Wednesday, September 15, 2004

THE LIFE OF SKANDERBEG

Many fantastic stories have circulated regarding the birth and childhood of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. It is said that when Vojsava, his mother, was pregnant, a gigantic dragon appeared in her dreams-its head lying at the confines of the Ottoman Empire and its tail stretching as far as the Adriatic Sea. It is said, further, that when George Kastrioti was born he had a scar on his right arm and a mole on his shoulder blade. It is also said that when still in his cradle, he was able to crawl out and reach for his father's guns using them as his playthings! As a young boy his time was spent riding on horseback competing with his friends at throwing spears. Unfortunately there are no reliable records on the exact date of his birth.
At the Palace of the Sultan Skanderbeg was at once noticed by the ruler of the Ottoman Empire for his bearing and good looks. He was also admired for his bravery and daring and all roads seemed opened to him for a brilliant future. Skanderbeg was very intelligent. He soon learned to speak Turkish, Greek, the Slavic language, Italian and some say even Arabic. He studied the art of warfare having gained a perfect knowledge of the use of the arms available at the time. He became the most agile horseman of the time.
It seems to us that at this time warfare appealed to Skanderbeg for its own sake, as a means of expressing his own strength and bravery rather than the, means of defending an ideal. At this tender age he was constantly looking for rivals with whom he could measure his strength – he was not concerned with who this enemy or rival was. His whole being, at the time, was imbued with a desire to fight. He admired the Ottoman warriors whose bravery was legend throughout the region. He was therefore impatient to show others and to prove to himself his own daring.
His daring and courage soon reached the ears of the then reigning Sultan, Murat II. Consequently in a short time and at a very tender age Skanderbeg attained a high standing in the echelon of the military quarters of the time.
In 1439 the Senate of Ragusa took a decision to bestow honorary citizenship on the sons of Gjon Kastrioti, in spite of the fact that they had embraced the Moslem religion. This decision was made possible by the fact that the Ambassadors of Gjon Kastrioti had assured the Republic of Ragusa that these sons of Kastrioti had remained Christians in their hearts and that they were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to leave Adrianople and join their own people and religion. After the names for honorary citizenship were published a heated argument took place and the question arose: could the Ambassadors' recommendation hold true or include the fourth son of Gjon Kastrioti? While it was apparent that the three sons had embraced the Moslem faith out of necessity, what could be said of the fourth son? How could George be considered a good Christian, a young man held in great esteem and in a high military rank by Sultan Murat, and entrusted with implementing the Sultan's plans?
In view of the above consideration the name of George Kastrioti was effaced from the registers of honorary citizenship by the Republic of Ragusa. The Senate of Ragusa labeled George as a defender of Islam, the very man who was later in history to prove the most militant enemy of Islam.
In 1442 while Skanderbeg was fighting under the banner of Sultan Murat II, his father Gjon died. The death of this valiant Albanian Prince induced the Sultan to occupy, without losing time, this region also, thus adding more territory to his conquests.
Georg Kastrioti, undoubtedly the ablest of the sons of Gjon was "islamized"; the other three sons were of no value whatsoever, and Murat II therefore bequeathed the principality to an Albanian renegade named Hassan Bey, who in a short time betrayed his country by putting the entire domain under the rule of the Crescent Moon.
At this point of history one wonders--what happened to the military feats of Arjanit Komneni, who had triumphed over the armies of Ali Pasha, the Turk? These victories were real and factual military triumphs known to both the Christian and Moslem world of the time, yet they were more of a personal triumph for the victor and did not result of a victorious nation.
