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

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

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 8/23/19

Work will keep your mind off your worries

Without pleasure work needs double the effort and yields half the profit; with pleasure, it yields double the profit from half the effort

When we are well, we forget misery; when unwell we forget wellbeing

Where there is an inspiration there is a way

What is now written on stone, was once written on paper

What joy do the old have but to take an interest in the life of the young?

The face is the canvas of the brain; it paints a vision of what the brain thinks

Creativity is everything. When the mind is at its best, it is the most creative

When Rome is burning, you can’t stay the course

Our wills and fates do so contrary run -Shakespeare

Half the job is looking the part, the other half is acting it

That Picture of Me

(Albanian/Shqip)

That picture of me,
With those eyes that could see,
And that face that could smile,
And that soul that could feel!

Such potential energy!
But now that you are
Who you were to be,
Have you fulfilled your destiny?

How could one fulfill such a high destiny?
The potential is always higher than reality.

That picture of me,
With those eyes that could see,
And that face that could smile,
With that soul that could feel!

Life itself was o’ so real!

But now that I am
Who I was to be,
Have I become the man foretold in that picture of me,
Or did I turn out someone else entirely?

So many events that have shaped me,
Memories imprinted on my life story.
I have lived in so many lives
And have seen so many eras come and go.

Is this my final reality?
Is this the end?
Or could there be more destiny
Left in store for me?

Who knows? I am only thirty-three,
No longer young, no longer indestructible,
But i still have enough energy
To wield the forces of my reality.

That picture of me,
With those eyes that could see,
And that face that could smile,
With that soul that could feel!

That was me, an ordinary boy
From an ordinary street,
In an ordinary town
In an ordinary life.

Did I become famous?
Did I become rich?
Did I become important?
Far from it…

I became an ordinary man,
From an ordinary street,
In an ordinary town,
In an ordinary life.

The future then I could see,
The dream’s always more beautiful than reality!

Age of wonder,
Age of storms, age of thunder,
Idealism was in season,
Love was in the air.

Now the skies are sunny,
Middle age is here,
Age of reason,
Peace and calmness are in season.

You’ve already made it,
This is it,
This is the life that is meant to be,
And you’ve got to love it!