Medieval cities of Albania

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In the 14th and 15th centuries, the cities of Albania marked a slight but permanent progress. A number of new urban centers appeared around the coasts and river valleys. The city of Kosovo developed based on extraction and processing of ores of lead, silver and gold. In the late Middle Ages, the Albanian cities were distinguished with development of craftsmanship, in particular the craftsmanship of jewelry, furring, carpentry, construction and gunsmithing. Craftsmanship development also induced internal and foreign trade, particularly with the Italian trade cities and with Dubrovnik. The internal trade was developed through the old and new trading routes, influencing positively the significant connections of ethnic Albanian provinces.

Development of old cities and the rise of new cities[edit]

Medieval Albanian cities grew and developed during 14th and 15th centuries. Besides the existing cities, a number of new centers appeared, in the vicinity of rivers and in the river valleys, including Shirgj on the coast of river Buna, Shufadaja in the valley of Mati, Pirgu and Spinarica in the valley of Seman river. In the upper Albania (Kosovo), several important centers were restored, in particular those dealing with extraction and processing of minerals such as: lead, silver and gold, centers to be mentioned here are; Janjeva, Trepça and Novoberda.[1]

Durres was the largest city. It was one of the main centers for trade and politics of the country. In the second half of the 14th century the population of this city was 25,000 inhabitants. In Northern Albania, after Durres, the second largest was Shkodra, which was surrounded by a number of smaller cities like Tivar, Ulqin, Shas, Balec, Sepa and Lezha.[2]

The main cities in the south were Berat, Vlora, Janina and Preveza. Following the fall of Durres, from the beginning of the 15th century, Vlora was becoming the main center in the Albanian coastline, followed by Gjirokastra, Korça, Bradashesh (near present-day Elbasan) being towns with a relatively small number of population.[3]

Craftsmanship products[edit]

Through the 13th and 14th centuries in Albanian cities, a development and specialization of trade was noticed. A series of factors impacted in this aspect, worth to be mentioned are: increase of population in the cities, the need for craftsmanship products, technical enhancement, the short distance to the mines of iron, lead and silver in Kosovo. The craftsmanship of iron processing was especially widespread in Kosovo, and afterwards in other cities as well. Agricultural tools were produced, home iron furnishings, nails and in particular weapons used to be produced. 93 Documents of time mention shops and craftsmen of jewelry, tailors, fur tradesmen, bakers, wax craftsmen, carpenters, forgers, gunsmiths, butchers etc.[4]

For good products, the cities would gain goodwill beyond their respective regions. Thus Vlora and Ulqin were famous for production of swords; Shkodra and Ulqin for casting belfries. In Shkodra and in Prizren gold and silver was processed for ornaments. They were even produced by craftsmen from the villages of monasteries. Albanian farriers in the region and beyond were distinguished for the original manners of shoe wearing to horses. Foreign countries were seeking stone carvers and bricklayers from Durres, carpenters from Balec etc.[5]

From craftsmanship of most advanced wearing products were those of furring, shoemakers and tailors. The tailor used to beautifully decorate clothes, with golden embroiders and lines. As for production and processing of silk Vlora, Shkodra, Drisht etc. were distinguished. There were potteries, candle makers, bakers and butchers, drink shops and taverns in different cities. In some sea coast cities, salt extraction was very important. At the sea coast several plants existed for construction of ships.[6]

Cities played a significant role for connecting the provinces. The salt was one of the main items serving to interconnect the provinces, what was considered as the oil of middle age. Lack of salt in internal territories, in Kosovo had already linked for a long time now with the cities of Durres, Shirgji and Lezha. Also complete lack of minerals in the sea coast line cities dictated the need to strengthen the inter-provincial link. Caravans loaded with metals and agricultural and livestock items entered from Kosovo to Durres, and also from other inner provinces of the country. Another factor of connecting provinces was meeting of tradesmen from Durres in Ulqin, Tivar, Shkodra, Lezha and in markets of river valleys.[7]

Circulation was conducted, but with difficulties. At the main points, such as fords, bridges and ports where such roads ended, customs were set up, where the caravans had to pay taxes for crossing the goods. In some cases the customs tax was collected several times for the same good in the areas of one feudal. This significantly obstructed trade. However the internal circulation of goods from one province to the other induced some citizens to link different provinces of the country. Thus Shkodra used to link Albanian cities and territories from the northwest and northeast side. In the Central Albania, such a role was played by Durres, whereas in the Southern Albania, there were Vlora, Berat, etc.[8]

