George Kastrioti Skenderbeg and St George

George Kastrioti Skenderbeg and St George

Skanderbeg

George Castriot (Albanian: Gjergj Kastrioti, 6 May 1405 – 17 January 1468), known as Skanderbeg (Albanian: Skënderbej or Skënderbeu from Turkish: İskender Bey), was an Albanian nobleman and military commander, who served the Ottoman Empire in 1423–43, the Republic of Venice in 1443–47, and lastly the Kingdom of Naples until his death. After leaving Ottoman service, he led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in Albania. Skanderbeg always signed himself as Lord of Albania (Latin: Dominus Albaniae), and claimed no other titles but that in official documents.

A member of the noble Kastrioti family, he was sent as a hostage to the Ottoman court, where he was educated and entered the service of the Ottoman sultan for the next twenty years. He rose through the ranks, culminating in the appointment as sanjakbey (governor) of the Sanjak of Dibra in 1440. In 1443, he deserted the Ottomans during the Battle of Niš and became the ruler of Krujë, Svetigrad, and Modrič. In 1444, he was appointed the chief commander of the short-lived League of Lezhë that consolidated nobility throughout what is today Albania. Despite his military valor he was not able to do more than to hold his own possessions within the very small area in northern Albania where almost all of his victories against the Ottomans took place. Skanderbeg’s rebellion was not a general uprising of Albanians, because he did not gain support in the Ottoman-controlled south or Venetian-controlled north. His followers included, apart from Albanians, also Slavs, Vlachs, and Greeks. For 25 years, from 1443 to 1468, Skanderbeg’s 10,000 man army marched through Ottoman territory winning against consistently larger and better supplied Ottoman forces, for which he was admired.

In 1451, he recognised de jure the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Naples through the Treaty of Gaeta, to ensure a protective alliance, although he remained a de facto independent ruler. In 1460–61, he participated in Italy’s civil wars in support of Ferdinand I of Naples. In 1463, he became the chief commander of the crusading forces of Pope Pius II, but the Pope died while the armies were still gathering. Together with Venetians he fought against the Ottomans during the Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–79) until his death in January 1468.

Skanderbeg’s military skills presented a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion, and he was considered by many in western Europe to be a model of Christian resistance against the Ottoman Muslims.

St George’s Day

Today in Albanian Lands (Albania, Kosovo, Western Macedonia and Southern Montenegro) is St George’s Day (Alb. Dita e Shën Gjergjit) according to the Christian Orthodox calendar which is celebrated in Albania and Kosovo and other Albanian parts as well.

It is a day of joy and believing in god, people will go out and build a fire and play around it, people will bless their houses, fields, their children and everything around them with water as it was the holy water. St George’s Day in Albania and Kosovo is celebrated on the 6th of May and is called Shen Gjergji or Shengjergji (Shingjergji) and is a day where people celebrate the blessing of god. In Albania Christian Orthodox Albanians go to church and pray to god and St George and sing songs about St George.

In Kosovo even Muslim Albanians until recently celebrated this by going to the fields in the early morning to collect the plants Kukureg and Dren, along with water from the nearest river (or rivers: in Plemetina and other areas water must be gathered from 3 rivers). Members of a family will ceremonially bath in the water, heated with the plants and they decorate their homes with the plants.