Robert Elsie | AL Art | AL History | AL Language | AL Literature | AL Photography | Contact |


Robert Elsie

Texts and Documents of Albanian History

BACK  |  AL History
Titos Jochalas (Photo: Robert Elsie, June 2011).

Titos Jochalas
(Photo: Robert Elsie, June 2011).
Webdesign J. Groß

Titos Jochalas:
On Albanian Migration to Greece

Even today one can still find many people in central and southern Greece whose mother tongue is not Greek, but Albanian, and who are not recent immigrants but members of an Albanian minority that has been in Greece for centuries. Their language, moribund for decades now and in many ways the most archaic dialect of Albanian spoken anywhere, is known in Albanian as "Arbërisht" and in Greek as "Arvanitiká." The language is on the verge of extinction as the vast majority of competent speakers are now over 80 years old. Who are these Albanians and when did they arrive in southern Greece? This is a question to which Greek scholar Titos Jochalas (b. 1942) has devoted the following article. Jochalas, former director of the Greek Centre for Southeast European Studies in Athens, has published widely on the Albanian minority in Greece, their language and folklore. Among his recent books are: "Arbanitika paramythia kai doxasies" (Arvanitika Folk Tales and Beliefs), Athens 1997, "Euboia: ta Arbanitika" (Euboea: Arvanitika) Athens 2002; "Hydra: lêsmonêmenê glôssa" (Hydra: A Forgotten Language), Athens 2006; "Andros: Arbanitês kai Arbanitika" (Andros: Albanians and Arvanitika), Athens 2010, and "Hê arbanitia sto Moria: chronika poreias" (Albanian in the Morea: Annals of a March in Time), Athens 2011.


1. Constantine Sathas and the Proponents of his Theory

The well-known theory of Jakob Philipp Fallermayer, according to which the ancient Greeks disappeared completely as a result of the Slavic invasions of the 6th century A.D. was still being discussed in Greece and abroad when the Greek scholar Constantine Sathas contradicted his supposition. According to Sathas, the Albanians, as allies of the Avars, had already penetrated the country in the 6th century. The invaders from the north, who devastated all the land around them on their advance down to the Peleponnese, were not Slavs, but Albanians.

Sathas based his theory not only on toponomastic and onomastic evidence in the Peleponnese that had shown ties between the Greek and Albanian languages, but also on the relationship between Albanian and the Greek dialect of Tsakonia. He also noted that Byzantine historians had gotten things mixed up and instead of ‘Albanians’ had written about ‘Slavs.’ He pointed to a text by Chalcocondyles who had claimed that the Albanians arrived in the Peloponnese much earlier. In furtherance of his theory, Sathas even claimed that there was already an Albanian colony on Cyprus in the 4th century. It is evident that such a theory, not supported by mediaeval source material, was easy to contradict. On the one hand, place names in the Peloponnese cannot only be explained from Greek or Albanian, and on the other hand, it cannot be said that all Byzantine historians were completely ignorant and confused historical events. The passage in Chalcocondyles does not refer to Albanians in the 6th century, but to Albanians in general who settled in the Peloponnese in the early 15th century.

Although research has shown that Sathas’ theory was wrong, it was nevertheless revived a few years later by S. G. Panayotopoulos and P. Kanelidis. Both of them relied on place names on the Mani (Maina) peninsula which they took as Albanian and on parallels between the customs of the Albanians and the Maniots, and concluded that the Albanians must have settled in the Peleponnese long before the 15th century. In two of his articles, D. Kambouroglous regarded this position as unfounded. Sathas’s theory, that seemed to have been completely forgotten, arose again in 1928, but from a different aspect. It was Petros Fourikis who derived the word ‘Mani’ from the Alb. man (mulberry tree) and held the view that the Albanians must have been in the Peleponnese from the 10th century onwards since the word Mani was mentioned by K. Porphyrogennetos. Fourikis’ work was, however, rejected by both linguists and historians.

The old theory was brought up again by Kostas Mbiris, which shows just how deeply ingrained the idea of an early arrival of the Albanians was among some Greeks.

