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Reply with quote  #1 
I thought it was time to do a series of posts on Balkan history, surveying its contemporary ethnic groups and the competing claims of nationalists, informed by the evolution of historical states from the Byzantine Empire (or more properly the Eastern Roman Empire) onwards. I thought it neat to coincide with events such as commemorating the Fall of Constantinople on May 29 1453, the 1000th anniversary of the fall of the Bulgarian Empire, and the naming controversy over Macedonia.

Under Justinian, the Byzantine Empire reached its greatest extent. He restored much if not all of the old Roman Empire (from 480 onwards there was only one Roman Emperor, after the death of Julius Nepos in Dalmatia, from which he ruled the rump Western Empire after 476). But Justinian's successors faced severe difficulties and could not hold onto those reconquered territories. Italy was an example, although the Byzantines maintained a presence on the peninsula until the 11th Century.

However, the Byzantine Empire faced new threats. They had fought wars with Persia, but would now face incursions into their territory by the Bulgars, Slavs and then the rise of Islam, all of which weakening the Byzantine Empire from 7th Century onward. The Bulgars would become an imperial power of their own, becoming Slavicised and Christianised, while the Sclaveni would be the ancestors of the South Slavic nations of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Under the Macedonian Dynasty, the Byzantine Empire recovered a great deal of its power. It had brought the emerging Slavic nations to heel and brought down the First Bulgarian Empire. By now the ancestors of today's hodgepodge of ethnic groups in the Balkans - South Slavs, Albanians, Vlachs (Romanians) et al - were very much established, and had been thoroughly immersed in Byzantine influence through Christianisation. When they created states of their own, this influence was clearly evident in their aspirations.


Byzantine power declined again with the transition from the Macedonian to the Doukas dynasty and the rise of the Seljuk Turks, only to revive under the Komnenos dynasty as hegemony over the Balkans and Asia Minor was reasserted coinciding with the Crusades. The Byzantines permanently lost control of parts of Italy to the Normans, who also invaded Byzantine "mainland" territory.

The fall of the Komnenos dynasty in 1185 led to the Angelos dynasty taking over. It was under them that the greatest calamity and one of the worst crimes in Christendom was to take place, the Fourth Crusade. Out of the looting and pillaging of Constantinople, a new political and religious reality was born. The Byzantine Empire was shattered into fragments, as Byzantine and Latin states in Greece emerged from the wreckage, the Latin Empire ruled from Constantinople, and the Byzantine Empire was exiled to Nicaea. Furthermore, there were now three claims to the Byzantine throne, based in Nicaea, Thessalonica and Trebizond respectively.


Eventually, Constantinople was restored to the Byzantine Empire, but the Palaiologos dynasty had to contend with new realities - revived Turkish power and the ambitious of Bulgarian and Serbian states. The Second Bulgarian Empire, having been formed from rebellion in the 12th Century, reached its peak in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade but retreated thereafter. However, Serbia was the latest to take advantage of Byzantine weakness, and its imperial ambitions could have gone even further. However, this was not to last in face of its internal weaknesses, followed by Turkish advancement into Europe.

[svg]  [shepherd-c-093] 

One by one, the dominoes began falling. Defeat for Serbian forces in Kosovo in 1389, the absorption of Bulgaria into the emerging Ottoman state, and the gradual atrophy of Byzantine territories preceded the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Following that, Athens, Morea, Serbia, Trebizond, Crimea, Epirus, and Albania would all fall by 1479, leaving only Montenegro to retain something of an independent existence in the region.

My next chapters will focus on the Byzantine, Latin, Bulgarian, Serbian and Albanian states, post-by-post for a more detailed overview of their development.

