History of the territory of today's Kosovo before the Nemanjic dynasty rule

The title given by the webmaster
Extract from the book, 1 Ch. - Between the Serb and Albanian by Miranda Vickers

Following the Second World War, but especially since the serious riots which broke out in Kosovo in 1981, Serbian archaeologists have been hard at work seeking to refute the theory of the Illyrian ethnic origins of the Albanians. The battleground over the status of Kosovo has thus now been extended to pre-history. The long-standing Albanian claim for a continuity of descent from the ancient Ilyrians is now accompanied by arguments that Kosovo and Metohija form parts of an ancient Illyrian homeland that should naturally be joined with the rest of modern Albania. The peoples whom the Greeks and Romans called Illyrians occupied an extensive tract of territory bordering on the Adriatic from Epirus in the south and Macedonia in the south-east to Istria in the north. The Albanians claim that they are consequently descended from the Illyrians and are the indigenous inhabitants of Kosovo. The Albanian language, which belongs to the Indo-European group, has distinctive vocabulary, morphology and phonetic rules which have engaged the attention of many philologists, of whom several have confidently asserted its descent from ancient Illyrian.

The continuing political collisions between Albanians and Serbs have had a marked impact on Illyrian studies. It is no novelty that debates over the ethnic affinities of ancient peoples in southeastern 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 Congress of Berlin in 1878. The theory of their Illyrian origins propounded by modern Albanians is centred on their unbroken descent from an Illyrian people already formed in Bronze Age times, and in a geographical area that includes the modern state of Albania, together with the Albanian-inhabited regions of former Yugoslavia: Kosovo, western Macedonia and southeastern Montenegro. This fact is corroborated by a number of items of evidence from the names of places and people, evidence of an Illyrian presence in the Kosovo-Metohija region. The Albanians also claim that the Dardanians -- ancient inhabitants of Kosovo, northern Macedonia and southern Serbia -- were an Illyrian people, whereas Serbian archaeologists hold that they represent an intermingling of both Illyrian and Thracian elements. The issue has been consistantly obscured by political and ideological arguments which have prevailed over academic ones.

Serbian historiography claims that the Albanian population was formed from a mele of peoples including remnants of Illyrians but also a mixture of peoples who inhabited the western Balkans during the classical and medieval period. Serbian scientific and political institutions strive to substantiate that since their arrival in the Balkans in the sixth century, the South Slavs have dominated the Kosovo region, and that the Albanians only arrived as late as the end of the seventeenth century and primarily during the eighteenth century. According to this theory, a few small Albanian communities lived up till the fifth century AD in Kosovo and in Macedonia as far north as Skopje, but they then retreated south into the mountains of Albania following the Slav invasions. They began returning in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, becoming larger communities after the Ottoman invasion under the protection of Islam. Strong insistence on the demographic argument aims at presenting the Albanians as colonisers and persecutors of Serbs, who have a historic right over Kosovo and therefore a right to live there, whereas the Albanians are immigrants and therefore have no historic right to live there. In general Albanian historians do not deny that some Albanians occupied Serbian lands (the North Albanian provenance of many Kosovars is attested by their own family histories). But they tend to minimise the size of the colonisation, while letting their opponents read between the lines that, after all, these immigrants were going back home, the lands they occupied having belonged to their Illyrian ancestors, the Dardanians, who shared a long eastern border with the Thracians in the central Balkans during the Hellenistic period.

There was a pre-urban Dardanian society between the sixth and fourth centuries BC with urban settlements developing between the fourth and first centuries. Recent research has proved that close contacts with the Hellenic world began towards the end of the seventh century BC with imports from Chios. It has also been observed that hill settlements in Kosovo gradually disappeared towards the middle of the fourth century BC as they also did in the Skopje valley (Skopje castle, Nerezi, Varvara, Studencan). No instance of the destruction or forced evacuation of a settlement has been noticed, which makes their desertion as a result of the urbanisation of Dardanian society the more likely explanation. Serbian archaeologists assert a number of theses on the origins of the Albanians, the most widely accepted being that the Albanians were not Illyrian but a mixture of Daco-Moesian, appearing during the early Middle Ages as a result of intermarriage between nomadic shepherds and local un-romanised remnants, including those of the Illyrians and the Dardanians. In the past, Serbian researchers had not always been of one mind in allocating the Kosovo region to the ancient Daco-Moesians. The prominent Serbian archaeologist Milutin Garasanin, in a survey of prehistoric Serbia in 1973, openly admits that on the basis of their personal and place names, the Dardanians can, with a degree of certainty, be considered Illyrians, and that a Thracian and perhaps a Dacian element are evident only in the eastern parts of their territories. In the matter of distribution, Thracian names are found mainly in eastern Dardania, from Skupi (Skopje) to Naissus (Nis) and Remesiana, although some Illyrian names do occur. The latter are entirely dominant in the western areas, Pristina-Mitrovica and Prizren-Pec.

