Skanderbeg and Albanian Rebellion Ottoman Wars

Skanderbeg and Albanian Rebellion Ottoman Wars. George was born in 1405 to a formidable Albanian lord John Kastrioti. In 1415 he was sent as a hostage to the Ottoman court and started receiving military education at Enderun. Not much is known about this period in his life, but apparently, he quickly moved through the ranks and the Sultan even granted him fiefs in Macedonia and Bulgaria. That is when he probably gained the nickname Skanderbeg, which can be translated as “Lord Alexander” from the Turkish.

John Kastrioti rebelled against Ottoman rule twice between 1428 and 1436, and most of his lands were annexed, yet his son did not join this cause and continued serving the Ottomans until 1443. he and his 300 men would desert the Ottomans either before or during the battle of Nis, where Władysław III defeated the forces of the Sultan. Providing the Governor of Kruje with a fake letter from Murad, he took over the city.

League of Lezhe

On March 2nd, 1444, he managed to unite the local Albanian and Serbian lords in the League of Lezhe, thus forming a strong alliance against his former masters. Meanwhile, a power struggle between Murad II and Mehmed II created a power vacuum in the Ottoman Empire, and although Murad managed to defeat the Crusaders led by Wladyslaw and John Hunyadi at Varna in 1444, the situation in Albania remained precarious.

In June of the same year, Murad sent one of his best commanders Ali Pasha along with 30 thousand troops to crush the Albanian rebellion. he moved to a field called Torvioll to block the Ottomans. Albanians had a total of 15.000 men, 8000 cavalry, and 7000 infantry facing the Ottoman army. he had picked the battlefield beforehand and ensured his troops were paid and religious services were taken care of.

History of Murad II

Realizing his numerical disadvantage he decided to use hit-and-run tactics and ambushes to make up for this. During the night of 28th June, his soldiers were resting whereas Ottoman troops were celebrating sure of a victory the next day. The battlefield was ideal for a defender with inferior numbers: it was only 4 kilometers wide and a large army would have difficulty creating definitive battle formations.

The next morning, June 29th, 1444, he utilized an old but still relevant crescent formation, which he learned during his days as an Ottoman captain, with infantry on his flanks and footmen and archers in the center. He also hid at least 6 thousand horsemen behind divided into two groups on the extreme left and right. Seeing that the enemy infantry was not supported by cavalry, Ottoman horsemen attacked Skanderbeg’s center.

Skanderbeg and Albanian Rebellion

However, Albanian footmen stood strong and managed to repulse the enemy cavalry. he knew that the Ottomans often used the feigned retreats to dislodge the enemy, and so he stopped his troops from chasing them. Seeing that, the whole Ottoman army attacked the Albanians, and the battle engaged along the whole line. As the valley was narrow, less than half of the Ottoman troops participated in the battle, forming a second and third line.

At Skanderbeg’s signal, his hidden cavalry attacked from the right. However, Ali Pasha managed to turn part of his third line to nullify this threat. he then ordered his hidden force on the left to charge into the rear of the forces engaged with the Albanian right. This attack crushed the third line of the Ottomans and freed up all of the Albanian cavalry, which turned and charged the rest of the Ottomans from the rear.

The Albanian’s Army

The Ottomans were now surrounded and according to various sources lost anywhere from 10 to 20 thousand in this massacre, while he casualties were below 5 thousand. The defeat at Torvioll was a massive blow to the Ottomans, yet they were not going to leave the rebellious region in peace. The Ottomans were still focused on Hungary and John Hunyadi, so three armies sent to Albania between 1445 and 1448 were relatively small and Skanderbeg defeated them using the hit-and-run tactics.

In the Spring of 1448, Sul-tan Murad moved against Skanderbeg himself with an army of at least 50 thousand. Although the Albanians employed scorched earth tactics and continually attacked the Ottomans, Murad managed to besiege the important fortress of Svetigrad in May. he attacked the Ottoman camp but wasn’t able to do much against the overwhelming Ottoman numbers, and in July Svetigrad garrison surrendered.

Ottoman Wars

Fortunately for Skanderbeg, Hunyadi crossed into the Ottoman territory, and that forced Murad to move against him. Hungarian and Ottoman forces would engage in October at the second battle of Kosovo. Some sources claim that he attempted to help Hunyadi, but wasn’t allowed to pass through the territory held by the Serbian prince Durad Brankovic. Regardless, the Ottomans won and were able to turn their attention against the Albanians yet again.

In 1449 their forces took over the fortress of Berat. A year later Murad arrived in Albania and be-sieged Kruje. Skanderbeg had opted to take the bulk of his forces outside the walls of the city and appointed Vrana Konti as the commander of the garrison. He planned to attack the massive Ottoman army numbering up to 100.000 from outside walls. He employed this tactic: Whenever the Ottomans would get close to breaking in he would divert their attention by attacking their rear.