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Reply with quote  #2 
Byzantines and Latins: Echoes of Ancient Greece in the Middle Ages

The Greeks on one hand constitute a nation and civilisation they are very much conscious of being, Ancient Greece was a collection of mostly city-states and a few kingdoms which were well aware of sharing a common culture and civilisation. Yet at the same time, ancient Greece was divided into regions with distinctive characteristics and political systems, each conscious of a distinct identity. Attica was centred on Athens, Boeotia on Thebes, the Peloponnese was divided into regions including Achaia, Corinth, Elis, Arcadia, Messenia, and Laconia centred on Sparta. North of these, were regions like Aetolia, Acarnania, Thessaly, Epirus and Macedonia. Thessaly was ruled by a landowning, horse-breeding aristocracy, while Epirus and Macedonia along with Sparta were the major monarchies of ancient Greece.

After the glories of Athens, Sparta and Thebes, it was Macedonia under Philip II and Alexander the Great which spread Greek civilisation throughout the known world - though Greece had been successful exponents of colonisation in France (Marseille), North Africa, Italy and Crimea. Cyprus, Asia Minor and Crimea will remain relevant to this discussion as centres of Greek civilisation - which they were to remain through the Roman and Byzantine eras.

One of the consequences of the Fourth Crusade was the shattering of the unity of the Byzantine Empire, such that it would never recover its strength or unity. The Empire had suffered numerous blows in the post-Justinian period, with the rise of the Bulgars, Slavs and Arabs encroaching on its traditional territory, it appeared by the 11th Century under the Macedonian Dynasty to have recovered its glories, only to go into rapid decline after the dynasty's fall under the Doukas dynasty - a time also of a permanent schism in Christianity. Once again under the Komnenos dynasty, coinciding with the first two Crusades, the Empire appeared to recover its lost glory, only to fall again with a change of dynasty. Such was the state of the Byzantine Empire when confronted with the treacherous Fourth Crusade, the wounds of which never healed.

Furthermore, in this period we will also explore the complex ethnic patterns of the Balkans - Greeks, Slavs, Albanians and Vlachs - and explain the perspectives of present-day nationalists about historical issues.

In any case, I opened this post with a reference to ancient Greece because an interesting point can be made that for the first time since Greece and in general Greek civilisation was absorbed into the Roman Empire, a regionalised state system came into being as the Greek world was now a patchwork of Byzantine and Latin states. The Latin period is known in Greece as Frankokratia ("Franks", "Latins" and "Western Europeans" - primarily French, Italian and Spanish in any case - being interchangeable here). The Latins retained a permanent foothold in Greece until the Ottoman conquest, and even after Constantinople was reclaimed by the Byzantines, the Latin Emperors in exile continued to claim nominal suzerainty over Latin states. Three of whom actually ruled in Greece, later on, in Achaea.

In fairness, the Palaiologos dynasty did try early on to revitalise the empire and its cultural life. But early successes were reversed by internal strife, and large parts of the empire came under Serbian rule, and then Ottoman rule during the 14th Century.

Nicaea would be the centre of a Byzantine Empire in exile between 1204 and 1261, gradually recovering its strength and power at the expense of the Latin Empire which ruled from Constantinople.

Trebizond (Trabzon in today's Turkey) became the centre of a new Greek empire and remained so until 1461, falling eight years after Constantinople.

Thessalonica was made the capital of a Latin Kingdom of Thessalonica including parts of Greek Macedonia and Thessaly, ruled by Latins until 1224. The Byzantine reconquest took place under Theodore Komnenos Doukas, ruler of the newly minted splinter state of Epirus, who then claimed the title Emperor. There were thus three claimants to the inheritance of the Byzantine Empire, and at least five Christian emperors in Europe as a result if you count Bulgaria, which exercised hegemony over parts Greece in this period. While the Byzantine Empire reclaimed the area, it was not to be for long.

Thessaly would come under Latin rule, but the rulers of Epirus invaded and took over in 1212, and by 1224 Thessalonica, Thessaly and Epirus were all under the rule of Theodore Komnenos Doukas. Thessaly would have some autonomy after the restoration of Constantinople to the Byzantines, and Vlachs played a prominent role there. Thessaly came under Serbian rule during the 14th Century before becoming Ottoman territory.

