mosques and other monuments which were built by Turkish sultans and pashas reflect Ottoman Islamic architectural and cultural tradition and do not bear any specific Albanian characteristic.
How is it possible that one people may inhabit a territory as a "dominant ethnic group" without leaving a single authentic evidence of its distinctive cultural and ethnic identity for centuries? This cannot be justified by the fact that Albanians were poor and uncivilized people because even in prehistoric times the primitive people left their pictoral art in the caves.
The fact that since 17th century Serb migrations more and more Albanians inhabited Kosovo region cannot compensate this compelling historical argument. That is why one of the most employed modern nationalist Albanian methods is twofold - either to destroy the cultural heritage of others or simply to adopt them as their own.
Therefore it is not uncommon to find in today's Kosovo Albanian school textbooks stories of "Illyrian churches - ie. monasteries and churches occupied by Serbs" which is not worthy a serious comment. In the same way old Roman ruins of Ulpiana municipium become ruins of an Illyirian (Albanian) city and the Turkish mosques become Albanian Islamic monuments. Such attempts of falsifying the history even more demonstrate the deep cultural frustration of the Albanian people in Kosovo in their quest for identity.
Therefore, speaking of "2000 year old Albanian civilization" and "the Albanian people as a major contributor to the life in Antiquity" is in fact a historical nonsense simply because Albanians as a modern nation appeared several centuries later during which no Illyrian or Albanian cultural contribution is mentioned by any historical record.
We can justly speak of political and cultural contribution of any nation only from the time when this nation became a participant in the political and cultural history of Europe. Everything before that belongs more to romanticism and mythology than to historical science.
The Ethnic Mish-Mash of the Balkans
the ethnogenesis of the Albanian people
When the Romans conquered the Balkan peninsula in the 3rd century BC, it was inhabited by the Illyrians in the west, by the closely related Thracians in the south-east between the Danube and the Aegean sea and by the Dacians north of the Danube and east to the Black Sea.
The Dacians, who were numerous, assimilated the Roman culture and became the ancestors of the Romanian people. When the Roman Empire was divided in 395 AD, the Balkan territories west of the Drina River (today's Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), stayed with the Western Roman Empire while those to the east (today's Serbia with Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria), went to the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as Byzantium.
Pagan Visigoth, Hun and Lombard tribes moved into the area after the fall of Rome but these were absorbed in the 7th century by equally pagan Slavic tribes migrating south from their original territories north of the Carpathian mountains. Some of the Thracians absorbed were by Slavic tribes that became present day Serbs. Others, who had been conquered by Turkic tribes before the massive Slav migration,gave rise to today's Bulgarians and partly Macedonian Slavs.
In the West, the Illyrians were also overrun by Slavic tribes. Most were absorbed into the ancestry of today's Slovenes, Croats and Bosnians, but some migrated south, resisted assimilation and became the ancestors of the Albanian people which gradually developed out of a mishmash of surviving Illyrians and subsequent invaders of the Balkans.
A traditional costume of an Albanian armed man, 19th century
Examples of Albanian Historical megalomania:
Alexander the Great and the Ptolomy Dynasty in Egypt of Albanian Origin. Alexander himself is in fact Leka i Madhe-??!
quoted from the Site History of Albania - The Famous Albanians
Initially there is the question of where and to what people Alexander belonged to. It is known that Alexander the Great, was really Alexander of Macedon, and the current flag of Macedonia is the ancient sun flag of Alexander's army. This seems reasonable, but what really were the "Macedon" people. As stated in the Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, "the Slavs, occupied much of the area [Balkans] by the 6th century AD", so it cannot be possible for the now largely Slavic Macedonia to be a descendant from Alexander the Great.
Slavic tribes did not come into the region of Northern Greece until well after Alexander's death, which leaves only one people left, the Albanians. Albanian tribes are the earliest known to occupy northern Greece, and that allows Alexander only one nationality. Alexander did not have Albanian blood, he was an Albanian. To Albanians this fact seems very clear, for we have named our currency lek, after Leka I Madh.
Accepting Alexander's Albanian ancestry opens a vast world of possibilities. There is of course the long Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt that followed after Alexander's death, started by one of Alexander's generals. Accepting Alexander as an Albanian, would mean accepting a big part of Egypt's history to be determined by an Albanian dynasty, that of Ptolemy.
Alexander's genius and accomplishments opened a great chapter in the history of Albania. A chapter that has never been forgotten.
ANOTHER PEARL FROM THE SAME SITE
ARISTOTEL - AN ALBANIAN!