In the first stage of trade exchanges, foreign, Byzantine, Venetian coins were used as money, which were forged in gold and silver. But later, in the 13th and 14th centuries, the money of the country was issued and used, which was forged in silver and bronze in the cities like Shas, Drisht, Tivar, Ulqin, Shkodra, Durres, Prizren, Rudnik, Novoberda and Trepça[9]

Foreign trade[edit]

The Albanian cities also began to connect with cities of other Balkan countries and even beyond the sea. Such links were favored by empowerment of important trade cities in Italy, as for example in the 11th and 13th century were Amalfi and Venice, and later Ragusa in Dalmacia.[10]

From the sources of that time, tradesmen from Durres, Vlora, Shkodra, Ulqin and Tivar developed their activity in Ragusa, Venice, Kotor, Budva, Corfu, etc. Albanian tradesmen went as far as to Egypt, Syria in East, whereas to the West as far as in Flandria. Among them, Durres, Ulqin, Prizren and Peja tradesmen were the most remarkable.[11]

The main articles they traded included: salt, cereals, wood of different types, processed in the country plants, leather, tap, oil, honey, wax, salted fish, wine, metals, silk, types of meat etc. As for cereal trade, Durres, Pirg, Shufadaja, Shirgji were distinguished.[12]

In the middle age, Albania was not only an exporting country, but importer as well. Before all, fabric was imported, mainly from Venice. In the Venetian Albania, it was not allowed purchasing fabric from any other country but Venice. Wine, sugar and iron products were bought from Italy. Foreign trade of Albania was mainly developed by Venetian and Ragusa tradesmen. However, import was much larger than the export.[13]

In the Albanian cities and markets, lots of foreign tradesmen developed their activity. According to the chronicle from Ana Komnena, since the 11th century, there were colonies of tradesmen from Amalfi and Venice in Durres. Except the Venetians, in Albanian cities, the tradesmen from Ragusa were present as well, also followed by those from Ortona, Rimin, Barleta, Ancona, Zara, Kotor, Vidin, Thessaloniki, Firenze etc. Venetian consuls settled in Durres, Vlora, Ulqin etc. the consul of Ragusa was settled in Prizren to work for the interests of Ragusa tradesmen in Kosovo. Foreign traders used to bring fabrics and cloth materials, weapons, ornaments, glasses, mirrors, expensive spices, sugar etc. They had ensured privileges from the Albanian feudal leaders, who had waived their right to customs tax.[14]


According to the provisions deriving from the Statute of Ragusa, Prizren was obliged for the interest of the tradesmen from Ragusa, to organize two times a year, minimum of one-month duration fairs, in the areas of Balkans. Moreover, the consul of Prizren had jurisdiction to issue judgments in resolution of disagreements between the Ragusa people, and to also issue decision and punishments. Tradesmen from Ragusa also established some new institutions, e.g. customs, forgery for production of coins, churches and hospitals. In this city, the coin containing inscription “Prizren” was forged.[15]

A large quantity of data testify the daily business relations between the people from Ragusa and the Prizren tradesmen. From this data, it is obvious that the first Kosovar tradesmen were exactly from Prizren, whom we encounter by the end of the 13th century. Except their trade relations in the field of export and import, Prizren tradesmen are in majority of cases found as debtors of the Ragusa creditors. Their number reaches around 100 in the years 1352-1369. It is normal that this figure cannot be a realistic reflection of the total number of tradesmen from Prizren during the mentioned years, considering that there is lack of local saved documents. Whereas, the data deriving from the books of the series of reformations from the Historical archive of Ragusa, show that the tradesmen from Prizren, by the middle of the 14th century are found in Ragusa, not just as debtors, but also as tradesmen of various goods. There are also many cases known of trade with cloth materials and various craftsmanship and artistic products.[16]

Permanent connections of Prizren with Dalmatic, Italian and Albanian coastline cities, not only brought benefits to the city in economic aspect, but they also had their influence on transposing the reciprocal impacts in the field of culture, especially in figurative arts, in medicine, pharmacy and literature.[17]

As a result of the proximity with Novo-Brdo, within a short time, Pristina turned into a trading center. During the first half of the 14th century, the number of Raguzans kept increasing. Moreover, in Pristina there were also settled traders from Split and Zadar and as well as traders from Ulcinj and Turkey.[18]

Trading routes[edit]

From a general observation of the geographical area, and of the economic and political life, it is found that the primary inter-provincial links in the territories inhabited by Albanians would pursue the horizontal directions (west-east), and three economic zones were formed: Upper Albania, Middle Albania and Lower Albania, which had their own trade route system.[19]

There were four important trade routes going through Upper Albania, which linked the coastline with the eastern territories:

  1. Dubrovnik - Cernicë - Novi Pazar - Zveçan (Mitrovica) - Nish;
  2. Sea coast (Kotor, Budva and Tivar) - Breskovc (Pllava)- PejaFushë e Kosovës - Nish and the branches Fushë e KosovësSkopje;
  3. Sea coast - ShkodraRrafshi i Dukagjinit (Dukagjini Plane) – Fushë e Kosovës - Nish and the branches Fushë e KosovësSkopje;
  4. Sea coast (Shufada, Lezha) – Fan - PrizrenFushë e KosovësSkopje and the branches Fushë e KosovësSkopje.[20]

Two important trade routes went through Middle Albania:

  1. Sea coast (discharge canyon of Ishin river, Durres) – Shkalla e Tujanit – Bulqiza – Dibra - Tetovo- Skopje;
  2. The road called Egnacia (Durres - Oher - Manastir - Selanik, being the most important route and the only one used by carts. It had lots of branches connecting with the system of roads of Upper Albania and Lower Albania.

In a horizontal plane, several roads were going through Lower Albania:

  1. Sea coast (discharge canyons of Seman and Vjosa rivers) - Berat - Fushe e Korçës - Kostur - Manastir - and the second branching Berat - Permet - Janina;
  2. Vlora - along the river Vjosa - Janina;
  3. Butrint - Gjirokastër;
  4. Arta - Janina

Besides the above described routes, the ethnic Albanian territories were pervaded in vertical line by other trade routes. One used to go along the sea coastline territories, which were even better connected between them through the sea routes. Whereas the best trade route in horizontal line was going through the territories of eastern Albania and it used to connect important centers like: Nish, Skopje, Manastir, Kostur, Janina, etc. This route, along with Egnacia road and with many of their branches, must have played a primary role in homogenizing the ethno-cultural features of Albanians and on expansion of the medieval national name known as Arber (Arberi, Albani). The provinces of Middle and Upper Albania were linked with each other also with other routes going through vertical line, along the valley of Drin river etc.[21]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Jahja Drançolli, Qytetet e Kosovës gjatë mesjetes, Buletin i Fakultetit Filozofik XXVI/1996, Prishtinë, 2001, OCLC 162642138
  • K. Biçoku, Viset etnike shqiptare në mesjetë, Studime Historike, Nr.1-4, Tiranë, 1995.
  • Peter Bartl, Shqiperia nga mesjeta deri sot, Drita, Prizren, 1999.
  • P. Thengjilli, Historia e popullit shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tiranë, 1999, ISBN 99927-0-037-8
  • Jahja Drançolli, Arbërit ndërmjet Perëndimit dhe Lindjes gjatë Mesjetës, Zagreb, 2008.
  • Valter Shtylla, Rrugët dhe urat e vjetra në Shqipëri, Tiranë, 1997, ISBN 99927-1-013-6
  • Noel Malcolm, Kosova – Një histori e shkurtër, KOHA, Prishtinë, 1998, Print

References[edit]

  1. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.64
  2. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.64
  3. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.64
  4. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.64
  5. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.64
  6. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.64-65
  7. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.68
  8. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.68
  9. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.70
  10. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.69
  11. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.69
  12. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.69
  13. ^ Peter Bartl, Shqiperia nga mesjeta deri sot, Drita, Prizren, 1999, pg.39
  14. ^ P. Thengjilli, Historia e Popullit Shqiptar 395-1875, Shblu, Tirane, 1999, pg.69-70
  15. ^ Jahja Drancolli, Qytetet e Kosoves gjate mesjetes, Buletin i Fakultetit Filozofik XXVI/1996, Prishtine, 2001, pg.43
  16. ^ Jahja Drancolli, Qytetet e Kosoves gjate mesjetes, Buletin i Fakultetit Filozofik XXVI/1996, Prishtine, 2001, pg.43
  17. ^ Jahja Drancolli, Qytetet e Kosoves gjate mesjetes, Buletin i Fakultetit Filozofik XXVI/1996, Prishtine, 2001, pg.44
  18. ^ Noel Malcolm, Kosova – Një histori e shkurtër, KOHA, Prishtinë, 1998, pg 153
  19. ^ K. Bicoku, Viset etnike shqiptare ne mesjete, Studime Historike, Nr. 1-4, Tirane, 1995, pg.25-26
  20. ^ K. Bicoku, Viset etnike shqiptare ne mesjete, Studime Historike, Nr. 1-4, Tirane, 1995, pg.26
  21. ^ K. Bicoku, Viset etnike shqiptare ne mesjete, Studime Historike, Nr. 1-4, Tirane, 1995, pg. 112