While Gjon Kastrioti was alive he had sent some of his own men to Adrianople to meet his son George. The emissaries met the brave young Albanian and transmitted his father's and his people's greetings and also delivered presents brought from Albania. The men had long conversations with George and exchanged valuable ideas. They told Skanderbeg, during their talks, of the poor condition his native country was in, of the cruelty of the Ottoman rulers, the sadness and mourning of the occupied people. They also related how Arjanit Komneni had made a name for himself and they assured him that with his bravery Skanderbeg could do even more to assure happiness for the people as their future leader. They further told how the soldiers of the Sultan had killed hundreds of innocent Albanians, most of whom were beheaded. These and other horrifying facts made a deep and sad impression on the young George, and in his heart he felt a new and strong call to go to the rescue of his native country.
Until this time, Skanderbeg was a valiant fighter, much drawn to warfare and battle. After this memorable meeting with the emissaries of his father he began to feel something else in his heart. He now felt that fighting for the sake of fighting had no meaning and no purpose unless sparked by an Ideal towards a purposeful end. He now knew that there was nothing more holy than a war of liberation for his enslaved country, by doing all in his power to create a free Albania.
The years spent at the Court of the Sultan now appeared to him as years of shame and slavery. He realized the shame of having served under the Sultan, and as an Albanian he now knew that his place was not at the side of the Sultan. Consequently, and slowly he saw before him a path he had to follow, a road that Destiny had unfolded before him -- and he saw himself treading this path among his own people, as George Kastrioti, leader of the Albanians, who needed him.
But how was he to get away from the Palace of the Sultan? How was he to leave Adrianople? The Sultan and his entourage loved him and admired him, but at the same time they were suspicious and guarded him well. Was he to leave for Albania at once and thus expose himself to the danger of being caught, or was he to bide his time and wait for an opportune time for his escape? His native country was in great need for his leadership, and he did not wish to endanger his return by impulsive actions. Is not patience the virtue of strong people?
George Kastrioti waited for the right time to act. The sad news of his father's death and the suffering of his people at the hands of the Sultan's soldiers now left no doubt as to what road to take, and the opportune time for his return as the leader of the people came in the Spring of 1443.
Johan Huniadi, the Vojvoda of Transylvania, at the head of a Hungarian army, marched on Serbia. He defeated the armies of the Sultan and was marching on. Sultan Murat I, stunned by this defeat sent an army under the joint command of Kareman Beu and Skanderbeg ordering them to stop the advancement of Huniad, until he, the Sultan, would also march with greater and organized forces.
The enemy forces lined the two banks of the river Morava. On the 3rd of November, 1443, the Hungarian commander crossed the Morava and attacked the Ottoman army. This was the opportunity that George Kastrioti had been waiting for. Instead of directing the soldiers to fight the Hungarians, he ordered them to retreat. This led to the complete demoralization and withdrawal of the Ottoman army. It is said that George Kastrioti entered the Chancellery of the Sultan and with a sword in his hand bade the Turk sign a firman allowing Skanderbeg to take complete control of the Fortress of Kruja. After this he gathered 300 Albanian soldiers, who had previously served under him when he was in the service of the Sultan, and with them marched towards his native land.
His arrival in Albania was a surprise to the people. The first people he met were the natives of Dibra. They could hardly believe that they were seeing Skanderbeg, and once over their initial shock a great rejoicing spread among them.
George Kastrioti at once directed his most trusted men to occupy the paths and roads leading to Kruja, so that the Ottoman commander of the Fortress would not hear the news before Skanderbeg himself reached Kruja. Once he reached the fortress he showed the Turkish commander the firman and formally occupied the stronghold.
By the following day not a single Turkish or foreign soldier was left in Kruja, and no traitors left in the vicinity. The flag of the Sultan was taken down as were all other signs of the Ottoman occupation. The flag of Albania was once more unfurled and from every corner shouts were heard of "Long Live George Kastrioti."
Till that day, the country had shed much noble blood, but all in vain. Nor was the display of soldierly virtues, squandered as they were on individual actions with no leadership, of any avail. This was due to the existence of mean, petty rivalries and to the fact that, until then, no leader had been found who was both widely acceptable and yet capable of taking upon himself all the burden and the responsibility, as well as of commanding complete, devoted and undisputed allegiance.
