The history of the Arbëresh is not the history of a highly unified people. Our ancestors were politically fragmented like their own earlier forbearers, the ancient Illyrians and Epriots, due to the rugged geography of their Dinaric and Pindus mountain homelands. These two mountain ranges of the Western Balkans form the most continuously remote, isolated habitat in all Europe and for many millenniums forged our people into a multitude of separate, extremely independent, highland clans.
Our ancestral clans were similar in many ways to other groups of tribal mountaineers found across the world , for example, the well-known clans of Scotland.
Our ancestors were semi-nomadic pastoral herdsmen; fierce warriors; and strongly bound by ancient custom to all persons of their “own blood kin”. All other causes- religious, political and individual, were subordinate to the will and law of their own extended families; their own clans; their own tribal groups and, their own “blood alliances”.
Most of our history was recorded by others, usually non-tribal peoples, according to their frames of reference, not of ours. However, it is only within our own particular context of strong kinship and extreme tribal independence that our history and our heritage can be properly understood.
A Geographically Dispersed People
We are today called the “Italo-Albanians” and this term correctly reflects that the core of our ancient cultural heritage was once centered in an area around today’s modern Albania and, a large proportion of our ancestors who settled in Italy did come from many locations that are now actually within the borders of that country. Today’s modern Albanians do speak the same language and follow many customs akin to our own. However, the geographic distribution of the Arbëresh in the mid-Fifteenth century, at the beginning of our ancestor’s migrations, was much more widespread. Even though the exact origins and numbers of all the migrations have not been accurately recorded, it may be that equal numbers or, even a majority of our Arbëresh ancestors moved to Italy from locations that were far beyond the present Albanian borders.
In the Eleventh though Fourteenth Centuries there was a constant movement of our ancestors southward, out of their ancient homelands and into what is now Greece. They moved mostly in tribal groups, sometimes numbering ten to twelve thousand people, traveling with their herds of livestock and packed with all their worldly goods, protected always by each tribe’s fierce young warriors of the “military brotherhoods”. Although many Arbëresh settled peacefully in these new lands, it was actually their value as soldiers that helped facilitate their movement south. They were the favored mercenaries of the Serbian despots, and the Frankish, Catalan, Italian and Byzantine feudal lords of Western Greece, all of whom actively recruited our ancestors for their armies and gave them lands to settle in their various Greek domains.
By the Fifteenth century, our ancestor’s settlements spanned down the Pindus range of Western Greece, into Thessaly, and along both sides of the Gulf of Corinth.. Arbëresh villages also totally ringed the city of Athens and, dotted all parts of the Peloponnese, the southernmost region of the Greek peninsula.
The disruptions of the Fifteenth Century Turkish conquest of mainland Greece soon dispersed them even further, out to the islands of the Aegean, Ioanian and Adriatic seas, and also to various Venetian trading posts, where many were again recruited for their valued military skills. And, from all these locations, as well as Albania and Epiros, many Arbëresh eventually were forced to migrate once again, to re-settle in Italy, in isolated locations spread across the whole southern Italian peninsula and Sicily, where they retained much of their traditional way of life for another five-hundred years.
The Twilight of an Ancient Way of Life
The remains of five-thousand- year-old Arbëresh way of life, as preserved in Italy, began to die out in the late Nineteenth century with the start of the great outpouring of Italian emigrants to the new world. Our ancestor’s settlements were at the geographic center of these mass movements away from Italy and many of their villages were almost de-populated by the end of the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
Probably more persons of Arbëresh heritage moved to other parts of world, including North & South America, Australia, Europe and Africa, than the number who remained in Italy. However, for most descendants of these Italo-Albanian immigrants outside of Italy, the knowledge of the true heritage of their ancestors has been lost in the process of this last great Arbëresh migration.
Over half the Arbëresh villages in Italy have lost the distinctive identify that their ancestors brought with them from the Balkans and Greece. Modern communication and education are bringing the rest of them quickly into the mainstream of Italian culture. Certain locations still are strongly preserving some of the history and culture of the Arbëresh heritage but, much has been lost over the centuries and may never be recovered or reconstructed, for the benefit of future generations.
Your Web Author has designed a structure for all Arbëresh to be able to contribute to and share in. It is impossible for any one person to know the entire history of every village in the detail necessary to do proper justice to the story of each location and its people. However, if everyone contributes what they do know, about their own village, we can together put the scattered fragments of our heritage into a unified and organized whole.
Please explore the format of these sections:
Our History- is the general history of how the Arbëresh came to Italy and, the historical context of their five-hundred years there. It is a “macro-level” view of our heritage and the context of events that affected it. It will also include, in the future, a section regarding the events which led up to the migration and, perhaps some threads leading back to our more ancient ancestors, in the context of Balkan, Greek and Byzantine history, etc.
Contributions with additions or corrections to facts in this section are most welcome.
Our Villages – is a database of information about each Arbëresh village organized by the Regions of Italy where the villages are located. Space for certain basic information is provided but, additional data can be added by links to expanded pages. Detailed “micro” histories and photographs can be submitted for any village and, will be added by your Web Author as time and space permits.
Every fragment of information is important so, “any” contribution to this section is most welcome.
Our Culture – The exact structure of this section is not yet defined and, will depend upon how much information and, in what format it is contributed. Your Web Author will be uploading some examples of possible features but, any topic or contribution regarding our customs, language, costumes, traditions, folklore, religion, music, art or other areas that define our specific cultural heritage is possible.