History: The Illyrians

Why must one be interested in the land he comes from? Perhaps, it is self-evident. The place you come from holds secrets to your identity. I think this is what draws people to learn about their roots, the discovery of themselves. In life, we are born without identity and as we grow, we seek to discover it; the ultimate discovery is that of the self. Thus an expat is drawn to visit his homeland or at least to learn of its history. What has happened to his ancestors, one thinks, must have some impact on his own destiny. Thus, here I am, teaching myself Albanian history, to learn about my roots and thus myself.

The illyrians, the predecessors to modern Albanians, first footsteps in the Balkans dates back to 1000 BC. Their neighbors to the north were the Celts, who at this time, had yet to migrate to the outer fringe of Europe. To the south, lay Macedon and Greece. Thrace lay to the East, where Romania, and Bulgaria is today. The Slavs were still in North eastern Europe and would not arrive in the Balkans for over 1600 years. Today, of these ancient people, only the Illyrians-now we are called Albanians-and the Greeks have survived. The Macedonians and Thracians have been assimilated.

The first evidence is archaeological. We do not have any written texts in Illyrian. If they had great thinkers, or writers, they probably wrote in Greek or Latin. The Illyrians did not rise into an early civilization. No Parthenon, or Colosseum was on their lands. Moreover, they had problems with a lack of unity, factionalism and even civil war between the various tribes. But owing to a fortuitous location, neighboring Greece and Rome, they must have benefited in culture and trade. Indeed they played a sometimes major role in the Roman Empire.

They had their little settlements, tribes and small kingdoms, such as those of Kings Bardhylis, Clitus, and Glaucus in the 4th century BCE along the eastern coast of the Adriatic sea. But they were not a military power beyond their own kind, other than winning or losing land to their immediate neighbors.  They won Durres from the Greeks and lost land near Lake Ohrid in the east to Macedon under Phillip II, Alexander’s the Great’s father, and later to Alexander himself. However, oppression was accompanied by opportunity; many Illyrian leaders and soldiers joined Alexander’s army on his conquest of the east, a major event in world history. 

After 700 years of independent self-rule, the Illyrians were conquered by Rome something they provoked by attacking settlements on both coasts of the Adriatic and Greek colonies as far as Sicily.  Rome sent a large fleet and took over the coastal Illyrian settlements of Queen Teuta in 228 BC. 11 years later a second Roman expedition was sent to capture the interior. The Illyrians became allied with the Macedonians and the war between the two sides lasted 51 long years. Genthius, the last Illyrian king surrendered in 168 BCE. 

At the end of the war, the whole Balkan Peninsula became Roman territory. The Romans called Illyria the provence of Illyricum; it stretched all the way to Istria, modern Slovenia in the North down to the river Drin, in central Albania in the south; its capital city, Salona, was in modern Croatia, near today’s Split. Dalmatia and Pannonia were its two states.

The Romans held Illyria for four centuries. While there they brought much civilization such as the construction of the Via Ignatia, the army road, aqueducts and an ampitheatre, still standing today. They heavily influenced the population, by colonizing the coast. I myself am half Arumunian, (Vlach) of the very people descended from the Roman colonists. Today. the Arumunians are a large Balkan minority whose language is derived from Latin.

Many Illyrian soldiers joined the Roman legion and distinguished themselves reaching the high ranks of the Praetorian guard and a few even entered history as Roman emperors, such as Claudius II, Aurelian, Diocletian, and Constantine the  Great, the first Christian emperor and founder of Byzantium, and later Byzantine emperor Justinian who built the Hagia Sophia, the model for all Greek Orthodox churches. St Paul himself preached in Illyricum, and though Albania today is thought of as predominantly Muslim, historically, it was Christian for over 1000 years.

Selected Sources:

  • The Albanians: A Country Study, Robert Elsie / Walter Iskaw
  • Encyclopedia Brittanica: Illyria
  • Wikipedia: Illyria

Motivational Quotes 1/10/20

God is a poet. He puts everyone and everything in the right place and the right time

You are author of your own destiny

A resolution is not a quick fix that comes true upon declaration. It is an ongoing process that must be managed, and monitored over time. 

Why is my life the way it is today? 

Everyone wants to be more fortunate than what they are 

His parents viewed the breaking of the will as the cornerstone of education – Herman hesse 

The ability to listen is a skill

What I feel I know to believe; what I merely think I know to doubt

If you can’t enjoy the little things you can’t enjoy life

Past a certain point in life, every year is a celebration 

Albania: it’s about the journey, not the destination

Recalling the details of a trip that occurred 5 years ago with any certainty seems impossible; i feel more like a historian than a writer. Moreover the emotions have faded, the memories are no longer vivid; thus even if I could recall the details, it would sound like history, not good writing. Nevertheless, I will tell you a few things, as much as my ailing  memory still allows. I will begin with the flight itself, because in international trips where you cross two continents, in particular, I feel it’s about the journey, not just about the destination.