This, then, was the essence of George Kastrioti's speech to the princes he had summoned to Kruja. Among those who listened to his words were his nephew, Muzaka, Gjoka and George, the sons of Paul Shtrez Balsha and Stefan Cernovich, Prince of Montenegro, as well as the others who had come in from the remotest provinces in answer to his proclamation. In George Kastrioti every prince could recognize a leader. One by one, Petrela, Stelluzi and Sfetigrad fell into the hands of the Albanian armies rallied by their new leader. But this was still not enough. George Kastrioti convened the first meeting of all the princes of the area at Lesh, which was under Venetian rule, for Venetian collaboration in the undertaking was essential.
On March 1st, 1444, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas at Lesh was crowded with a motley throng. From every corner of the territory the princes had come in picturesque array. Among them was the representative of the Republic of Venice, intent on learning what this unusual gathering would accomplish, and at the same time mindful to steer the deliberations in a direction that would benefit only the Most Serene Republic.
Those present gave their unreserved support to the immediate creation of a League of Albanian Princes – a feat that for years had seemed beyond the realms of possibility.
George Kastrioti was unanimously elected as its Leader and as Commander of the joint armies. He was offered an annual revenue of two hundred thousand ducats for military requirements.
For the time being, the man who had so often given proof of his valor in battle, was required only to give proof of his wisdom. The army that had been raised would not be adequate to man the fortresses and at the same time enter into conflict with the Sultan's troops. More soldiers were needed to take up arms in defense of Albania, and George Kastrioti found them, ordering compulsory conscription for the first time in European history. He himself compiled the lists of males fit for military service, ordering them to hold themselves in readiness to serve in the army; he traveled throughout the land in person to review the recruits, imposing on them the rigid discipline which he had always admired in the Janissary Corps which had rendered such outstanding service to the Sultan.
George Kastrioti introduced into his army all the best features of the Ottoman military system, succeeding, for the first time, in transforming irregular, rough companies of Albanian soldiers, with their intolerance of discipline, into a perfect military machine. No more guerrilla warfare; no more blind assaults that relied on the valor of an individual, for a method was necessary in order to rout the Sultan and make him realize that the fate of the Albanian people was in the hands of a man of iron will and exceptional intelligence who symbolized the will of the land.
Though the Ottoman forces were twice as powerful as his own, George Kastrioti moved against Ali Pasha who, his informers told him, had left Adrianople at the head of a mighty army with which Murat II intended to crush the audacity of one he considered to be traitor.
The two armies met face to face in the plain of Torviolli on June 29th, 1444. For the first time in their history the Albanians were able to curb their belligerent daring and obey the orders of a leader, even to make a strategic retreat. They learned how to hide and then reappear when least expected; to stop short in pursuit, and stand firm on conquered positions. They saw what a battle maneuver was; and they learned to carry out orders promptly and devotedly, finding that it was not necessary to know in advance what they would be, nor in any way permissible to dispute them.
The battle lasted until three in the afternoon and when the sun set the Ottomans were in disorderly rout, leaving behind them on the battle field eight thousand dead, two thousand prisoners, twenty-four banners, their entire camp, thousands of horses, and all manner of provisions and booty.
While the victors attended to the wounded, buried the dead and gave chase to the rearguard of the defeated army, heralds of victory scattered to bring word to every Albanian province of the glory of Christian arms. The exultant population heard the news which passed from mouth to mouth, from neighbor to neighbor, and in their joy magnified the victory; there was talk of an enemy army numbering forty thousand men, defeated by a mere handful of Albanians...it was said that twenty-thousand Ottoman troops had died in the Torvioll plain.
