The current version of the Albanian theory of their Illyrian origins is centred on the unbroken descent of modern Albanians from an Illyrian people already formed in Bronze Age times and in a geographical area that coincided with that occupied today by Albanian speakers, the modern state of Albania and the Yugoslav region of Kosovo. The guiding principles of archaeological research are the following: excavation of prehistoric burial nimuli to supplement evidence for prehistoric Illyrians from the Korcë basin and to define more clearly the relations with prehistoric cultures of Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia; the growth of Illyrian urban settlements in the Hellenistic period (fourth to second centuries c) and their relations with the Greek colonies on the coast; and studies in the late Roman and early medieval periods to demonstrate the links between Illyrians under Roman rule and Albanians, who first appear during the second half of the eleventh century.’°
The continuing political collisions between Albanians and the Yugoslav Serbs have had a marked impact on Illyrian studies. it is no novelty that debates over the ethnic affinities of ancient peoples in southeast Europe should be bound up with the antipathies of Serbs, Bulgars, Greeks and Albanians but the question of Kosovo has become more serious than at any time since it was first posed at the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. After the First World War the area moved between according to the balance of Great Power politics, though for most of the period it has remained under Yugoslav control while the population has become more and more Albanian. For this reason the ethnic affinities of the Dardanians, ancient inhabitants of Kosovo, northern Macedonia and southern Serbia, have attracted attention. Albanians hold them to be Illyrians, ethnically homogeneous with the rest, while a Serbian view argues that Dardanians represent an intermingling of both Illyrian and Thracian elements. There is little danger of lasting damage being caused by arguments being conducted on these lines when the evidence is historical or epigraphic and remains in the public domain, hut the damage is done when archaeological evidence is successively deployed to support one hypothesis with another. These reconstructions of prehistory — ‘houses of cards’ according to one scholar — prove surprisingly difficult to demolish even long alter their foundations have been shown not to exist. Similar problems arise regarding the peoples of ancient Epirus, now divided between Albania and Greece, Against a widespread view that they spoke a form of Greek the Albanians argue that the Epirotes were one with the rest of the Illyrians.’’
John V. Fine, The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century, University of Michigan Press, 1991, ISBN 0472081497,p.9-11
The Indigenous Population
Before turning to the Roman Empire, its characteristics (particularly those which were to have an influence upon the Balkan peoples) and its problems on the eve of the Slavic invasions, let us first survey the indigenous population of the Balkans. First a line should be drawn running roughly through Albania Macedonia and Thrace on to Constantinople. South of this line were found chiefly Greeks. North of it if the classical sources, which are far from ideal on this question, can be trusted, three peoples were to be found: the Illyrians, Thracians and Dacians. (1) The Illyrians lived in the western portion (north-western Greece, Albania, and a large portion of present-day Yugoslavia). However, some Yugoslav archaeologists of the prehistoric period, excavating in this region, have come to believe that the term Illyrians is an oversimplification that masks a variety of cultures. They have found significant cultural variations between findings from different so-called lliynan sites within what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina alone This suggests to some of them that the Illyrians should be subdivided into different cultural groups. Whether this also means they should be divided into different ethnic groups is still not known. (2) The Illyrians dwelled in Thrace much of modern Bulgaria and eastern Macedonia. (3) The Thracians inhabited Moesia (roughly what is now northern Bulgaria and north-eastern Yugoslavia) and Dacia (what is now Rumania). Linguistically these three peoples were all Indo-Europeans and some scholars believe that the Thracians and Dacians until a millennium or so earlier had been one people. Various linguists disagree. Traditionally scholars have seen the Dacians as ancestors of the modern Rumanians and Vlachs and the Illyrians as the proto-Albanians. Perhaps (keeping in mind the frequent ethnic mixing as well as cultural and linguistic evolution) we should retain this view. However, from time to time these views have been challenged, very frequently for modern nationalistic reasons. For example if the Illyrians were the ancestors of the Albanians then the Albanians as original inhabitants have some historic right to that region and possibly rights to other regions which had been settled by Illyrians. And the Illyrian ancestry has been very important in Albanian nation-building myths. In the same vein if the Dacians were proto-Rumanians then they were the original settlers and have historic rights to Rumania, particularly in the mixed region of Transylvania against claims of the late arriving (end of the ninth century) Hungarians. Not surprisingly. Hungarian scholars have been the leading critics of the claim that Dacians are Rumanian and argue that the Vlachs (or Rumanians) arrived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries when Vlachs first appear in the written sources.
