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Robert Elsie

Texts and Documents of Albanian History

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Edward Lear, "The Acroceraunian Mountains, the Coast of Albania," oil painting, private collection, USA.

Edward Lear,
"The Acroceraunian Mountains,
the Coast of Albania,"
oil painting,
private collection, USA.
Webdesign J. Groß

Initiative for Making the Passage

The 'Directorium ad passagium faciendum', which can be translated as 'Initiative for making the passage', is a mediaeval Latin manuscript (also available in an early French translation) attributed alternatively to a monk called Burcard (Brocardus Monacus / Frère Brochard) or to one William Adam (Guillelmus Adam / Guillaume Adam) (1). The author was at any rate a Dominican priest and Latin prelate in the Byzantine Empire and Armenia, whose aim was to persuade the Catholic armies under Philip VI of Valois (r. 1328-1350) to embark upon a holy crusade and conquer Serbian-occupied Albania, thus restoring the Catholic Church to its former power there and taking revenge upon the Orthodox Greeks for having destroyed the Latin Empire of Constantinople. In the text, the author makes reference to the Albanians as the majority population in Albania. It is also in the 'Directorium' that a much-quoted phrase about the existence of books in Albania occurs: 'licet Albanenses aliam omnino linguam a latina habeant et diversam, tamen litteram latinam habent in usu et in omnibus suis libris' (The Albanians indeed have a language quite different from Latin, however they use Latin letters in all their books). Though the reference to the existence of the language is clear, that to writing in Albanian is ambiguous. It cannot be said for certain whether the author meant Albanian-language books written in Latin script or simply books written in Latin. The former possibility has of course captured the imagination of subsequent generations of Albanian scholars and the text is often quoted to this end in histories and studies of Albanian literature as evidence that Albanian-language books existed long before the so-called Missal of Gjon Buzuku (1555).

On the Kingdom of Rascia and how it could easily be conquered

I would like to come back to the Kingdom of Rascia to show how it could be conquered. Indeed, the desire to invade is all that is needed for the country to be taken. In order to make this clear, I would like to present a number of brief suggestions for an invasion and a number of easily fulfilled conditions for a conquest.

The said kingdom has few if any fortifications at all. All that exists are farmhouses and cottages devoid of moats and outer walls. The buildings and palaces, both of the king and of the nobles, are made of straw and wood. I have never seen a palace or home there made of stone or of brick except in the coastal towns of the Latins. The said kingdom is rich in grain, wine, oil and meat. It is a pleasant place with water from springs and rivers flowing through it, a delightful land with woods, meadows, mountains, plains and valleys full of various species of wild beasts. In short, everything that grows there is of choice quality, in particular in areas along the coast. In the said kingdom, there are indeed five gold mines and an equal number of silver mines in which expert miners toil without interruption. There are also mixed deposits of silver and gold, which have recently been discovered at various and sundry sites, and huge dense forests. Whoever owns this kingdom will have a veritable jewel in his possession, select and precious for all times.

One factor, among others, which makes this kingdom easy to conquer, is that it is inhabited by two peoples, i.e. the Albanians and the Latins who, in their beliefs, their rites and their obedience, both abide by the Roman Catholic Church. Accordingly, they have archbishops, bishops and abbots, as well as religious and secular clerics of lower rank and status. The Latins have six towns with bishops: firstly Antibarum (Bar), the seat of the archbishop, then Chatarensis (Kotor), Dulcedinensis (Ulcinj), Suacinensis (Shas) (2), Scutarensis (Shkodra) and Drivascensis (Drisht) (3), which are inhabited by the Latins alone. Outside the town walls, the Albanians make up the population throughout the diocese. There are four Albanian towns: Polatum Maius (Greater Pult) (4), Polatum Minus (Lesser Pult), Sabatensis (Sapa) (5) and Albanensis (Albanopolis) (6) which, together with the towns of the Latins, are all legally subject to the Archbishop of Bar and his church as their metropolitan. The Albanians indeed have a language quite different from Latin. However they use Latin letters in all their books (7). The sway of the Latins is thus confined to the limits of their towns. Outside the towns, they do possess vineyards and fields, but there are no fortifications or villages actually inhabited by the Latins. The Albanians for their part, the larger of the two peoples, could assemble over fifteen thousand horsemen for warfare according to the custom and manner of the country, who would be courageous and industrious warriors. Since the said Latins and Albanians suffer under the unbearable yoke and extremely dire bondage of their odious Slav leaders whom they detest - the people being tormented, the clergy humiliated and oppressed, the bishops and abbots often kept in chains, the nobles disinherited and held hostage, episcopal and other churches disbanded and deprived of their rights, and the monasteries in decay and ruin - they would all to a man believe that they were consecrating their hands in the blood of the aforementioned Slavs if a French prince were to appear before them whom they could make leader of their war against the said evil Slavs, the enemies of our true faith. With the help of the aforementioned Albanians and Latins, one thousand French knights and five or six thousand foot soldiers could without a doubt easily conquer the whole length and breadth of this kingdom.


(1) On the authorship of the 'Directorium', cf. M. Šufflay, Pseudobrocardus..., in: Vjesnik kraljevskog hrvatskog slavonskog dalmatinskog zemeljskog archiva, Zagreb, 13 (1911), p. 142-150; A. Atiya, The Crusade in the Later Middle Ages, New York 1965, p. 95 106, 65 67.
(2) Settlement near the river Buna, on the Montenegrin side of the present border. At its zenith during the Middle Ages it was known as Suacium, Italian Suazzo, Sfazzi, French Soans, and now in Albanian as Shas and in Serbo-Croatian as Šas. The town was first documented in 1067 and began to decay around the end of the 14th century.
(3) Village on the river Kir, northeast of Shkodra.
(4) Pult (Polatum) is a region on the river Kir extending beyond Drisht to Prekal.
(5) Saba or Sapa was in the Zadrima region east of Shkodra, later to be part of the diocese of Sapa and Sarda (Sapatensis et Sardensis).
(6) Albanopolis has been traditionally identified with the village of Zgërdhesh, south of Kruja.
(7) For an interpretation of this sentence, cf. I. Zamputi, in: Hylli i Dritës, 1-2, 1995, p. 14-51.

[Extract from: Recueil des historiens des croisades. Documents arméniens. Tome second. Documents latins et français relatifs à l'Arménie, Paris 1906, p. 478 485. Translated from the Latin by Robert Elsie. First published in R. Elsie: Early Albania, a Reader of Historical Texts, 11th - 17th Centuries, Wiesbaden 2003, p. 28-30.]