By Nelson ÇABEJ/
The history of the Albanian people and the ancient homeland of Albanians has been dealt with in numerous, often fundamental, papers and books of Albanian and other European scholars. Despite the high scientific level, these works were limited in scope; they coped with the complex problem of the formation of Albanians from particular aspects imposed by the field(s) of expertise of the authors.
Beginning with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) and Johann Thunmann (1746-1778) in the 18th century, most of the outstanding authorities in the fields of history, linguistics and archaeology of the 19th century acknowledged and supported with evidence and scientific arguments the view that Albanians, at least from the classical era, lived in their present-day territories and are linear descendants of ancient Illyrians (C. Malte-Brunn, W. M. Leake, J.G. von Hahn, B. G. Niebuhr, T. Mommsen, J. P. Fallmereyer, P. Kretschmer, W. Deecke, S. Bugge, et al.). However some authors opposed that view (F.C.H.L. Pouqueville, C. Pauli, H. Hirt, et al.).
In the 20th century, the controversy about the ancient homeland of Albanians continued, but again, most scholars involved in studies of Albanian history and language still supported the theory of the presence since the classical antiquity of Albanians in the present-day Albanian-speaking territories. Many European scholars made contributions to the substantiation of this view by presenting evidence from their respective fields of expertise (linguistics, history, archaeology, ethnography, folklore, common law, mythology, genetics, etc.). During the second half of the 20th century the contribution of the Albanian historians, linguists, and archaeologists in the studies on the history of Albania and the origin of Albanians increased rapidly and became preponderant, making Albania the world center of the Albanian studies. Worth mentioning are contributions of Albanian historians like Aleks Buda, archaeologists like Skënder Anamali, linguists like S. Demiraj and, above all, the greatest albanologist of all time, Eqrem Çabej, whose extensive work represents the synthesis of 3 centuries of studies on the history of the Albanian language and comprises a wealth of evidence from the most diverse fields of scientific investigation on the subject.
The concept of the autochthony of Albanians
Autochthony of a people is a temporally relative concept, implying its presence in the actual territories from a particular time in history, neglecting temporary foreign invasions, raids and minor enclaves and colonies of foreign peoples that did not overturn the ethnic equilibrium of the native population, did not lead to the loss of its ethnic identity and the ‘We’ consciousness, its native language and socio-cultural heritage. Indeed, given the generally accepted ‘out-of-Africa” theory on the origin of human race, no people can claim an absolute autochthony. As it will be used in this series of articles, the autochthony of Albanians implies their presence in modern Albanian-speaking territories since the classical antiquity.
In the above meaning, the autochthony of Albanians represents a well founded concept, which is free of any political overtones or connotations, hence not a taboo. The relativity of the concept the autochthony of Albanians was defined more than half a century ago by Eqrem Çabej:
“…like all the other Indo-European peoples, Albanians too, came to their present territories since ancient times. Accordingly, it is not a question of absolute autochthony, but of a relative one. Even though, in principle, this problem can be dealt with from the prehistoric ages of metals (bronze, iron), by examining it linguistically as well as in relation to the prehistorical archeology, herein, on methodical grounds, we’ll restrict ourselves to the question: Are Albanians uninterruptedly inhabitants of these territories since the Greek and Roman times?”.
This concept is echoed recently by many historians and linguists, including the distinguished byzantinologist Alain Ducellier. It implies the Illyrian origin of Albanains rather than an ethnological homogeneity, which can not be claimed by any people or ethnic group of Europe. It implies ethno-cultural Illyrization/Albanization of foreign element in the ancient coastal colonies of south Illyria and Epirus; it admits the possibility of assimilation or Illyrization of the small tribe of Bryges (Βρύγες,), considered by most historians to be a Thracian people by most historians; it implies the assimilation in south Epirus (Ioannina) of the Greek population that emigrated there from Constantinople, Duchy of Athens (Attica), Principality of Achaia in Peloponnesus and the Kingdom of Thessalonika (Thessaly) in the beginning of 13th century at the time of the Latin Empire (Imperium Romaniae) with its capital in Constantinople (1204-1261).
Theoretically, it cannot be excluded the possibility that during the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages the Illyrian-Albanian territory might have been infiltrated by small foreign groups of people too minute to be noticed by the contemporary historians. Such ancient ethnic interminglings are a general feature of the ethnogenesis of every people on earth.