2. The Albanians in Thessaly, Epirus and Aetolia-Acarnania

In archival material, the arrival of the Albanians in Greece is first referred to in a letter by Marino Sanudo dating from 1325, in which he reports on the migration of the Albanians and their raids, from which the local Greeks and Catalans suffered. He also states that the Greeks and Catalans tried to drive the invaders, whose numbers were ever increasing with their family members, out of Thessaly. Sanudo writes as follows:

"… Deus missit hanc pestem patriae Blachiae supradictae, quia ipsa miserat quoddam genus, Albanensium gentis nomine, in tanta quantitate numerosa, quae gens omnia quae erant extra castra penitus destruxerunt, tam eorum quam Catellanorum fuerunt, quam etiam eorum quae tenebantur a Graecis: et ad praesens consumunt et destruunt taliter, quod quasi nihil remansit penitus extra castra. Catellani et Graeci fuerunt quandoque simul ad expellendum Albanenses illos, sed nullatenus potuerunt. Dicitur etiam quod Albanenses illi volebant recedere a patria supradicta, scilicet Blachiae, quibus recedentibus occurrebant alii ejusdem gentis plurimi, dicentes illis: "quare hinc receditis?", responderunt: "quia non potuimus hic aliquod fortilitium obtinere". Quibus illi addierunt dicentes: "nolite hoc facere, quia multi cum uxoribus et filiis in vestrum adjutorium huc venimus; ed ideo omnes simul ad partes Blachia redemus". Et sic omnes pariter sunt reversi…"

Johannes Cantacuzene then adds a brief note that is worth mentioning because it reveals that when Sirjannis was ostracized from Byzantium, he is said to have landed in Euboea, Locris and Acarnia and to have sought refuge amongst the Albanians in Thessaly, whom he had known from the time when he was “General of the West.” We know that Sirjannis held this office around the year 1315 and can thus conclude that the Albanians were already present in Thessaly at the start of the 14th century.

Chronology of Albanian migration to Greece (Jochalas, 1971).

Chronology of Albanian migration to Greece (Jochalas, 1971).

Chronology of Albanian migration
to Greece (Jochalas, 1971).

It is also possible that the Albanians had already begun to spread peacefully southwards in the second half of the 13th century, taking advantage of the rivalry between the Despot of Epirus, Michael II, and the imperial dynasties of Nicaea and Constantinople. The southward spread of the Albanians, as Dionysios Zakythinos noted, was also facilitated by the Fourth Crusade that sowed confusion in Albania and elsewhere in the Byzantine Empire.

« Grecs de Nicée et de Constantinople, Grecs d’Épire, Hohenstaufen et Angevins, villes commerçantes de l’Italie, Slaves, se rencontrent sur le sol de l’Illyrie. Toutes ces influences convergentes, avec celles qu’exercent l’Église byzantine et l’Église romaine, encouragent l’émancipation des Albanais et leur expansion dans un pays où le facteur démographique est continuellement en baise. »

We must stress at this juncture that the migration of the Albanians southwards was in good part peaceful since we know that some of them settled in Thessaly “with a Chrysoboulon and an imperial permit (i.e. from the emperor in Constantinople).” On the other hand, there were also violent attacks on Greek-settled territory. In Acarnania, the Albanians settled “with permission from the Lord of Acarnania.”

There were no doubt other waves of Albanian migrants who turned up in Thessaly. We know, for instance, that 12,000 members of the Albanian tribes of Malakasi, Bua and Mesarati ignored an imperial order and invaded the mountain regions around Thessaly. A little later (1335), the Emperor Andronicus III was forced to send troops out to put down an Albanian revolt in Βαλάγριτα and Κάνινα and somewhat later visited the war zone himself when the Albanians were defeated. Soon after the death of Andronicus (1341), the Greek population of Thessaly suffered anew from the raids and plundering forays of the Albanians. J. Cantacuzene subsequently succeeded in forcing the Albanians to return the stolen property, and there was peace in Thessaly for a time.