History of Sultan Mehmed II

For nearly 5 months from May to November, Ottomans tried to break through the fortifications including using cannons but eventually, this failed. Realizing numbers would not bring victory and the arrival of winter, Murad decided to lift the siege and return to Edirne where he would die and the throne would pass on to Mehmed II.

Constantinople was the priority for Mehmed, so he sent other commanders to attack Scanderbeg in his stead, but they were defeated in 1452 at Modric and Meçad. It was obvious that the Albanian problem was not going away easily. In the meantime, Skanderbeg recognized the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Naples and Aragon Alfonso, thus gaining more funds and men.

Ottoman Empire

Believing that the small Ottoman garrison would be defeated soon, Skanderbeg decided to leave his forces under the command of his subordinates. This was a mistake: for one, Skanderbeg’s’ commanders did not have his experience fighting in the Ottoman army. Also, 20,000-strong Ottoman reinforcements arrived under the command of Evrenos Isa Bey.

Even though he rushed back to the city and repulsed Evrenos’ troops, his army neither had the capacity nor the morale to continue the siege and had to retreat. Although not a decisive victory, the Ottomans saw the win at Berat as a sign that the war could be turned in their favor. After the death of Hunyadi in 1456, the Ottomans gained a respite on the Hungarian front. It became clear that the showdown between the Ottomans and Scanderbeg was fast approaching.

The Battle Against Evrenos

They mustered around 65.000 troops under Evrenos to crush the League of Lezhe once and for all. As for the Albanian side, Skanderbeg had to deal with a perpetual problem that always bothered him: relatives and allies turning against him. It should be noted that the Ottomans, Venetians, rival Albanian nobles, and even the royalty of Aragon tried to manipulate Skanderbeg. Nevertheless, the prudent Albanian ruler managed to form a 10 thousand-strong army and prepared for battle against Evrenos.

After centuries of mobile warfare, the Ottomans needed formations, archers in the rear, cavalry on the flanks, and infantry providing the bulk at the center. So, when Skanderbeg and his experienced men stormed the Ottoman camp near Albulena on September 2nd, 1457 there was nothing the Ottomans could do despite their numbers. More than 20,000 Ottoman troops were killed and their invasion failed. Albulena became the greatest victory of the Albanian resistance against the Ottomans.

Suzerain Ferdinand of Naples

Between 1460 and 1462 Skanderbeg helped his suzerain Ferdinand of Naples in Italy, both as a commander and a diplomat. New Ottoman incursion forced him to return to the Balkans. In July of 1462, he defeated another army sent against him at Mokra. In August Skanderbeg entered Macedonia and defeated 3 Ottoman armies in quick succession. This forced the Ottoman Sultan to sign a peace deal in 1463. Yet, Skanderbeg broke the peace and entered the Ottoman territory in Macedonia and pillaged it.

However, Pius passed away before anyone else joined the Crusade, so Skanderbeg was left to fight alone with minimal Venetian assistance. Still, in September Skanderbeg and his 10 thousand approached the Ottoman stronghold in the area – the city of Ohrid, which was defended by 15 thousand under Sheremet Bey. Skanderbeg did not have enough troops to assault the fortifications, so he sent a small 500-strong detachment to lure the Ottomans out and this plan worked perfectly.

Death of Skanderbeg

The Ottoman forces rode right into the Albanian ambush and were slaughtered, and more than 10 thousand Ottomans were killed in this ambush. Despite that, the remainder of the Ottoman army managed to escape and then defended Ohrid against Skanderbeg. Seeing that no Crusader support was arriving, Mehmed sent another army commanded by Balaban against Skanderbeg in 1465, but the Albanian leader was able to defeat his opponent yet again.

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That was the last straw that forced Mehmed to muster an army that had between 50 and 100 thousand troops and march against Skanderbeg in May of 1466. Skanderbeg had less than 20 thousand and despite his pleas, he received no assistance from Naples or Venice. Despite the heavy Albani-an resistance, Mehmed besieged Kruje. Still, the fortress held on under the heavy Ottoman cannon fire, and Mehmed decided to retreat after pillaging the rest of the country and setting up an Otto-man administration in the eastern part.

He also ordered the construction of many fortresses, thus limiting Skanderbeg’s ability to continue his resistance. Kruje was besieged again in 1467, but the results were similar. In the beginning of 1468, Skanderbeg died of Malaria. Venetians took over the defense of Albania and continued resisting for a decade. Kruje fell to Mehmed in 1478, which finally ended the three-decade-long Ottoman-Albanian war Still Skanderbeg left his mark on the history of the region.

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