Epirus would have one of the longest periods of being a separate state, known as the Despotate of Epirus, founded by the Komnenous Doukas line which, as explained above, also ruled Thessaly and Thessalonica. In the 14th Century it fell into the hands of Serbs, Albanians and finally Italians, who held it until 1479 - the last area of the Greek mainland to fall to the Ottomans.

The Peloponnese would be home to the Latin Principality of Achaea, which lasted until 1432 and was one of the main Latin states. The Byzantine reconquest of the peninsula would lead to the development of a semi-autonomous Despotate of Morea, which lasted until 1460. The last Palaiologos rulers of Morea would also claim the Byzantine throne until 1453.

The Duchy of Athens was ruled by a succession of French, Aragonese (via the Catalan Company) and Italian families and remained a Latin state until 1458.

In Crimea, the Principality of Theodoro was one of the last outposts of Byzantine civilisation to fall in 1475.

The islands were in the hands of various Latin forces, the Venetians retaining a presence in the region until 1797.

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Reply with quote  #3 
Bulgaria: Two Empires, Precursor of Two Nations?

A common thread in conquering civilisations can be shown in the conquests of Alexander the Great, the kingdoms established by his successors, and their subsequent absorption into the Roman Empire. In Egypt, for instance, the Ptolemaic Dynasty fused native Egyptian and Greek cultures, which would become enormously influential. And there was Persian influence in the Middle East, as well, with implications for Judaism and consequently Christianity and Islam. The Roman Empire absorbed much of Ancient Greek civilisation without obliterating the Greek language, culture and identity, which was to manifest itself in the Eastern Roman Empire.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire was followed by Germanic kingdoms which formed the basis for much of Western Europe, marrying some native elements to the Roman legacy. The Eastern Roman Empire faced threats to its integrity from the 6th Century onwards with the Avars, Bulgars, Slavs and Arabs encroaching on it. The Bulgars, Slavs and Arabs would all establish states on what was Byzantine territory, yet absorbed the Greco-Roman influence especially in terms of statecraft.

The Bulgarian story presents a case both of ethnic and religious transformation and the absorption of the Greco-Roman legacy. The Bulgars under their Khan, Asparukh, established what would become known as the first Bulgarian Empire. By the 9th Century, the Bulgars became Slavicised and Christianised. Christianity was adopted under Boris I, and by Simeon I the ruler was known as Tsar - a title derived from Caesar.

Under Simeon I, the first Bulgarian Empire ruled over much of the Balkans, including modern-day Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Greece. A change of dynasty saw Tsar Samuil (Samuel) rule, hailed as a national hero in Bulgaria and Macedonia today as he extended the empire to its peak. But it was not to last as the very much revived Byzantine Empire successfully pushed back and regained hegemony over the Balkans.

Four years under Samuel's death, the first Bulgarian Empire ceased to exist in 1018. Bulgarians, now a Slavic and Christian people, took advantage of the later decline of the Byzantine Empire to stage revolts, one of which finally succeeded in the 12th Century.

[Bulgaria-Ivan_Asen_2]  [svg]

The uprisings of the 11th Century were only quelled with difficulty by the Byzantines, reflecting the decline of Byzantine power around the middle of the century. However, the Komnenos dynasty restored Byzantine fortunes spectacularly during the 12th Century, right up to the reign of Manuel I Komnenos. His death in 1180 would see the rapid decline of the empire once more, from which it could not quite recover.

The Bulgarian uprising that began in 1185, the year the Komnenos fell from power in Constantinople, would result in the restoration of the Bulgarian Empire under the Asen Dynasty. Peter II would be followed as Tsar by Ivan Asen I. The third Tsar, Kaloyan, would attain fame by capturing the first Latin Emperor Baldwin I but would be killed a few years later while laying siege to Thessalonica.

