League of Lezhë

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League of Lezhë
Lidhja e Lezhës
Participant in Ottoman-Albanian Wars
Establishment of the League of Lezhë, Skanderbeg Museum.jpg
Romantical painting of the establishment of the League of Lezhë, from the Skanderbeg Museum.
Active 1444–50
Ideology Christianity
Leaders Skanderbeg
Area of operations Sanjak of Albania
Strength 8,000
Opponents Ottoman Army
Battles and wars See list

The League of Lezhë (2 March 1444 – ca. 1450) was an alliance of Albanian principalities forged in Lezhë on 2 March 1444, initiated and organised by Skanderbeg with the aim of uniting the Albanian magnates against the Ottoman Empire. The league, whose main members were the Arianiti, Balšić, Dukagjini, Muzaka, Spani and Thopia, as well as various Albanian highlander clans, was led by Skanderbeg. All earlier and many modern historians accepted Marin Barleti's news about this meeting in Lezhë (without giving it equal weight), although no contemporary Venetian document mentions it.[1] Barleti referred to the meeting as the generalis concilium or universum concilium [general or whole council]; the term "League of Lezhë" was coined by subsequent historians.[2]


After the death of Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan in 1355, Albanian noblemen established their own dominions. When Ottoman forces entered Albania, they were faced with small principalities that were engaged in vicious fights among themselves. The first battle against the Ottoman forces in Albania was that of Balša II, the Lord of Zeta, whose forces were defeated in the battle of Savra (18 September 1385) and Balša II himself was killed.[citation needed]

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire established itself in the Balkans with no significant resistance offered by local Christian nobles during this period. Many of them were still fighting amongst themselves and didn't see the advance of the Ottoman Empire as a threat to their power. Although a civil war broke out between Bayezid I sons', during 1402–1413, none of the Christian noblemen in the Balkans at the time seized the opportunity to repel the Ottomans; in the contrary, Serbs and Hungarians even helped the future Sultan Mohammed I seize power, by participating as his allies in the final battle against his brother.[3] After the Ottoman civil war was over in favor of Mehmed I, his forces captured Kruja from the Thopia family in 1415, Berat in 1417 from Muzaka, Vlora and Kanina in 1417 from the widow of Balsha and Gjirokastër in 1418 from the Zenevisi family. Under pressure from the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice, the Albanian principalities began to vacillate.[4]

Together with occupation, new rulers were appointed and the registration process of the population and properties was done by Ottoman tax officers. Local populations and old nobility were not happy with that and various local rebellions took place. The most famous ones being those of Gjon Kastrioti in 1429–1430 and Gjergj Araniti in 1432–1435.

In November 1443, Skanderbeg captured Kruja with his troops and declared its independence from the Sultan.[5]


Skanderbeg's example gave impetus to the liberation movements in Central and Northern Albania. George Kastrioti made efforts to unite all moral and material resources of the individual families in a successful struggle against the Ottomans. To this effect, on 2 March 1444 he called in Lezhë an assembly of the Albanian princes, where almost all of them gathered: the Arianits, Dukagjin, Thopias, Muzakas, as well as the leaders of the free Albanian tribes from the high mountains. In spite of the discord among the princes, they founded a union, which went down in history by the name of the League of Lezhë.

The League of Lezhë was founded by:[6][7][8]

  1. Lekë Zaharia (lord of Sati and Dagnum), and his vassals Pal and Nicholas Dukagjini
  2. Peter Spani (lord of the mountains behind Drivasto)
  3. Lekë Dushmani (lord of Pult)
  4. George Strez, John and Gojko Balšić (lords of Misia)
  5. Andrea Thopia (lord of Scuria) with nis nephew Tanush[9]
  6. Gjergj Arianiti
  7. Theodor Corona Musachi
  8. Stefan Crnojević (lord of Upper Zeta) with his three sons Ivan, Andrija and Božidar (the latter was killed by Lekë Dukagjini and members of Zaharia family when he led soldiers to help Skanderbeg in his fight against the Ottomans).[10]