The concept of the autochthony of Albanians, to my knowledge, starts with, the greatest philosopher and the most versatile scientist of his time, and also an early true scholar of the Albanian linguistics, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), by the beginning of the 18th century, with three famous letters he addressed to the Königliche Bibliothek Preußens (Royal Library of Prussia), by concluding that the Albanian language is a descendant of Illyrian. But, it was the Swedish historian and linguist Johann Thunmann (1746-1778) that, towards the end of the same century, with historical and linguistic evidence proved and argued convincingly that Albanians are descendants of ancient Illyrians and inhabit the same territories their south-Illyrian ancestors occupied in antiquity. By studying the history of Albanians he proclaimed that he could “not fail to recognize in them ancient neighbors of Greeks and subjects of ancient Rome”.
By the middle of the 19th century, Johann Georg von Hahn (1811-1869) in Albanesische Studien (1854), presented voluminous and scientifically solid evidence and arguments in support of the autochthony of Albanians. Equipped with deep knowledge of not only the ancient and modern written sources, but of the Albanian language, psychology, folk culture, and the nature and geography of Albanian territories, he made a methodical thoroughgoing analysis and synthesis of the evidence about the Albanian history, language, customs and myths, which led him to the conclusion that “Since Albanians are no Slavs and show no closer affinity to other peoples of whom we know, and since the meager existing sources, except for Slavic immigration, report no immigration that would have been sufficient to create a great people, one must admit that modern Albanians are descendants of the earlier inhabitants of the land”.
Soon thereafter, Austrian historian Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790-1861), a cofounder of the discipline of Byzantinology, in Das albanesische Element in Griechenland I (The Albanian Element in Greece I) (1857) also came to the conclusion that: “The homeland, where the attested history of Albanians first unfolds, is the mountainous, mainly rugged, torn and narrow coast belt of one hundred hours long and nowhere more than thirty hours wide, encompassed south of the gulf of Ambracia, north of Lake Shkodra, west of Ionian-Adriatic seas and east of Pindus range, with the southern half known in Antiquity as Epirus and the northern part as Illyria”. Fallmerayer extended the concept of the autochthony of Albanians to the prehistory: “They are a people that inhabited the country before beginning of the historiography”.
In the still unsurpassed masterpiece, Römische Geschichte (The History of Rome), Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), wrote about “The original Illyrian population, whose latter pure remnants the modern Albanians seem to be”. He also made clear the Illyrian identity of Epirotes by naming Albanians “Epirotes of Antiquity”: “The brave Epirots, the Albanians of antiquity, clung with hereditary loyalty and fresh enthusiasm to the high-spirited youth—the “eagle,” (Pyrrhus – N.R.C.) as they called him” .
The founder of the Albanian comparative historical phonology, Gustav Meyer, by the end of the 19th century also concluded that “There is no ground whatsoever, to consider this language for something else but as the younger phase of the old Illyrian or, more accurately, one of the ancient Illyrian dialects”.
Echoing Meyer, towards the end of the 19th century, Paul Kretschmer, an all time great expert of Greek language, wrote: “The admission that the Albanian language represents the younger phase of ancient Illyrian, or as G. Meyer by right (in Grober’s Grundriss I 804) cautiously put it, represents one of the old Illyrian dialects, according to the general state of affairs, is as likely as one has to provide very weighty arguments to refute it”..
In the first half of the 20th century, the distinguished scholar of the Albanian language Norbert Jokl (1877-1942), made numerous fundamental studies on the etymology of Albanian and developed a sui generis theory of autochthony, according to which Albanian people formed in ancient Illyrian territory, but he localized it in the eastern region of Illyria, in Dardania (now the Republic of Kosova). His extensive and deep studies on the etymology of Albanian and history, evolution and homeland of the Albanian are central to the modern theory of autochthony of Albanians. Among later scholars that argued and supported with new evidence the autochthony of Albanians are Julius Pokorny (1887-1970), Eric Hamp, Georg Renatus Solta (1919-2005), Waclaw Cimochowski (1912-1982), et al.
After 60es of the last century, Albania became the world center of albanological studies accomplishing a number of outstanding achievements in the fields of the Albanian linguistics, archaeology, ethnography, folklore, etc., which, coming from the most different disciplines, converged to the relevant scientific conclusion: Albanians are autochthonous in their present Albanian-speaking territories. The period of time after the World War II coincides with the greater and most productive life of the all time greatest albanologist, Eqrem Çabej (1908-1980), whose immense contributions, as well as his synthesis of the studies in the field of the origins and history of the Albanian language, represent the crowning achievement the Albanian linguistics and albanology in general. His work is of paramount importance for the recognition of the Illyrian origin and the autochthony of Albanians in present-day territories.
