The earliest settlers of Albania
The question of the origin of the Albanians is still a matter of controversy among the ethnologists. A great many theories have been propounded in solution of the problem relative to the place from which the original settlers of Albania proceeded to their present home. The existence of another Albania in the Caucasus, the mystery in which the derivation of the name "Albania" is enshrouded, and which name, on the other hand, is unknown to her people, and the fact that history and legend afford no record of the arrival of the Albanians in the Balkan Peninsula, have rendered the question of their origin a particularly difficult one.
But, however that may be, it is generally recognized today that the Albanians are the most ancient race in southesatern Europe. All indications point to the fact that they are descendants of the earliest Aryan immigrants who were represented in historical times by the kindred Illyrians, Macedonians and Epirots. According to the opinion of most ethnologists and linguists, the Illyrians formed the core of pre-Hellenic, Tyrrhenopelasgian population, which inhabited the southern portion of the Peninsula and extended its limits to Thrace and Italy. The Illyrians were also Pelasgians, but in a wider sense. Moreover it is believed that of these cognate races, which are described by the ancient Greek writers as "barbarous" and "non-Hellenic," the Illyrians were the progenitors of the Ghegs, or Northern Albanians, and the Epirots the progenitors of the Tosks, or Southern Albanians. This general opinion is borne out the statement of Strabo that the Via Egnatia or ®gitana, which he describes as forming the boundary between the Illyrians and the Epirots, practically corresponds with the course of river Shkumbini, which now seperates the Ghegs from the Tosks. The same geographer states that Epirots were also called Pelasgians. The Pelasgian Zeus, whose memory survives even today in the appellation of God as "Zot" by the modern Albanians, was worshiped at Dodona, where the most famous oracle of ancient times was situated. According to Herodotus the neighborhood of the sanctuary was called Pelasgia.
These findings of the ethnologists are, moreover, strenghthened by the unbroken traditions of the natives, who regard themselves, and with pride as the descendants of the aboriginal settlers of the Balkan Peninsula. They, therefore, they think have the best claims on it. It is also on the strength of these traditions that the Albanian looks upon the other Balkan nationalities as mere intruders who have expropriated him of much that was properly his own. Hence the constsant border warfare which has gone on for centuries between the Albanian and his neighbors.
The Albanian Language
A more concrete evidence of the Illyrian-Pelasgian origin of the Albanians is supplied by the study of the Albanian language. Notwithstanding certain points of resemblance in structure and phonetics, the Albanian language is entirely distinct from the tongues spoken by the neighboring natonalities. This language is particularly interesting as the only surviving representative of the so-called Thraco-Illyrian group of languages, which formed the primitive speech of the inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula. Its analysis presents, however, great difficulties, as, owing to the absence of early literary monuments, no certainty can be arrived at with regard to its earlier forms and later developments. In the course of time the Albanian language has been impregnated by a large number of foreign words, mainly of ancient Greek or Latin, which are younger than the Albanian Language, but there are certain indications that the primitive Illyrian language exerted a certain degree of influence on the grammatical development of the languages now spoken in the Balkan Peninsula.
There is, however, a very striking feature in this whole matter: that the Albanian language affords the only available means for a rational explanation of the meaning of the names of the ancient Greek gods as well as the rest of the mythological creations, so as exactly to correspond with the characteristics attributed to these deitis by the men of those times. The explanations are so convincing as to confirm the opinion that the ancient Greek mythology had been borrowed, in its entirety, from the Illyrian-Pelasgians. As it was mentioned before, Zeus survives as "Zot" in the Albanian language. The invocation of his name is the common form of oath among the modern Albanians. Athena ( the Latin Minerva), the goddess of wisdom as expressed in speech, would evidently owe its derivation to the Albanian "E Thena," which simply means "speech." Thetis, the goddess of waters and seas, would seem to be but Albanian "Det" which means "sea." It would be interesting to note that the word "Ulysses,"whether in its Latin or Greek form "Odysseus," means "traveler" in the Albanian language, according as the word "udhe," which stands for "route" and "travel," is written with "d" or "l," both forms being in use in Albania. Such examples may be supplied ad libitum. No such facility is, however, afforded by the ancient Greek language, unless the explanation be a forced one and distorted one; but in many instances even such forced and distorted one is not available at all.
In addition, we should not forget the fact that Zeus was a Pelasgian god, par excellence , his original place of worship being Dodona. It is estimated that of the actual stock of the Albanian language, more than one third is of undisputed Ilyrian origin, and the rest are Illyrian-Pelasgian, ancient Greek and Latin, with a small admixture of Slavic, Italian (dating from the Venetian occupation of the seaboard), Turkish and some Celtic words, too.
The origins of the Albanian people, as was mentioned before, are not definitely known, but data drawn from history and from linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological studies have led to the conclusion that Albanians are the direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians and that the latter were natives of the lands they inhabited. Similarly, the Albanian language derives from the language of the Illyrians, the transition from Illyrian to Albanian apparently occurring between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.
Illyrian culture is believed to have evolved from the Stone Age and to have manifested itself in the territory of Albania towardthe beginning of the Bronze Age, about 2000 BC. The Illyrians were not a uniform body of people but a conglomeration of many tribes that inhabited the western part of the Balkans, from what is now Slovenia in the northwest to and including the region of Epirus, which extends about halfway down the mainland of modern Greece. In general, Illyrians in the highlands of Albania were more isolated than those in the lowlands, and their culture evolved more slowly--a distinction that persisted throughout Albania's history.
In its beginning, the kingdom of Illyria comprised the actual territories of Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, with a large part of modern Serbia. Shkodra (Scutari) was its capital, just as it is now, the most important center of Northern Albania.
The earliest known king of Illyria was Hyllus (The Star) who is recorded to have died in the year 1225 B.C. The Kingdom, however, reached its zenith in the fourth century B.C. when Bardhylus (White Star), one of the most prominent of the Illyrian kings, united under scepter the kingdoms of Illyria, Molossia (Epirus*) and a good part of Macedonia. But its decay began under the same ruler as a result of the attacks made on it by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.
In the year 232 B.C. the Illyrian throne was occupied by Teuta, the celebrated Queen whom historians have called Catherine the Great of Illyria. The depredations of her thriving navy on the rising commercial development of the Republic forced the Roman Senate to declare war against the Queen. A huge army and navy under the command of of Santumalus and Alvinus attacked Central Albania, and, after two years of protracted warfare, Teuta was induced for peace (227 B.C.)
The last king of Illyria was Gentius, of pathetic memory. In 165 B.C. he was defeated by the Romans and brought to Rome as a captive.
Henceforth, Illyria consisting of the Enkalayes, the Taulantes, the Epirotes, and the Ardianes, became a Roman dependency. She was carved out into three independent republics the capitals of which were respectively Scodar (Shkoder), Epidamnus (Durres) and Dulcigno (todays' Ulqin in Montenegro).
Authors of antiquity relate that the Illyrians were a sociable and hospitable people, renowned for their daring and bravery at war. Illyrian women were fairly equal in status to the men, even to the point of becoming heads of tribal federations. In matters of religion, Illyrians were pagans who believed in an afterlife and buried their dead along with arms and various articles intended for personal use. The land of Illyria was rich in minerals--iron, copper, gold, silver--and Illyrians became skillful in the mining and processing of metals. They were highly skilled boat builders and sailors as well; indeed, their light, swift galleys known as liburnae were of such superior design that the Romans incorporated them into their own fleet as a type of warship called the Liburnian.