by Antonina Zhelyazkova

Historical background. Ethnogenesis... (2)

When in 395 Emperor Theodosius divided the empire into two independent parts - the Western Roman Empire, with its capital at Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople as its capital, the borderline between the two portions of the empire was drawn across the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. Under the push of invasions by the Barbarian tribes it steadily moved westwards. 

Of Illyricum, which embraced the dioceses of Pannonia, Dacia and Macedonia, the Western Empire took over only Pannonia after the division. Dacia and Macedonia were conceded to the Eastern Empire. Today's Albanian territories were then all part of the eastern portion of the empire, that is part of the Byzantine Empire.

In the 7th century the tides of Avars and Slavs flooded the Peninsula and closed in on the imperial capital of Constantinople. In the course of nearly two centuries, Southeastern Europe was inaccessible to Byzantium's control. When in 800 the Byzantine counteroffensive got underway, the progressing ethnic changes were already a reality, and difficult to revise.4

One of the key directions for expansion of the Bulgarian kingdom at the time of its efflorescence in the 9th-10th centuries, was southwestwards. Then not only Macedonia, but also Albania, became an object of rivalry between Byzantium and Bulgaria. Thus, for a comparatively long period of time, between 851 and 1018, the present-day territory of Albania was under Bulgarian authority.5

In the middle of the 11th century the official split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church became a reality. When their spheres of influence were fixed, the dividing line ran across today's Albanian lands granting the Roman Catholic Church authority over their northern parts. During this period the Eastern Orthodox Church still dominated because of the long-lasting influence of Byzantium and Bulgaria. 

Late in the 12th century, the first independent principality of Albania (Arbania) was established on the territory of present-day central Albania, having its capital at Kruja (Krujë). In the sources, the princes, who stood at the head of the small formation, are referred to as Arbëreshes (Arbanians), and so is the population under their rule. With its gradual expansion, the principality clashed with the Byzantine and the Slav feudal lords. The newly formed Arbëresh aristocracy sought to enlarge their estates, to obtain independence, to be emancipated from the foreign rule, in a word - to constitute their own state. Around 1204 the principality of Arbania emancipated itself from Byzantine control, but, in turn, fell under pressure by the Despotate of Epirus to the south, the Serbian principality of Zeta to the north, and the county of Durrës, established by the Venetian Republic, to the west. In order to withstand efforts by the Republic of San Marco to annex Arbaria to the county of Durres, prince Dimiter (1206-1216) asked the Pope for support promising him to adopt the Catholic faith. At the same time, he married the daughter of the Serbian prince of Rascia, and by doing so clearly became a full-grown political factor in the region. 

Back to the time of the ephemeral existence of the Albanian medieval principality dates a trade agreement with the Republic of Ragusa [modern Dubrovnik, Croatia], signed by Dimiter and fourteen Arbanian princes, which guaranteed peace, granted the Ragusan merchants the right of free movement across Arbanian lands and exempted them from taxes and duties. One can conclude from the text of this agreement that some sort of feudal hierarchy was observed in the principality: Dimiter called himself  Grand Archon implying supreme feudal lord.