George) Kastrioti was born in Kruja
from Gjon Kastrioti, lord of Middle Albania, who was obliged by
the Ottomans to pay tribute to the Empire. To assure the fidelity
of local rulers the Sultan used to take their sons as hostage
and bring them up in his court. Gjergj Kastrioti attended military
school in the Ottoman Empire and was named Iskander Bey
which in Turkish means Lord Alexandre.
He was distinguished
as one of the best officers in several Ottoman campaigns both
in Asia Minor and in Europe, and the Sultan appointed him General.
He even fought against Greeks, Serbs and Hungarians, and some
sources says that he used to maintain secret links with Raguse,
Venice, Vladislas of Hungary et Alphonse V of Naples. Sultan Murat
II gave him the title Vali which made him the General Governor
of some provinces in central Albania. He was respected everywhere
but he missed his country.
In 1443, during
the battle against the Hungarians of Hunyadi in Nish (in present
day Serbia), he abandoned the Ottoman Army and captured Kruja,
his father's seat in middle Albania. Above the castle he rose
the Albanian flag, a red flag with the black double-headed eagle,
the present-day Albanian flag, and pronounced to his countrymen
the famous words: "I have not brought
you liberty, I found it here, among you". He managed
to unite all Albanian princes at the town of Lezha (League of
Lezha, 1444) and united them under his command to fight against
During the next
25 years he fought, with forces rarely exceeding 20,000 against
the most powerful army of that time and defeated it for 25 years.
In 1450 the Turkish army was led by the Sultan Murad II in person,
who died after his defeat in the way back. Two other times, in
1466 and 1467, Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, led
the Turkish army himself against Skenderbeg and failed too. The
Ottoman Empire attempted to conquer Kruja 24 times and failed
all 24 of them.
successes evoked a good deal of interest and admiration of the
Papal state, Venice and Naples, themselves threatened by the growing
Ottoman power across the Adriatic. The Albanian warrior played
his hand with a good deal of political and diplomatic skill in
his dealings with the three Italian states. Hoping to strengthen
and expand the last Christian bridgehead in the Balkans, they
provided Skenderbeg with money, supplies and occasionally with
troops. One of his most powerful and consistent supporters was
Alfonso the Magnanimous (1416-1458), the Aragone king of Naples,
who decided to take Skenderbeg under his protection as vassal
in 1451, shortly after the latter had scored his second victory
against Murad II. In addition to financial assistance, the King
of Naples undertook to supply the Albanian leader with troops,
military equipment as well as with sanctuary for himself and his
family if such a need should arise.As
an active defender of the Christian cause in the Balkans, Skenderbeg
was also closely involved with the politics of four Popes, one
of them being Pius II (1458-1464) or Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini,
the Renaissance humanist, writer and diplomat.
by the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Pius II tried to organise
a new crusade against the Turks; consequently he did his best
to come to Skenderbeg's aid, as two of his predecessors Nicholas
V and Calixtus III, had done before him. This policy was continued
by his successor, Paul II,(1464-1473).They gave him the title
For a quarter
of a century he and his country prevented Turks from invading
Catholic Western Europe.
After his death
from natural causes in 1468 in Lezha, his soldiers resisted the
Turks for the next 12 years. In 1480 Albania was finally conquered
by the Ottoman Empire. When the Turks found the grave of Skenderbeg
in Saint Nicholas church of Lezha, they opened it and held his
bones like talismans for luck. In 1480 the Turks invaded Italy
and conquered the City of Otranto.
renown was by no means confined to his own country. Voltaire thought
the Byzantine Empire would have survived had it possesed a leader
of his quality. A number of poets and composers have also drawn
inspiration from his military career. The French sixteenth-century
poet Ronsard wrote a poem about him and so did the nineteenth-century
American poet Longfellow. Antonio Vivaldi, too, composed an opera
is the National Hero of Albania. Many museums and monuments are
raised in his honour around Albania, and among them the Museum
of Skenderbeg in his famous castle in Kruja.
Noli, Fan S.: George Castrioti Scanderbeg, New York, 1947 Logoreci,
Anton: The Albanians, London, 1977.
With thanks to