In the previous article (Second battle on the Kosovo field) was told about Janos Hunyadi, whose army at the decisive moment did not manage to unite with the troops of the ruler of Albania Georgy Kastrioti. In this one we will talk about this outstanding Albanian commander, who until his death in 1468 successfully fought the Ottoman troops, defeating one enemy army after another.
George Kastrioti in the Ottoman service
Giorgi Kastrioti was the youngest son of an Albanian prince, an honorary citizen of Venice and Ragusa, John (Gion) and a Serbian noblewoman Voisava. He was born in 1405, and in early childhood he was sent to the court of Sultan Murad II as a hostage. Here the boy was converted to Islam, and then, when he grew up, he was assigned to military service. In 1428, his father even had to apologize to the Venetians for his son's participation in campaigns against Christians.
In the Turkish army, George immediately attracted attention with his bravery and even earned the honorary nickname Iskander Bey (given in honor of Alexander the Great). European authors have changed this nickname: they got something very "Nordic" by ear - Skanderberg.
By the way, in many films and novels about Dracula, the invented young Vlad Tepes (not yet a vampire) is very much like the real Skanderberg. In his youth, Vlad was indeed a hostage at the court of Mehmed II, but did not commit any military feats in the Ottoman service. Later he was sent home with rich gifts, and with the support of the Turks became the ruler of Wallachia, but was expelled by Janos Hunyadi. The first clash with the Ottomans at Vlad Tepes happened only in 1458, and he became famous not so much for victories as for cruelty, including in relation to the civilian population of the Christian regions controlled by the Ottomans.
But back to the real hero - Skanderberg. The young Albanian's service was going well: in 1443 (at the age of 28) he already commanded a five-thousandth cavalry detachment of Spahi, and a further successful career in the Turkish army was assured to him. But the voice of the blood was stronger.
Return to Albania
In November 1443, during the battle near the Serbian city of Nis, in which the Polish-Hungarian army of Hunyadi defeated the numerically superior Ottoman army, Skanderbeg, at the head of 300 Slavic Janissaries, went over to the Christians. At the headquarters of the Ottoman commander, he captured the rais effendi (the keeper of the seal), whom he forced to issue him a certificate of ownership of the city of Kruja, after which, having killed the official (as well as his entire retinue), he went with the former janissaries to his homeland. In Kruja, by order of Skanderberg, the entire Ottoman garrison was massacred. There he was baptized and called the people to rebellion. The Albanian elders recognized him as the ruler, and very soon he found himself at the head of the 12-strong army, with which he began to liberate the Albanian cities captured by the Ottomans.
In the spring of 1444, a congress of elders and princes of Albania was held in the city of Leger, which was also attended by the Montenegrin prince Stefan Crnoevich and the prince of Macedonia Georgy Aramnit. Here it was decided to jointly fight the Ottomans, and the so-called Lezhskaya League was created.
On July 29, 1444, on the plain of Torviol, the 15-strong Skanderberg army defeated the 25-strong Ottoman army. The Turks lost 8 thousand people killed, 2 thousand were captured, the Albanian losses amounted to 4 thousand soldiers.
This victory caused a great resonance in Europe, and the worried Sultan Murad II appointed a life pension of 100 ducats a year for Skanderberg's head, but there were no traitors in Albania.
After the defeat of Christian troops in the Second Battle of the Kosovo Field, the position of little Albania deteriorated significantly. And after the death of Janos Hunyadi from the plague in 1456, Skanderberg had no combat-ready allies ready to help. Despite everything, he continued to fight.
And one warrior in the field: Skanderberg against the Ottoman Empire
Monument to Skanderberg, Rome, Albania square
After the victory in the Second Battle of the Kosovo field, Sultan Murad II tried to solve the Albanian problem. The forces of the sides were clearly unequal, and it seemed that the outcome of the new war was a foregone conclusion, but George Kastrioti had a different opinion. He was a talented commander, his army, although not striking in its numbers, consisted of brave and strong warriors personally loyal to him, and the mountainous terrain was perfect for ambushes and defense.
On October 10, 1445, Skanderberg defeated the army of Firuz Pasha in Macedonia. In 1446, the army of Mustafa Pasha was defeated at Debar in Albania.
