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Original scientific paper

Benemerita nazione: Albanian Soldiers and Officers in Zadar (from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century)

Lovorka Čoralić ; Hrvatski institut za povijest, Zagreb, Hrvatska

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page 121-164

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During the Early Modern Age and particularly in the period of the Veneto-Ottoman wars of the seventeenth century (the Wars of Candia and Morea), there were frequent migration movements, well documented in sources, along the whole of the Adriatic coast. Movements of people (as groups or individuals) flowed from the areas threatened by the uncertainties caused by war towards destinations offering safer conditions of life. The city of Zadar, at that time the capital of Dalmatia, was for centuries one of the principal and most desirable targets for refugees, displaced people and anyone searching for a fresh start far away from a life threatened by war in the areas of the Veneto-Ottoman border. As early as the second half of the fifteenth century, and particularly since the sixteenth century and the War of Cyprus (1570–1573), when the greatest part of the wide and fertile hinterland of Zadar fell under Ottoman rule, the capital of Dalmatia became one of the most important and, due to its military supplement, the strongest Venetian defensive centres on the eastern Adriatic. In Zadar at that time numerous local military forces (for example, elite cavalry units known under the name Croati a Cavallo), Greek stratioti, Italian mercenaries and, as a central theme of this article, soldiers originating from the wider area of Venetian Albania all operated. Known in the sources as Soldati Albanesi, Cavalleria Albanese or Cappelletti, these soldiers and their officers played an important role not only in the military and social, but also in the demographic history of Zadar and Dalmatia through several centuries of the Early Modern Age. Even though many among them did not settle in Zadar permanently, but dwelled there only according to the needs of operation and movements of the unit to which they belonged, Albanian soldiers were to a great extent connected to the capital of Dalmatia during considerable periods of their military career. The research of the history of immigration, movements and agency of Albanian soldiers and officers in the cities along the eastern coast of the Adriatic and in Venice is, thus, not only an interesting research topic, one deserving of scholarly attention, but also an additional testimony to never-extinguished migrations and permeations between the areas, towns and people sharing one and the same sea.
The article is based on the research of previous historiography and on an extensive archival research of the different series of the State Archive of Zadar (Državni arhiv u Zadru), in the first place of the documents kept in the series of the Deeds of the Notaries of Zadar (Spisi zadarskih bilježnika), containing last wills, inventories and different contracts. To a lesser extent, only as an addition to the sources mentioned above, the last wills kept in the State Archive of Venice (Archivio di Stato di Venezia) are also utilised. Following these sources, the article points to the principal elements related to the presence and agency of Albanian soldiers and officers in Zadar spanning through the long period from the end of the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century. Research attention is particularly directed to the analysis of the ways in which the members of the group were mentioned in the Zaratin sources (names, family names, military ranks, belonging to particular military units), of places of their dwelling in Zadar (according to the city areas and quarters), economic opportunities (owning of moveable and immoveable property and capital in cash), everyday life (family and kinship connections, relationship of friendship and acquaintances), as well as to the analysis of their relationship with the ecclesiastical institutions and members of the clergy in Zadar. Within the analysis of these elements an important place is accorded to establishing the modes in which Albanian soldiers and officers were integrated into the social everyday life of Zadar, and the frequency of their contacts with other kinds of immigrants in the city of Zadar. Finally, the article goes on to demonstrate the fact that a full understanding of important elements from the past of the eastern Adriatic during the long centuries of its history cannot be achieved without placing them into the broader setting of Venetian policy and its interests.


Dalmatia, Zadar, Albania, Albanians, the Republic of Venice, Veneto-Ottoman wars, military history, social history, the Early Modern Age, migrations

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