The history of Albania traces back to around 2000 BCE, when the Balkan Peninsula is occupied by the ancient Illyrian people, the non-Slavic, non-Turkic forebears of modern-day Albanians. Subsequent historical developments are moulded by a tribal social system and overlaid with the impact of successive foreign occupations.
Beginning in the 3rd Century BCE the region comes under the influence of the Roman Empire, with full integration occurring early in the 1st Century CE. When the Roman Empire is split into western and eastern spheres in 395, Albania is incorporated into the Byzantine Empire in the east.
Uninterrupted rule by the Byzantines continues for 200 years, after which Albania becomes subject to rolling invasions and occupations by Germanic Goths, Asiatic Huns, Slavic Serbs and Croats, Bulgars, Normans, Venetians, and Byzantines.
By the 11th Century the Byzantines have lost their grip on much of the region. At the same time, the first recorded reference to Albania and its people is made in the 11th Century by Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus.
At the end of the 14th Century the Ottoman Empire invades. The reign of the Ottomans over Albania will last about 500 years. During this time about two-thirds of the Albanian population will convert from Christianity to Islam and about 30 Albanians will rise to the position of grand vizier (prime minister), second in command of the empire after the sultan.
At the end of the 17th Albanian converts to Islam occupy the Kosovo province of the Balkan Peninsula after it is abandoned by Orthodox Christian Serbs fearing reprisals for a failed Christian uprising, a migration with consequences that will reach into the 20th Century and beyond.
Ottoman rule of Albania is not all-pervasive. Isolated tribes in the country's mountainous regions are able to maintain their independence, governing themselves under a code of tribal law. Provincial Muslim rulers are also allowed a degree of autonomy by the empire.
A nationalist movement begins to emerge in Albania towards the end of the 19th Century. In 1878 Albanian leaders organise the League of Prizren and press for autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.
However, the movement towards independence is impeded by the lack of unifying cultural institutions. Albania at the end of the 19th Century has no political centre, no universally accepted national religion, and no standard alphabet.
Uprisings against Ottoman rule break out in the early years of the 20th Century - in 1908, at the time of the Young Turk revolution, in 1910 against the new regime of the Young Turks, and in 1912.
On 28 November 1912, following the First Balkan War, Albanian leaders declare their country an independent state. Albania's borders are set by Europe's Great Powers (Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria, France, and Italy) in August 1913 when the Treaty of Bucharest establishes an independent Albania ruled by a constitutional monarchy. However, the provinces of Kosovo and Çamëria, which contain a majority of ethnic Albanians, are excluded and granted to Serbia and Greece respectively.
The future of Albania becomes uncertain during the First World War, with the country being occupied by Greece, Italy, Serbia and Montenegro, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. However, following the intervention of United States President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference held after the war, Albania again emerges as an independent state with the 1913 borders intact.
The country faces a testing future. It is one of the least developed regions of Europe. Its economy is semi-feudal and, due to the tribal nature of much of the society, much of its territory is essentially ungovernable. Almost the entire population is illiterate. The country has Europe's highest birthrate and infant mortality rate. There is no banking system and little infrastructure or health care. Political instability is rife.
- Albania - A Country Study - Library of Congress Country Studies Series