But this did not slow the expansion of renewed Bulgarian power in the Balkans, and they did not only fight the Latins. Boril had to deal with rebellious members of the royal family, Strez and Alexius Slav, who carved out their own fiefdoms (the former in today's Macedonia) before being brought to heel.

Ivan Asen II would bring the second Bulgarian Empire its greatest glories. The push back against the Latins and conflict with Epirus would yield results as Bulgaria gained control over a great part of Greece in addition to its core territories in today's Bulgaria and Macedonia. Those gains were lost after Ivan Asen II, who also had to deal with the consequences of Mongol incursions into Europe, died in 1241. His successors saw territory lost to both the Byzantine restoration and the rise of Serbia as a regional power. During this time, the imperial capital Tarnovo was viewed by Bulgarians as a "Third Rome".

The last Tsar of the Asen dynasty, Constantine Tikh, was overthrown in a peasant uprising led by Ivaylo, who didn't last long on the throne. The Terter dynasty led Bulgaria into the 14th Century, stabilising under Theodore Sviatoslav.


The last medieval Bulgarian dynasty, the Shishman, would take power in 1322 with Michael III as Tsar. He attempted to restore the power of the Bulgarian state, bringing it into conflict with his Byzantine and Serbian neighbours. He would be killed in 1330 in the Battle of Velbazhd (today's Kyustendil), a battle which confirmed Serbian regional hegemony.

Ivan Alexander then ruled for 40 years during which Bulgaria flourished culturally and economically, but the Bulgarian Empire would be divided between Tarnovo, Vidin and Dobruja. With Ivan Shishman ruling from Tarnovo after 1371, and Ivan Sratsimir ruling in Vidin, Bulgaria had two tsars while Dobruja was also a separate state. By 1396, both Tarnovo and Vidin were conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Fruzhin and Constantine II, representing the two lines, attempted an uprising against the Ottomans.

There were further uprisings in Bulgaria and Macedonia against Ottoman rule, attempting to restore the empire. One of the most notable was that of Karposh in Kumanovo, Macedonia, in 1689.

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Reply with quote  #4 
Serbia and the South Slavs

The Sclaveni, ancestors of the South Slavs, had established themselves in the Balkans during the 6th and 7th centuries, progenitors of today's Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and as mentioned above, also Macedonia and Bulgaria. The Slavs were able to establish states at a time when Byzantine power was weakening. One of these would become the Kingdom of Croatia.

The first Principality of Serbia had by the 8th Century come to be ruled by the Vlastimirovic dynasty, with Viseslav as the first known ruler. There would be other Slavic territories like Pagania (Narentines) Zachlumia (Hum), Taruvnia and Doclea (Duklja), the last being today's Montenegro. Pagania resisted conversion to Christianity long after other Slavs converted, while Serbia had done so under Mutimir in the 9th Century. The original Serbian state was centred on Raska (Rascia) region, and Ras was the original Serb eparchy.

In the 10th Century, the expanding Bulgarian Empire conquered Serbia, but this was short-lived. Serbia was liberated and Caslav became its ruler, the last of the original dynasty. The Byzantine Empire had experienced a revival under the Macedonian Dynasty, but at this stage its main reconquest had been in Anatolia, while it still faced the might of the Bulgarian Empire in the Balkans. Eventually, Serbia returned to Byzantine rule.


By the late 10th Century, Jovan Vladimir had become ruler of Duklja as a vassal of the Byzantine Empire. His successor, Stevan Vojislav, founded the Vojislavljevic dynasty and would create a state centred on Montenegro but later expanding to lands in present-day Serbia and Bosnia. Bosnia itself had been Serbian territory, but would later fall under Hungarian rule before becoming its own kingdom under the Kotromanic dynasty - the Bosnian Serbs and Croats happen to be those who remained Orthodox and Catholic respectively after the Ottoman conquest.

