Principality of Arbanon
Principata e Arbërit
|1190–1215/16 (annexed ca. 1256/57)|
|Status||Autonomous principality within the Byzantine Empire (1190–1204) and the Despotate of Epirus (from ca. 1205)|
• fl. 1252–56
|1215/16 (annexed ca. 1256/57)|
|Today part of||Albania|
Arbanon (Albanian: Arbër or Arbëria, Gheg Albanian: Arban or Arbania, Greek: Ἄρβανον, Árbanon; Latin: Arbanum), or Albanon (Greek: Ἄλβανον, Álbanon), was an autonomous principality ruled by the native Progon family, and the first Albanian proto-state to emerge in recorded history.
The principality of Arbanon was established in 1190 by the native archon Progon in the region surrounding Kruja, to the east and northeast of Venetian territories. Progon was succeeded by his sons Gjin and then Demetrius (Dhimitër), who managed to retain a considerable degree of autonomy within the Byzantine Empire. In 1204, Arbanon attained full, though temporary, political independence, taking advantage of the weakening of Constantinople following its pillage during the Fourth Crusade. However, Arbanon lost its large autonomy following the death of Demetrius ca. 1216, after which it was successively controlled by the Despotate of Epirus, the Bulgarian Empire and, from 1235, by the Empire of Nicaea.
During this period, the area was ruled by the Greco-Albanian lord Gregorios Kamonas, the new spouse of Demetrius' former Serbian wife Komnena Nemanjić, and by Golem (Gulam), a local magnate who had married Kamonas' and Komnena's daughter. The exact date of the dissolution of Arbanon is unknown, although it certainly happened during the conflict between Epirus and Nicaea in the 1250s. Arbanon was eventually annexed in the winter of 1256–57 by the Byzantine statesman George Akropolites. Golem subsequently disappeared from historical records.
Scholars generally note that the Principaly of Arbanon was the first Albanian state or proto-state to emerge during the Middle Ages. Pipa and Repishti conclude that it was the first sketch of an "Albanian state", and that it retained semi-autonomous status as the western extremity of an empire (under the Doukai of Epirus or the Laskarids of Nicaea).
Between 1190 and 1204, Arbanon was a principality of the Byzantine Empire and possessed a considerable degree of autonomy, although the titles 'archon' (held by Progon) and 'panhypersebastos' (held by Dhimitër) are evident signs of Byzantine dependence. In the context of a weakening of Byzantine power in the region following the sack of Constantinople in 1204, Arbanon attained full autonomy under the Despotate of Epirus for 12 years until the death of Demetrios in 1215 or 1216.
The Gëziq inscription mentions the Progon family as judices, and notes their dependence on Vladin and Đorđe Nemanjić (r. 1208–1216), the princes of Zeta. The rulers were also connected to the Serbian Nemanjić dynasty, through marriage and alliances. In 1252, Golem submitted to the Empire of Nicaea.
Background and early history
In the 11th century AD, the name Arbanon was applied to a region in the mountainous area to the west of Ohrid Lake and the upper valley of the river Shkumbin. There are scarce sources about Arbanon. In 1166, prior Arbanensis Andrea and episcopis Arbanensis Lazarus participated in a ceremony held in Kotor (then under the Serbian Grand Principality). A year later in 1167, Pope Alexander III, in a letter directed to Lazarus, congratulates him for returning his bishopric to Catholic faith and invites him to acknowledge the archbishop of Ragusa as his superior. After some resistance from local officials, the bishopric of Arbanon was put under the direct dependence of the Pope, as documented in a Papal letter dated in 1188.
Little is known about archon Progon who was the first ruler of Kruja and its surroundings, between 1190 and 1198. The Kruja fortress stayed in the possession of the Progon family, and Progon was succeeded by his sons Gjin and later Dhimitër. Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96) conquered Pilot from the "Arbanas" during his southern campaign, after takin,g over Zeta (Duklja).
