REST YOUR SPIRIT
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 maybe, it is generally recognized today that the
Albanians are the most ancient race in southeastern 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 born 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 Shkumbin, which now separates 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.
A more concrete evidence
of the Ilyrian-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-Ilyrian 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
Ilyrian-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 Thëna," 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 "udhë,"
which stands for "route" and "travel," is written with "d" or "l," both
forms being in use in Albania.
Such examples may be supplied and libitum. No such facility is, however,
afforded by the ancient Greek language, unless the explanation be forced
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 Ilyrian-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.