Last night, the Albanian Embassy in London hosted launch of “The Siege of Shkodra”, the English version of a book written in Latin in 1504 by Marin Barleti, a native Shkodran who fought in the conflict and later became a priest. Barleti is considered the first Albanian historian.
The Siege of Shkodra is rare look at a fifteenth-century Ottoman siege from within a besieged Christian citadel. Though it is a seminal source of Balkan HISTORY, it is above all a STORY—a story of courage in the face of conquest.
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The Siege of Shkodra contains an introduction addressed to the doge of Venice, Leonardo Loredan, and three lengthy chapters called “books.” The first “book” gives a historical backdrop, the second provides details of the many battles and drama about life within the besieged castle, and the third describes how the sultan halted the offensive, retreated, and left a siege force. The work concludes with the Shkodran’s learning that Venice had ceded their city to their enemy and being forced to make a bitter choice to either forsake their fatherland and emigrate to Italy or live in submission to their invaders.
After its first printing in 1504, The Siege of Shkodra was reprinted several times in Latin. By 1576 it had been translated and published in Italian, Polish, and French. The work captured the imagination of sixteenth-century western Europeans who, in light of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1529, were becoming increasingly obsessed by the prospect of Ottoman conquest.
In 1962, on the occasion of Albania’s fiftieth anniversary of independence from the Ottoman Empire, Latin scholar Henrik Lacaj translated the work into Albanian as Rrethimi i Shkodrës. Eminent Albanian historian Aleks Buda provided a historical introduction. The volume also included George Merula’s short essay, “The War of Shkodra,” and Marin Beçikemi’s “Panegyric” to the Venetian Senate. Ismail Kadare’s 1970 novel The Siege (Kështjella) is thought to be largely based upon Lacaj’s translation of The Siege of Shkodra.
In 2002, work began on the first English translation, which was published in 2012 on the centennial anniversary of Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. The English edition includes new notes, appendixes, and English translations of the Ottoman chroniclers who wrote about the same events from their perspective.