 I flew from Columbus, Ohio, my home, to Tirana, Albania on Tuesday April 2, 2014; this I know for sure. It’s written down in an old ticket that I somehow found.  I had a long layover at Dulles Airport, in Washington DC. I remember being particularly nervous. It was my first trip alone overseas, even though I was a full adult. I was late. Many college kids do study abroad at 18. I was 30. I wasn’t even going to a truly foreign country. I was going to visit my grandparents in a country whose nature and language I knew. 

What else can i remember? Oh, yes, while at the airport, I met a nice girl at a Starbucks near my gate. We were sitting on a bench near each other. She was cute, and had on these sneakers that caught my eye. But i could tell she was a bit shy. And I knew how to draw her out. I was talking on the phone, and spoke well aware that I was being heard. Once I hung up,  she warmed up to me and asked to borrow my phone charger. That’s all the opening I needed! We got to talking. She had an attractive quiet manner. She told me she was originally from Morocco; that vouched for her accent. But she was a modern girl. Her clothes were fashionable and western.

She looked white but was of brunette features and mysteriously pretty; but there was no chance for me. She was newly married, she said. Moreover, she lived in Missouri whereas i lived in Ohio. Another good reason why we could not belong together. Curiously enough as I later flew over the Atlantic listening to music half asleep I hear a song with the refrain: “We could, we could belong together.”  At that moment, I truly felt as if I could belong with any girl from anywhere. Now, I can say this is one pleasure of travel; relating to a stranger of a different background, and observing and liking the “little cultural differences” between us. 

I also made friends with a fellow Albanian. He, in fact, became my travel companion and we hung out much of the trip. I swear to you, and I am not lying, at the next airport, in Vienna, a place with a sterile all white interior, him, myself, and two fellow compatriots sat around a table and sipped coffee for an uninterrupted four hour block. I’m serious. This was the longest coffee session of my life! I finished my cup in like 15 minutes. The rest of the time, I mostly looked around, and heard them talk. They were true Albanians. They lived there. I was the fake; the American hybrid, for though I sound like the insider and expert, I must admit, I am not a pure Albanian. I feel there is a cultural difference between myself and true Albanians. It’s impossible for there not to be. I left Albania when I was nine. Now, when I go back there, I admit I feel foreign. The place has changed so much. And yet at times, it feels exactly as I remember it.

My travel buddy, as I call him, was a businessman. He made periodic trips to the US to obtain merchandise. “I come here often,” he told me, “but I could never live here. I don’t like it.” At that moment, as he said those words, I knew exactly what he meant. I too had felt what he had felt about America. I think he was referring to is the fact that America is not a joyous country. It is a serious place. It’s free, it’s fair, it’s great, but it’s not fun. Albania is cheerful! There’s never a dull moment. It’s hectic, noisy, messy; these qualities the very characteristics that make it bad, make it fun; for a chaotic joy is the soul of Albania.

Albania: The Fulbright Application

I got an idea. This time around I wasn’t going to go to Albania just to visit. I was going to go there with a purpose; a purpose would sweeten the deal. My big idea: I imagined teaching English and perhaps American culture to local students in Tirana. I found a program called the Fulbright Foreign Exchange program which offers grants to do teaching and research abroad. I was not a professor, but Fulbright had a program for students or new graduates. I was thirty at the time but I fit the requirements because I graduated college late, at twenty seven. 

Fulbright for Students was a prestigious government program.  But I thought I had several qualifications. First of all I was Albanian. That should count for something; I mean I knew the language, I was born there, and I was well acquainted with the country. I had been there on three previous visits and had lived there until  age 9. Secondly, I was a writer; granted I had never written a scholarly work before, but nevertheless I had already written a poetry book and 2 novels. That certainly ought to count for something, and most of all, I had the strong desire to reconnect with Albania. Any immigrant who goes to a new country can never forget his motherland. The older I grew the more I became interested in my roots. Thus I thought that Fulbright would be the perfect opportunity for me to go and live in the place that gave birth to me, Albania.

I filled out the online application, I gathered letters of recommendation, I scooped up transcripts from my alma mater and I wrote a project statement. About six months later I got a reply from the Fulbright student program: “Mr. George Shetuni, you are a terrible writer; how dare you apply! Please, never talk to us, write to us, or even think of us ever again.” Kidding!  Nuk ja mbusha syrin, as they say in Albanian. “I did not fulfill their vision.” Maybe I was too qualified for their taste. Maybe they wanted someone the opposite of me, a slacker who partied his way through college with a D average, skipping all classes, attending all football games, and who can’t even locate Mexico on the map, let alone Albania.  Well, anyhow, be it as it may, being a writer, I can handle rejection. I’m used to literary agents rejecting me all the time. It doesn’t bother me. OK, maybe it does, for a day, but it gradually wears off.