New Albanian immigrants arrived shortly thereafter with the Serbian forces that conquered Albania, Thessaly and Epirus under Stefan Dushan (1348). The Greek population was gravely affected. The Serbs no doubt displaced many Greeks to make room for their Albanian allies. The Albanians spread again over Epirus, Thessaly and Aetolia-Acarnania. The sudden death of Stefan Dushan (1355) led to renewed upheaval. The deposed Despot of Epirus, Nikephoros II Ducas, hoped to take advantage of the confusion and endeavoured to seize power once again by driving the Albanians out of the region. His move failed, however, after the spectacular Albanian victory in the Battle of Acheloos (1358) in which Nikephoros was slain. The Albanian victor, Charles Thopia, abandoned Greece soon thereafter and proclaimed himself King of Albania.

Albanian migration was supported anew by the brother of Stefan Dushan, Simeon Urosh. He gave the Albanian immigrants, who had arrived in the country under Gjin Bua, the regions of Acheloos and Angelokastron. He also gave the towns of Arta and Roghi to another group of Albanians who had immigrated under Pjetër Ljosha.

Then, the Battle of Janina began, that was ruled at the time by Thomas Preljubović. This battle, described vividly in the Chronicle of Janina, was begun by Pjetër Ljosha, Lord of Arta, and was continued by Gjon Shpata, Lord of Acheloos. The latter managed to seize Arta in 1374 after the death of Ljosha.

Albanian rule in Epirus did not last long, however. The Prince of Cephalonia, Charles I Tocco, not only seized all of Aetolia in 1405 and expelled the Albanians, but conquered Arta and, on 1 April 1411, took Janina that the Albanians had long fought over, though without success. The Albanians then withdrew definitively to Attica and Boeotia, and to the Peloponnese.

3. The Albanians in Central Greece and on Euboea

The new wave of Albanian migrants who arrived in Greece under Stefan Dushan, gradually began to become a burden for the many Albanians already living in Thessaly. It was thus natural for the new immigrants to continue their journey southwards. However, further progression in this direction brought them into conflict with the Catalans in the duchies of Athens and Neopatria (Ypatis).

An incident is described in a document from the archives in Palermo that is typical for the conflict between the Albanians and the Catalans. Just after 1360, Pere de Pou, the governor of Thebes, ordered Belinger Soler, the commander of Vitrinitsa (in the Gulf of Corinth), to provide him with a warship to counter a possible Albanian attack. The ship, that was sent on its way, was, however, taken over by the Albanians. The incident got complicated because Pere de Pou made Soler responsible for the loss of the boat and seized another ship to replace it. Soler complained to higher authority, and Frederick III ordered the ship to be returned to its owner. Here is the original document:

"Messina (?), 28 maig 1368
Pro Belingerio Soleri
Scriptum est eidem nobili vicario generali in haec verba:
Belingerius Soleri civis Thebarum fidelis presens in auditorio magne nostri curie querulose narravit quod dum Petrus de Puteo civis Thebarurn fidelis noster in dicti vicariatus officio presideret eidem exponenti tamquam castellano castri nostri Veteranisse mandavit expresse quod armaret seut armari faceret predictus exponens quamdam barcam nostre curie ibi sistentem pro habendis rumoribus hostium nostrorum Albanensium ad cujus execucionem mandati dictus exponens preter dilacionem aliquam dictam barcam armari fecit et dum pro dicta causa navigaret a dictis nostris hostibus Albanensibus dicta barca capta fuit. Cumque preffatus Petrus pretextu amissionis barce predicte quamdam aliam barcam propriam ipsius exponentis pro emenda ipsius barce abstulit ab eodem in ipsius preuiclicium atque dampnam..."

