League of Lezhë
|League of Lezhë
Lidhja e Lezhës
|Legislature||Assembly of Noblemen|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
|-||Established||2 March 1444|
|-||Disestablished||25 April ca. 1450|
|Today part of|| Albania
Part of a series on the
|History of Albania|
The League of Lezhë (2 March 1444 – ca. 1450) was an alliance of Albanian principalities forged in Lezhë on 2 March 1444 and is regarded as the first unified Albanian state.[disputed ][need quotation to verify] It was initiated and organised by Skanderbeg with the aim of uniting the Albanian principalities that had been founded in the 14th century, to fight the Ottoman Armies. The league, whose main members were the Arianiti, Dukagjini family, Spani, Thopia, Muzaka as well as the Albanian highlander clans, was led by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. The League of Lezhë had the trappings of a confederation where each principality over all maintained its sovereignty. Skanderbeg was the supreme commander of the military alliance. 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. 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.
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 Balsha II, the Lord of Zeta, whose forces were defeated in the battle of Savra (18 September 1385) and Balsha II himself was killed.
In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire established itself in the Balkans with no significant resistance was 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. 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 Zenebishti family. Under pressure from the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice, the Albanian principalities began to vacillate.
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. However a more organised resistance than that of a single principality was needed.
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.
- Lekë Zaharia (lord of Sati and Dagnum), and his vassals Pal and Nicholas Dukagjini
- Peter Spani (lord of the mountains behind Drivasto)
- Lekë Dushmani (lord of Pult)
- George Strez, John and Gojko Balšić (lords of Misia)
- Andrea Thopia (lord of Scuria) with nis nephew Tanush
- Gjergj Arianiti
- Theodor Corona Musachi
- 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).
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, 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. Robert Elsie emphasizes that Gjergj Arianiti was often Skanderbeg's rival and that he actually left his alliance with Skanderbeg by 1459.
For 25 years, from 1443–1468, Skanderbeg's 10,000 man army marched through Ottoman territory winning against the consistently larger and better supplied Ottoman forces. 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. 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. According to the Chronicles of Ragusa (also known as the Chronicles of Dubrovnik), the fighting lasted four months and thousands of Albanian soldiers lost their lives. Even so, the Ottoman forces were unable to capture the city and had no choice but to retreat before winter set in. In June 1466, Mehmed II, known as "the Conqueror", led an army of 150,000 soldiers back to Kruja but he still couldn't capture the city.
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. After Skanderbeg's death in 1468, the sultan easily subdued Albania, but Skanderbeg's death did not end the struggle for independence, and fighting continued until the siege of Shkodra in 1478-79 when the Venetian garrison was forced to succumb to the superior Ottoman armies.
Battles of the League of Lezhë
The League of Lezhë fought the following battles against the Ottoman Empire and Republic of Venice:
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Andrea Thopia of Scuria between Tirana and Durazzo with his nephew, Tanush Thopia
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