Whether the Dardanians were an Illyrian or a Thracian people has been much debated and one view suggests that the area was originally populated by Thracians who were then exposed to direct contact with Illyrians over a long period. The theory of the Illyrian origins of the Dardanians is based primarily on classical written sources and personal and place names. In Kosovo archaeological research has so far concentrated mainly on the excavation of Neolithic, Iron Age and some classical and medieval sites. Few Bronze Age sites have been excavated and all of them appear to be of an Illyrian character. Research into the Iron Age, which has been the most intensively researched period in Kosovo, has shown that a culture with distinct features that can without doubt be called Dardanian existed in the eighth century BC in the territories that written sources later called Dardania. In the first century BC the Dardanians appear as troublesome neighbours of Roman Macedonia, and around 70 BC the Roman army waged war against them with exceptional cruelty. Their final submission to the Romans may have occurred when Macedonia was in the charge of Antony (40-31 BC), though any record of that achievement is likely to have been suppressed by his rival Octavian. Thus the Illyrians disappeared into the Roman Empire.

In the fourth century AD the Roman province of Dardania was created, which included Kosovo and Skopje, while the towns of Tetovo, Gostivar, Struga and Ohrid were included in the province of New Epirus. The Albanian-inhabited areas of what is today Montenegro were a part of the province of Prevalitana. The Romans generally left the Dardanians to their own devices, and they thus managed to retain their characteristics and traditions. Under Roman occupation Saxon miners were brought to Kosovo from Hungary. Throughout the third and fourth centuries AD, the Illyrian regions suffered numerous invasions from the Huns, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. When, in 395, Rome was split into eastern and western empires, southern Illyria went to the Eastern Empire and the Eastern Church, while northern Illyria went to the Western Empire, under the ecclesiastical authority of the Pope. By the sixth century AD the Slavs had begun to cross the Danube into the Balkans. However, the large Avaro-Slav migrations of the sixth and seventh centuries did not cause the disappearance of the pre-existing societies in the central Balkans. At first Kosovo was little affected by these migrations, which started from the Danube crossing by Singidunum (today's Belgrade), mainly heading for the shores of the Black Sea, Thrace and eventually Constantinople. Smaller numbers passed down the route via the Morava and Vardar valleys to reach Thessaloniki, and only isolated groups penetrated the western regions.

The dispersal of Slavs in the southern Balkans following the unsuccessful siege of Thessaloniki in 586 resulted in an occupation of Praevalitana and the region south of the Shkumbi river, a distribution indicated by place-names of Slav origin. These invasions seriously weakened the Byzantine Empire and by the end of the sixth century, following further invasions by Slav tribes, the indigenous tribes began to move their settlements from the exposed lowland plains to the comparative security of higher ground. Many mining communities dispersed as colonists left the area. Those that remained became subsistence farmers. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire and the weakening of the Byzantine Empire, the Illyrian-speaking peoples expanded again into the Mat valley and the Muzeqe plain. By then they were known to their southern neighbours as Albani, and their language as Albanian.

During the tenth century the central Balkan regions became the scene of conflict between the Byzantines and the Bulgarian tsars Simeon and Samuel. By the end of the century the Empire of Samuel comprised most of the land between the Black Sea and the Adriatic, including all the Albanian inhabited regions. However, in 1018 the Bulgarians were defeated in a battle on the outskirts of Beligrad (Berat) by the Byzantines, who then re-established their rule over the Albanian-speaking regions. In 1054 the Christian world finally split into the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, and as a result the Albanian people of the Balkans came under the influence of the Greeks and Slavs on the one hand and of Rome and Venice on the other. Catholicism began to spread through the pastoral tribes of what is now northern Albania, and Latin was reinstated where Greek had formerly dominated as the cultural and ecclesiastical language. The Albanian world now became closely integrated to Byzantium, which greatly valued the economic and strategic importance of the Albanian-inhabited regions linking the vital trade routes from the Adriatic coast with Constantinople.

The following century social and ethnic divisions occurred. Those Slavs entering the western Balkans split into three groups, comprising the Slovenes, who occupied territory to the north, and farther south the Croats and Serbs. The Croats established an independent state which lasted until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of Hungary in 1102, while the Slovenes accepted the rule of the Frankish kings. Much more central to the future of the Balkans was the evolution of Serbia. Its early history was marked by quarrels between various tribal chiefs (zupans), which led internally to disorder and externally to clashes with the neighbouring Bulgarians. Being predominantly agriculturalists, the Slav tribes settled in river valleys and plains. The interior was thinly peopled by pastoralists: Wallachians (Vlachs), Illyrians, Thracians, Dardanians and other (earlier) settlers. The Slav invasions pushed the `indigenous' population back to the highland pastures, and by the eleventh century, almost all arable soil in the northernmost part of what is now Albania and in the region of present-day Kosovo was in Slavic hands.

Up till 1180, when the Emperor Manuel Comneni died, Kosovo had been governed by Byzantium. The castle of Zvecan near Mitrovica that guarded the great mining centre of Trepca, played a major role in the twelfth century struggle of Byzantium against the Serbs. The original homeland of the Serbs was in the mountainous area around Raska, near the present-day region of Novi Pazar. During the latter part of the twelfth century, the Serbs moved south and eastward beyond Raska towards present-day Kosovo. Eventually, in about 1166, a major change occurred in Serbia. The old dynasty was replaced by a new one headed first by a certain Tihomir, who was quickly replaced by his brother Stefan Nemanja. This new dynasty was to reign in Serbia till 1371.