Gjergj Kastrioti (6 May 1405 – 17 January 1468), known as Skanderbeg (Albanian: Skënderbej or Skënderbeu from Ottoman Turkish: اسکندر بگ, romanized: İskender Beğ), was an Albanian nobleman and military commander who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in what is today Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo,[a] Montenegro and Serbia.
A member of the noble Kastrioti family, he was sent to the Ottoman court as hostage, where he was educated and entered the service of the Ottoman sultan for the next twenty years. He rose through the ranks, culminating in the appointment as sanjakbey (governor) of the Sanjak of Dibra in 1440. In 1443, he deserted the Ottomans during the Battle of Niš and became the ruler of Krujë, Svetigrad, and Modrič. In 1444, he was appointed the chief commander of the short-lived League of Lezhë that consolidated nobility throughout what is today Northern Albania. Thus, for the first time Albania was united under a single leader. Skanderbeg's rebellion was not a general uprising of Albanians, because he did not gain support in the Venetian-controlled north or in the Ottoman-controlled south. His followers included, apart from Albanians, also Slavs, Vlachs, and Greeks. Despite this military valor he was not able to do more than to hold his own possessions within the very small area in nowadays northern Albania where almost all of his victories against the Ottomans took place. His rebellion was a national rebellion. The resistance led by him brought Albanians of different regions and dialects together in a common cause, helping define the ethnic identity of the Albanians. Skanderbeg's military skills presented a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion, and he was considered by many in western Europe to be a model of Christian resistance against Muslims. For 25 years, from 1443 to 1468, Skanderbeg's 10,000 man army marched through Ottoman territory winning against consistently larger and better supplied Ottoman forces, for which he was admired.
Skanderbeg always signed himself in Latin: Dominus Albaniae ("Lord of Albania"), and claimed no other titles but that in documents. In 1451, he recognized de jure the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Naples over Albania through the Treaty of Gaeta, to ensure a protective alliance, although he remained a de facto independent ruler. In 1460–61, he participated in Italy's civil wars in support of Ferdinand I of Naples. In 1463, he became the chief commander of the crusading forces of Pope Pius II, but the Pope died while the armies were still gathering. Together with Venetians he fought against the Ottomans during the Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479) until his death in January 1468. He ranks high in that military history, as the most persistent opponent of the Ottoman Empire in its heyday who was also ever-victorious.
The original, Latin form of the surname, Castrioti (also as Castriothi in 1408), is rendered in modern Albanian historiography as Kastrioti. In correspondence with Slavic regions, Đurađ and Đorđe are used for his first name. In 1450 his full name was written in Old Slavic Cyrillic as Đurađ Kastriot (Ђурьђ Кастриот). Gjergj is the Albanian equivalent of the name George. Charles du Fresne (1610–1688), writing in Latin, used Georgius Castriotus Scanderbegus in his work. C. C. Moore in his biographical work on Skanderbeg (1850) used Castriot. The surname is derived from the Latin castrum via the Greek word κάστρο (English: castle). According to Fan Noli, the surname is a toponym, of Kastriot in modern northeastern Albania.
The Ottoman Turks gave him the name اسکندر بگ İskender bey or İskender beğ, meaning "Lord Alexander", or "Leader Alexander", which has been rendered as Scanderbeg or Skanderbeg in the English versions of his biographies, and Skënderbeu (or Skënderbej) is the Albanian version. In the 1450 letter in Serbian and Cyrillic sent to Ragusa by Skanderbeg, he was signed as "Скедерь бегь" (Skeder beg), and in 1459 as "Скендьрь бегь" (Skender beg). Latinized in Barleti's version as Scanderbegi and translated into English as Skanderbeg, the combined appellative is assumed to have been a comparison of Skanderbeg's military skill to that of Alexander the Great. In 1463, his name was written in Latin as Zorzi Castrioti.