Kanun (Albania)

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The Kanun or Doke is a set of traditional Albanian laws. The Kanun initially was oral and it was published in writing only in the 20th century.[1] The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini (Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit) was codified in the 15th century.

Six later variations eventually evolved:

The Kanun of Skanderbeg is the most similar to the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, generally the most widely known and also considered a synonym of the word kanun. Lekë Dukagjini developed and codified existing customary laws into The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini.[5] This version has been used mostly in northern and central Albania and surrounding areas of former Yugoslavia where there is a large ethnic Albanian population; Montenegro, Kosovo and North Macedonia. Although first codified in the 15th century it has been in widespread use for much longer. This form was used until the 20th century and then revived after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s.


The term kanun comes from the Greek "κανών" ("canon"), meaning amongst others "pole" or "rule"[6] and was transported from Greek to Arabic and then into early Turkish.[7] It must have been divulgated during the Ottoman rule.[8] It was so widely used that when something was legal it was said to be "kanun",[9] and when not legal, "the kanun doesn't give it". The consuetudinary law was called "kanun".[10] Baroness Von Godin thought it was the Ottomans that gave the name kanun and that the Albanian name Lek (latin lex) was only later perceived as a proper name attributed to late Medieval nobleman of the Dukagjini family.[11]

Other terms[edit]

Aside from the term kanun other words of Turkish extract were used (usull, itifak, adet, sharte) or in the Albanian periphrase "rrugë" or "udhë" (way or path).[11] In Martanesh and Çermenikë it was known as "kanun",[12][9] in Toskëria it was known as "The Kanun of the Adet", in Labëria "The sharte of Idriz Suli",[13][14] in the Bregu district Venomet e Himarës.[15] but in Dibër, Kurbin, Bendë e Tamadhe it was called zakon (from slavonic законъ).[16] According to Çabej,[17] Camaj[18][19] and Schmidt-Neke, the oldest Albanian word by which the customary law was known was doke,[20] meaning "custom", "usance", "tradition" in Albanian.[21]


British anthropologist and writer Edith Durham has suggested that the practice of oral laws that Lekë Dukagjini codified in the Kanun date back to the Bronze Age. [22] Other authors have conjectured that the Kanun may derive from ancient Illyrian tribal laws.[23] Still other authors have suggested that the Kanun retains elements from Indo-European prehistoric eras.[24]

Several stratifications can be observed in the code, however, beginning with pre-Indo-European, Indo-European, Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, general Balkan and Osmanli.[25]

Development and usage[edit]

The Kanun of Lek Dukagjini was named after Lekë Dukagjini, a medieval prince who ruled in northern Albania and codified the customary laws of the highlands.[5] The code was written down only in the 19th century by Shtjefën Gjeçovi and partially published in the Hylli i Drites periodical in 1913.[1] The full version appeared only in 1933 after Gjeçovi's death in 1926.[1] In 1989 a dual English-Albanian version was published.[1][26] and then replicated in a 1992 version.[27]

Although the laws are attributed to Lekë Dukagjini, the laws evolved over time as a way to bring order to these lands. The Kanun is divided into 12 sections,[28] and Gjeçovi's version has 1,262 articles regulating all aspects of the mountainous life: economic organisation of the household, hospitality, brotherhood, clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land, and so on.[1] The Besa (personal honour, compare with Lat. fides) and nderi (family honour, Lat. honor) are of prime importance throughout the code as the cornerstone of personal and social conduct.[1][29] The Kanun applies to both Christian and Muslim Albanians.[1]

Some of the Kanun's most controversial rules (in particular book 10 section 3) specify how murder is to be handled, which in the past (and sometimes still now) would lead to blood feuds lasting until all men of the two involved families were killed.[30][better source needed] In situations of murder, tribal law stipulates the principle of koka për kokë (head for a head) where the relatives of the victim are obliged to seek gjakmarrja (blood vengeance).[5] Regarded simply as producers of offspring, women are referred to in a discriminatory manner and not considered worthy targets as such.[30][better source needed] In some parts of the country, the Kanun resembles the Italian vendetta.[31] These rules resurfaced in the 1990s in Northern Albania, as people had no faith in the powerless local government and police. There are organizations that try to mediate between feuding families and try to get them to "pardon the blood" (Albanian: Falja e Gjakut), but often the only resort is for men of age to stay in their homes, which are considered a safe refuge by the Kanuni, or flee the country. Tribal laws also held that thieves would need to pay fines for the relative amount that was stolen.[5]

Albanian tribes from the Dibra region (known as the "Tigers of Dibra") governed themselves according to the Law of Skanderbeg.[32]

Former communist leader of Albania Enver Hoxha effectively stopped the practice of Kanun with hard repression and a strong state police. After Communism's fall some communities, however, have tried to rediscover the old traditions, but some of their parts have been lost, leading to fears of misinterpretation. In 2014, about 3,000 Albanian families were estimated to be involved in blood feuds; since the fall of Communism this has led to the deaths of 10,000 people.[30][better source needed]


The Kanun is based on four pillars:

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is composed of 12 books and 1,262 articles. The books and their subdivisions are as follows:

  1. Church;
    1. The Church
    2. Cemeteries
    3. Property of the Church
    4. The Priest
    5. Church workers
  2. Family;
    1. The family make-up
  3. Marriage;
    1. Engagement
    2. Wedding
    3. The Kanun of the groom
    4. In-laws
    5. Separation
    6. Inheritance
  4. House, Livestock and Property;
    1. The house and its surroundings
    2. Livestock
    3. Property
    4. The boundary
  5. Work;
    1. Work
    2. Hunting
    3. Commerce
  6. Transfer of Property;
    1. Borrowing
    2. Gifts
  7. Spoken Word;
  8. Honor;
    1. Individual honor
    2. Social honor
    3. 'Blood' and gender; brotherhood and godparents
  9. Damages;
  10. Law Regarding Crimes
    1. Criminals
    2. Stealing
    3. Murder (discussion of sanctioning of blood feuds)
  11. The kanun of the elderly
  12. Exemptions and Exceptions
    1. Types of exceptions
    2. Death

Kanun in literature and film[edit]

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare evokes the Kanun several times in his books, and it is the main theme in his novel Broken April.[33] He also evoques the kanun in his novel Komisioni i festës[34] (English: The Celebration Commission), where Kadare literally describes the Monastir massacre of 1830 as the struggle between two empires: the Albanian Kanun with its code of besa and the Ottoman Empire itself.[35] According to Kadare in his literary critique book Eskili, ky humbës i madh (English: Aeschylus, this big loser),[36] where loser refers to the great number of tragedies that were lost from Aeschylus, there are evident similarities between the kanun and the vendetta[31] customs in all Mediterranean countries.

Barbara Nadel's Deep Waters refers to Kanun and Gjakmarrja.[37]

Joshua Marston's 2011 film The Forgiveness of Blood, a drama set in modern-day Albania, deals with the Kanun. The film relates a blood feud between two families in Northern Albania, focusing primarily on how the feud affects the children of one family.

In season 6, episode 9 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent ("Blasters") the Kanun is referred to as explanation for the sudden retreat of a group of Albanian assassins.

The Kanun plays a major role in the Belgian movie Dossier K.

Elvira Dones' Sworn Virgin refers to Kanun and women's practice of swearing celibacy in return for being accepted as men by all local villagers.[38]

Belgian TV maker Tom Waes visited Albania during one of the shows in his series Reizen Waes. He was served spit-roasted goat and was offered the goat's head, in keeping with Kanun rules about honoring a guest at dinner.[39]