In 1447-1448 Skanderberg in three battles defeated the troops of the Venetian Republic, an ally of the Ottomans. This war ended with Venice's commitment to sever the alliance with the Sultan and her consent to an annual tribute of 1400 ducats to Albania. But in 1550, Murad II, at the head of a 100-strong army, himself went against Skanderberg and laid siege to the city of Kruja, which was defended by a 4-strong garrison led by the Venetian Vran Konti. Venice again acted as an ally of the Ottomans, undertaking the obligation to supply the Ottoman army. Skanderberg, who had 6 cavalry and 2 infantry, was stationed in the surrounding mountains. Three bloody assaults of Kruja were unsuccessful, and Skanderberg constantly harassed the Ottomans with raids. Once he even managed to set fire to an enemy camp. The desperate sultan offered Conti a bribe of 300 thousand acce and a high post in the Ottoman army, then an honorary peace to Skanderberg in exchange for a moderate tribute. Having been refused by both, he was forced to lift the siege, having lost many soldiers in the retreat. All in all, this campaign cost him 20 thousand killed and missing soldiers.
This war was the last for Sultan Murad II: in 1451 he died, never being able to conquer Albania.
Sultan Murad II, portrait from the Austrian National Library
For the second time in his life, his son Mehmed ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire (recall that in 1444 Murad II tried to transfer power to his 12-year-old son - and this decision provoked the Crusade, which ended in a brutal defeat of the Christian army near Varna).
Nodar Shashik-oglu as Shehzade Mehmed, still from the film "The Great Warrior of Albania Skanderberg":
And this is how we see Mehmed II in the film "Dracula" (2014). Here, Vlad Tepes, who, as a hostage, lived at the palace and did not serve in the Ottoman army, is clearly attributed to the exploits of the young Skanderberg:
Now Mehmed will not let go of the power from his hands and will enter history under the nickname Fatih the Conqueror.
Jandarli Khalil Pasha, the grand vizier of Murad II, Mehmed's father, who tried to "lead" the young sultan, was executed. There were no others who wanted to rule for Mehmed II.
Sultan Mehmed II and his craving for beauty
Mehmed II went down in history not only as a conqueror, but also as a builder: on his order, more than 500 large architectural objects were built: mosques, madrasahs, kulliyah (this is a complex that includes a mosque, madrasah, hamam, library, caravanserai, sometimes that something else), zawiye (shelter for the poor), tekke (Sufi monastery), bridges, etc.
The new ruler of the Ottoman Empire also became the first sultan to preserve his appearance for posterity. In Islam, the depiction of people is prohibited, but an exception was made for the all-powerful Ottoman ruler (and who would dare to reproach him?). Moreover, this sultan himself loved to draw, and some of his drawings have survived to this day (they are exhibited in the Topkapi Palace).
In 1461, Mehmed decided to acquire the then fashionable profile portrait on bronze. Therefore, he turned to Sigismondo Malatesta, who ruled in Rimini, with a request to send a good master to him. Thinking, he sent a certain Matteo de Pasti on this mission, but he did not manage to get to the Ottoman capital, since he was detained by the Venetians on the island of Crete and sent back.
However, Mehmed did not abandon his attempts to acquire Italian artists and architects. According to some reports, even the notorious Aristotle Fiorovanti was invited, but Antonio Averelino eventually went to the Sultan.
In 1474, Constanzo da Ferrara arrived in Constantinople from Naples, who created a portrait of Mehmed II on a bronze medal.
In 1479, the Sultan received another similar portrait, made from a drawing by an unknown master by the Florentine Bertoldo di Giovanni. This work became a sign of gratitude to the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo Medici, for the extradition of one of the murderers of his brother Giuliano.
In the same year, at the conclusion of a peace treaty with Venice, at the request of the Sultan, a clause was added to the text about sending the "best medalist and painter" to Constantinople. As such, Gentile Bellini arrived - the Venetian master who created many portraits of the Doges.
Gentile Bellini, The Sultan Mehmet II
He was at the court of Mehmed II for about a year, decorating the walls of the Topkapi Palace with frescoes. These frescoes have not survived, since Bayezid II, who inherited his father, did not share his love for the fine arts. He considered Bellini's works contrary to Islam and therefore ordered to cover them with plaster.
But we got a little distracted. Let's go back to 1451, in which 17-year-old Mehmed II was not yet Fatih, and he had no time for portraits yet.
