Before the Roman Empire

Archaeological, linguistic, and anthropological studies show that Albania is occupied by its native people from thousands of years ago. In ancient history, these people were known as the Illyrians. In earliest history Illyricum was a conglomeration of many tribes. This "tribal" paradigm has survived to modern times. During the communist era, a clan mentality existed in the mountainous regions with "chieftains" ruling towns and villages. Even today, blood feuds remain a part of Albanian society in these regions.
The earliest known Illyrian king was Hyllus (The Star), who died in 1225 BC. Illyricum reached its zenith about 400 BC under the rule of King Bardhylus (White Star). The borders of Illyria, under these ancient kings, extended into Bosnia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, a large part of modern Serbia, Montenegro, and Dalmatia. The Illyrian Kingdom declined beginning with the attacks of Philip II of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great).

Under the Roman Empire

    About 229 BC the Illyrian navy of Queen Teuta was plundering Roman commercial shipping. This forced the Roman Senate to declare war on Illyricum. The war gave Rome an excuse to use Illyricum as a beachhead for conquest of the Adriatic regions. In 227 BC Queen Teuta agreed to peace, and by 168 BC Illyricum was under Roman control. In 165 BC Illyria's last king, Gentus, was defeated and brought to Rome as a captive. The brave and warlike Illyrians forced the Roman occupation to maintain a large military force. Records show that Caesar Augustus garrisoned at least two legions in Albania to maintain order.
    Rome influenced Albania more than the previous Grecian Empire: The arts flourished and Latin words found their way into the Albanian language. Even today, one can occasionally find ancient Roman coins.

    The remains of a Roman amphitheater exist in modern day Durrës, a site of gladiatorial games. Tradition tells us that this may have been the site of Titus' martyrdom. Archeologists discovered a lion pit, identified by the characteristic feeding "window" (a hole in the roof) and distinctive rounded corners near the exit. The switch-back exit needed rounded corners since the lions rushed into the arena with such haste. Otherwise, they would injure themselves on the sharp edges of a square corner.

Under the Byzantine Empire

When Rome split in 395 AD, Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire. Under this rule, Illyria suffered devastation by barbarian raiders including the Huns, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Slavs, etc. Only the southern tribes (modern day Albania), preserved their native language and culture amidst Slavic assimilation. During this period, the name of the region changed from Illyria to Arbri and finally to Albania (after the Albanoi tribe which inhabited that region).

Under the Ottoman Empire

    The Byzantine period transitioned to a feudal system. In 1388 the Ottoman Turks invaded Albania and completed its occupation about 1430. The Turkish conquest not only isolated Albania from the benefits of the Renaissance period, but also brought vast destruction and suffering. Nearly 25% of Albania's population fled to other countries such as Italy. Those that stayed did not completely submit to Turkish authorities. The highlands were particularly hard to dominate, and they refused to pay taxes, surrender their weapons, or serve in the army. Soon after the occupation, there arose a military leader who remains Albania's most honored hero. Gjergj Kastrioti was the son of an Albanian vassal who was, in Turkish custom, taken hostage by the Sultan to ensure submission of the parents. Gjergj studied in the Turkish military schools and eventually rose to rank of General due to his ability. He was given the title Iskander Bey (meaning "Lord Alexander), but is known more commonly as Skanderbeg. In 1443 Skanderbeg returned to his father's castle in Kruja and raised his banner against the Turks. This red flag, sporting a black double-headed eagle, is the basis of the modern Albanian flag. With his famous declaration, "I have not brought you liberty, I found it here, among you". he rallied the other Albanian princes. Skanderbeg drove out the Turks in 1449 and kept them out until his death. For 25 years he ruled from his mountain castle of Kruja, frustrating the Turkish use of Albania as a base of invasion of western Europe. The Ottoman's tried 24 times to take Kruja, but failed each time. Skanderbeg efforts were appreciated by Italy and Europe and he received financial and military aid from them.
      Skanderbeg strengthened his defenses by building a string of castles that communicated to each other via smoke signals. Skanderbeg's sister occupied this castle that is just outside of Tirane.
    A view of modern-day Kruja from the site of Skanderbeg's castle.
    Unfortunately, Albania's resistance was based on Skanderbeg's military genius. With his death, the fight against the Turks gradually lost strength. After twelve years the resistance collapsed and when Albania was reoccupied in 1506 many Albanians fled to Italy. The many rebellions led the Ottoman Empire to instigate an Islamic conversion on the populace. By the 17th century two thirds of the nation had converted in order to escape violence or a crushing tax levied on Christians. The Turks exploited this religious fragmentation throughout the Middle Ages to erode Albanian nationalism.

