Thumbnail History of Albania

Shkodër from Rozafat Castle
Shkodër from Rozafat Castle



Albanians are the closest living linguistic descendants of the Illyrians mentioned in Greek and Roman texts from about the 7th century BC as occupying pretty much the same territory occupied by ethnic Albanians today, comprising modern Albania, Kosovo, and parts of Montenegro and Macedonia.


Roman Empire & Byzantium

From the middle of the 2nd century BC, the area was a province of the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD, it remained part of the surviving Byzantine Empire—with incursions of varying length by Goths, Normans, assorted Italian states, Bulgaria and Serbia—until Byzantium itself definitively fell in the 13th century AD. The road from Rome to Constantinople, the Via Egnatia, passed through Albania, bringing Christianity with it.


The traditional mountain village of Theth in its valley
The traditional mountain village of Theth in its valley


Ottoman Turks

An unstable series of local lords and neighboring overlords left the area vulnerable to the expanding Turkish Empire. At the battle of Kosovo Polje in1389, the Turks defeated a Serb-led coalition containing Albanians and Bosnians. Skanderbeg, an Albanian noble son taken by Turks and raised to fight for them, defected to retake his family castle and unite the roiling Albanian clans into a resistance which lasted until the fall of Rozafat Castle in 1479. Albania remained part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire until 1912. Many Albanians, especially in the more accessible lowlands, became Muslim.


Nationhood & Hoxha

Albania declared independence from the crumbling Turkish Empire in 1912. The European powers recognized the new nation but jockeyed for a stronger role in its governance. The country was occupied by Italy in 1939 and passed to Germany in 1943. Of the many factions jockeying for control, it was Enver Hoxha’s Communist partisans who emerged victorious when the Germans were ousted in 1944. They ruled with an iron, isolationist fist until 1991.



The country is now a parliamentary democracy. The language has been written with the Latin alphabet since 1909. Ethnically, the country is mostly Albanian; the main minorities are Greeks and Romanis. The conservative Kanun-and-clan-based culture is strongest in the mountainous north, where many retain the Roman Catholic religion brought with the Roman Empire. In the lowlands most are Muslim, having converted under the Ottomans. In the very south, Greek influenced Orthodox Christianity is strongest.