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Albania and its inhabitants were referred to with names from the ancient past, n ames such as “Epirus”, “Epiriotes”, “Macedonia”, “Macedonian”, “Illyria”, “Illyrian”, etc. f this writing will deal with the first two appellations. During the late antiquity Epirus, in the form of “Old Epirus” and “New Epirus”, was link ed with territorial-administrative divisions. These designations continued to be used during new political-administrative reality that followed. The 10th cent ury Byzantine author, Constandine Porphyrogenet, for example, refered to contem porary name “the theme of Nicopolis” also as “The region of Old Epirus” and to “The theme of Durres” also as “The province of New Epirus”.1 This author, like the 11th century B yzantine author, George Kedrenos, refer to the territories of New Epirus also as “Macedonia” and “Illyric”.2 Authors of subsequent centuries, such as Acropolites, Skuta riotes, Efremius, Gregora and others call these territories by their ancient-geo graphical and political-administrative names “Epirus”, “Old Epirus” and “New Epirus”.3 There is no evidence that the local Greek population used the name “Epirus”. The 14t h century Iaonnina chronicle, which are considered to be the 13th century offic ial acts of the rulers of the so-called “Despotate of Epirus”, instead, refer to adm inistrative divisions as the provinces of Acarnania5, Etolia6, Vageneta7, Kolonj a8, Glavenica (1210)9 or the themes of Kriromenae10, Ioannina (1361)11, etc. Like the chronicle of Iaonnina, the Chronicle of the Tocco12 family follows the same practice. The local-born chronicler does not mention names “Epirus” or “Epiriot” bu t distinguishes the ethnic elements of the area as Albanian, Vllah, or Greek.13 There is also no evidence in Greek sources of any reference to the term “Epiriot”, to refer to the inhabitants of the territories of Epirus. The use of the ethnic name “Arber” for the inhabitants of “Arberia” came into use by t he Byzantine. And this was in response to the Arber opposition/uprising against the Byzantine control from Constantinople. This reference is noted first in the writings of Attaliate (1043)14, Anna Comnena (1108)15, and continued with other Byzantine authors. By the 15th century the Albanian nationality had consolidated as a direct conseq uence of the objective internal development in the fields of economic, social, p olitical and cultural-spiritual relations. During this time, alternate identifi cations for Arberia and Arbers are noted. Along the names “Macedonia” and “Macedonian”, “E pirus” and “Epiriot” appear. With the name Epirus was meant the territories which stre tch from the Mbishodra reagion in the north to the Gulf of Ambracia in the south , bordering on the Adriatic and Ionnian Sea in the west and the region of Has, t he upper course of Drini Zi and the Pindus mountains in the east.16 And there is no question that this area encompassed a compact Albanian population. Even hist orical Epirus had a compact Albanian population, with fringe cities of Iaonnina and Arta being an exception.17 While the name “Epiriotes” continues to be absent in Greek sources, some sources ind icate that Albanians used it as an alternate name for themselves. The earliest s ource of the use of the name was Skanderbeg himself. While in official relations he presents himself as the “Lord of Albania”, he called himself and his compatriots “Epiriotes”. In one of his letters to the prince of Tarentium, he writes: “…if our chro nicles tell the truth, then we are called Epiriotes”.18 When Marin Barleti describ es the Albanians as the descendants of Pyrrhus, the leader of Epiriots,19 one ha s to conclude that he too has the same belief. Edmond Dulaj in his essay explains that the phenomenon of claiming the ethnic ga rb was due simply to the fact that Albanian territories were formerly included w ithin such provinces as “Macedonia” , “Epirus” or “New Epirus” and Skanderbeg was just att pting to connect with a past glory. This actually could be true, but we at the