Let’s reiterate, in this series of articles I will adopt the concept of the relative autochthony, which acknowledges the presence of Albanians in their present territories in Republic Albania, Republic of Kosova and surrounding Albanian-speaking territories at least since the classical Greek-Roman period, as developed by Thunmann, promoted by E. Çabej (1958), and endorsed by other Albanian and foreign scholars.
There are clearly substantial gaps in our knowledge on the history of Albanians, just like in the history of other peoples; some gaps may never be filled. But these gaps do not shake the theory of the Illyrian origin of the Albanian people just as gaps in the history of other peoples like Greeks, Serbians, Croatians, and most of the peoples of Europe and the world. In fact, it is in the nature of the human knowledge that gaps remain not only in theories about the origin of peoples and the place of their formation, but even in theories of modern natural sciences.
Relevant historical parallels can be drawn with the history of formation of other Balkan peoples. The Greek people emerged after the migration of various “Greek” tribes such as Aeolians and Ionians by the 16th century BC, and Dorians by the 11th century BC. Our knowledge on the origin and the language of these tribes spoke before arriving in the peninsula is minimal and anything but solid. No one can say with certainty where the Dorians came from and what language did they speak. Even if both Dorians and Aeolian-Ionians initially belonged to the same ethnic group, which no one has been able to prove, five to six centuries separating their arrival in Greece would have been sufficient for them to have developed two different languages. If one would consider the organization of the Olympic Games in the 8th century BC as the time of the formation of the Greek people, still in the 5 century Herodotus and Thucydides speak of non-Greek, Pelasgian tribes living in various parts of the modern Greece, while Thucydides reports that at his time (5-4th centuries BC), in Aetolia there were still non-Greek-speaking tribes such as Eurytanians, who according to Thucydides still in the 5th century BC spoke a language “completely incomprehensible” to Greeks. In the meantime, there were still Macedonians speaking their own language even after the death of Alexander the Great, while Epirus was still inhabited by a ‘barbarian’ unhellenized population. The modern Greece has been an area of expansion of the Greek population and Greek culture during more than 2 millenia.
Serbians’ early history in Balkans, as a particular Slavic people is almost unknown. The first specific report about them dates the 10th century. For the first time, in De administrando Imperio the emperor Constantinus Porphyrogenitus VII (905- 959) reports that in the 7th century a part of Serbians were allowed to move to an area near Thessaloniki, south Balkans. Later they moved to the north of the peninsula, in an area south of Danube. Then, in the 7th century, with the permission of the Byzantine emperor, they settled in Dalmatia before the final resettlement roughly in modern Serbian territory.
Similarly, there is a 3-centuries long silence on Croatians until the middle of the 10th century.
To reiterate, the core of the theory of the autochthony of Albanians is the idea that they are descendants of Illyrian tribes inhabiting South Illyria and Epirus.
In the 2nd century CE, the ancient sources speak of an Illyrian tribe named Albanoi and in the 10th century CE their name appears as the name of a people Albanoi (Άλβανοί) with an unmistakable ethnic identity within the territories occupied in Antiquity by their Illyrian ancestors. In this relative meaning, the autochthony of Albanians is a historical reality and Albanians are the linear and immediate descendants of Illyrians.
As it is common with most of the scientific theories, the autochthony of Albanians has been criticized, both objectively and subjectively, and it can be predicted that it will continue to be so in the future. Unresolved problems or questions will remain in the future. What makes a theory solid and reliable is not its perfection and immutability but its relative power to explain the known facts at any point in time. A scientific theory always benefits from the scientific debate and the autochthony of Albanians has been gratified by all the objective critique from all the scholars, both by its supporters (Kretschmer, Jokl, Çabej, Hamp, Cimochowski, et al.) and opponents (Paul, Hirt, Weigand, et al.).
1 Çabej, E. (1958). Problemi i autoktonisë së shqiptarëvet në dritën e emravet të vëndeve. Buletin i Universitetit Shtetëror të Tiranës, Seria Shk. shoq. 2, p. 54-62.
2 Alain Ducellier [(1998). Les Albanais dans l’empire byzantin: de la communauté à l’expansion. In The Medieval Albanians. Symp. Athens, pp. 17-45 (p.19): “pour les Albanais comme pour tous les autres peuples balkaniques, on ne saurait jamais parler que d’autochtonie”.