Mehmed II vs. Skanderberg
Wars with Skanderberg and for him were unsuccessful - two Ottoman armies were defeated in 1452 and in 1453. Moreover, the commander of the second army, Ibrahim Pasha, died in a personal duel with Skanderberg. The next Ottoman army was defeated in Albania in 1456. In September 1457, Skanderberg defeated the Turkish army, led by his nephew Hamza, who went over to the side of the Sultan, and the Ottoman commander Isak Bey.
In 1460 Sultan Mehmed II was forced to conclude a peace treaty with Giorgi Kastrioti, and in 1462 he even officially recognized him as the ruler of Albania. The signing of the peace treaty allowed Skanderberg to intervene in the war for the Neapolitan throne between Ferdinand, the illegitimate son of King Adfons V of Aragon and Sicily, and Rene of Anjou. From the victorious Ferdinand, he received the title of Duke of San Pietro.
In 1462, Sultan Mehmed, who captured the Peloponnese and Trebizond, sent a new army of about 23 thousand people to Albania. She was defeated at Mokre on 7 July, after which Skanderberg raided Ottoman-dominated Macedonia. He also won in 1464 and 1465. In total, until 1466, Giorgi Kastrioti managed to defeat 8 Turkish armies directed against him.
In 1466, Sultan Mehmed II himself led his troops to Albania, but did not manage to take the city of Kruja. After the return of the Sultan to Constantinople, the Ottoman troops besieging Kruja were defeated, and Balaban Pasha, who commanded them, was killed.
But two months later, another large army of Mahmud Pasha Angelovich was sent against Skanderberg. The Albanians by that time had suffered serious losses, and Skanderberg evaded the battle, leading his army into the mountains, and then - evacuated it, putting it on Venetian ships.
On January 17, 1468, the great enemy of the Ottoman Empire, who lost only one battle out of 30 in his life, died at the age of 62. The cause of his death was malaria, he was buried in the city of Leger, which belonged to Venice.
Portrait of Skanderberg on the Albanian banknote
The fact that the grave of an Albanian hero was discovered by them in the church of St. Nicholas in the city of Leger, they opened it and made amulets from his bones, setting them in gold and silver, testifies to how high the authority of Skanderberg was among his opponents, the Ottomans. These artifacts were highly valued: it was believed that they give their owner the valor and courage of the great Skanderberg.
There was no substitute for this hero: in 1478, 10 years after the death of Skanderberg, under the onslaught of the troops of Mehmed II, Kruja fell - the last stronghold of resistance to the Ottomans in Albania. This army was led by two renegades: the Albanian Koca Daud Pasha and "either Greek, or Serb, or Albanian" Gedik Ahmed Pasha.
In 1953, the Soviet Union and Albania shot a joint film "The Great Warrior of Albania Skanderberg" (directed by S. Yutkevich), which in 1954 even received a special award from the Higher Technical Commission for directing at the Cannes Film Festival. The role of Skanderberg in this film went to the People's Artist of the USSR A. Khorava.
Akaki Khorava as Skanderberg. The Albanian hero in his performance can easily be mistaken for an epic Russian hero
A. Vertinsky in this film appeared before the audience in the guise of the Doge of Venice, and Yakovlev played his debut role (an unnamed warrior) in it. Due to the deterioration of Soviet-Albanian relations through the fault of Khrushchev (which led, among other things, to the radicalization of the regime in Albania), this film is practically unknown in our country.
Poster of the Soviet-Albanian film "The Great Warrior of Albania Skanderberg", 1953
Christian Skanderberg remained a hero of Muslim Albania, and the black two-headed eagle from the coat of arms of the Kastrioti clan moved to the coat of arms of this state.
Coat of arms of the Kastrioti clan:
Coat of arms of Albania: Skanderberg's famous "goat" helmet clearly indicates the origin of the eagle:
In the next articles we will continue our story about the history of the Ottoman Empire. The notorious series "Game of Thrones" seems to be a pale and uninteresting shadow of the events that unfolded then on the shores of the Bosphorus and the expanses of Asia Minor. We will once again remember Mehmed II and talk about the famous Law of Fatih (which was sometimes called the “law on fratricide”), which had a huge impact on the history of Turkey and the fate of many Ottoman shehzade.