The long reign of Basil II as Byzantine emperor saw the conquest of Bulgaria and the reestablishment of Byzantine hegemony in the Balkans, thus taking the empire to its greatest extent since Justinian. But this was not to last for long, in typical Byzantine fashion. Over the three decades after his death, Basil II's successors saw a weakening of power before the decline accelerated after the end of the dynasty. It was in this that Duklja emerged as a regional power, confirmed by a victory over Byzantine forces in the Battle of Bar in 1042.  His successor Mihailo was able to take advantage of Byzantine decline, with both Serbs and Bulgarians sensing a chance to reestablish themselves. By 1077, Pope Gregory VII had even recognised him as King. Constantine Bodin had aided an uprising in Bulgaria which was unsuccessful, but more significant was the ascension of Prince Vukan as ruler of Raska in 1083 after his father Petrislav, son of Mihailo.

The Vojislavljevic dynasty, its senior line, continued to rule the core Duklja territory into the next century. Raska, Bosnia and Hum had their separate administrative structures, of which the development of Raska was to be of the greatest significance.


Vukan would emerge as the most powerful Serbian ruler and take the title Grand Prince, eclipsing Duklja whose rulers would continue to claim the title of King. His line would become the Vukanovic dynasty, from which his realm centred on Ras became independent. They consolidated their rule during the 12th Century, a time in which Byzantine power was revived under the Komnenos dynasty, also coming into conflict with the Kingdom of Hungary with whom Croatia had been in union since 1102. The Serbs often rebelled against Byzantine overlordship during this century.

Enter Stefan Nemanja, who in 1166 became Grand Prince (Zupan) of Serbia and founder of the Nemanjic line, which was itself said to be a branch of the Vukanovic Dynasty. Nemanja laid the foundations during his 30-year reign for the rise of Serbia to become a major regional power. After the death of Manuel II Komnenos in 1180, the Byzantine Empire would go into a decline that culminated in the Fourth Crusade of 1204. The Bulgarians had successfully rebelled and the Serbs were reasserting themselves, setting the stage for the political chessboard of the next few centuries.

Stefan II Nemanjic would become Grand Prince in 1196, and in 1217 would become King of Serbia while St Sava would head an autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church. These events affirmed Serbian identity and nationhood, and also confirm the rise of Serbian power in the Balkans. Occasionally, branches of the dynasty held Duklja (Montenegro) and Srem (northern Serbia) on their own. The Byzantine Empire had been restored to Constantinople, while the second Bulgarian Empire was weakening while the Kingdom of Serbia was consolidating under a succession of Nemanjic rulers. During the reign of Stefan Milutin (1282-1321), Serbia expanded its territory to include parts of Bosnia and present-day Macedonia.


The Battle of Velbazhd in 1330 had confirmed Serbia's ascent in face of declining Byzantine and Bulgarian power. In 1331, Stefan Uros IV Dusan would become King of Serbia and popularly known as Dusan the Mighty. Under Dusan, Serbia would become the major power in the Balkans, taking advantage of the Byzantine Empire's internal chaos. Over his 24-year reign, Dusan expanded the Serbian state to include much of modern-day Albania, Greece and Macedonia. In 1346, Dusan was crowned Emperor of Serbs and Greeks, the empire now had its capital in Skopje, later also Prizren in Kosovo, and laying claim to be a "Third Rome" - the most powerful state in the Balkans and threatening to eclipse the enfeebled Bulgarian and Byzantine empires.

The empire was a multi-ethnic state with seemingly little in common with the later Yugoslav and Greater Serbia projects. Indeed it may have even taken over the entirety of the old Byzantine Empire, but this was not to be. Dusan's death in 1355 led to the disintegration of central authority under Stefan Uros V "The Weak", who would be the last of the dynasty to rule over Serbia - and barely rule at all. The decentralised administration was run by Serbian and even some Albanian nobles, who carved out fiefdoms for themselves. Indeed, Dusan's brother Simeon Uros laid claim to being a rival emperor but only ruled in parts of Greece - Epirus, and then Thessaly. Simeon's son Jovan ruled Thessaly for a brief period as Emperor, only for Thessaly to revert to Byzantine rule prior to the Ottoman conquest. Thomas Preljubovic ruled Epirus, which later came under Italian dynasties and remained so until 1479.