Reign of Demetrius Progoni
Demetrius was the third and last lord of the Progon family, ruling between 1208 (or 1207) and 1216 (or 1215). He succeeded his brother Gjin and brought the principality to its climax. Demetrius styled himself 'panhypersebastos' and 'megas archon' (Dei gratia panhypersevastos et magnus archon), and he maintained international relations with the Republic of Ragusa, the Republic of Venice, and Serbia. He issued significant commercial benefits in his territory to the Republic of Ragusa, as is found in a Ragusan document (from where his titles are known).
In 1208, Demetrius married Komnena Nemanjić, the daughter of Serbian Grand Prince, later King Stefan Nemanjić (r. 1196–1228). A brief alliance was established between the two countries amidst conflicts with the Republic of Venice. Demetrius' marriage with Komnena did not rule out the risk of Serbian expansion toward the Albanian domains. However, in 1204, the most serious threat came from the Venetian Duchy of Dyrrhachium, a Latin entity formed after the Fourth Crusade in the former territories of the Byzantine Empire. In search for allies, Demetrius signed a treaty with the Republic of Ragusa in 1209 and began negotiations with Pope Innocent III regarding his and his subjects' conversion to Catholicism. This is considered a tactful move, which Demetrius undertook to establish ties with Western Europe against Venice. The friendship with the pope was of short duration, and soon turned into ill-feeling.
Reign of Gregory Kamonas and Gulem
After the death of Demetrius in 1215 or 1216, the power was left to his wife Komnena. She soon married the Greco-Albanian lord Gregorios Kamonas, who himself had earlier been married to Gjin’s daughter. Kamonas strengthened relations with Serbia, which had been weakened after a Slavic assault on Scutari followed the collapse of Venetian Durazzo. According to Kristo Frashëri, Kamonas was elected.
Demetrius had no son to succeed him. His ex-wife Komnena had a daughter with Gregory Kamonas, who married a local magnate named Golem (Gulam). During the conflicts between Michael II Komnenos Doukas of Epirus and the Emperor of Nicaea John III Doukas Vatatzes, Golem and Theodore Petraliphas, who were initially Michael's allies, eventually defected to John III in 1252. By 1256, Vatatzes appointed Constantine Kavaron as the governor of Arbanon.
Golem is last mentioned in the historical records among other 'notables' of Arbanon, in a meeting with George Akropolites in Durrës that occurred in the winter of 1256–1257. Akropolites annexed the statelet and installed a Byzantine civil, military and fiscal administration. However, the initial Nicaean conquest proved short-lived. A pro-Epirote revolt erupted in the region in 1257, and the Capetian ruler Charles of Anjou, having landed in Vlora in 1269, proclaimed himself king of the Regnum Albaniae ("Kingdom of Albania") in 1272.
It was a small territory in the 11th and 12th centuries, stretching from rivers Devoll to Shkumbin. Arbanon did not have direct access to the sea. Robert Elsie notes that the coastal cities of modern Albania did not have noticeable Albanian communities throughout the Middle Ages, whereas the coasts of Epiros further south, despite their control by Serbs and Greeks, were primarily inhabited by Albanians according to Alain Ducellier.
The Kruja fortress, founded by the Byzantines, was the seat of Progon. Progon gained possession of the surroundings of the fortress which became hereditary. With the marriage of Komnena with Kamonas, Elbasan becomes the second important possession.
- Progon (between 1190–1198)
- Gjin Progoni (1198–1208)
- Demetrius Progoni (ca. 1208–ca. 1216)
- Gregory Kamonas (1216–?)
- Golem (fl. 1252– ca. 1256)
Part of a series on the
|History of Albania|
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- Elsie 2010, p. iv: "To the east and northeast of Venetian territory in Albania arose the first autonomous Albanian state under Prince Progon, Arbanon, which lasted from 1190 to 1216."
- Ducellier 1999, p. 786: "...when Dhimitër died, probably in 1215..."
- Ducellier 1999, p. 791: "In the winter of 1256–1257, George Akropolites, exercising authority over the newly acquired provinces, felt free to travel around the region, after bringing together at Durazzo the ‘notables’ of Arbanon, among them, no doubt, Prince Gulam (of whom subsequently no more would be heard); he thus annexed without a murmur the statelet in which he was able to install a civil, military and fiscal administration which was thoroughly Byzantine."
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