Birthday: May 6, 1405
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: George Castriot, Gjergj Kastrioti
Born Country: Albania
Born in: Principality of Kastrioti (Albania)
Famous as: Military Commander
Spouse/Ex-: Donika Kastrioti (m. 1451)
father: Gjon Kastrioti
children: Gjon Kastrioti II
Died on: January 17, 1468
place of death: Lezhë, Republic of Venice (Albania)
Cause of Death: Malaria
education: Enderun School
Skanderbeg was a legendary Albanian nobleman and military commander. He is remembered as a national hero in Albania for his role in the suppression of the Ottoman Empire. He grew up in the Turkish court, was forcefully converted to Islam, and even served the sultan for several years until he discovered his Albanian roots. Skanderbeg fought several wars against the Ottomans and won most of them. He also reconverted to Christianity. However, toward the end, Skanderbeg's army suffered a massive lack of resources. Similarly, some of his allies, too, turned their backs on him, which eventually led to Ottoman domination in Albania after his death. Skanderbeg is still referred to as the “Athleta Christi,” or “Champion of Christ.” He is also remembered as the “Mastermind of the First Ever Euro-Atlantic Alliance."
Childhood & Early Life
Gjergj Kastrioti-Skanderbeg was born on May 6, 1405, in the Principality of Kastrioti of Medieval Albania, to a formidable Albanian nobleman named Gjon Kastrioti, who was the prince of Emathia, and his wife, Voisava. He had three older brothers: Reposh, Kostandin, and Stanisha.
In 1415, Skanderbeg was made a hostage in the Ottoman court (under Murad II). There, he started his military training at ‘Enderun’ (present-day Turkey).
Upon graduation, Skanderbeg received control over a ''timar'' (land grant) in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Around this time, he acquired the nickname "Skanderbeg," meaning “Lord Alexander” in Turkish.
In 1430, Skanderbeg received the title of ''sipahi'' and was eventually made the governor of lands in central Albania.
Skanderbeg's father rebelled against the Ottoman rule twice between 1428 and 1436, and most of his lands were seized. However, Skanderbeg continued serving the Ottomans until 1443.
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Revolt against the Ottomans
In 1443, Skanderbeg stopped supporting Sultan Murad II in the Battle of Niš.
Skanderbeg learned a lot about his estranged Albanian roots while devising plots against the Hungarian John Hunyadi. He also learned about the tragic fate of his brothers. He reconverted to Roman Catholicism, a religion that his father followed.
On March 2, 1444, Skanderbeg united the local Albanian and Serbian Lords in the League of Lezhë, thus forming a strong army against the sultan.
Skanderbeg hid his small army, entered Turkey, and slaughtered the Turkish pasha and the Muslim contingent. The following morning, the Albanians adopted their new national flag.
In March 1444, Skanderbeg became the commander-in-chief of the Albanian army.
Infuriated by Skanderbeg's betrayal, Murad sent one of his best commanders, Ali Pasha, and a huge army to crush his Albanian revolt. Skanderbeg moved to Torvioll to block the Ottomans.
Skanderbeg used guerilla tactics, and the fact that the battlefield was ideal for a defender with inferior numbers, to crush the sultan's army (which was a lot bigger than his).
The victory also bought more men to Skanderbeg's army. He defeated the Turks 24 times, thus restricting the Ottomans beyond Albania.
Further Wars & Scarce Resources
Skanderbeg came out victorious against a Venetian army near Shkodër on July 23, 1448. In August that year, he won the Battle of Oranik. A peace treaty was signed between Skanderbeg and Venice on October 4, 1448.
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In June 1450, the Ottomans headed toward Krujë. Skanderbeg used a ''scorched earth'' strategy to protect his garrison while his army plundered the sultan's camps around Krujë. When the sultan saw his attempts fail, he made another failed attempt to bribe one of Skanderbeg's most trusted lieutenants, Vrana Konti.
The Ottomans suffered heavy casualties in the battle and escaped Albania. However, Skanderbeg, too, was left with almost no resources.
Skanderbeg had lost everything except Krujë. Moreover, other Albanian nobles, too, allied with the Ottomans, who promised protection to them.
Despite Skanderbeg's victory over the Ottomans, his men refused to follow his orders.
