Early Albanian Documents

Author: Edwin Jacques

The earliest evidence of the existence of Albanian-language literature is a written statement by the French Dominican Father Brocardus, then Archbishop of Tivar. In a written report in Latin in 1332 he said, “Although the Arbërs (Albanians) have a language different from Latin, still they have Albanian letters in daily use, as well as in all their books.” From this it becomes evident that the Albanian language was in common use and written with the Latin alphabet at least as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Marin Barleti, the famous historian and biographer of Skanderbeg wrote in his Latin work of 1504 entitled The Siege of Shkodra, “I have recently gotten hold of certain annals — fragments rather than annals — which, based on the legend, speak about the reconstruction rather than the construction of this city. In them we read in the native language that a certain ‘Roza and his sister were the founders of the city of Shkodra’ “. This famous legend of the Rozafat fortress written “in the native language” would have been written not in Latin, but in Albanian. Unfortunately, “all their books” have been lost, either because of the contemporary Stephen Dushan’s determination to eradicate heretical Roman Catholicism from his Orthodox realm, or because of the Ottoman determination to eradicate all evidence of Albanian culture from their domain.

While most written documents in the Albanian language were lost forever, a few did survive outside the country in various archives and libraries. Thus in 1915 the Romanian scholar Nicola Jorga discovered in the Laurentian Library of Florence a circular letter written in 1462 by Pal Engjëll (1416-1470), the Catholic Archbishop of Durrës. Engjëll enjoyed the trust and respect of all Albanians, was a close collaborator of Skanderbeg and frequently traveled abroad as Skanderbeg’s envoy to secure the aid of allies against the Ottomans.

While Engjëll’s text was in Latin, it contained a one-sentence formula in the Albanian language, which Albanian parents could pronounce in baptizing their dying children.

The early text reads, “Un te paghesont pr’ emenit Atit e t’birit e t’ spertit senit.” This is quite similar to the present official Albanian which would be written, “Une të pagezoj për emrin e Atit e të Birit e të Shpirtit të Shenjtë” (I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

This brief sentence is the earliest text written in Albanian which has yet come to light. It was written in Mat, northern Albania, during the heroic resistance of the Albanian people against the onslaughts of the Ottoman armies.

PP 277-278, “THE ALBANIANS: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present” by Edwin E. Jacques, McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, 1995

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