On the other hand, the Catalans hoped to profit from the presence of the Albanians, who were good warriors and particularly well known as horsemen. It seems to be the case that the Albanians were permitted to settle in the Duchy of Neopatria and in the northern part of the Duchy of Athens. From another document we learn that in 1350, the Catalans and the Albanians jointly attacked Pteleon, a Venetian military base at the entrance to the Gulf of Pagasitiko:

"1350 die XIV marcii
Ad factum damnorum illatorum per illos de Compagna et Albanenses nostris fidelibus Phetelei, rescribatur eis (al bailo, cioè, e ai consiglieri di Eubea) quo gravamur et turbamus de damnis premissis…"

From an undated list of tribute paid to the Catalans, no doubt from the second half of the 14th century, we see that the Prince of “Mitra” retained 1500 Albanian horsemen:

"Item lo comte de Mitra qui pot haver be md. homens a cavall Albaneses. E aquest porta la bandera de la Vostra Reyal majestat perque es natural vesall…"

By this time, many Albanian had settled on the banks of the Sperchios River in the Duchy of Athens. This is evident from a document dated April 1381 in which the Pedro, the King of Aragon and Commander of the Catalan Duchy, addressed the “noble amat et feels nostres lo comte Mitra et tots altres Albaneses habitants en lo terme de la Allada…” (Allada being the region along the Sperchios River) and thanked them for their support in the defence of the County of Salona.

The unquestionable military prowess of the Albanians, who were probably the ones who assisted the Catalans against the Navarrese in Athens, made the Catalans realise that Albanian settlements on their territory amounted to a strengthening of defence, in particular since the region had been substantially depopulated by Navarrese attacks. For this reason, in 1382, Pedro, King of Aragon, granted immunity from taxes and duties for two years to any Albanians and Greeks wanting to settle in Attica. The text reads as follows:

"Lo rey d’Aragò:
a nos es estat suplicat que volgussem atorgar a tot Grech e Albanés qui vulla venir el lo ducat de Athenes que sia franch per ij anys, e encara que vullan atorgar la capella de sant Jordi, la qual es en La Vadia e es de la nostra cambra, a frare Francesc Comenge de sa vida…
Dada en 10 loch de Ulldecona la darrer dia de decembre del any de nostre Senyor m. ccc. lXXXij sots nostre segell secret,
Rex Petrus.
Fuit directa vicecomiti de Rochabertino"

There was probably further Albanian migration into Attica in 1388 when Nerio Acciaiuoli became ruler of the Duchy of Athens, and then under his son and successor Antonio. The source material is, however, not completely clear in this regard. The Venetians who owned Euboea were now afraid that the neighbouring duchy was becoming too strong with the influx of Albanians and decided to allow Albanians and others to settle on Euboea. Here, too, they were granted substantial privileges for two years on condition that they retained their horses and kept themselves in readiness to defend the island. This is a particularly significant document that we give here in full:

"1402, 20 aprilis
Quedam provisio facta, pro apopulando Insulam Nigropontis.
Sapientes ordinum
Quod, pro apopulando Insulam nostram Nigropontis, scribatur et mandetur Regimini nostro Nigropontis, quod debeat facere publiche proclamari, quod quilibet Albanensis, vel alia gens, qui non sint nostri subditi, qui cum equis volent venire et venient ad habitandum, a die captionis presentis partis, usque duos annos proxime sequentes, in Insulam Nigropontis, recipientur et sint erunt perpetuo liberi et absoluti ab omni angaria reali et personali, et sibi donabuntur de terrenis nostri comunis incultis, que tamen sint apta ad laborandum, cum conditione tamen; quod dicti tales Albanenses et alia gens equestris, teneantur tenere tot equos, quod homines capita familie erunt numero, nec possint recedere de dicta Insula sine licentia dicti Regiminis, sed teneantur et debeant, omni vice qua erit necesse, equitare et ire ad defensionem Insule, et offensionem quorumcumque volentium damnificare Insulam nostram predictam, et post mortem eorum, dicta terrena sint et esse debeant suorum heredum, qui habitarent super dicta Insula, cum obligatione, tenendi angariam predictam. Si vero non haberent heredes, dicta terrena revertantur in nostrum comune. Verum dictum Regimen Nigropontis, in facto dandi de dictis territoriis nostri comunis dictis Albanensibus, et aliis equestribus venientibus habitatum in Insula predicta, habeat libertatem dandi predictis illam quantitatem de terrenis nostri comunis, per modum predictum qui ipsi Regimini videbitur, secundum qualitatem personarum, et quantitatem ac conditionem familie illius qui venerit habitatum in Insula predicta."

