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Turks. The Albanians have remained Albanians throughout.
The language question is even simpler. One and the same language is spoken by the Albanians from one end of the country to the other, from Mitrovitza and the northern mountains to the Gulf of Arta and eastward through Macedonia.
That in this wide area dialectical differences are to be found which puzzle the stranger, is but natural. A foreigner, even if he knows English well, is equally unable to understand the popular speech of Northumberland or Somerset. To us Albanians the dialect of the Gheg (in the north) and the Tosk (in the south) present no difficulties at all. The language is one and the same. It is, moreover, one of the oldest languages in Europe, and our people have clung to it tenaciously in the face of much enemy opposition. A short sketch of our history will make this abundantly clear.
We first hear of our ancestors from classical authors who describe and give the names of many of the independent clans who inhabited the Balkan Peninsula when its history dawns. All authorities agree that they are not Greek. The Greeks, in fact, designated them "barbarians." The main groups formed by these clans were known as Macedonia, Illyria, and Epirus. The inhabitants of all three, so Strabo informs us, spoke the same tongue and had similar customs.
The very name of Macedonia, formerly known as "Emathia," derives in all probability from the Albanian word E Madhia (the great). As for Illyria, "liria" in Albanian means "freedom," and we Albanians interpret it as "land of the free."
Strabo gives specimens of the language in his day, and also place-names, and their strong resemblance to modern Albanian justifies us in believing our language to be the direct descendant of that spoken by Alexander the Great of Macedon and of King Pyrrhus of Epirus.
In old days Illyria and Epirus together extended from the neighborhood of Trieste to the Gulf of Arta, the north side of which, as Strabo particularly informs us, was inhabited by the Epirotes, and the south by Greeks. Inland the Illyrian and Epirote land spread widely. Thus, all that we now know as Bosnia, the Herzegovina, Montenegro, and a large part of Serbia, was comprised in Illyria, as well as modern Albania.
The inhabitants of the Dalmatian coast harried the Roman shipping, and thus brought about war with Rome, struggles which lasted, indeed, some two centuries. "The difficulty," says J. B. Bury, the eminent historian, "experienced by the Romans in subduing and incorporating into the Empire these brave tribes is well known."
That the Illyrians had already reached a considerable pitch of civilization is proved by the numerous weapons and ornaments found in the pre-Roman graves throughout Bosnia, Serbia, and Albania. The Illyrians were, it appears, among the first to manufacture and export iron.
The Romans, as usual, founded colonies, built towns and made roads—traces of which still exist. But the native population seem to have retained local autonomy under their own chiefs. The clansmen, moreover, displayed the keen intelligence which is their birthright. The conquered became the rulers. Constantine the Great, Diocletian and Justinian, as well as other Emperors of less note, were of native blood.
Christianity arrived early in Illyria. "Round about Illyria," says St. Paul, "have I fully preached the Gospel of Christ." The Albanians claim him as the first missionary among them. Illyria formed part of the Patriarchate of Rome at an early date, and a large number of the North Albanians (Ghegs) are faithful to Rome to this day. Scutari and Antivari have been bishoprics since the fourth century.
The Roman Empire in the East was repeatedly invaded by hordes of barbarians from beyond the Danube. The Avars devastated wide tracts, and after them came the Slavs. These, the ancestors of the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Bosniaks, swarmed in in overpowering numbers. They settled first in some districts depopulated by the Avars, and by the seventh century were widely spread in the Peninsula. They were a tribal and a pastoral people, and, taking possession of the rich plains for their flocks, they drove Roman civilization to the coast of the Adriatic, where it has never completely died out. Of the native Illyrian population, that of the north disappeared. But southward the Illyrians defended themselves in the mountains of modern Albania, and there they preserved their language and customs uninterruptedly, up to the present day, against all comers.
The Slavs, being a pagan people, swept away Christianity in the districts they occupied. Nor were they as a whole converted till the ninth century, and then by missionaries from Salonika. When the final separation between the Eastern and Western Churches took place in 1054, the Slavs threw in their lot with Byzantium.
The Christians of North Albania, after some wavering—due to Slav pressure—have, it would appear, remained faithful to Rome throughout. The South came more and more under the influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church and adopted it.
The history of the Balkans is one of many warring races. The Serbo-Albanian enmity dates from the arrival of the Serb's ancestors into the Peninsula. But the Serbs were not the only foe with which Albania had in early days to contend. Following swift on the coming of the Serbs, came the Bulgars, a warrior people, led by their king. They subdued the Serbs and even threatened Byzantium. The GrecoBulgar hatred dates from the days when the history of Byzantium was a long and bloody struggle between Greek and Bulgar. Albania, too, suffered. The great Bulgar Czar Simeon, in the tenth century, ruled an Empire which included most of Serbia and a large part of Albania. But all the medieval Balkan Empires were short-lived. They were compounded of many inimical elements, and broke to pieces soon after the death of the conqueror that made them. Big Bulgaria was broken up in the eleventh century. Nor did the second great Bulgar Empire of the thirteenth century leave any permanent mark in Albania, save a few place-names, though Czar Asen II ruled from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, and included all Albania as far as Durazzo in his Empire.
Not till the fall of the second Bulgar Empire did the Serbs play an important part in Balkan affairs. A tribal people, they had been weak before the united Bulgar force. In the twelfth century they united under the rule of the remarkable line of Nemanya princes, and established the Kingdom of Rashia and extended it rapidly. Rashia, in Albanian, means plain. It is possible, therefore, that Rashia was the original Illyrian name of the plains of Kosovo. The Serbs were, in fact, known by the name of Rashians even into the eighteenth century.
Each of the Nemanya kings extended his realm by conquest. They spread over North Albania and seized Scutari. Scutari, the capital of North Albania, is one of the oldest capitals in Europe. It is first mentioned under its native name of Scodra in 6o4 B. c. And as Shkodra it is known still to all Albanians. The name of Scutari was given to it by the Venetians in the thirteenth century.
That the Albanians were, when conquered by the Serbs, Catholic, is evident from contemporary accounts. In 1321 they appealed to Charles of Anjou and to Filippo of Taranto to force the Serb King Milutin to respect their religious rights. In 1332 the French friar, Pere Brochard, describes the land and people. "It is inhabited," he says, "by two peoples, the Albanians and the Latins, who both belong to the Church of Rome. The Albanians have a language quite other than Latin. . . . They have four Bishops under the Archbishop of Antivari. . . . Both these peoples are oppressed under the very hard servitude of the most hateful and abominable lordship of the Slavs."
That the friar did not exaggerate is shown by the extremely severe laws enacted against the Catholics by the great Czar Stefan Dushan in 1349 in his celebrated canon. Here we find that those of the Latin heresy who refuse to be converted are punishable by death, as are also Latin priests who attempt to convert anyone to the Latin faith. And so forth.