It was made up of the feudal lords in Albania, and was according to Georges Castellan "a precarious alliance".[11] Skanderbeg was elected its leader and commander-in-chief of its combined armed forces numbering 8,000 warriors.[12][13] Through treaties, the league was put under King Alfonso V, with Skanderbeg as captain general.[14]

In the light of modern geopolitical science, the League of Lezhë represented an attempt to form a state union. In fact, this was a federation of independent rulers who undertook the duty to follow a common foreign policy, jointly defend their independence, and contribute their armed forces to the alliance. Naturally, it all required a collective budget for covering the military expenditures, and each family contributed their mite to the common funds of the League.

At the same time, each clan kept its possessions, its autonomy in solving the internal problems of its own estate. The formation and functioning of the League, of which George Kastrioti was the supreme feudal lord or suzerain, was the most significant attempt to build up an all-Albanian resistance against the Ottoman occupation and, simultaneously, an effort to create, for the span of its short-lived functioning, some sort of a unified Albanian state. It is no accident at all that to this day Skanderbeg is a national hero of the Albanians, and the period of the Albanian League has been perceived by the Albanians as a peak in their history, especially if compared with the subsequent failed attempts, until the beginning of the 20th century, to constitute an independent statehood.

After Peter Spani and George Dushmani left the League of Lezha,[15] and after the Arianiti and Dukagjini left it in 1450, members of Dukagjini family concluded peace with the Ottoman Empire and started their actions against Skanderbeg.[16] Robert Elsie emphasizes that Gjergj Arianiti was often Skanderbeg's rival and that he actually left his alliance with Skanderbeg by 1459.[17]


Albanian assault on a Turkish encampment

For 25 years, from 1443–1468, Skanderbeg's 10,000 man army marched through Ottoman territory winning against consistently larger and better supplied Ottoman forces.[18] Threatened by Ottoman advances in their homeland, Hungary, and later Naples and Venice – their former enemies – provided the financial backbone and support for Skanderbeg's army.[19] On May 14, 1450, an Ottoman army, larger than any previous force encountered by Skanderbeg or his men stormed and overwhelmed the castle of the city of Kruja. This city was particularly symbolic to Skanderbeg because he had been appointed suba of Kruja in 1438 by the Ottomans. The Ottoman forces were unable to capture the city and fell back as winter arrived. In June 1466, Mehmed II led an army of 150,000 soldiers back to Kruja but failed to capture the city.[20]


Though an official date of dissolution is unknown, the League of Lezhë fragmented soon after its founding, with many of its members breaking away. By 1450 it had certainly ceased to function as originally intended, and only the core of the alliance under Scanderbeg and Araniti Comino continued to fight on.[21] After Skanderbeg's death in 1468, the sultan "easily subdued Albania," but Skanderbeg's death did not end the struggle for independence,[22] and fighting continued until the Ottoman siege of Shkodra in 1478–79, a siege ending when the Republic of Venice ceded Shkodra to the Ottomans in the peace treaty of 1479.


The League of Lezhë fought the following battles against the Ottoman Empire and Republic of Venice:


The League has been regarded as the first unified Albanian state.[23][24][25][disputed ][need quotation to verify]


  1. ^ Božić 1979, p. 363

    Мада ниједан савремени млетачки документ не помиње овај скуп, сви старији и многи новији историчари прихватили су Барлецијеве вести не придајући им, разуме се, исти значај.