We have already noted that Charles I Tocco, Prince of Cephalonia, expelled the Albanians when he conquered Aetolia in 1405 and Arta and Janina in 1411. His policy of driving all the Albanians out of Epirus and western Greece had the natural consequence of pushing them towards Attica and into the Peloponnese. Some of them, together with others already living in Attica and Boeotia, a total of some 300 families, accepted the favourable conditions the Venetian offered them to settle in Euboea.

"1425, 22 mai
Sapientes ordinum
Intellectis literis vestris, quibus nobis significastis, quod certa Capita albanensium ducaminis et diversorum locorum numero familiarum trecentarum intraverunt Insulam et illam volunt habitare, quorum adventus videtur summe placere Comunitati nostre Nigropontis, que etiam super inde nostro dominio scripsit. Intellecto etiam quantum eorum adventus affert comodum et utilitatem dicte Insule, Vobis respondemus cum nostris consiliis rogatorum et additionis, quod placet nobis, et sic Vobis mandamus, quatenus permittatis dictos albanenses et alios albanenses, qui vellent venire ad dictam Insulam, ipsam Insulam habitare, providendo et habendo tamen bonam advertentiam, quod non habitent fortilicia nostra, sed intrare et exire possint ad partem ad partem, et non habitare in eis pro securitate eorum locorum, sed extra persistant, et non inferant damnum subdictis nostris, dando etiam sibi sacramentum quod erunt fideles nostro dominio, in cunctis concernendibus comodum et honorem nostrum. Et super his ita provideatis, quod eorum adventus sit proficuus nostro dominio, et fidelibus nostris de inde. Verum quia per easdem literas scribitis Magnificum Antonium de Azaiolis conqueri de eorum adventu ad dictam Insulam. Volumus et Vobis mandamus, quod si amplius Vobis conqueretur debeatis facere excusationem cum illis melioribus verbis et modis, que Vobis videbuntur."

However, the Duke of Athens, Antonio Acciaiuoli, soon realised that the loss of his Albanian subjects amounted to a decrease in his military strength and protested, through his representative in Euboea, P. Melzola, about the measures taken by the military authorities in Euboea to settle the inhabitants of his duchy there without his permission. The Venetians initially endeavoured to solve the conflict by peaceful means, as we can see from the following document:

"1425, die VI Novembris
… Ad aliam autem requisitionem quam facit super facto illarum familiarum Albanensium qui venerunt habitatum super insula nostra Nigropontis respondemus quod non habemus a rectoribus nostris Nigropontis informationem necessariam super hoc, et propterea eis scribemus pro habenda debita informatione super predictis, qua habita, respondemus per illum modum qui erit conveniens et honestus…"

and allowed those of the 300 families who wished to do so, to return to the Duchy of Athens.

"1426, 21 Ianuarii
Quod scribatur Regimini nostro Nigropontis in hac forma, videlicet:
… Insuper recepimus alias literas vestri ser Tadei alterius consiliarii, per quas nobis significastis habuisse contrariam opinionem in non permittendo dictos Albanenses redire ad loca ipsius domini Antonii, … nolentes amplius hanc rem in longum ducere, … qui volent abinde recedere, et ire ad loca dicti domini Antonii, licentiam perbeatis ad ea loca se conferendi. Alios autem Albanenses, quos dixistis utiles esse, et obedientes, qui de Levadie partibus et de Blachia priusquam suprascripti, illuc venerunt, sicut scripsistis, debeatur retinere in Insula, et sibi providere de aliquo territorio nostri comunis, aut de alia re, ut vivere et stare possint in ea Insula…"