With a hope to find assistance, Skanderbeg traveled to Ragusa.
Pope Nicholas V provided Skanderbeg the much-required financial help, through which he managed to retain Krujë and much of his territory.
Skanderbeg's newly found success earned him praises from all over Europe.
Unfortunately, Krujë was then under the grip of an adverse famine, which made it difficult for Skanderbeg to rule independently.
The Treaty of Gaeta
The Venetians refused to help Skanderbeg. Hence, he took his concern to King Alfonso V, who not only promised assistance but appointed Skanderbeg as the "captain general of the king of Aragon" in January 1451.
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On March 26, 1451, Skanderbeg and King Alfonso V signed the 'Treaty of Gaeta' to exchange favors. However, the period of peace was brief.
In that short-lived period of rest, Skanderbeg rebuilt a new fortress in Modrica, near Svetigrad, which he had lost in the 1448 siege by the Ottomans.
Further Ottoman Attacks
In 1452, the new sultan, Murad II's son, Mehmed II, with the dual command of Tahip Pasha and Hamza Pasha, set off to revolt against Skanderbeg.
Nevertheless, Skanderbeg came out victorious over a more powerful (than Murad) sultan, to the Albanians' surprise.
On April 22, 1453, Mehmed II attacked Albania once again but was defeated again. However, the Ottomans sieged Constantinople, which scared the Catholic lobby across Europe.
While Albania was registering repeated victories over the Ottomans under Mehmed II's rule, Skanderbeg's long-run hostility with the Dukagjini family needed the Pope’s intervention. In 1454, both parties signed a peace treaty.
Rome initially considered Skanderbeg an ally in making efforts to crush the sultan and thus end the Muslim reign.
The Pope and King Alfonso both assisted Skanderbeg with military and financial aid. However, he earned the hostility of the ‘Venetian Senate’ for supporting Venice's long-time opponent Naples.
Venice hence delayed their promised assistance to Skanderbeg, which led to him threatening war on Venice at least three times between 1448 and 1458.
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Saknderbeg's army was defeated in the Siege of Berat, which began in July 1455.
A few of Skanderbeg's final victories were the Second Battle of Oranik in 1456 and the Battle of Albulena (fought against an Ottoman army led by his nephew, Hamza Kastrioti, and Isak bey Evrenoz) on September 2, 1457.
The victory in the Battle of Ujëbardha strengthened Skanderbeg's relation with Pope Calixtus III, who, on December 23, 1457, named him the captain-general of the Curia in the Ottoman oppression and granted him the title ''Athleta Christi.''
Meanwhile, Skanderbeg's equation with Naples changed after Alfonso V's death, though the alliance sustained. He established an alliance with Signoria, Venice, by capturing the Sati fortress from the Ottomans in 1459.
The reconciliation helped Skanderberg during his Italian expedition (1460–1462). Back in Albania, he learned about the approaching Ottoman armies.
The probable war against the Ottoman forces led Venice to perceive Skanderbeg as an indispensable ally. Thus, the 1448 peace treaty was renewed on August 20, 1463, with other added conditions.
On November 27, 1463, Skanderbeg declared war against the Ottomans. In April 1465, he defeated Ballaban Badera, the Ottoman–Albanian sanjakbey of Ohrid, in the Battle of Vaikal.
In 1466, Sultan Mehmed II carried out the Second Siege of Krujë while Skanderbeg was busy persuading Pope Paul II in Rome. Albania eventually crushed the Siege of Krujë in April 1467.
Despite winning the battle against the Turks in 1467, Skenderbeg was apprehensive about the future of his army without Rome's help. Rome had stopped the supplies to Skanderbeg's army after Paul II was appointed the Pope of the ‘Roman Catholic Church.’
Several failed attempts were made to remove Skanderbeg. However, he died of malaria in Lezhë on January 17, 1468.
Skanderbeg's son, John Castriot II, born from his wife, Donika Arianiti, the daughter of influential Albanian noblemen Gjergj Arianiti (or George Aryaniti), was quite young when he died. Donika fled to Naples with her son, where they were protected by King Alfonso's lineage, as promised earlier.
John was unable to carry forward Skanderbeg's legacy and thus succumbed to Turkish domination.