My dreams of going to Albania and being officially affiliated with an Albanian university blew up in smoke. That achievement would have boosted my ego, given me a sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment and practically speaking, a lot of money. But I was not going to receive a grant; nor was i going to receive a class of students to guide; nor was I was going to live in Albania for nine months. But I would go there under my own initiative, independently, for one month, with my own money, and have no one to teach but my own self.

Today’s Albania video:

Jemima in Albania

Albania: The Persuasion to Visit

Where should I begin? Let’s begin where I last left off. “I was depressed, for one whole month,” wrote I at the end of my essay, “Albania: A Visit Back Home,” which recounted my last visit to Albania in 2012. I was depressed for one whole month? That was not enough or even accurate; try for one whole year and half, for it is true, friends, I missed my country, and i wanted to go back there.

I kept leading an aimless life here in America holding down some volunteer positions in the meanwhile. I worked as a librarian, shelving DVDs. Other than picking up a movie after work to reward myself, it wasn’t very rewarding. I worked in an animal shelter, and got to pet cats and walk dogs, but that wasn’t my passion. I went to the gym three times a week, but it was all for show. I was no body builder, nor a fitness buff. I went to coffee houses almost five days a week, to the point of boredom. I always sat alone, even though I would have preferred friends. At my favorite shop, there was an elegant brunette making coffee behind the counter who I always looked at. She knew I liked her, so she made sure to avoid my glance. There was no point in attempting to ask her out. I would certainly have been denied and so I never did.
All the while reality, or at least my reality seemed and felt bleak, for what I desired was to be back in my country, to walk those streets, to speak that language, to taste that food, and to be denied by those women! I suppose I just felt things would be better there. I couldn’t wait and so I made sure to go back there a year and a half later in April of 2014; to Albania, that I thought was a beautiful place. i thought i would have a wonderful time.

However this time around, unlike my previous visit in 2012 nothing was the same. It appears that history is a sequence of opposites. While everything went wonderful then and it was the vacation of a life time, the vacation in 2014 was anything but, and perhaps that is why i have yet to write it down until now, 5 years after the fact. But today I’m writing it down because I’m bored and what do writers do when they get bored? They do the same thing everyone does. They practice their craft, and so I will practice mine.

to be continued…

***

Today’s historical reading:

excerpt from Lord Byron’s letter to his mother (1809)

To me he (Ali Pasha, Albanian tribal chief) was indeed a father, giving me letters, guards, and every possible accommodation. Our next conversations were of war and travelling, politics and England. He called my Albanian soldier who attends me, and told him to protect me at all hazards. His name is Viscillie and like all the Albanians, he is brave, rigidly honest, and faithful, but they are cruel though not treacherous, and have several vices, but no meannesses. They are perhaps the most beautiful race in point of countenance in the world, their women are sometimes handsome also, but they are treated like slaves, beaten and in short complete beasts of burthen, they plough, dig and sow, I found them carrying wood and actually repairing the highways. The men are all soldiers, and war and the chase their sole occupations. The women are the labourers, which after all is no great hardship in so delightful a climate.

I could tell you I know not how many incidents that I think would amuse you, but they crowd on my mind as much as would swell my paper, and I can neither arrange them in the one, or put them down on the other, except in the greatest confusion and in my usual horrible hand. I like the Albanians much, they are not all Turks, some tribes are Christians, but their religion makes little difference in their manner or conduct; they are esteemed the best troops in the Turkish service. I lived on my route two days at once, and three days again in a Barrack at Salora, and never found soldiers so tolerable, though I have been in the garrisons of Gibraltar and Malta and seen Spanish, French, Sicilian and British troops in abundance.

Full Letter: Albanianhistory.net

Today’s Albania travel video: Jack and Gab in Durres, Albania

photo: AdventurousKate

Motivational Quotes 10/25/19

No one is judging you

The bad need fear evil not; while the good need goodness for their protection

We need God most when we’re ill

 Scheduling a treat eliminates the need for self control

Say “hello!”

Cope, manage, deal

I can’t feel happy when I am supposed to. When I am not supposed to, I feel happy!

You already are a success

Being alone teaches self-reliance

It’s not about success; it’s about the effort!

What is too good to be true is also too bad to be true!

Never mind what you missed out on in the past. Focus on the opportunities of today

Be yourself… as if one has a choice to be anyone else but who he is!

You want to be happy? Do not be a philosopher

Motivational Quotes 9/20/19

Don’t do stupid hard things. Do worthy hard things.

Don’t expect to be happy. You have to earn it by doing good things!

Live for today

Cope, Manage, Deal

The good thing about pain is it can never kill you. The bad thing about pain is it can never kill you.

You are never too sick. You are never too old. (anonymous)

You are appreciated where you belong

You have to feel good to create good art

Life uses us for its purposes…

Make a moment with a stranger, for a better day

Do something nice for somebody