same time can’t dispute the presence of the beliefs that the Albanians descend fro m the people that inhabited the area in antiquity. What else Skanderbeg could have meant when he wrote “…if our chronicles tell the truth, then we are called Epir iotes.” It is interesting to a connection between “Epiriot” and the Albanian is noted in a p assage in the play “Epiriota” by Tommaso Mezzo in 1483. He notes an “Epiriot” singer who articulated in Albanian. This is an indication that even non-Albanians were us ing the name “Epiriot” to identify an Albanians speaker. Almost two centuries after Skanderbegs’s indication that Albanians are also called “Epiriotes”, Franciscus Blanchus, in his Dictionarium Latino-Epirioticum, lists “Epir us” as equivalent to “Arbeni” (Albania) and “Epiriot” as meaning “Iarbenesce”. The above sources point to a reality that the Albanians did maintain a belief th at they were descendents of “Epiriots”. Written literature does not indicate when th is tradition started or the extent of the population that maintained such a beli ef. These alternate identities apparently were abandoned, as Albanians took a new na me to identify themselves, that is “shqiptar”. But foreigners took upon the traditi on and continued to equate Epirus to Albania and Epiriots to the southern Albani ans as more and more westerners scrutinized area’s history. During the first half of the 19th century Greece gained its independence and soo n after its nationalist elements went to work to redefine Greek ethnicity. Their main focus was the brilliant classical Hellenism and after almost two millenni a of disconnect, many invasions, and orientation towards a religious culture the y started considering themselves as being the descendents of Greece’s original po pulation and Hellenism, and everything they related to Hellenism, automatically became theirs. Epirus which inherited two Greek colonies, was also considered G reek. The nationalist Greek historians put themselves on a path to defend their claim against all historical evidence. They still continue their efforts to conv ince the world that the ethnic designation “Epiriot”, which was not a part of Greek vocabulary, and as we indicated above was an alternate name for the Albanians, r elated to the Greeks! 1C. Porphyrogenet, Byzantine historiographers…, pp. 18, 20. 2Ibid., p. 20; pp. 32, 38, 39. 3G. Acropolites, Byzantine Historiographers…, pp. 152, 163; Th. Skutarioes, p. 168 , 172, 180; N. Gregora…, pp. 210, 212, 213. Ephraemius, Corpus scriptorium Histori ae Byzantinae, Bonnae, 1840, pp. 308, 309, 345, 377. 4Ioannina Chronicles, Byzantine Hisoriographers…, pp. 240-250. 5-9 AD, I, 140. 10,11 Documents of the period of Byzantium…, doc. LM. 12Cronaca dei Tocco di Cefalonia, Roma, 1975. 13Documents of the Byzantine Period on the History of Albania, Tirana 1978, prep ared by Koco Bozhori, doc. XXXVII, XXXVII, XL, XLI, XLII. The representatives o f the branch of the Engjell family who ruled in historical Epirus and extended t heir rule to the territories north up to Shkoder (1215), do not mention the name “Epirus” and do not call themselves “Despots of Epirus” and their realms the “Despotate o f Epirus”. Michael Comnenius considered himself “Despotate of Arta” (1210), Teodor Eng jell Comnenius is presented under the titles “Duke”, “king and emperor of the Byzantin es (1228) and as the legitimate successor to the former Byzantine emperors, and he calls his domains the “Empire”, meaning the continuation of the former Byzantine Empire. Michael Comnenius II acts in the same manner. Therefore, the formulation “Michael the Second, despot of Epirus” which we find at Acta et Diplomata, vol. I, in the document No. 245 abridged on the basis of information from Byzantine auth ors, is believed to be inaccurate, because, in fact, the Byzantine authors thems elves seem not to use the designations “Despot of Epirus”, “Despotate of Epirus”. 14M. Attaliatae, Historia, Bonnae, 1853, pp. 9, 18, 297, 21.
15A. Comnena, Alexiade, Bonnae, 1839, vol. I, p. 221, 1884: vol. 1, 13; 5, 1, 2. 16Fermenxhin at F. S. Noli, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, Tirana, 1967, p. 274. 17Anonymous Panegyric of Emperors Manuel and John VIII Paleologos, clearly descr ibes the cities of Arta and Ioannina as peopled by Greeks, while the rest of Epi rus peopled by Albanians. 18F. S. Noli, op. cit. doc. 31, p. 243. 19M. Barlettius, The Siege…, p. 97. (Dulaj, Edmond, The concepts “Epirus” and “Epiriotes” in Problems of the formation of th e Albanian people…, 1984, served as a basic source material.)