The Struggle for Independence

The Struggle for Independence

    After 400 years of power, Turkey faced widespread rebellion as many of its Balkan subjects sought independence in the late 1800's. In the early 1900's the Albanian people began to formalize their national identity. Turkey was unsuccessful in suppressing the "Albanian League" of 1881. In 1908 the league officially adopted an Albanian alphabet. When Turkey failed to institute promised democratic reforms Albania began a three year armed struggle against Istanbul. On November 28, 1912 a congress in Vlorë declared Albanian independence. During this same period a Balkan alliance successfully defeated Turkey. A delegation of European ambassadors from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary met in London in December 1912 to settle the outstanding issues resulting from the recent conflict. The conference agreed to recognize an independent Albania. However, strong pressure from Albania's neighbors led to the drawing of new borders that did not fall on ethnic lines. Nearly half of the population and lands were given to their neighbors. They ceded the northern region of Kosovo to Serbia, and the southern region to Greece, depriving Albania of its richest agricultural regions. In addition, the conference appointed a German prince, Wilhelm of Wied as ruler. Prince Wilhelm arrived in March 1914 but stayed only six months, when he fled the country at the outbreak of World War I. The war led to occupation by the armies of France, Italy, Greece, Serbia, and Austria-Hungary. These invasions left Albania without any political stability, and the country was nearly absorbed by its neighbors after the war. Fortunately, President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the plans of Britain, France, and Italy at the Paris Peace Conference to divide Albania amongst its neighbors. In January 1920 a national congress in Lushnje laid the foundations of a new government. The following December, with the assistance of Britain, Albania was granted admission into the League of Nations. The young democracy, however, still suffered conflicts. Albanian society split into two major forces. Ahmed Bey Zogu, a chieftain, led the land owners and other chieftains who retained the feudal paradigm of their Ottoman past. The other faction, led by the American-educated Bishop Fan S. Noli, embraced the progressive and democratic west. In March of 1924 Zogu's party won the elections, but he stepped down after a financial scandal and an assassination attempt. By July the western faction gathered enough strength and a popular revolt resulted. Zogu fled to Yugoslavia while Noli was installed as prime minister. Noli began to build a western style democracy and he announced a radical program of land reform and modernization. Unfortunately, Noli failed to carry through on his plans on several fronts. He vacillated on the implementation of his program, failed to garner international support of his slightly leftist government, and had a depleted state treasury. By December, a lack of support allowed Zogu, with Yugoslavian backing, to overthrow the government in an armed assault. At first Zogu began his 1925 reign as president. But, by 1928 he amassed enough power to have himself enthroned as King Zog I. Although officially a constitutional monarchy, he ruled as a dictator; denying his citizens any democratic freedoms. His feudal mindset left the peasantry impoverished and famine would have resulted if not for his annual importation of food. Many left the country in search of a better life. He alienated the educated class and his regime spawned periodic revolts. It was his oppressive reign that planted the seeds of communism. In the face of political and social instability, he signed accords with Italy. Zog was able to bring a fragile stability to the country through Italian financial aid, a coalition of chieftain supporters, and an efficient police force. To his credit, he did reduce the robber gangs that had plagued the country and laid the foundations of a modern educational system. The economic conditions, however, did not improve (especially with the coming of the Great Depression). Fascist Italy took advantage of Albania's weakened condition and used it as their springboard for military expansion into the Balkans. On April 7, 1939 Italy invaded and soon occupied the country, while King Zog was forced to flee to Greece.

During World War II

Albania was occupied throughout World War II. First by the Italians until their surrender in 1943. When they withdrew, Nazi Germany (who had defeated Greece and Yugoslavia earlier) took over in September. Throughout the occupation three resistance groups were active: the National Front, the Legality Party, and the Communist Party (which had formed in 1941). With the withdrawal of the Germans in 1944, the Communist party seized control on November 29th. Enver Hoxha was secretary-general of the party and through his position took leadership. In 1946 the country became officially the People's Republic of Albania, and in 1976 the People's Socialist Republic of Albania.