4. The Albanians in the Peloponnese

Scholars have not yet established the exact date of the first migration of Albanians to the Peloponnese. It is generally accepted that, after their victory at the Battle of Acheloos in 1358 and favoured by the benevolence of Simeon Urosh, the Albanians settled in almost all of Epirus and Thessaly, but also in Aetolia-Acarnania. From Angelokastron, it was easy to cross over the Gulf of Patras to the Peloponnese, the coast of which was directly visible. It was quite probably Maria Cantacuzene who promoted the initial immigration of the Albanians when, repudiated by her husband, Nikephoros II, she sought refuge with her brother Manuel Cantacuzene. Spyridon Lambros stated that the first Albanian immigrants in the Peloponnese arrived at the time of Despot Manuel Cantacuzene (1348-1350). His hypothesis, though recently brought up again, was not generally accepted. Zakythinos held the view that Manuel Cantacuzene “semble avoir utilisé leurs services, mais on ne peut pas encore parler d’un colonisation.” There is no source material to support this.

From Byzantine reports, we know that 10,000 Albanians with their families settled in the Peloponnese during the reign of Theodor I Palaeologus (1380-1407), with his permission. The exact year of their arrival is not known. It probably took place in the final years of his reign as emperor, when Charles I Tocco began expelling the Albanians from his territory. We also do not know where the Albanians settled in the Peloponnese – the most probably regions would be Arcadia, Argos and Elis. In a decree (ορισμός) issued by Despot Thomas Palaeologus in September 1436 or 1451, we know that the men of: “κυρ Κόντου του Παλούμπη” (about 20, of whom most were Albanians) were exempt from the “φλωριατικόν” and that they “πάντη ελεύθεροι κ(αι) αναπαί(ητοι) ως απαξ ευργετηθέντες τούτο παρά της βασιλεί(ας) μου διά του ότι οφείλωσ(ιν) εκδουλεύειν της βασιλεί(ας) μου μετά αλόγων και αρμάτ(ων) αυτών ένθα οριζονται…

19th century Albanian costumes in Greece.

19th century Albanian costumes in Greece.

19th century Albanian costumes
in Greece.

It is of interest to note that both Palaeologus and the Venetians provided uncultivated and depopulated land, and that Manuel Palaeologus soon stated that the newcomers were very good farmers. The rulers of Greece thus profited from the military and farming expertise of the Albanians.

The Venetians, who had shown great interest in Albanian immigration to Euboea, did not wish to remain behind and permitted the first settlement of Albanians on their land in the Peleponnese, in Metone and Corone, in 1401.

"140l, 16 februarii
… Quod scribatur et mandatur Castellanis locorum nostrorum Coroni et Methoni, quod debeant accipere ad soldum XII Albanenses, vel alios homines confidentes equestres, pro quolibet dictorum locorum, qui sint boni et sufficentes homines, et habeant bonos equos, et arma consueta haberi deinde per tales…"

and similarly in 1422:

"1422, die XXII Iulii
Quod scribatur nobili viro ser Delphino Venerio ambassiatori et provisori ad partes Amoree in hac forma:
… tamen ante conclusionem si videbitis fore expediens pro bona executione suprascriptorum et securitate paisii [Examilii] dare provisionem aliquibus ex dictis capitibus Albanensium…"

and again in 1425:

"1425, die XXII Maii
Quod scriptum fuit Castellanis Coroni et Mothoni super facto quorumdam Albanensium volentium venire habitare in locis nostris…
Recepimus literas vestras datas Methoni quarto Maii presentis, per quas nobis significastis requisitionem factam cum maxima instantia a duobus capitibus Albanensibus veniendi cum eorum comitivis sub umbra et in locis nosiris, quorum unus vult venire cum equis quinque millibus, et alterum cum equis quingentis cum illis homagiis et juramentis que viderentur nobis…"

The mass immigration of Albanians strengthened their position so that in 1453 they were able to rise against the Palaeologi.

