Tuesday, September 15, 2009
So it turns out that my wife, at least on her mom's side, is a descendant of Albanian patriots and heroes. Who knew?
The person who knew was her cousin Jan, who was one of our dinner guests the other night, and who brought with her a history of the Italian Albanians, otherwise known as the "Arberesh."
During the 15th Century, Albania was preserved as a territory by the great hero Skanderbeg (short for Iskander Bey, Turkish for "Lord Alexander"), whose real name was actually Gjergi Kastrioti. During a truce with the Turks, Skanderbeg sent Albanian troops to Italy in 1448, and to Sicily in 1450, to help King Alfonso suppress rebellions. The troops arrived with their families and stayed behind in military colonies, twelve towns in the mountains around Naples and three towns near Palermo.
In 1461 Skanderbeg arrived in person to help Alfonso's bastard son Ferdinand against rebels, and the troops were given another ten villages in which to settle. Skanderbeg had to dash home to fight the Turks, but died of malaria. Albania was gradually conquered over the period of a couple decades, resulting in many Albanians fleeing to their Italian villages. Further reinforcements came from the Peloponnese (known in that time as "the Morea"), which fell to the Turks after 1500. The Greek element were gradually absorbed by the Arberesh.
The Albanian identity is preserved in these villages, which continued to provide soldiers to Neapolitan and Venetian armies through the Napoleonic wars. The villages continue to speak Albanian rather than Italian.
Apparently Kathy's ancestors came from San Costantino Albanese, which is somewhere near Naples.
Maybe she's a descendant of Skanderbeg. Maybe she can return to the motherland and bring peace and prosperity to her people. (They could use some rational management, that's for sure.)