Recently the Albanian Illyrian identification has come under more serious challenge from linguists. Before turning lo the arguments it must be pointed out that Dacian. Thracian and Illyrian are not only dead languages but languages in which no texts have survived. Thus all that is known about these languages comes from personal and place names mentioned in classical texts or surviving place names (toponyms) V. Gecwpev argues that Illyrian place names arc found in a far smaller area than I have given above for Illyrian settlement Secondly, he argues that though the Albanians now live in what was Illyrian they themselves come from part of Moesia from the Moravia region of eastern Serbia. This was ethnically a Dacian region and thus he argues for a Dacian ancestry for the Albanians. These conclusions he believes are shown by the following: (I) Illyrian toponyms from antiquity do not follow Albanian phonetic Laws. (2) Most ancient Latin loanwords in Albanian have the phonetic form of East Balkan Latin (i.e., proto-Rumanian) and not west Balkan (i.e. Old Dalmatian) Latin suggesting the Albanians were descended from the Dacians. (3) The marine terminology in Albanian is borrowed from different languages suggesting that the Albanians were not originally a coastal people. (4) Few ancient Greek loanwords exist in Albanian; if the Albanians had originated in the Albanian-Epirus region there should be more. (5) There is no reference in any source to Albanians in the Albanian region until the ninth century. (6) Roughly one hundred Rumanian words are similar only to Albanian words and when this fact is combined with the similar treatment of Latin in Albanian and Rumanian Georgiev concludes that the Albanians came from what is now Rumania (or the region of Yugoslavia close to modern Rumania) and that their language developed during the fourth to sixth centuries when proto-Rumanian was formed. Rumanian he sees as a completely Romanized Dacian-Moesian language whereas Albanian is a semi-Romanized Dacian-Moesian language.
These are serious (non-chauvinistic) arguments and they cannot simply be dismissed. Furthermore, during the fourth to sixth centuries the Rumanian region was heavily affected by large-scale invasions of Goths and Slavs, and the Moravia valley (in Serbia) was a main invasion route and the site of the earliest known Slavic sites. Thus this would have been a region from which an indigenous population would naturally have fled.
Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0521439612, p.53
This does not, as I have already hinted, exclude a certain popular cultural identification with a language, or a patently related complex of dialects, peculiar to a body of communities and distinguishing them from their neighbors, as in the case of Magyar-speakers. And to the extent that this may be so, the nationalism of a later period may have genuinely popular linguistic proto-national roots. This may well be the case among the Albanians, living under rival cultural influences since classical antiquity, and divided among three or (if we include the locally centered Islamic cult of the Bektashi) even four rival religions: Islam, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. It was natural for the pioneers of Albanian nationalism to seek an Albanian cultural identity in language, since religion, and indeed almost everything else in Albania, seemed divisive rather than unifying.’ Yet even in so apparently clear a case we should beware of too much reliance on the literate. In what sense, or even how far, ordinary Albanians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw themselves as such, or recognized an affinity with one another, is far from clear. Edith Durham’s guide, a mountain youth from the north, being told that the Albanians in the south had Orthodox churches, said:‘They are not Christians, but Tosks’, which does not suggest a strong sense of collective identity, and ‘it is not possible to know the precise number of Albanians who came to the United States, for the early immigrants did not often identify themselves as Albanians’.’ Moreover, even the pioneers of nationhood in that land of feuding clans and lords appealed to more convincing arguments for solidarity before they appealed to language. As NaIm Frashëri (1846— ioo) put it: ‘All of us are only a single tribe, a single family; we are of one blood, one language”. Language, while not absent came last.
Williamson Murray, The Emerging Strategic Environment: Challenges of the Twenty-first Century, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999,ISBN 0275965732,p.18
This example is not intended to single out the Greeks as the major sinners in regard to excessive nationalism. Quite the opposite. Given the Greek standard of living, by far the highest in the Balkans, their membership in the European Union and NATO, the heavy flow of tourists through their country the increasingly urbanized nature of Greek society, and their many family contacts with the large Greek ethnic communities abroad, especially in North America, Greeks are far more travelled, internationally minded, and better educated than the other Balkan nationalities. Based on the author’s experiences, most Greeks realize that the contents of their children’s’ textbooks and of their politicians’ speeches are heavily affected by subjective political considerations and hardly reflect reality.34 There are far worse contemporary examples of nationalistic excess and propaganda among the Balkan peoples than those of the Greeks. Consider the Turkish denial of the obvious reality that the Kurds are a separate national group but are supposedly “Mountain Turks;” the Serb notion that somehow contemporary Bosnian Muslims are traitors because their ancestors converted to Islam some twenty generations in the past; the Albanian insistence that they are the unadulterated ethnic descendants of the ancient Illyrians, unsullied by any intermarriage with subsequent occupiers (many Romanians accept a similar myth about their ties to the Dacians); the Croat argument that Bosnian Muslims are party to an international Islamic conspiracy to conquer the world, and then forcibly convert or massacre all Christians; Bulgarian accusations that the country’s Turkish minority is secretly devoted to Turkey’s reconquest of all Bulgaria. In many ways, the delusions that typify individuals suffering from megalomania and paranoia characterize the self-centered but fearful world views of the nationalists in the different Balkan countries.