Principality of Arbanon
|Principality of Arbanon|
|Principata e Arbërise|
|Autonomous principality within the Byzantine Empire (until 1204) and the Despotate of Epirus (from ca. 1205)|
Roman Catholicism 
|•||fl. 1216–53||Gregory Kamonas|
|•||fl. 1252–55||Golem (last)|
|Today part of||Albania|
Arbanon (Albanian: Arbër, Arbëria, Greek: Ἄρβανον, Latin: Arbanum) or Albanon (Greek: Ἄλβανον), was an autonomous principality, the first Albanian entity during the Middle Ages, initially part of the Byzantine Empire and later of the Despotate of Epirus. The state was established by archon Progon in the region of Kruja, in c. 1190. Progon was succeeded by his sons Gjin and then Demetrius, who attained the height of the realm. After the death of Demetrius, the last of the Progon family, the principality came under Gregory Kamonas, and later Golem, until its dissolution in 1255.
Throughout its existence, the principality was an autonomous dependency of its neighbouring powers, first Byzantium and, after the Fourth Crusade, Epirus, while it also maintained close relations with Serbia.
According to some scholars, Progon's realm was the first Albanian state during the Middle Ages. Pipa and Repishti conclude that Arbanon was the first sketch of an "Albanian state", and that it retained semi-autonomous status as the western extremity of an empire (under the Doukai of Epirus or the Laskarids of Nicaea). The rulers were titled archon by the Byzantines.
Before 1204, Arbanon was an autonomous principality of the Byzantine Empire. The titles archon (held by Progon) and panhypersebastos (held by Dhimiter) is a sign of Byzantine dependence. After 1204, the Albanians naturally followed the Despotate of Epirus, successor of the Byzantine Empire. The Gëziq inscription mention the Progon family as judices, and notes their dependence on Vladin and Đorđe Nemanjić (r. 1208–1216), the princes of Zeta. The rulers were connected to the Serbian Nemanjić dynasty, through marriage and alliances. In 1252, Golem submitted to the Empire of Nicaea.
Background and Early history
In the beginning the name Arbanon was applied to a region in the mountainous area to the west of Ohrid Lake and the upper valley of the river Shkumbin in the 11th century AD. There are scarce sources about Arbanon. In 1166, prior Arbanensis Andrea and episcopis Arbanensis Lazarus participated in a ceremony held in Kotor (then under the Serbian Grand Principality). A year later in 1167, Pope Alexander III, in a letter directed to Lazarus, congratulates him for returning his bishopric to Catholic faith and invites him to acknowledge the archbishop of Ragusa as his superior. After some resistance from local officials, the bishopric of Arbanon was put under the direct dependence of the Pope, as documented in a Papal letter dated in 1188. Little is known about archon Progon who was the first ruler of Kruja and its surroundings, between 1190 and 1198. The Kruja fortress stayed in the possession of the Progon family, and Progon was succeeded by his sons Gjin, and later Dhimitër. Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96) conquered Pilot from the "Arbanas" during his southern campaign, after taking over Zeta (Duklja).
Reign of Demetrius Progoni
Demetrius was the third and last lord of the Progon family, ruling between 1207 or 1208 and 1216. He succeeded his brother Gjin and brought the principality to its climax. He styled himself panhypersebastos and megas archon (Dei gratia panhypersevastos et magnus archon). He maintained international relations, with the Republic of Ragusa, Republic of Venice, and Serbia. He issued significant commercial benefits in his territory to the Republic of Ragusa, as is found in a Ragusan document (from where his style is known). In 1208, Demetrius married Komnena Nemanjić, the daughter of Serbian Grand Prince, later King Stefan Nemanjić (r. 1196–1228). A brief alliance was established between the two countries amidst conflicts with the Republic of Venice. Demetrius' marriage with Komnena did not rule out the risk of Serbian expansion toward the Albanian domains. However, in 1204, the most serious threat came from the Venetian Duchy of Dyrrhachium, a Latin entity formed after the Fourth Crusade in the former territories of the Byzantine Empire. In search for allies, Demetrius signed a treaty with the Republic of Ragusa in 1209 and began negotiations with Pope Innocent III regarding his and his subjects' conversion to Catholicism. This is considered a tactful move, which Demetrius undertook to establish ties with Western Europe against Venice. The friendship with the pope was of short duration, and soon turned into ill-feeling.
Reign of Komnena Nemanjić and Gregory Kamonas
After Demetrius died in 1215, the power was left to Komnena, who soon married Greek Gregory Kamonas, who took power of Kruja, strengthening relations with Serbia, which had been weakened after a Slavic assault on Scutari following the collapse of Venetian Durazzo. According to K. Frashëri, Kamonas was elected. Komnena and Kamonas had a daughter who married Golem.
Reign of Golem
Demetrius had no son to succeed him. His wife, Komnena, remarried and had a daughter with Gregory Kamonas. The daughter married Golem, who was the lord of Kruja and Elbasan in ca. 1254. During the conflicts between Michael II Komnenos Doukas of Epirus and Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes, Golem and Theodore Petraliphas, who were initially Michael's allies, defected to John III in 1252. He is last mentioned in the sources among other local leaders, in a meeting with George Akropolites in Durrës in 1256. The initial Nicaean conquest proved short-lived, as the region erupted in a pro-Epirote revolt that lasted until 1259.
Arbanon extended over the modern districts of central Albania, with the capital at Kruja. It was a small territory in the 11th and 12th centuries, stretching from rivers Devoll to Shkumbin. Arbanon did not have direct access to the sea. The coastland of modern Albania did not have noticeable Albanian communities throughout the Middle Ages. The Kruja fortress, founded by the Byzantines, was the seat of Progon. Progon gained possession of the surroundings of the fortress which became hereditary. With the marriage of Komnena with Kamonas, Elbasan becomes the second important possession.
- Progon (between 1190–1198)
- Gjin Progoni (1198–1208)
- Demetrius Progoni (1208–1216)
- Gregory Kamonas (1216–?)
- Golem (fl. 1252–1255)
- Constantine Chabaron (1256–57), governor for Nicaea
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