The Kanun is referred to in "The Closer" Season 6 | Episode 14 "The investigation into the Albanian blood feud" [40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cook, Bernard (2001). Europe since 1945 an encyclopedia. Garland Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 0-8153-4057-5. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  2. ^ R. Zojzi The Code of Labëria (Albanian: "Kanuni i Labërisë" Tirana (Institute of Folk Culture Archives
  3. ^ Ilia, I.F. Kanuni i Skenderbegut (1993) The Code of Skanderbeg Shkoder Publisher:Archbishop of Shkodra.
  4. ^ Young, Antonia (2000). Women Who Become Men Albanian Sworn Virgins. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 732. ISBN 978-1-85973-340-0.
  5. ^ a b c d Gawrych 2006, p. 30.
  6. ^ κανών, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  7. ^ Marii͡a Nikolaeva Todorova (2004). Balkan Identities Nation and Memory. NYU Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-8147-8279-8.
  8. ^ Vlora, Eqrem bej; Von Godin, Amelie (2010) [1955-56]. Ndihmesë për historinë e sundimit turk në Shqipëri v. I. Tiranë: 55. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-99943-56-83-6.
  9. ^ a b Martucci, Donato (2017). "Le consuetudini giuridiche albanesi tra oralità e scrittura". Palaver. Palaver Lecce. 2. pp. 73–106. ISSN 2280-4250.
  10. ^ Hasluck, Margaret (2015). The Unwritten Law in Albania. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9781107586932.
  11. ^ a b Reinkowski, Maurus (2005). "Gewohnheitsrecht im multinationalen Staat: Die Osmanen und der albanische Kanun". Rechtspluralismus in der Islamischen Welt: Gewohnheitsrecht zwischen Staat und Gesellschaft. 16. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 121–142. ISBN 9783110184556.
  12. ^ Hasluck 2015, p. 118.
  13. ^ Dojaka, Abaz (1979). "Zgjidhja e martesës në Shqipëri". Etnografia shqiptare. 10. Tiranë: Akademia e Shkencave e RPSH, Instituti i Historisë, Sektori i Etnografisë. p. 10.
  14. ^ Martucci, Donato (2010). I Kanun delle montagne albanesi: fonti, fondamenti e mutazioni del diritto tradizionale albanese. Edizioni di Pagina. p. 20. ISBN 9788874701223.
  15. ^ Habazaj, Albert (2015). Krahina e Himarës në studimet albanologjike të prof. Dr. Jup Kastratit. Vlorë.
  16. ^ Omari, Anila (2012). Marrëdhëniet gjuhësore shqiptaro-serbe. Kristalina KH. pp. 323–324.
  17. ^ Martucci 2010, p. 16. Citim: Secondo Eqrem Çabej, oltre ai termini sopra elencati, veniva utilizzato anche un altro vecchio termine per indicare il diritto consuetudinario albanese, doke, che veniva da 'dukem', apparire, comportarsi. “Doket” (al plurale) significherebbe “raccolta di leggi che determinano come comportarsi con conoscenti e forestieri".
  18. ^ Camaj, Martin (1989). "Foreword". The Code of Lekë Dukagjini. Translated by Leonard Fox. New York: Gjonlekaj Publishing Company. pp. xiii-. ISBN 9780962214103. The old Albanian term, however, is doke, derived from dukem 'appear, behave'. Doket (plural) means "a collection of laws which determine how one behaves with acquaintances and strangers."
  19. ^ Galaty, Michael L. (2018). Memory and Nation Building: From Ancient Times to the Islamic State. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 100. ISBN 9780759122628.
  20. ^ Bardhoshi, Nebi (2013). "The Ethnography of Law in a Dictatorial Situation". In Aleksandar Boskovic; Chris Hann (eds.). The Anthropological Field on the Margins of Europe, 1945-1991. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 175. ISBN 978-3-643-90507-9. Under the influence of linguist Eqrem Çabej and ongoing concerns for language purification (which reached a high point in the 1970s and 1980s), some scholars have preferred to use e drejtë dokësore; such a choice also helps to deny the claims of Yugoslav scholars that the customary law found in Northern Albania originated from Tsar Dusan's Code of 1349 CE [...]
  21. ^ Xhemal Meçi (2002). Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit: në variantin e mirditës. Geer. p. 12.
  22. ^ Foyer-Merib, the (2006). Kolor. Journal on moving communities. Garant. p. 10. ISBN 90-441-2008-5.
  23. ^ Dukagjini, L., Gjecov, S., Fox, L. Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit. Gjonlekaj Publishing Co., 1989. p. xvi.
  24. ^ Cancik, Hubert; Schneider, Helmuth (2002). Brill's New Pauly Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World. Classical Tradition. Brill. p. 92. ISBN 90-04-14221-5.
  25. ^ Sellers, Mortimer; Tomaszewski, Tadeusz (2010). The Rule of Law in Comparative Perspective. Springer Verlag. p. 205. ISBN 978-90-481-3748-0.
  26. ^ Dukagjini, Lekë; Gjeçov, Shtjefën; Fox, Leonard; Shtjefën Gjeçovi; Leonard Fox (1989). Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit. Gjonlekaj Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0-9622141-0-3. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  27. ^ Dukagjini, Lekë; Gjeçov, Shtjefën; Fox, Leonard (1992). Anton Logoreci (ed.). Code of Leke Dukagjini. Translated by Martin Camaj. Gjonlekaj Publishing Company. ISBN 0-9622141-0-8. Archived from the original on 2005-10-27. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  28. ^ Religion and Society in Present-Day Albania by Antonia Young
  29. ^ Gawrych 2006, p. 115.
  30. ^ a b c "'We'll Get You': An Albanian Boy's Life Ruined by Blood Feuds". Spiegel Online. Spiegel Online GmbH. June 6, 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  31. ^ a b Angélique Kourounis; Thomas Iacobi; Jean Christophe Georgoustsos; Nikos Arapoglou (17 November 2012). "Reportage : Albanie, la Bible contre la vendetta" (video). Faut pas croire (in French). Geneva, Switzerland: Radio télévision suisse. Retrieved 25 January 2013. Des jeunes catholiques, soutenus par une religieuse, ont brisé la loi du silence pour combattre le « kanun », un code d'honneur ancestral qui justifie la vengeance et le meurtre.
  32. ^ Gawrych, George (2006). The Crescent and the Eagle: Ottoman rule, Islam and the Albanians, 1874–1913. London: IB Tauris. p. 36. ISBN 9781845112875.
  33. ^ "Broken April - Ismail Kadare". Longitude. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  34. ^ Kadare, Ismail (1980). Komisioni i festës. Prishtinë: Rilindja.
  35. ^ Colafato, Michele (1998). Emozioni e confini per una sociologia delle relazioni etniche. Meltemi Editore srl. p. 82. ISBN 88-86479-69-7. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  36. ^ Kadare, Ismail (2006). Eskili, ky humbës i madh. Tirana: Onufri. ISBN 99943-32-63-5. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  37. ^ Nadel, Barbara (2002). Deep Waters. Headline Book Pub Limited. ISBN 0-7472-6719-7.
  38. ^ Dones, Elvira (2014). Sworn Virgin. And Other Stories. ISBN 978-1-908276-34-6.
  39. ^ NWS, VRT (2015-02-20). "Deze keer koos Tom Waes zélf de bestemmingen van "Reizen Waes"". vrtnws.be (in Dutch). Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  40. ^ Living Proof: Part Two, retrieved 2019-10-24