Albanian-Turkish Wars (1443–1478)PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Albania vs. the Ottoman Empire
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Albania
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Ottomans sought to expand their empire and the influence of Islam, Albania to defend its sovereignty and protect the Christian faith against the infidel Turks.
OUTCOME: The Albanians repulsed 13 Turkish invasions before being defeated by Sultan Muhammad II, the Conqueror.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:Unknown
TREATIES: Albanian-Turkish truce of 1461
Under Sultan Murad II (1403[?]–51) the Ottoman Empire launched a series of brutal invasions into eastern Europe, hoping to seize Hungary, Serbia, and Albania. Unfortunately for Murad, in each region there appeared a talented military hero to frustrate Ottoman rapaciousness. In Hungary it was the legendary John Hunyadi (1387–1456) who repulsed the Turks (see HUNGARIAN-TURKISH WAR, [1441–1444]); in Serbia George Brankovitch (r. 1427–56) kept the Ottoman army at bay. In Albania the challenge fell to a far more unlikely prospect—George Castriota,better known as Skanderbeg (1405–68).The son of an Albanian vassal prince, Castriota had been captured by the Ottomans at a young age and taken to the sultan’s court, where he was raised and educated. There he lived the comfortable life of a courtier, becoming one of Murad’s favorites. Those at court addressed him with the title bey, Persian for “lord,” and at length the young hostage converted to Islam. Given the name Skanderbeg after serving in the Ottoman army, probably as a janissary, he could easily have lost himself in the luxuries and privileges of the Turkish harem. Instead, when Albania fell under the threat of attack by the Turks, he deserted the Ottoman army and returned to defend his homeland,renouncing Islam, reconverting to Christianity, and forming a league of the traditionally disputatious Albanian nobility.In fact, it was the very quarrelsomeness of the Albanian nobles, their internecine squabbling and disunity, that had made their country an attractive target for Ottoman aggression. United behind Skanderbeg, however, they were able to seize the purportedly impregnable Ottomanheld fortress of Krujë and launch, under Skanderbeg’s brilliant supervision, a successful military campaign against the Turks in 1443. For two decades and more Albania repulsed every Ottoman advance, some 13 invasions in all between 1444 and 1466. In hopes of ending the Turkish threat permanently as well as shoring up Albanian sovereignty, Skanderbeg in 1448 joined forces with Hungary’s John Hunyadi in an alliance that also included Serbia and Bosnia. It marked the only time Skanderbeg took the offensive against the Turks, but his quadruple alliance was swiftly defeated by Murad in October 1448 at the Second Battle of Kosovo. The defeat left Serbian and Bosnian independence in jeopardy and devastated Hungary militarily, but Skanderbeg became the hero of the entire Western world when he broke Murad’s siege of the stronghold at Krugë in 1451.Aid poured into Albania from every corner—Venice,Naples, Hungary, and the Vatican’s Papal States.That same year Murad died. He was succeeded by his son Sultan Muhammad II (1429–81), who soon became known as “Muhammad the Conqueror.” Muhammad did not, however, conquer either Hunyadi’s Hungary or Skanderbeg’s Albania, though not for want of trying. Holding the tenuous Albanian alliance together, often using guerrilla tactics, Skanderbeg met with success after success. In 1461 he won a major victory against Muhammad that allowed him to impose a 10-year truce on the Porte, as the Ottoman government was called, only to violate the peace himself when the Pope, who called Skanderbeg “the Champion of Christ,” asked him to launch a new crusade in 1463. Skanderbeg’s troops raided Macedonia and defeated the Turks in 1464 and again in 1465. In 1466 Sultan Muhammad personally led an invasion of Albania, conducting another heavy siege of Krujë and devastating the country. The sultan’s destructive campaign cost Skanderbeg his foreign allies, who deserted him by 1467. George Castriota, née Skanderbeg, aka Champion of Christ, died the following year. The Albanian nobles immediately resumed their bickering while conducting a desultory war against the Ottomans. When Krujë finally fell in 1471,Muhammad ordered all the inhabitants decapitated, a brutal harbinger of what the Albanians could expect when the Conqueror regained control of their country for the Ottomans, which he succeeded in doing by 1478.
Further reading: Kristo Frashëri, The History of Albania: A Brief Survey (Tirana, Albania: N. Pub., 1964).