In Rome Pope Eugene IV gave thanks to God for the triumph of Christian arms; the word was spread in Naples, Venice, Buda and even in Burgundy, and the courts of Europe knew that, there was another man in the East besides Hunyadi who could confront the Ottomans. For it looked as though the battle of Torvioll might perhaps mark the beginning of that war, so eagerly awaited by Rome, which would drive all the Ottomans out of Europe, relieve Constantinople from constant threat and restore peace to the whole of Christianity. All at once the young man of Kruja was one of the most famous princes in Christendom, and every court was delighted to establish diplomatic relations with him.
Encouraged by these triumphs and inspired by so much fervor, Pope Eugene IV dedicated his efforts to organizing a new Crusade, and among the first nobles to be invited to take part in it, was Kastrioti. But despite the efforts of the Papal Legate in Buda, Murat II succeeded in obtaining a ten year peace treaty from the Hungarians, to avert the threat of the Crusade. In the articles of the Treaty which was signed on July 12, 1444 at Szeged, he pledged never again to set foot in the territory under the rule of George Kastrioti.
Albania received official recognition from the one power which, more than any other, should have opposed its triumph. Yet even though they admired the young Albanian, and sent him emissaries to congratulate him, the European powers did not put all the trust in him that he would have wished.
In the capitals beyond his native frontiers, admiration for the hero was tempered with dismay. People wondered whether it was actually true that the young commander, with his small force of poorly-armed and ill-trained Albanians, had faced the Ottoman Colossus, or if it was not, in fact, his own individual valor which had won the resounding victory of Torvioll. And even so, it would surely be rash, they reasoned, to join forces with him and take a definite stand against the Sultan, whom no-one in fact was anxious to encounter.
Not even Islam had fully appreciated the kind of enemy it was facing. Engaged in battle in so many different lands, and with the constant lure of Constantinople causing him to amass men and arms in preparation for the downfall of that city, the Sultan considered the hostility of his former officer as just another of the many armed insurrections that led to bloodshed here and there in his provinces. What if there had been a few thousand killed? The commanding officers were probably at fault, and that could easily be remedied by dipping into the hordes who swelled the ranks of the Army of the Crescent Moon. It was thought that, with the peace of Szeged, the rebel would be silenced for a long time to come: yet the peace which was to have lasted a decade endured only six weeks.
The European Powers lavished many fine words on George Kastrioti, but precious little else. However, the Hungarians (who were more directly threatened than any other by the Ottomans) aspired to join forces with him, in the hope of striking the Ottoman Colossus a blow that would paralyze it for centuries. Aware of this mood and taking advantage of the fact that, in withdrawing to Magnesia, Murat II has entrusted the empire for a while to his son Mehmed, the Papal Legate in Buda prevailed on King Ladislaus not to delay any longer for the undertaking, for many reasons promised certain success. The Albanian prince would support the campaign, and at long last victory would be assured to Christian arms. But George Kastrioti, who declared himself willing to help King Ladislaus, discovered that he had relied too much on the unconditional devotion of his own people. When he convened the princes at Lesh, he had asked them for men, money and obedience in order to liberate their country from the Ottoman. The victory at Torvioll had won independence for Albania; so why shed any more generous Albanian blood in attacking an enemy who, now seemed resigned to the loss of old territories? The princes raised this objection and did not share the belief of their leader that though the Ottoman was beaten, it was only for a brief time, and that in order to assure the peace and tranquillity of Albania, it was necessary to take up the call from Hungary and join forces with that country in a campaign which would be orientated towards the eradication of the evil plant forever. In the end George Kastrioti persuaded them and overcame their reluctance.
However the delay in taking this decision proved fatal to King Ladislaus. Clashing with the Ottoman army alone at Varna on November 10, 1444, he lost the battle and his life. Hunyadi who was captured, regained his freedom only at exorbitant cost.
Again delayed in his advance by the hostility of the Serbs, who were on the side of the Ottomans, George Kastrioti had no chance but to lay waste to Serbia, and punish the inhabitants of that country for their enmity; Poles and Magyars, fleeing from the desolation of the Varna plain, sought refuge and guidance under his banner.