5. The Albanians on the Islands of the Ionian and Aegean Seas

Due to their proximity to the coasts of Epirus and Aetolia-Acarnania, that had been flooded with Albanian migrants at the end of the 14th century, the Ionian isles seemed to be a perfect location for new Albanian settlements. It would seem that these islands attracted Albanians from the Peleponnese in particular, because it was there that the Venetians gradually lost their possessions, one after the other, to the Turks. We know that the Venetian Senate twice (1485 and 1488) called for a repopulation of the island of Zante and sent directives in this regard to the governors of Metone and Corone. It is also undisputed that, after losing their last possessions in the Peloponnese (1540), the Venetians settled Albanian families on the Ionian isles. It is also undisputed that the Albanians settled on the islands of the Aegean. For Hydra, Spetzes and Poros, it has been hypothesized that they were populated at the end of the 15th century by Albanians who were fleeing from the Turks. On Salamis, the Albanians are mentioned for the first time in 1674 and it would seem that they continued on to the neighbouring island of Anggistri somewhat later.

Albanians also settled on the islands of Psara, Kynthos, Kea, Samos, Aegina and Skopelos, but were soon assimilated by the local Greeks.

Nowadays, with the exception of Aegina, there are only place names and personal names that remind us of the Albanian origin of part of the population. From documents, we know that the island of Ios was settled by Albanians in the early 15th century on the initiative of M. Crispi. Periklis Zerlentis rejects this, however, because the source material is inconclusive. It is well known that pirates laid waste to the island in 1558 and sold its inhabitants into slavery. In 1579, Papas Pothitos endeavoured on behalf of Uruç Ali to repopulate the island with Albanians, but they were assimilated because in the second half of the 18th century, a lot of Greeks resettled there. Demetrios Paschalis noted in his study of the Albanian population of the Cyclades, that they migrated from Karystos on Euboea to Andros at the request of the ruler of the latter island, P. Andrea Zeno (1384-1427) who gave them land because he needed them as farmers and to defend the island. Apostolos Vakalopoulos, however, holds the view that the Albanians settled on this island in the last quarter of the 16th century. Mbiris, on the other hand, dates their arrival to the 17th century on the basis of travel reports. The problem has been resolved by a document dating from the year 1521 in which the ‘Greci’ (= Albanians) of Andros reached an agreement with the ruler of Contessa Entellina in Sicily about the conditions for their resettlement there. Here is part of the document:

"18 settembre, X ind. 1521
Sagali Curbi senior, Antoninus Lopes, Dimitri Serveja, Petrus Lopis, Ioannes Curbi, Michael Musacchi, Nicolaus Gerginus, Teodorus Nicolosi, Ioannes Petta, Petrus Musacchi, Sagali Curbi junior, Georgius Lopis, Angelus Petta junior, Nicolaus Lala, Petrus Lopis minor, Georgius Lopis, Thomas Manali, Dimitri Curbi, Ioannes Custagliorsi, Greci (sic) venientes ab Insu1a Andriae, partim orientis, presentes coram nobis… Antoninus et consortes, Greci orientales fugientes a dicta Insula, a manibus e servitute Mororum, quibus erant subditi, non volentes sufferre eorum dominium, navigaverunt Siciliam versus…; quod etiam praetendebant accedere ad habitandum casale Comitisse…"

As such, the Albanians were already on Andros at the start of the 16th century.

6. The Fate of Albanian Migrants in Greece

The arrival and settlement of the Albanians in Greece and the subsequent emigration of many of them to southern Italy and Sicily are two issues that are closely related and must be studied together. We must, however, be careful not to come to any false conclusions about the number of Albanians who migrated to Greece.

The Albanians often took part in the struggle of the Greeks, Franks and Venetians against the Turks to prevent a complete Ottoman occupation of Greece. The last phase of the Venetian-Turkish conflict in the Peloponnese can be viewed, in particular, as a war between the Turks and the Albanians.

