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League of Lezhë

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League of Lezhë
Lidhja e Lezhës
LeaderSkanderbeg (1444–1468)
Lekë Dukagjini (1468–1479)
Dates of operation1444–1479[1]
Active regionsWithin the League's territories:

Outside of the League's territories:

Allies Republic of Venice
Kingdom of Naples
Opponents Ottoman Empire
Republic of Venice (Dec. 1447–Oct. 1448)
Battles and warsSee list

The League of Lezhë (Albanian: Lidhja e Lezhës), also commonly referred to as the Albanian League (Albanian: Lidhja Arbërore), was a military and diplomatic alliance of the Albanian aristocracy, created in the city of Lezhë on 2 March 1444. The League of Lezhë is considered the first unified independent Albanian country in the Medieval age, with Skanderbeg as leader of the regional Albanian chieftains and nobles united against the Ottoman Empire.[2] Skanderbeg was proclaimed "Chief of the League of the Albanian People," while Skanderbeg always signed himself as "Dominus Albaniae" (Albanian: Zot i Arbërisë, English: Lord of Albania).[3][4]

At the assembly of Lezha, members from the families Kastrioti, Arianiti, Zaharia, Muzaka, Spani, Thopia, Balsha and Crnojević which were linked matrilineally or via marriage to the Kastrioti, were present. The members contributed to the league with men and money while maintaining control of the internal affairs of their domains. Soon after its creation, the pro-Venetian Balšići and Crnojevići left the league in the events that led to the Albanian–Venetian War (1447–48). The peace treaty of the Albanian-Venetian war signed on October 4, 1448, is the first diplomatic document on which the league appears as an independent entity. [5] Barleti referred to the meeting as the generalis concilium or universum concilium ("general council" or "whole council"); the term "League of Lezhë" was coined by subsequent historians.[6]


Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the ruler of Albania at the time.

After the death of Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan in 1355, the magnates in Albania 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 Balša II, the Lord of Zeta, when Karl Thopia invited the Ottomans, who defeated and killed Balša II in the battle of Savra, which happened on September 18, 1385.[7][8]

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire established itself in the Balkans with no significant resistance offered by local Christian nobles. Many of them were still fighting among themselves and did not see the Ottoman advance as a threat to their power. Although a civil war broke out between Bayezid I's sons in 1402–13, none of the Christian noblemen in the Balkans at the time seized the opportunity to repel the Ottomans; on the contrary, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Hungarians even helped the future Sultan Mehmed I seize power by participating as his allies in the final battle against his brother. [9] After the Ottoman civil war was over in favor of Mehmed I, his forces captured Kruja from the Thopia in 1415, Berat in 1417 from the Muzaka, Vlora and Kanina in 1417 from the widow of Balša III, and Gjirokastër in 1418 from the Zenevisi. Under pressure from the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice, the Albanian Principalities began to vacillate.[10] Some Albanian nobility revolted in 1432–36.

In November 1443, Skanderbeg captured Kruja with his troops and declared its independence from the Sultan.[11]


League of Lezhë painting in the Skanderbeg Museum in Krujë.

The League of Lezhë was founded on 2 March 1444 by:[12]

Delegates from Venice were present at the meeting.[15] The military alliance[16][page needed] was made up of the feudal lords in Albania, who had to contribute to the league with men and money.[15] Skanderbeg was proclaimed "Chief of the League of the Albanian People."[15][17] Thus, he was the League's leader and commander-in-chief of its combined armed forces, which numbered 8,000 warriors.[18][19] All the territorial lords had their own domains and affairs; "Skanderbeg had no right to interfere with the affairs of the domains of other nobles", acting only as the supreme military leader, as primus inter pares. [20][21] Barleti referred to the meeting as the generalis concilium or universum concilium ("general council" or "whole council"); the term "League of Lezhë" was coined by subsequent historians.[6]

Initiated and organized under Venetian patronage,[22][better source needed] through treaties, the league was put under King Alfonso V, with Skanderbeg as captain general.[23]


The League's forces had victories against the Ottomans at Torvioll (1444),[24] Mokra (1445),[25] Otonetë (1446),[26] Oranik (1448),[26] a loss at Svetigrad (1448) victory in Polog (1453),[26] victory at Krujë (1450), Albulena (1457), Ohrid (1464), Mokra (1462) and many others.

Skanderbeg's first big victory against the Ottomans was at the Battle of Torvioll, and the news of the victory of the Albanians over the Turks spread very quickly in Europe. In the two years that followed, the Albanian-Tetan coalition won over the Ottomans. On May 14, 1450, the first siege of Kruja began, which the Ottomans had to end the following year without success. In 1451, Skanderbeg formed an alliance with the Kingdom of Naples for the time being; however, the Albanians received no help from there. In 1452, the Ottomans were defeated at Mokrra and Meçadi. After the fall of Constantinople, Albanians received financial aid from Naples and Venice as well as from the Pope. Until 1462, Skanderbeg's troops were able to defeat the Ottomans every year without significantly weakening their superiority. Every year, the sultan was able to send a new army without difficulty. Only in 1460 and 1463 did ceasefires interrupt the fighting. In 1462, Skanderbeg succeeded in taking the important city of Ohrid.[citation needed]