For eighteen long years that banner was to be upheld by George Kastrioti against the Turk, eighteen long years of warfare, of siege, of anxiety, of victory... victories which illuminate by their glory the shadows of several defeats.
He clashed with two strong rulers: Firuz Pasha was defeated in the Mocrene forest, and later lost his life in a duel with the Albanian leader; Ibrahim Bey was routed in the Talmirana plain. But when treachery by a few renegades led to capture by the enemy of the fortresses of Sfetigrad, and subsequently of Berat, the Albanians and the volunteers from Dalmatia, France, Italy and Germany who had come in great number to serve in the new Crusade, began to doubt their leader, though they were resolved to devote all their energy to serving a cause which was not merely the cause of a rebellious nation, but one that embraced the whole of Christianity. Doubt burgeoned in the heart of all his allies; panic seized every Albanian.
Calm and serene, George Kastrioti never lost confidence in his own valor and in his own star; he inspired the strong and waited steadfast for the onslaught of the immense army of over one hundred thousand men which the Sultan himself, together with his son Mehmed, was leading towards Kruja.
For five months the Ottomans squandered men and munitions on the walls of the fortress; the Sultan offered honorable peace terms, promising to recognize George Kastrioti as King of Albania, but in vain; on October 26th, 1450, he was obliged to lift the siege, during which he had already lost twenty thousand men. George Kastrioti gave chase to the Ottoman army, pursuing it even beyond the frontier. Humiliated and desperate, Murat II returned to Adrianople, where he died of a stroke in January of the following year.
The Albanians once more hailed their leader as father of their country and the European Powers again acknowledged him as the savior of the Christian faith and Christian territories.
For a while peace reigned and during that brief interlude George Kastrioti married the daughter of Arjanit Komneni. Shortly after the wedding, he found once again himself at the head of his troops, defeating in turn Dalip Pasha and Hamza Pasha (1452), after which he crossed the Albanian border and fought the enemy in the valley of Pollogu, near Skopje (April 1453).
Unfortunately the help forthcoming from the Christian world was not enough to turn the tide. The Albanian forces were too tiny to halt the Ottoman thrust towards Europe and on the 29th May 1453, Constantinople fell. While the princes of the Christian armies trembled with fear, Skanderbeg was calling for men and weapons with which to save Europe. The only one to answer his appeal was Alfonso, King of Naples, who provided men, arms and money, but even with this help the enemy forces, strengthened by the defection of Mojsi of Dibra, proved stronger than those of Kastrioti. Mojsi had been one of most valued soldiers, but he was jealous of Kastrioti's victories and was therefore easily swayed by Mehmed II's promise to grant him the throne of Albania.
The flower of the Albanian army fell in battle around the Castle of Berat. The following year, however, with but few men and arms at his disposal, Kastrioti joined battle with the enemy once again and this time victory went to the Albanians.
Mojsi of Dibra, worn out, discouraged and, at the same time, deeply impressed by Kastrioti's courage, threw in his lot with the Albanians once more, casting himself remorsefully at Kastrioti's feet. Kastrioti raised him up with his own hands and kissed him on the forehead. Alas, however, Kastrioti's generosity and untiring efforts were of no avail. Gjergj Shtres Balsha, Kastrioti's nephew, fell into a trap laid by the Sultan and bought himself out for a few bags of gold, yielding to the enemy the Castle of Modriza. Still later, while the country was celebrating the birth of an heir to George Kastrioti, another of his nephews, Hamza Kastrioti, betrayed him and joined forces with the Sultan. Hamza Kastrioti had always cherished the dream that one day the throne of Albania would be his, but the birth of George Kastrioti's son had put an end to such dreams, driving him in desperation to espouse the enemy cause.
George Kastrioti displayed astonishing energy and drive in his victories over the might of the Sultan and his most renowned generals. Astonishing also was his triumph over the Sultan's finest warriors in the face of treachery at home, when the rest of Europe had given him up for lost. The number of Ottoman soldiers that had failed in battle surpassed every prediction and the Albanian hero thus demonstrated to the Western world that military values could prevail over diplomacy.
