Battle of Albulena

Battle of Albulena
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
Assault on Turkish encampment.jpg
Engraving of an Albanian assault on the Turkish camp during the battle
Date2 September 1457[1]
Location
North-central Albania, south of Laç
ResultDecisive Albanian victory
Belligerents
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Ottoman EmpireCoa Kastrioti Family.svg League of Lezhë
Commanders and leaders
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Isak Bey Evrenoz
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Hamza Kastrioti POW)
Coa Kastrioti Family.svg Skanderbeg
Strength
50,000-80,000[2]

8,000-10,000;

6,000 cavalry[2]
Casualties and losses

15,000-30,000 dead;

24 standards captured[3]
Unknown

The Battle of Albulena, also known as the Battle of Ujëbardha, was fought on 2 September 1457 between Albanian forces led by Skanderbeg and an Ottoman army under Isak bey Evrenoz and Skanderbeg's nephew, Hamza Kastrioti.

Skanderbeg had been the leader of the Albanians for over a decade and had seen many victories over Ottoman arms. However, after his loss at Berat in 1455 at the hands of Isak bey, Skanderbeg was betrayed by some of his most trusted officers, among them Moisi Arianit Golemi. Golemi returned the next year with an Ottoman force under his command, but was defeated at the Battle of Oranik and rejoined Skanderbeg's army. Later, the dissatisfied Hamza Kastrioti betrayed Skanderbeg and was offered joint-command with Isak bey over a second Ottoman invasion force.

The Ottomans arrived in late May 1457 and marched through the Mat River Valley. Skanderbeg tried to delay the vanguard, composed of Akıncı cavalrymen, but upon the approach of the main force, decided to retreat. Both Isak bey and Hamza were familiar with Skanderbeg's tactics so the Albanian leader adopted a new one. He split his army into several groups and ordered them to march in separate directions through the mountains and remain unseen by the Ottoman forces until the signal to reassemble was given. The Albanians remained in separate formations until September, by which time the Ottomans had become both exasperated and convinced that Skanderbeg had been defeated. On 2 September 1457, Skanderbeg finally gave the order for his armies to regroup and launched a surprise attack on the Ottoman camp, killing and capturing up to 30,000 men. Among them was Hamza who was later sent as a prisoner to Naples in Italy.

The victory strengthened the morale of the Albanians. There were few, if not any, officers and soldiers who deserted afterwards. The battle of Albulena has been seen as Skanderbeg's most brilliant victory over the Ottomans. However, it also marked the high point of the Albanian resistance, beginning a new phase in Skanderbeg's quarter-century long war which would include its fiercest Ottoman invasions. Even though Skanderbeg himself had died in January 1468, the war would drag on until 1478 and later in the same year the main Albanian fortress at Krujë fell, finally effecting the annexation of Skanderbeg's Albania by the Ottoman Empire.

Background

The main roads through Albania and the most common Ottoman invasion routes

Skanderbeg, the ruler of Albania (Latin: dominus Albaniae), had served for several years in the Ottoman army, as both soldier and commander, before returning to his homeland and beginning an uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1444.[4] The Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448 had ended with the defeat of John Hunyadi, voivode of Transylvania while Skanderbeg and his forces were on their way; but did not arrive due to his army being blocked off by Đurađ Branković, and so he was unable to provide help; Hunyadi engaged the Ottomans thinking Skanderbeg was not coming. In reparation, Skanderbeg ravaged Brankovic's domains. As a result of the defeat, the Ottomans were free from Hungarian pressure, which had been limited to Belgrade and its environs.[5] In 1455, Skanderbeg laid siege to Berat, a fortress which had been seized from his control in 1450. The result was catastrophic for the Albanians who succumbed to an Ottoman counterattack upon Skanderbeg's temporary departure from the main force. Alfonso V of Aragon, Skanderbeg's most helpful and important ally, also suffered a blow to his ambitions which included a pan-Mediterranean empire.[6] The Albanians, however, were able to recover their morale when Pope Calixtus III, who had begun to worry that his plans for crusade would be undermined, promised to aid Skanderbeg.[6]

Before the planned crusade commenced, Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror (Turkish: el-Fātiḥ) decided to march against Hungary and Albania. In April 1456, Skanderbeg sent Pal Engjëlli, his ambassador to the West, with a letter to Cardinal Domenico Capranica informing the Holy See of his need for aid.[7] The Ottoman invasion came in May 1456 when Moses Golemi, Skanderbeg's former captain who had deserted after loss of Berat, met Skanderbeg's men at the Battle of Oranik. The force was defeated and, through a show of mercy, Golemi was allowed to return to the Albanian ranks without punishment.[8] In July 1456 Mehmed marched a large army to besiege Hungarian-held Belgrade in Serbia, but was defeated by Hunyadi.[9] Later that year, İbrahim II of the Karamanid Dynasty tried to create an anti-Ottoman alliance which would include his realm, Skanderbeg, Hunyadi, Calixtus, and Alfonso, all of whom would act in concert to defeat the sultan.[8] The plans were never put to practice, however.[10]

Skanderbeg's resources were worn out after over a decade of continuous war. Alfonso and the pope could not provide for him fully, while Venice continued to undermine Skanderbeg. The latter considered war with Skanderbeg since he maintained his alliance with Aragon. Relations with the Italian state worsened further when Lekë Dukagjini, Skanderbeg's elusive ally in the north, captured Dagnum.[10] Even though Skanderbeg did not participate in this, Venice used it as a casus belli to launch an expedition against Skanderbeg. War never started but Albanian-Venetian relations sunk to their lowest point. The Venetian rectors continued to provoke Skanderbeg at a time when he had grown relatively weak due to his nephew and one of his most important officers, Hamza Kastrioti, deserting and joining the Ottomans.[11] Hamza had become dissatisfied with Skanderbeg's growing power and, upon being received by the sultan, was offered control over much of Albania once conquered.[12][13] Stung by the betrayal, Skanderbeg offered an ultimatum to Venice where they had to halt their provocations or begin war.[11] Since a crusade was anticipated against the Ottomans, Venice did not want to seem pro-Ottoman and eased their stance towards Albania.[14]