In 1466 the second siege of Kruje Castle was knocked down. However, the Ottomans founded the fortress Elbasan south in the valley of the Shkumbin and thus finally settled in Albania. In 1467 a third siege of Kruje failed.[citation needed]

Albanian assault on an Ottoman encampment in the Battle of Albulena

By 1468, the 10,000-strong Skanderbeg army could withstand the Ottomans. The Albanians received financial support from Venice and from the kings of Hungary and Naples. After Skanderbeg died in 1468, the Lezha League began to disintegrate. Following the Venetians, the Northern Albanians in particular continued the fight against the Ottomans. When the Shkodra, which until then had been dominated by the Venetians, was taken by the Ottomans in 1479, the resistance collapsed, and the entire Albanian settlement area was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed]


There was also a short war between Albania and Venice in 1447–1448, but on October 4, 1448, the Albanian–Venetian War ended when Skanderbeg and Nicholas Dukagjini signed a peace treaty with Venice, which would keep its possessions in Albania, including Dagnum, under the conditions that Venice pay a yearly sum of 1,400 ducats and that some league members would benefit from certain trade privileges, etc.[27]

Dissolution and aftermath[edit]

Veronese's Siege of Shkodër in 1478

The alliance was precarious.[28] Although 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 Skanderbeg and Arianiti continued to fight against the Ottomans. Some members preferred to act in line with their own interests. During the attack on the sultan in 1450, they kept changing their position between supporting the Ottomans and joining Skanderbeg.[29] After Pjetër Spani and Gjergj Dushmani left the alliance,[30] and after the Arianiti and Dukagjini left it in 1450, members of the Dukagjini family concluded peace with the Ottoman Empire and even began to plot against Skanderbeg. [31]

Skanderbeg commanders[edit]

For 25 years, from 1443–68, Skanderbeg's 10,000-strong army marched through Ottoman territory, winning against increasingly larger and better-supplied Ottoman forces.[32] 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.[33] After Skanderbeg's death in 1468, the Sultan "easily subdued Albania", but Skanderbeg's death did not end the struggle for independence.[34]


The League of Lezhë was the basis for an Albanian state.[35] The formation of the League meant that for the first time, Albania was united under an Albanian leader.[36] Some historians regard the League as an independent Albanian state.[37] Others do not accept this view, saying that it was only a military league.[6] However, the League provided the basic elements of Albanian unity.[38]

Skanderbeg and the League of Lezhë have become part of Albanian historiography. That period of history, categorized as a pre-communist time, is seen by many as mythical and unchallengeable. In these cases, struggles against the Ottoman Empire and other foreign powers and processes of national self-definition support the ideological framework linked to that period.[39]


Picture TitleName Reign Notes
Dominus Albaniae
Gjergj Kastrioti
1444–1468 Skanderbeg initiated the League of Lezhë in 1444 by bringing together prominent Albanian noble families in the city of Lezhë. Proclaiming himself "Chief of the League of the Albanian People", Skanderbeg secured the support of the Albanian nobility to form a united front against the Ottoman Empire.
Prince of Dukagjini
Lekë Dukagjini
1468–1479 As the last ruler of the League of Lezhë, Lekë played a pivotal role in sustaining Albanian resistance to the Ottoman Empire after Skanderbeg's death in 1468. Despite internal challenges and the eventual capture of Shkodër by the Ottomans in 1479, Dukagjini's leadership was instrumental in the League's efforts to maintain its independence and resist Ottoman conquest.


  1. ^ Adrian Brisku (30 August 2013). Bittersweet Europe: Albanian and Georgian Discourses on Europe, 1878–2008. Berghahn Books. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-85745-985-5.
  2. ^ Babinger, Franz (1992). Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time. Princeton University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0-691-01078-1. Archived from the original on 18 May 2016. ... a solid military alliance was concluded among all the Albanian chieftains along the Adriatic coast from southern Epirus to the Bosnian border.
  3. ^ Frazee, Charles A. (22 June 2006). Catholics and Sultans: The Church and the Ottoman Empire 1453–1923. Cambridge University Press. p. 33.
  4. ^ Ednan Aslan; Ranja Ebrahim; Marcia Hermansen (2016). Islam, Religions, and Pluralism in Europe. Springer. p. 237.
  5. ^ Syla 2019, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c Biçoku, Kasem (2009). Kastriotët në Dardani. Prishtinë: Albanica. pp. 111–116. ISBN 978-9951-8735-4-3.
  7. ^ Somel, Selcuk Aksin (2010). The A to Z of the Ottoman Empire. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-8108-7579-1. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. ...the Ottomans supported Lord Carlo Thopia against Balsha II, defeating the latter...
  8. ^ Gibbons, Herbert Adam (21 August 2013). The Foundation of the Ottoman Empire: A History of the Osmanlis Up To the Death of Bayezid I 1300–1403. Routledge. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-135-02982-1. Archived from the original on 3 December 2016. ...In 1385, Khaireddin pasha... was invited by Charles Thopia, lord of Durazzo, to aid him in a war against Balsa...
  9. ^ Sedlar 1994, p. 264.
  10. ^ Frashëri 1964, p. 57
  11. ^ Noli 1947, p. ? [page needed]
  12. ^ Noli 1947, p. 36
  13. ^ a b c d Schmitt 2001, p. 297

