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Albanian Migration to Italy


The First Migration: 1448—The Reres Family of Epiros
The Second Migration: 1462—Skanderbeg
The Fall of Albania: The Refugees 1468 - 1492
1500 and after—From the "Morea"



George Castriota "Skanderbeg"

 
 
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The First Migration: 1448—The Reres Family of Epiros
In 1448 Alfonso of Aragon, the King of Naples, suffered a rebellion caused by certain barons in the rural areas of his kingdom in southern Italy. He needed reliable troops to deal with the uprising, so he called upon his ally, Giorgio Castriota of Kroja, military commander of the Albanian Alliance, for some assistance. Lord Castriota, known as "Skanderbeg", responded to Alfonso's request for aid by sending to Italy a detachment of Albanian troops commanded by General Demetrios Reres. These Albanian soldiers were said to have been a "diverse group", probably from several different clans of Albania, and they brought with them their wives and families.

These Albanians, known in medieval times as Arbėresh, were successful in quickly suppressing the rebellion and restoring order. King Alfonso rewarded Demetrios Reres for his service to Naples by appointing him Governor of Calabria. And his troops, received tracts of land to settle in the mountainous area of today's province of Catanzaro. The twelve towns in Catanzaro were: Amato; Andali;Arietta;Caraffa d' Catanzaro; Carfizzi; Gizzeria; Marcedusa; Pallagorio; S. Nicola dell'Alto; Vena; Zagarise; and, Zangarona.

Two years later in 1450 another detachment of Albanian troops was sent to garrison Sicily against a rebellion and invasion. These troops were led by Giorgio and Basilio Reres, the sons of Demetrios. These soldiers settled in three separate military camps in Palermo Province of Sicily and these camps later became the villages of Contessa Entellina; Mezzojuso; and Palazzo Adriano.

 
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The Second Migration: 1462—Skanderbeg
In 1458 Alfonso of Aragon died and the Kingdom of Naples passed to his bastard son, Ferdinand. This succession of the crown of Naples was opposed by the rural feudal barons of the kingdom and soon, with military assistance from France, they once again rebelled against their Argonese ruler. With backing from Pope Pius II, Ferdinand appealed to Skanderbeg to come to the aid of Naples again, as Ferdnand's father had also appealed almost twenty years before.

In 1461 Skanderbeg landed at Brindisi, with five-thousand Albanian soldiers under his command, and raised the siege of Barletta where Ferdinand was entrapped by the Franco-Italian armies of Giovanni D'Angiņ. Ferdinand then appointed Skanderbeg commander of the combined Neapolitan-Albanian armies and on 18 August 1462 Skanderbeg's forces crushed the baronial army at the battle of Ursara to end the revolt.

Skanderbeg quickly returned to Albania after the victory because of news of a Turkish invasion attempt there. However, his troops remained in Italy and were rewarded with grants of lands east of the city of Taranto in Apulia by Ferdinand, for their service to Naples' cause. The villages they founded there were: Carosino, Faggiano, Fragagnano, Monteiasi, Monteneosola, Monteparano, Rocaforzata, S. Crispieri, S. Giorgio Ionico and S. Marzano. Skanderbeg himself was awarded large tracts of land in Foggia near S. Giovanni Rotondo, including the title to the village of Troia as a future "haven" where his family could flee should the Turks overrun Albania.

 
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The Fall of Albania: The Refugees 1468 - 1492
The third wave of Albanian settlement in Italy was not by soldiers but, by refugees. In 1467 the Turkish army invaded Albania and, for the first time in twenty-five years of attempts, was able to gain a foothold on Albanian soil. The Albanian leader Skanderbeg moved to the coastal city of Lezhė for safety but, was bitten by a malarial mosquito from a nearby swamp and died of a fever there in January of 1468.

Without the strong leadership of Skanderbeg, the Albanian alliance of feudal nobles and tribal chieftains began to fall apart. The fortified cities of Albania, left to the protection of Venice by Skanderbeg's will, began to fall one by one to Sultan Mehmed's armies. As each city fell, the citizens either fled into the mountains or, across the sea to Italy. Many found their way to cities in the north of Italy, especially Venice, while others settled in the many abandoned and underpopulated rural villages of the south.

Skanderbeg's wife and family also fled to Italy after his death, where one of his daughters married into the nobility of Naples to become the Princess Bisagnato. With her position of influence, she is said to have encouraged the kingdom to accept and resettle refugees from her homeland. Skanderbeg's son John Castriota, who had married Irene Palaeologus of the royal Byzantine family, also fled to Italy where he was granted a Dukedom. He continued to lead military expeditions against the Turkish occupation of his homeland for another fifteen years but only with minor success.

Venice was not able to afford to keep up her war alone against the Turks and could not find major allies to join her in the struggle. She was finally forced to sign an unfavorable treaty with the Sultan ceding away most of her ports in Albania to the Ottoman Empire. This move propelled more refugees into Italy. It was during this period that the remainder of the Albanian villages were settled, mostly in Apulia, Molise and Calabria, with one additional village in Sicily.

 
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1500 and after—From the "Morea"
The final migration of Arbėresh to Italy between about 1500 and 1534 was again mostly soldiers but, these were from the South and West of Greece, and were those who had there served in the armies of various feudal lords for several centuries, until they became displaced by the Turkish invasions of the 1480s. Most fled to Venetian trading posts and fortresses on the coasts of Greece, such as Corone, Modone, and Napulia in the Peloponnese (known in Medieval times as the "Morea"). They were enlisted into the Stradiotti, the "colonial light cavalry" of Venice and were stationed on the land approaches to these forts to discourage Turkish raiding and attacks. In the late 15th and early 16th century Venice lost these mainland outposts in Greece and therefore moved her garrisons, including the Stradiotti, to new island posts in the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean Seas.

The dawn of the Sixteenth Century brought a great new power to Europe, in the person of Emperor Charles V, to face off against the expanding Ottoman Empire. To counter a Turkish threat against central Europe Charles invaded the Greek Peloponese and recaptured the fortress of Corone as a diversion. He recruited large numbers of Albanian soldiers, including former Stradiotti because of their experience and success in fighting against the Turks. Charles ordered his Admiral, Andria Doria, to evacuate two hundred shiploads of these soldiers from the south of Greece, including those of the garrison of Corone, and resettled them in many of the existing Arbėresh settlements of Southern Italy. This action is thought to have been because of a concern that the Sultan might have been planning to invade there.

Along with the Albanian troopers, there came to Italy a small number of Greek officers of the Stradiotti. These were mostly exiled members of the Byzantine royal families of Lascaris and Palaeologus, who fled to the Peloponnese after the fall of Constantinople. Besides the soldiers, many Greek merchants took advantage of the chance to evacuate safely under protection of the fleet, rather than risk a sea crossing alone, against the threat of Turkish corsairs.

This last influx of immigrants brought a strong Byzantine Greek influence to many of the Arbėresh villages in which they settled. However, before many years, the more rural villages lost many of the Greeks who, preferring life in the larger cities, soon moved away. Most of the villages then reverted back to a predominantly Arbėresh cultural identity. Many residents of the Arbėresh villages, especially those around Calabria, continued their professions as soldiers as parts of the regiments of the Neapolitan army for several more centuries, especially during the Wars of Religion and, even into the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Venice also continued to employ Albanian cavalry units in her mainland Italian armies for many years after the fall of her overseas possessions.

 
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Last updated: Saturday October 25, 2003
Comments? Email Michael Raymond.