  2. ^ Biçoku, Kasem (2009). Kastriotët në Dardani. Prishtinë: Albanica. pp. 111–116. ISBN 978-9951-8735-4-3. 
  3. ^ Sedlar 1994, p. 264
  4. ^ Frashëri 1964, p. 57
  5. ^ Noli 1947, p. ?[page needed]
  6. ^ Noli 1947, p. 36
  7. ^ Božić 1979, p. 364

    Никола Дукађин убио је Леку Закарију. Према млетачком хроничару Стефану Мању убио га је "у битки" као његов вазал. Мада Барлеције погрешно наводи да је убиство извршио Лека Дукађин

  8. ^ Schmitt 2001, p. 297

    Nikola und Paul Dukagjin, Leka Zaharia von Dagno, Peter Span, Herr der Berge hinter Drivasto, Georg Strez Balsha sowie Johann und Gojko Balsha, die sich zwischen Kruja und Alessio festgesetzt hatten, die Dushman von Klein-Polatum sowie Stefan (Stefanica) Crnojevic, der Herr der Oberzeta

  9. ^ Noli 1947, p. 36

    Andrea Thopia of Scuria between Tirana and Durazzo with his nephew, Tanush Thopia

  10. ^ Petrović-Njegoš 1835

    У овога Стефана бише три сина: Иван, Божидар и Андрија... Стефан бјеше у вријеме великога и славнога у великијем дјелам Георгија Кастриота, реченога Скендер-бега коме пошиљаше помоћ противу Тураках под начелством сина својега Божидара, којега вјероломни Лека Дукађин, уједно са Захаријем Амнисфером, књазом од неке части Арбаније и сојузником Скендер-беговијем, дочека бусијом на некојему мјесту и обојицу уби, и велику жалост Кастриоту и свој његовој војсци, како и Стефану, учини.

  11. ^ Georges Castellan (1992). History of the Balkans: From Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin. East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-88033-222-4. In Albania the Ottomans continued to be confronted by Skanderbeg and feudal lords who in 1444 had formed the League of Alessio (Lezha). Yet this was a precarious alliance and ... 
  12. ^ Fox, Robert (1993), The inner sea: the Mediterranean and its people, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 195 
  13. ^ Vlora, Ekrem Bey (1956), The Ruling Families of Albania in the pre-Ottoman Period in: Contributions to the History of Turkish Rule in Albania: an Historical Sketch 
  14. ^ Stavro Skendi (1980). Balkan Cultural Studies. East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-914710-66-0. With this network of treaties, the League of Alessio was placed under King Alphonse V, with Skenderbeg as Captain General.78 When Musachi Thopia was apparently reluctant to collaborate with Skenderbeg, the King of Naples reminded him ... 
  15. ^ Bozbora, Nuray (2002), Shqipëria dhe nacionalizmi shqiptar në Perandorinë Osmane, Shqipëria: Tirana, p. 79, retrieved 25 September 2012, Por të pafuqishëm për t'i bërë ballë fuqisë së Skënderbeut, si rrugëdalje ata gjetën shkëputjen nga Lidhja. Të parët që ndërmorën një veprim të tillë ishin Pjetër Spani dhe Gjergj Dushmani. 
  16. ^ Frashëri, Kristo (1964), The history of Albania: a brief survey, Shqipëria: Tirana, p. 78, OCLC 230172517, retrieved 23 January 2012, In 1450 two powerful aristocratic families, Arianits and Dukagjins, left the league.... Skanderbeg tried to keep them near him. But his efforts failed. The Dukagjins not only did not accede, but on the contrary, concluded peace with Sultan and began to plot against Skanderbeg. 
  17. ^ Robert Elsie (24 December 2012). A Biographical Dictionary of Albanian History. I.B.Tauris. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-78076-431-3. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Housley 1992, p. 90
  19. ^ Fine 1994, p. 558
  20. ^ Housley 1992, p. 109
  21. ^ http://www.albanianhistory.net/texts21/AH2008_2.html
  22. ^ Lane–Poole, Stanley (1888), The story of Turkey, G.P. Putnam's sons, p. 135, OCLC 398296 
  23. ^ Matanov, Christo (2010-06-21). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 978-0-19-533403-6. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 
  24. ^ Pickard, Rob; Çeliku, Florent (2008). Analysis and reform of cultural heritage policies in South-East Europe. Council of Europe. p. 16. ISBN 978-92-871-6265-6. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  25. ^ Schmitt, Oliver Jens (2009), Skënderbeu (in Albanian), K&B Tiranë, ISBN 978-99956-667-5-0