3 S. Byzantini Stephani Byzantii Ethnicorvm quae svpersvnt. Reimer, Berlin, p. 187: “Βρύκες ἔθνος Θρακης”.
5 Hamp, E. P. (1981). On Leibniz’s Third Albanian Letter. Zeitschrift fur Balkanologie. Jg. XVII 1, p. 34-36.
6 Reiter, M. (1980). Leibnizen’s Albanerbriefe. Zeitschrift für Balkanologie. Jg. XVI, p. 82-93.
7 Thunmann, J. (1774). Untersuchungen über die Geschichte östlichen europäischen Völker. Chapter Über die Geschichte und Sprache der Albaner und der Wlachen. Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius, Leipzig, p. 246.
8 von Hahn, J.G. (1854). Albanesische Studien. . F. Mauko, Jena, p. 213: “da die Albanesen keine Slaven sind, und mit keinem andern bekannten Volke nähere Verwandtschaft zeigen, da die freilich kümmerlichen Quellen ausser der slavischen keine Einwanderung melden, die bedeutend genug wäre, um ein grosses Volk zu schaffen, so darf man annehmen, das die heutigen Albanesen die Nachkommen der vorslavischen Urwohner des landes seien”.
9 Fallmerayer, J.P. (1857). Das albanesische Element in Griechenland: Über Ursprung und Alterthum der Albanesen I, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, München, p. 8 (424): “Heimatland oder Ursitz, in welchem die beglaubligte Geschichte das Volk der Albanier zuerst entdeckt, ist der gebirgige, meistens rauhe, etwa einhundert Stunden lange und nirgend über dreissig Stunden breite, südlich vom Ambrakischen Golf, nördlich vom Skodra-See, westlich vom jonisch-adriatischen Meere und östlich vom Pindusgebirg eingekeilte, schmale und zerrissene Küstenstrich, von welchem die Südhälfte im Alterthum Epirus, die nördliche aber Illyria hiess”.
10 Fallmereyer, J.P. (1857). Ibid. p. 11 (427) “Sind sie ein Volk, welches vor Anfang aller Geschichtskunde im Lande war”.
11 Mommsen, T. (1855). Römische Geschichte II. Leipzig, f. 161:”Die ursprünglich illyrische Bevölkerung, deren letzter reiner Ueberrest die heutigen Albanesen zu sein scheinen”.
12 Mommsen, T. (1854). Römische Geschichte I. Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Leipzig, f. 257: “…die tapfern Epeiroten, die Albanesen des Alterthums, hingen mit angestammter Treue und frischer Begeisterung an dem muthigen Jüngling, dem ‘Adler‘, wie sie ihn hiessen”.
13 Meyer, G. (1888). Die lateinischen Elemente im Albanischen. In Grundriss der romanischen Philologie I, Trubner, Strassburg, p 804-821: “Es ist keine Grund vorhanden, dieselbe für etwas anderes zu halten, als für die jüngere Phase des alten Illyrisch oder richtiger einer der alten illyrischen Mundarten”.
14 Kretschmer, P. (1896). Einleitung in die Geschichte der griechischen Sprache. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Göttingen, f. 262): “Die Annahme, dass die Albanesische Sprache die jüngste Phase des Altillyrischen oder, wie sich G. Meyer mit Recht vorsichtiger ausdrückt (in Grober’s Grundriss I 804), einer der alten Illyrischen Mundarten darstelle, ist der ganzen Sachlage nach so wahrscheinlich, dass man schon sehr gewichtige Gründe beibringen musste, um sie zu wiederlegen”,
15 Çabej, E. (1976-2006). Studime Etimologjike në Fushë të Shqipes volumes I-VII. Akademia e Shkencave e RPSSH, Tiranë.
16 Çabej, E. (1958). Problemi i autoktonisë së shqiptarëvet në dritën e emravet të vëndeve. Buletini i Universitetit Shtetëror të Tiranës, Seria Shkencat Shoqërore 2, 54-62.
18 Strabo Geography
19 Porphyrogenitus C. De Administrando Imperio
20 Claudii Ptolemaei, Geographia, III, 13, 23, Red. C.F.A. Nobbe, Tauchnitz, Leipzig, 1843, f. 197.
21 Michaelis Attaliotae Historia Opus. Ibid, p. 9, 18 and 297.