The resistance to Islamic expansion into Europe led by George Castriota Scanderbeg from 1443 to 1468 was one of the most remarkable military achievements of the fifteenth century. Despite this, General James Wolfe, hero of the French and Indian War, commented: “There is an abundance of military knowledge to be picked out of the lives of Gustav Adolphus and Charles XII, King of Sweden, and of Zisca the Bohemian; and if a tolerable account could be got of the exploits of Scanderbeg, it would be inestimable; for he excels all the officers, ancient and modern, in the conduct of a small defensive army. I met with him in the Turkish History, but nowhere else.” Wolfe’s remark about Scanderbeg recognizes the historical importance of the Albanian struggle against the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. Since his complaint over two and a half centuries ago that he could only find mention of Scanderbeg in Richard Knolles’ The Generall Historie of the Turkes, there has been much literature, in many languages, written on the subject.
The resistance led by Scanderbeg has often been viewed as an almost miraculous feat. Writing of Scanderbeg in 1905, William J. Armstrong said, “the exploits even of the renowned paladins of the crusades, whether Godfrey or Tancred or Richard or Raymond, pale to insignificance by similar comparison. Only the legendary feats of King Arthur and his knights, or of the Guardsmen of Dumas suggest a parallel of wondrous achievement.” Though not all writers have accorded to Scanderbeg the same type of mythical glorification bestowed upon him by Armstrong, historians have generally portrayed him as a Christian hero par excellence. There have even been efforts to canonize him. He has retained an image similar to Saint George or the Archangel Michael, a militant fighter for Christendom, a leader of a holy crusade against the Turkish Infidels.
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Scanderbeg’s death in 1968, Pope Paul VI declared: “This Holy See is pleased to join in the praise of this man of great nobility, a faithful son of the Church and a son whom sovereign pontiffs before us have praised possibly more glowingly than any other man of his time. For twenty-five years, he saved his country from the assault of enemies. He defended his country threatened by the greatest danger, at the head of an army which the rampart and defense of Christianity.”
The image of Scanderbeg took on an additional aspect as Albanian historiography developed along with the national movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scanderbeg assumed the role of a national hero. The Albanian Orthodox Bishop and historian Fan Noli clearly expressed this sentiment, writing: “In 1912 Ismail Kemal raised the flag of Scanderbeg in Valona when he declared Albanian independence. Scanderbeg was our inspiration in those first arduous years during the birth pangs and growing pains of Albania. He has inspired our poets, historians, and sculptors. And he still inspires us. Sometimes I wonder whether there is any other living man who is alive today as he is!”
Yet to understand the man and the movement he led it is necessary to go beyond the constraints of nationalism and religious or political ideology. It is essential not only to understand the external factors affecting the Albanian resistance, namely Ottoman and Venetian imperialism, but to analyze its internal dynamics as well. To do this, it must be considered in light of the political, social, and economic crisis which occurred throughout Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as Islam encroached upon Europe and the peoples of southeastern Europe bore the brunt of the struggle to defend Christianity. Only in this way can the historical significance of Scanderbeg’s accomplishments be fully appreciated, and the successes and failures of the Albanian resistance understood. As the 550th anniversary of the death of the great hero approaches in 2018 a new study, SCANDERBEG: A History of George Castriota and the Albanian Resistance to Islamic Expansion in Fifteenth Century Europe, coming from Histria Books takes a fresh look at the remarkable achievements of George Castriota Scanderbeg and the Albanian people in defending Western Civilization.