The Communist Regime: 1944 to 1985

Unlike the other communist satellites, the Albanians had no direct support from Moscow. In addition, Tito openly desired to annex Albania into Yugoslavia. Consequently, Enver Hoxha took a very isolationist view. Yugoslavia's efforts to replace him with a more pliant leader only spurred Hoxha to utilize every ruthless and devious device to solidify his position. The Yugoslavian effort to topple Hoxha incited him to violently eliminate all political, social, economic, and cultural opposition.
The head of the secret police and security forces, Koci Xoxe, unfortunately was pro-Yugoslavian. Hoxha eventually eliminated this threat when Stalin and Tito suffered a schism in 1948. Not only was he able to eliminate internal and external threats, but he was also able to establish Albania's first ties to Moscow. Upon several visits to Moscow, Hoxha soon became an avid disciple of Stalin due to their mutual bloodthirsty and Machiavellian paradigms.
Hoxha suffered a double blow after Stalin's death in 1953. First, Nikita Khrushchev (a reformist and anti-Stalinist) came to power. Second, in 1955, Russia began to rebuild ties with Yugoslavia after eight years. Hoxha was pressured to end his hostility toward Tito, and grudgingly had to make some superficial gestures towards Yugoslavia. The stress between Albania and Moscow continued to mount as Hoxha took personally their attempts to force him to accept reforms and abandon Stalinism. In 1960 Albania sided with China during their early ideological disputes with Moscow. Consequently, Moscow broke off diplomatic relations in 1961 and stopped all economic, industrial and military aid.
The Chinese took up these roles, but the alliance was short lived. On the one hand, Hoxha embraced Mao's cultural revolution. He began a violent campaign in 1967 when religious leaders were arrested and executed, and all religious practices were declared illegal. He even went so far as to declare Albania as the world's first official atheistic state! On the other hand, the cultural and size that existed between China could never be spanned. The rift widened in the 70's when China, much to Hoxha's horror, opened relations with both Yugoslavia and the United States. The alliance was finally severed in 1978 when China withdrew its economic, industrial, and military aid.
Once again Albania was completely isolated both ideologically and economically. Hoxha spurned the outside world and declared that Albania would become a model socialist republic on its own. However, the industrial plants of the 50's, built with Soviet aid, were outdated and rapidly deteriorating. A shortage of machinery led to widespread manual labor on collective farms. Hoxha's paranoia complicated matters as his highly centralized bureaucracy impeded any hope of improvement. The people were bombarded with contradictory government propaganda. There was a constant demand to increase production but people were also encouraged to rely on their own efforts for survival.
In 1981, in an effort to ensure the succession of a younger generation of leaders, Hoxha executed several party and government officials. He then withdrew from the forefront and most state functions were assumed by Ramiz Alia, who succeeded Hoxha when he died in 1985.