Not only did George Kastrioti shield the Christian world from the Ottomans, but his attitude towards social problems revealed him to be one of the most progressively-minded princes of his time and it could with justice be claimed that under him feudalism in Albania was virtually wiped out.
After the death of Alfonso, Ferrante became King of Naples, while the Duke of Anjou thought that the time had come to replace the Aragon rulers. The Duke of Anjou advanced on the Kingdom of Naples with a strong army and defeated the Neapolitans twice at Sarno and Puglia. The Kingdom of Naples needed now George Kastrioti not to fight the Ottomans but to defend the reigning dynasty. The whole of Italy was at war on one side or the other, the Duke of Milan and Pope Plus II siding with Ferrante. George Kastrioti was anxious to help the Neapolitans but he was now beset by other difficulties in addition to the danger from the Ottomans. There were signs of discontent in Albania, with a civil war brewing between Kastrioti's forces and the Dukagjini, while the Montagnards and the Cavalry were exhausted by the continuous heavy fighting and might easily be tempted to go over to the Sultan's side. In the meantime, Mehmet II's envoys were making repeated peace overtures to the Albanians, and Pope Plus II was calling on the Albanian prince to go to the aid of Ferrante. Under these pressures Kastrioti was forced to compromise and signed a peace treaty with the Sultan on 27th April 1461, even though such an action was in opposition to his personal inclinations and principles. At the same time, the rest of the Albanian princes concurred with his decision and agreed to go to the help of the King of Naples. The Albanian people, for the time being at any rate, welcomed the advent of peace after eighteen long years of uninterrupted fighting. Meanwhile, George Kastrioti took part of his army to Dubrovnik and from there crossed the Adriatic to Puglie, which he reached on 25 August 1461, just in time to rescue King Ferrante from the siege of Barletta and the consequences his defeat would have entailed.
Not only did Skanderbeg raise the siege of Barletta and save Ferrante, but he also captured Trani, another fortress belonging to Ferdinand (December 1461). After these victories, his wife sent word that the Ottoman armies were nearing the Albanian border and on receipt of the news Skanderbeg hurried back home (February 1462). It looked as though the Sultan was about to break the peace treaty, but in actual fact it was Skanderbeg who broke it first, fired by the enthusiasm of Pope Plus II.
The fall of Constantinople meant that the plans to liberate the Christians of the Orient had to be abandoned, and the chances of being able to push the Turks out of Europe were dim indeed. However, the dreams remained very much of a reality for Pope Plus II, who brought the Republic of Venice and George Kastrioti together in order to fight the Sultan. Subsequently, on 23 September 1463, George Kastrioti declared war on the Sultan.
The Sultan was not anxious to go to war and did his best to persuade Kastrioti to maintain the peace. In the end, he sent an army of 14,000 men under the command of Shermet Bey. The battle took place near Ohrid and Skanderbeg destroyed the enemy. He immediately returned to Kruja in order to prepare joint plans for fighting the Ottomans with the troops that were due to arrive in Albania under Pope Plus II's leadership. Alas, fate had decided otherwise, for Pope Plus II died in Ancona of the fever while he was getting ready to sail toward Albania. His death was a great blow to the Republic of Venice and much more so to Kastrioti, who had broken the peace treaty with Sultan Mehmet II on the promise of help from the Pope. Now only Albania and Venice were left to fight the Sultan and of the two Albania was the more vulnerable to attack, being nearest the enemy.
