Albania (placename)

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The toponym Albania may indicate several different geographical regions: a country in the Balkans; an ancient land in the Caucasus; as well as Scotland, Albania being a Latinization of a Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba.[1] This article will cover etymology, as well as trace the usage of the toponyms and related toponyms and ethnonyms from their earliest known occurrence down to present times.

Albania (Caucasus)[edit]

Further information: Caucasian Albania

Albania as the name of a Caucasian Albania, the state and the historical region of the eastern Caucasus, that existed on the territory of present-day republic of Azerbaijan (where both of its capitals were located) and partially southern Dagestan.

However, unlike the names of the other 2 European countries, this name was an exonym given to them by the Romans, as no one knew what these inhabitants called themselves. Compare also the land in Caucasus called Iberia, with the Iberian peninsula in Europe.

Albania (Balkans)[edit]

Further information: Albania (Balkans)

Albania as the name of a region in the Balkans attested in Medieval Latin. It may derive from an ethnonym, Albanoi, the name of an Illyrian tribe. Some linguists[2] propose a derivation from the Proto-Indo-European root *albho-[3], which meant 'white'; referring perhaps to the snow-capped mountains of Albania. Others[citation needed] think the source may be a non-Indo-European root *alb-, meaning "hill, mountain", also present in alp "mountain pasture".


The toponym Arbon (Greek: Ἄρβων or Ἀρβών) [4] or Arbo[5] (Greek: Άρβωνα)[6] is mentioned by Polybius in the History of the World (2nd century BC). It was perhaps an island[7] in Liburnia or another location within Illyria. Stephanus of Byzantium in the 6th century AD, in his important geographical dictionary entitled Ethnica (Εθνικά), cites Polybius, saying it was a city in Illyria and gives an ethnic name for its inhabitants,calling them Arbonios (Greek: Αρβώνιος) and Arbonites (Greek: Αρβωνίτης).[8]


Albanoi first occurs in extant written sources in a work of Ptolemy dating back to 150 AD.[9] "Albanopolis of the Albanoi" appears on a map of Ptolemy, a place located in what is now North central Albania.

The Albanoi were Illyrians, but whether the modern Albanians have an ethnic continuity with the Illyrian Albanoi is disputed (see Origin of Albanians), and the ethnonym may have been transferred to an unrelated people. The Albanoi are also named[citation needed] on a Roman-era family epitaph at Scupi, which has been identified with the Zgërdhesh hill-fort near Kruja in northern Albania.


We first learn of the ancestors of the modern Albanians in their native land as the Arbanites of Arbanon in Anna Comnena's account (Alexiad, IV) of the troubles in that region caused in the reign of her father Alexius I Comneus (1081–1118) by the Normans. In the History written in 1079-1080, Byzantine historian Michael Attaliates was first to refer to the Albanoi as having taken part in a revolt against Constantinople in 1043 and to the Arbanitai as subjects of the duke of Dyrrachium.

In the 12th to 13th centuries, Byzantine[10][page needed] writers use the words Arbanon (Greek: Άρβανον) for a principality in the region of Kruja.

Their descendants in Greece and Italy have been called in different ways with the passing of the years: Arbërór (in Arvanitic) or more commonly Arvanites (in Greek), Arbënuer, Arbënor, Arbëneshë, Arbëreshë.

Arbanon was a region in the mountainous area to the west of Lake Ochrida and the upper valley of the river Shkumbin in 11th century AD.[11]

The medieval ethnonyms Arbanitai and Arbanios and the corresponding modern ethnonyms Arvanite, Arber, and Arbëreshë are considered by many linguists to have the same etymology as Albania, being derived from the stem Alb- by way of a rhotacism, Alb-Arb-. Compare the rhotacism of alb- into arv- in the Neapolitan dialect of Italy.

Some linguists have argued that Arbanitai derives from the place, or river, called Arbanon, and Greek linguist Georgios Babiniotis states that Arvanite, Arber, and Arbëreshë do not derive from Albania or Albanoi.

However, the ethnonym Albanians may itself derive from Arbanon.[12]


Albania was defined as an unambiguous territorial category for the first time when Ottoman Empire established the Sanjak of Albania after the Battle of Savra in 1385.[13]

Albania (Scotland)[edit]

Further information: Alba

Alba, a Gaelic name for Scotland, may be related to the Greek name of Britain Albion, Latinized as Albania during the High Medieval period, and later passed into Middle English as Albany. Some recent scholarship has however connected it with one of the early names of Ireland, "Fodla", which is taken to mean (land of the) "going down" (of the Sun), in contrast to Alba which means (land of the) "rising" (of the Sun). This is consistent with one of the ancient emblems of Scotland consisting of a rising sun crossing the horizon, a symbol laden with much significance.


  1. ^ Price, Glanville (1992). The Celtic Connection. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-86140-248-9. Retrieved 17 December 2013. "Indeed, Eire might well have become the Gaelic name of Scotland as it is that of Ireland. But it was Alba that finally won as the vernacular name while Scotia survived as entirely a literary term" 
  2. ^ Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Indo-European Etymological Dictionary) 1959 p. 30-31
  3. ^ Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Indo-European Etymological Dictionary) 1959 pp. 30–31
  4. ^ The general history of Polybius, Tome 1,"and escaped to Arbon"
  5. ^ Polybius, Histories,2.11,"Of the Illyrian troops engaged in blockading Issa, those that belonged to Pharos were left unharmed, as a favour to Demetrius; while all the rest scattered and fled to Arbo"
  6. ^ Polybius, Histories,2.11,"είς τόν Άρβωνα σκεδασθέντες"
  7. ^ Strabo, Geography H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A., Ed,"The Libyrnides are the islands of Arbo, Pago, Isola Longa, Coronata, &c., which border the coasts of ancient Liburnia, now Murlaka."
  8. ^ Ethnica, Epitome, page 111,line 14, : Αρβών πόλις Ιλλυριας.Πολύβιος δευτέρα, το εθνικόν Αρβώνιος και Αρβωνίτης, ως Αντρώνιος και Ασκαλωνίτης.
  9. ^ Madrugearu A, Gordon M. The wars of the Balkan peninsula. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. p.146
  10. ^ Comnena, Anna. The Alexiad, Book IV.
  11. ^ Studies in late Byzantine history and prosopography Volume 242 of Collected studies Variorum reprints ; CS242 Volume 242 of Variorum reprint Author Donald MacGillivray Nicol Edition illustrated Publisher Variorum Reprints, 1986 ISBN 0-86078-190-9, ISBN 978-0-86078-190-5 page. 160
  12. ^ Britannica
  13. ^ Licursi, Emiddio Pietro (2011), Empire of Nations: The Consolidation of Albanian and Turkish National Identities in theLate Ottoman Empire, 1878 – 1913, New York: Columbia University, p. 19, "This is of key importance, as it demonstrates the Ottoman center’s direct influence in defining Albania as a stable, unambiguous territorial category, for the first time."