The effective collapse of the Serbian Empire meant that several successor states emerged. The Balsic ruled Zeta which is present-day Montenegro. Marko Mrnjavcevic became ruler of western Macedonia centred on Prilep, while Constantine Dragas became ruler of eastern Macedonia and western Bulgaria around Velbazhd. Vuk Brankovic became ruler of southern Serbia and Kosovo, while Lazar became the founder of the Lazarevic line and ruler of central Serbia. The historiography of Marko and Konstantin Dragas reflects the contentious ethnic politics of the Balkans as they are claimed by Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian nationalists despite being clearly Serbian. Marko was even called "King of Serbs and Greeks" (!), echoing the title of Emperor Stefan Dusan.

It was Lazar and Vuk who would lead the Serbian side in the epoch-defining Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The battle is etched into Serbian national consciousness and was a blow to resistance to Ottoman encroachment in the Balkans.


The Battle of Kosovo came at great cost to Serbia and its elite. Lazar was killed in battle and succeeded by his son Stefan Lazarevic, who in 1402 would become ruler of the Despotate of Serbia. He set about restoring fortunes and with the fall of the Balsic effectively reunited Serbia under his rule. He was succeeded by Vuk Brankovic's nephew Djuradj (George) Brankovic, who faced the task of defending the state from Ottoman conquest. By 1435, Zeta was again independent under a new dynasty, the Crnojevic. From 1454 onwards, the Ottomans succeeded in conquering Serbia and achieved that by 1459, ending Serbian statehood save for Montenegro. The Despotate continued to technically exist in exile in Vojvodina, in what is now Hungary, until the 16th Century. The Duchy of St Sava in Hum held out until 1483. The Crnojevic maintained Montenegro, giving way to the prince-bishopric which eventually came under the Petrovic-Njegos family, stubbornly holding onto highlands that the Ottomans could never quite conquer.


In 1526, Jovan Nenad staged an uprising and was proclaimed Tsar, ruling over part of Vojvodina. He is a Serbian national hero and this was one of the last expressions of Serbian statehood until the 19th Century. Many Serbs settled in the Military Frontier region in Croatia, where most of Croatia's Serb minority live.

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Reply with quote  #5

This article supplements a lot of my above writings on the Byzantine, Latin, Serbian and Bulgarian states. Namely, that the Byzantine Empire and Byzantine Greeks never referred to themselves as such, instead they simply referred to themselves as "Romans", conscious as they were of being the direct heirs of ancient Greece and Rome. The lands of the Empire was often referred to as "Romania" - and the Latin Empire was also referred to formally as "Empire of Romania".

As for Romania, Romanians only began referring to themselves as such in the 19th Century as a result of the modern nationalist movement and the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia. The term Vlach was far more commonly used, especially in reference to Romanian-speaking minorities in Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania, who were said to be descendants of the Latin-speaking Romans living in the Empire. The appellation "Romania" was used to emphasise a certain continuity with Rome given the above. Likewise, Modern Greeks upon independence began to refer to themselves as Hellenes to emphasise continuity with Ancient Greece.

Indeed, the Serbs, Bulgarians and even Turks made references to "Rome" when it came to lands they conquered. Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, Russia and the Orthodox World generally saw itself as a "Third Rome", even if many of those lands were never in Roman hands. At the same time, the Seljuk state was referred to as the "Sultanate of Rum" (as they conquered Roman lands), and the Ottomans likewise claimed to be "Emperors of Rome" and Islamic caliphs at the same time (although both ill-gotten and ill-used in any case).

Emperor Stefan Dusan of Serbia was styled "Emperor of Serbs and Romans", and even King Marko was "King of Serbs and Romans" - "Romans" referring to Greeks, Byzantine territory and claims to its legacy.