    Nikola und Paul Dukagjin, Leka Zaharia von Dagno, Peter Span, Herr der Berge hinter Drivasto, Georg Strez Balsha sowie Johann und Gojko Balsha, die sich zwischen Kruja und Alessio festgesetzt hatten, die Dushman von Klein-Polatum sowie Stefan (Stefanica) Crnojevic, der Herr der Oberzeta

  14. ^ Noli 1947, p. 36

    Andrea Thopia of Scuria between Tirana and Durazzo with his nephew, Tanush Thopia

  15. ^ a b c Frazee, Charles A. (22 June 2006). Catholics and Sultans: The Church and the Ottoman Empire 1453–1923. Cambridge University Press. p. 33.
  16. ^ Sedlar 1994

    Even this was loose association of the territorial lords who felt free to go their own way if they so choose. The League functioned only in military domain, never as government, although it did provide the first rudiments of Albanian unity.

    [page needed]
  17. ^ Ednan Aslan; Ranja Ebrahim; Marcia Hermansen (2016). Islam, Religions, and Pluralism in Europe. Springer. p. 237.
  18. ^ Fox, Robert (1993), The inner sea: the Mediterranean and its people, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 195, ISBN 9780394574523, archived from the original on 13 September 2017
  19. ^ Vlora, Ekrem Bey (1956), The Ruling Families of Albania in the pre-Ottoman Period in: Contributions to the History of Turkish Rule in Albania: an Historical Sketch, archived from the original on 24 November 2011
  20. ^ Frashëri 1964, p. 71

    Scanderbeg too kept his domain. As president of the League he was merely primus inter pares. He had no right to interfere with the affairs of the domains of other nobles.

  21. ^ Österreichische Osthefte. Österreichisches Ost- und Südosteuropa-Institut. 2003. p. 123. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2013. Skanderbeg, der scheinbar dabei war, seine Rolle als primus inter pares zu verlassen und sich zum Herren des ganzen nichtosmanischen Albanien zu machen, stieß auf zunehmenden Widerstand.
  22. ^ Gibb, Sir Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen; Lewis, Bernard; Pellat, Charles; Schacht, Joseph (1973). The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Brill. p. 139. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013.
  23. ^ Stavro Skendi (1980). Balkan Cultural Studies. East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-914710-66-0. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. With this network of treaties, the League of Alessio was placed under King Alphonse V, with Skenderbeg as Captain General.78 When Musachi Thopia was apparently reluctant to collaborate with Skenderbeg, the King of Naples reminded him ...
  24. ^ Frashëri 2002, p. 139.
  25. ^ Francione 2006, p. 310.
  26. ^ a b c Francione 2006, p. ?.
  27. ^ a b Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë 2002, p. 412
  28. ^ Georges Castellan (1992). History of the Balkans: From Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin. East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-88033-222-4. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. In Albania the Ottomans continued to be confronted by Skanderbeg and feudal lords who in 1444 had formed the League of Alessio (Lezha). Yet this was a precarious alliance and ...
  29. ^ "Oliver Jens Schmitt—Scanderbeg, an Uprising and its Leader". Archived from the original on 13 March 2016.
  30. ^ Bozbora, Nuray (2002), Shqipëria dhe nacionalizmi shqiptar në Perandorinë Osmane, Shqipëria: Tirana, p. 79, Por të pafuqishëm për t'i bërë ballë fuqisë së Skënderbeut, si rrugëdalje ata gjetën shkëputjen nga Lidhja. Të parët që ndërmorën një veprim të tillë ishin Pjetër Spani dhe Gjergj Dushmani.
  31. ^ Frashëri 1964, p. 78.
  32. ^ Housley 1992, p. 90
  33. ^ Fine 1994, p. 558
  34. ^ Lane–Poole, Stanley (1888), The story of Turkey, G.P. Putnam's sons, p. 135, OCLC 398296, archived from the original on 30 May 2016
  35. ^ Peter F. Sugar (2012) [1st pub. 1977]. Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1804. University of Washington Press. p. 67.
  36. ^ John Van Antwerp Fine (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. p. 557.
  37. ^ Pickard, Rob; Çeliku, Florent (2008). Analysis and reform of cultural heritage policies in South-East Europe. Council of Europe. p. 16. ISBN 978-92-871-6265-6. Archived from the original on 28 June 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  38. ^ Jean W Sedlar, "East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000–1500", University of Washington Press, 1994, p. 26: "Even this was loose association of the territorial lords who felt free to go their own way if they so choose. The League functioned only in military domain, never as government, although it did provide the first rudiments of Albanian unity."
  39. ^ Marii͡a Nikolaeva Todorova (2004). Balkan Identities: Nation and Memory. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. p. 104.