The Venetians, who lost their possessions in the Peloponnese, one after the other, appreciated the services rendered by their faithful Albanian soldiers and took many of them with them when they withdrew, doing so, among other things, with a view to utilizing these men for their military objectives in Italy. The Albanians for their part were glad to settle in nearby Italy, not only out of fear of Turkish reprisals, but also in the hope that they would find better living conditions there. The kings of the Two Sicilies, recalling the reciprocal military assistance that had taken place at the time of George Castriotta and hoping to resettle the areas of Sicily and Calabria that had been depopulated during the wars with the Angevins, willingly accepted the Albanian refugees and allowed them to take up residence in the abandoned villages of southern Italy and Sicily. Notwithstanding what has been wrongly asserted and often repeated nowadays without any evidence, a good proportion of the Albanian colonies in Calabria and Sicily were settled by Albanians from the ‘Morea’ who had already, for the most part, been culturally and linguistically assimilated by the Greeks. With them came a good number of Greeks, too, mostly from the Peloponnese.

We wish to stress here that the emigration of a good part of the Albanians relieved the southern Greek provinces of a substantial burden. This issue, that has not been sufficiently investigated, will be dealt with in another essay.

We do not wish to deal any further with the fate of the Albanians who remained in Greece and with their struggle on the side of the Greeks against the Franks, or on the side of the Franks against the Turks, or independently against the Turks. We do, however, wish to draw attention to two particular movements of Albanians in Greece during the Ottoman period. The first took place in 1715 from the Peloponnese to the islands of Hydra, Spetzes and Poros, and the other in 1770 when the Muslim Albanians of Preveza, Dibra and Myzeqeja settled in ‘Lala’ and ‘Barduni’ in the Peloponnese. The gradual assimilation of the Albanian immigrants into the majority Greek population was a protracted but inevitable process. Even before their migration to Greece, the Albanians, in particular the Tosks, were under the influence of Byzantine-Greek culture. When they began migrating, without any particular awareness of their own nationality, and culturally underdeveloped since they were mostly warriors and peasants, they showed little resistance to the assimilatory pull of Greek culture, that “wonderful elasticity, vivacity and attraction” as Alfred Philippson put it. The assimilation of the Albanians was accelerated under Ottoman rule. The resistance of Orthodox Albanians to the Muslims led finally to their joining forces with the Greeks and assimilating into a Greek identity. With time, these Albanians simply became Greeks.

7. Conclusion

We can conclude that Albanian migration to Greece began at the end of the 13th century, although historical records only show their presence at the start of the 14th century. The migration was, in general terms, a peaceful one. The Albanians arrived in Greece at the invitation of Byzantine emperors or of local rulers in Greece. In some cases, of course, there was violent conquest.

The Albanians first appeared in Thessaly, then in Epirus and subsequently, for various reasons, they migrated southwards, from Aetolia-Acarnania, Attica, Euboea to the islands and the Peloponnese. It is probable that this migration of Albanians southwards went hand in hand with a southward movement of Greeks from southern Albania and northern Epirus. Some of these Greeks no doubt mixed in with the Albanian population. This explains the concordance between place names and personal names in southern Albania and northern Epirus with those in central and, in particular, southern Greece. This concordance is particularly evident in regions where migrants from the north settled.

As the source material reveals, the Albanian migration led to a revival of agriculture in “τας αοικήτους” and in “terrenis incultis”.

The emigration of a large portion of the Albanians to Calabria and Sicily in the 15th and 16th centuries substantially reduced the Albanian population in Greece and, in particular, in the Peloponnese.

The complete ethnic assimilation of the Albanians in Greece gave proof of the assimilatory pull of Greece culture. The remaining ‘islands’ of Albanian language, still to be found in some areas of Greece, are vanishing more and more such that, very soon, there will be no traces of their immigration, that Sanudo once referred to as a “pest!”


[Titos Jochalas: ‘Über die Einwanderung der Albaner in Griechenland, eine zusammenfassende Betrachtung.’ in: Dissertationes Albanicae in honorem Josephi Valentini et Ernesti Koliqi Septuagenariorum (Munich: Trofenik 1971), pp. 89-106. Translated from the German by Robert Elsie. For the 94 footnotes, that are omitted in this English version, the interested reader should refer to the German original.]


Titos Jochalas (Photo: Robert Elsie, June 2011).