The Rocky Road to Democracy: 1985 to 1998

The Rocky Road to Democracy: 1985 to 1998

    With Enver Hoxha's death in 1985, his hand-picked successor, Ramiz Alia, inherited a failing economy and a disgruntled people. To counter the decline Alia legalized foreign investment, instigated some reforms, and began to establish diplomatic contacts with the west. However, the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989 encouraged resistance among the people. To stave the growing unrest, Alia allowed citizens to travel abroad, cut back the activities and powers of the secret police, restored religious freedom, and allowed some capitalistic activities. After a brutal Stalinist regime and isolation that had spiraled Albania into poverty, the reforms were too late and too little. Demonstrations in January 1990 led to a state of emergency in Shkodra. The following July the youth demonstrated in the capital of Tirana and 5,000 citizen sought refuge in foreign embassies. December's student demonstrations forced even more concessions from Alia. The allowance of other political parties in 1990 signaled the end of the dictatorship. Each concession to the opposition only weakened the communist monopoly. In January the first opposition newspaper was published. On February 20th, 1991 thousands of protesters toppled the statue of Enver Hoxha in the capital. By the end of March elections were organized throughout Albania. Although the Socialist Party won the elections and began reforms, the unrest continued. Opposition demonstrators are killed in Shkodra that June and in August 18,000 Albanians are denied asylum after fleeing to Italy. By December the coalition government collapsed when the populace and the opposing Democratic Party accused them of stalling on reforms. New elections were held in March of 1992 and the Democratic Party came to power. Dr. Sali Berisha was sworn in as president in April. The Democratic Party won the elections again on May 26, 1996. Democracy didn't bring peace, however. Many Albanians invested in get-rich-quick pyramids. When these pyramid schemes failed in the spring of 1997 widespread rioting resulted. Citizens blamed Berisha for not warning them, and some even thought the arrest of the pyramid leaders caused the schemes to collapse. Many lost their life savings, and were embittered when Berisha did not suffer financially as well. The resulting riots led to the death of more than 1,500 people and thousands of machine guns fell into the hands of citizens when they looted the military armories. Soon criminal gangs controlled the countryside and Albania nearly collapsed in total anarchy. 
Berisha was forced to schedule new elections in the summer in hopes of restoring order. Those elections were marred by widespread violence despite a 7,000 member International Protection Force guarding polling stations. Drive-by shootings, murders, arson, bombings, and intimidation by gunmen forced polls to close three hours early. Some ballot papers and boxes were stolen or tampered with, but eventually a tally was made. The Democratic party had lost the people's confidence and the Socialist Party came to office, led by Fatos Nano. However, in the autumn of 1998 the assassination of a Democratic Party member incited riots and Nano was nearly overrun in an armed revolt.


    Size: 28,750 square kilometers (land area 27,400 square kilometers); slightly larger than Maryland.

    Location: Southeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea and the eastern part of the Strait of Otranto, opposite the heel of the Italian boot; between approximately 40° and 43° north latitude.

    Topography: A little over 20 percent is coastal plain, some of it poorly drained. Mostly hills and mountains, often covered with scrub forest. The only navigable river is the Bunë.

    Climate: Mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters with a January low of 5°C; hot, clear, dry summers with a July high of 28°C; interior is cooler and wetter.

    Boundaries: Land boundaries total 720 kilometers; borders with Greece 282 kilometers; border with former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 151 kilometers; border with Serbia 114 kilometers; border with Montengro 173 kilometers; coastline 362 kilometers.

    Data as of April 1992


    With its coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, its highlands backed upon the elevated Balkan landmass, and the entire country lying at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns during the winter and summer seasons, Albania has a high number of climatic regions for so small an area. The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean weather; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. In both the lowlands and the interior, the weather varies markedly from north to south.

    The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7° C. Summer temperatures average 24° C, humidity is high, and the weather tends to be oppressively uncomfortable. In the southern lowlands, temperatures average about five degrees higher throughout the year. The difference is greater than five degrees during the summer and somewhat less during the winter.

    Inland temperatures are affected more by differences in elevation than by latitude or any other factor. Low winter temperatures in the mountains are caused by the continental air mass that dominates the weather in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Northerly and northeasterly winds blow much of the time. Average summer temperatures are lower than in the coastal areas and much lower at higher elevations, but daily fluctuations are greater. Daytime maximum temperatures in the interior basins and river valleys are very high, but the nights are almost always cool.

    Average precipitation is heavy, a result of the convergence of the prevailing airflow from the Mediterranean Sea and the continental air mass. Because they usually meet at the point where the terrain rises, the heaviest rain falls in the central uplands. Vertical currents initiated when the Mediterranean air is uplifted also cause frequent thunderstorms. Many of these storms are accompanied by high local winds and torrential downpours.

    When the continental air mass is weak, Mediterranean winds drop their moisture farther inland. When there is a dominant continental air mass, cold air spills onto the lowland areas, which occurs most frequently in the winter. Because the season's lower temperatures damage olive trees and citrus fruits, groves and orchards are restricted to sheltered places with southern and western exposures, even in areas with high average winter temperatures.

    Lowland rainfall averages from 1,000 millimeters to more than 1,500 millimeters annually, with the higher levels in the north. Nearly 95 percent of the rain falls in the winter.

    Rainfall in the upland mountain ranges is heavier. Adequate records are not available, and estimates vary widely, but annual averages are probably about 1,800 millimeters and are as high as 2,550 millimeters in some northern areas. The seasonal variation is not quite as great in the coastal area.

    The higher inland mountains receive less precipitation then the intermediate uplands. Terrain differences cause wide local variations, but the seasonal distribution is the most consistent of any area.

    Data as of April 1992