With the death of Pope Plus II, his crusade collapsed. This in itself was a great victory for the Sultan, who, in his anger at the loss of Shermet Bey, organized an army and sent it out under Ballaban Pasha, an Albanian renegade who hated Skanderbeg. Ballaban fought Kastrioti in April 1465 and the site of the battle was again in the area of Ohrid. The Albanians were once more victorious, but a great many officers were lost, and among them Mojsi of Dibra. They were sent to Constantinople, where they suf- fered an ignominious death after Mehmet II had failed in his attempts to turn them against Kastrioti. Ballaban Pasha received further help from the Sultan and attacked Skanderbeg once more, this time near Upper Dibra: but once more he met with defeat. He then gave battle to Skanderbeg in the valley of Kashar, but Skanderbeg and his men were victorious. Finally Ballaban returned to Constantinople, where the Sultan decided to gather together another army which he himself, along with Ballaban, would lead against Albania.
War between the mightiest king on earth and the Albanian hero who with his tiny army had already worked miracles was likely to be earthshaking in its effects. Kastrioti appealed for help from the Pope and from most of the European capitals in order to wage a war in which not only Albania but the future of the whole of Europe was at stake, for if Mehmet II won, he would dominate the entire Adriatic sea and would become a direct threat to Rome, which was in fact one of his aims. The Albanian ambassadors tried in vain to explain the urgency of the situation, but the Republic of Venice was alone in answering the Albanian hero's appeal, the other nations offering nothing but good wishes and sympathy.
Most of the European kingdoms and principalities probably imagined that his was the end of the Albanian hero and preferred not to enter into an alliance with him at a time when the Ottomans looked like being the victors. Fortunately, however, they were mistaken. Mehmet II made several attacks on the castle of Kruja, but in vain. He finally left Ballaban Pasha to carry on the war and returned to Constantinople. This time the siege of Kruja was merciless and Skanderbeg was in desperate need of help, so he decided to make a personal appeal to his friends. He slipped out of the castle of Kruja and secretly made his way to Rome, where he received hero's welcome from Pope Paul II, the Cardinals and the whole of Rome, in tribute to his role as Defender of the Christian Faith. Everyone wanted to meet the impressive and majestic-looking Albanian; a solemn Council of the Cardinals was convened, at which he was accorded exceptional honor. Alas, however, in terms of concrete help, little was forthcoming but the usual wishes and prayers and recommendations to the other European nations, and this was not what he had come for; moreover, he had wasted enough time already and Ballaban Pasha was threatening Kruja with fresh forces.
Kastrioti returned to Albania at once, accompanied by a small contingent of Venetian soldiers, and together with a few Albanians, they attacked Ballaban Pasha, killing him and destroying his army. This was a great blow to the Sultan, who decided to go personally to Albania and avenge his loss. In the spring of 1467, the Sultan entered Albania, burning and destroying everything in his path. Kastrioti was nevertheless alert to the danger. He was well aware that, despite his victories, he was heavily outnumbered by an extremely powerful enemy. The Ottomans had taken and fortified a number of strategic positions and although the Albanians had inflicted many blows on them, they had managed to regroup their forces, while at the same time the number of Albanians was steadily shrinking.
In order to study and reassess the situation, George Kastrioti decided to hold an assembly of all the Albanian princes at Lesh, to which Albania's only ally, the Republic of Venice, was also invited.
Upon his arrival at Lesh just before the opening of the Assembly, the Albanian hero was struck down by malaria and in a very short time succumbed to the high fever. So Death, his constant companion throughout innumerable battles, finally overtook him on the sick-bed.
Towards the end, ill as he was, Kastrioti was told that an Ottoman army was near Shkodra. The hero attempted to rise to his feet and called for arms. For a few moments his tremendous will-power sustained him, but ... he fell, and his soldiers started out towards the enemy without their heroic leader. They inflicted heavy losses on the Turks, who were forced to withdraw.
The news of this victory reached Skanderbeg on his death-bed. He called together all his princes and the Venetian ambassador and advised them to continue the fight against the Ottomans until victory was complete.
Skanderbeg died on 17 January 1468, and so perished a great soldier: the leader of the nation, the Hero of the Albanian people, the cleverest tactician of his time, the Defender of the Christian Faith.

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