Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu

Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu

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.

Skanderbeg's statue in London, inaugurated at Inverness Terrace in Bayswater in 2012

Skanderbeg’s statue in London, inaugurated at Inverness Terrace in Bayswater in 2012

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 Nish 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. 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 resistance against the Ottomans.