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Reply with quote  #6 
An interesting and informative article, thanks. The author's zeal against the term 'Byzantine' is not though going to make any difference, well-founded though his arguments may be, it's just too established and convenient a label by now. It's like the Emperor Augustus being called 'Octavian', a name he never used at any point in his life, you can grit your teeth at it all you like but it's not going to change anything. I avoid it anyway, preferring 'Octavius' which is what he actually did call himself, even if I then have to explain just who it is I'm talking about. As for Byzantine, I use it sometimes in prose, it is so convenient, but not usually in headings, saying instead either 'Eastern Emperor' or, if there's room, 'Eastern Roman Emperor'.

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Reply with quote  #7 
The term Byzantine has stuck. I guess it's easy enough to distinguish between the Byzantine, ethnically Greek, state system in the Balkans especially post-1204, and the states of the Latins, Bulgarians, Serbs and Albanians, many of which were on significant swathes of Greek territory. Likewise Southern Italy was divided between Byzantine and Lombard domains (some such as the Duchy of Naples being self-governing "Byzantine" states) prior to the Norman conquest.

But it's more intriguing for some how the term "Romania" came to be applied to what were hitherto known as Vlachs or Wallachians in the 19th Century, whereas "Romania" could once be used to denote the Eastern Roman Empire.

As stated elsewhere, the claim to inherit the Roman tradition may have laid also with the Holy Roman Empire, though I note that Charlemagne, Frederick I, Frederick II and Charles V were perhaps the most assertive in attempting a neo-Roman project of any sort.

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Reply with quote  #8 
The Romania name, firmly established by now, is I suppose an aspect of the rediscovery of national traditions and identities by the peoples of the Balkans (and Romania, which isn't geographically a Balkan country but usually gets treated as though it were) during the 19th century. I've always felt that the Ottoman Empire was the great tragedy of the Balkan peoples. It is true that in the beginning the Ottomans made a conscious effort to rule better than the Christian lords they had displaced, usually a fairly easy task. But they remained an alien occupier that had snuffed out national traditions and thus prevented the organic growth and development of the polities that had arisen over the preceding centuries.

The result, peoples without traditions of good governance and with histories that had suffered a 500-year hiatus while Ottoman rule degenerated from the original benign albeit self-interested intentions into a corrupt, squalid mess. No wonder that when these peoples found themselves again in charge of their own destinies their own governance was an equally corrupt shambles, and no wonder the instability that plagued and plagues the region and had such dire consequences for Europe as a whole, and indeed the wider world.

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Reply with quote  #9 
From Illyria to Albania?
The precise origins of the Albanian people is a contentious topic. The most popularly held theory is that they are descendants of the ancient Illyrian people. Other theories exist, but genetic studies suggest Albanians do not differ greatly from their neighbours in their origins. Theories claiming non-European, especially Caucasus, origin for Albanians have long since been discredited.

Far southern parts of Albania were part of ancient Greek civilisation, and the existence of a substantial Greek minority in Albania is one point of contention between the two countries - correspondingly the existence of an Albanian minority in Greece and the treatment of Cham Albanians during World War II serving as a rallying point for Albanian nationalists. Albania fell under Roman and Byzantine rule, with Albanian language and identity gradually evolving.

The first Albanian state was the Principality of Arbanon in the 12th and 13th Centuries, a Byzantine vassal. However, it was in the 14th Century that Albanian noble families became prominent, coinciding with Serbian rule and the disintegration of the empire after the death of Stefan Dusan. Venice and Naples also ruled parts of Albania. The Thopia family established a principality in the heart of Albanian territory, while Albanian princes also ruled in parts of Greece, notably around Arta. Such families included the Thopia, Muzaka, Zenevisi and Spata.

The Kastrioti and Dukagjini families would become prominent in the 15th Century, with Skenderbeg coming from the former. It was he who formed a federation which resisted Ottoman rule until his death in 1468, and some time after - Albania held out longer than most, with resistance ending around 1479.
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