Albania (placename)

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The toponym Albania may indicate several different geographical regions: a country in the Balkans; an ancient land in the Caucasus; as well as Scotland, Albania being a Latinization of a Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba.[1] This article will cover etymology, as well as trace the usage of the toponyms and related toponyms and ethnonyms from their earliest known occurrence down to present times.

Albania (Caucasus)

Albania as the name of Caucasian Albania, a state and historical region of eastern Caucasus, that existed on the territory of present-day republic of Azerbaijan (where both of its[which?] capitals were located) and partially southern Dagestan.

However, unlike the names of the other two European countries, this name was an exonym given to them by the Romans, as no one knew what these inhabitants[which?] called themselves. Compare also the land in Caucasus called Iberia, with the Iberian peninsula in Europe.

Albania (Balkans)

Albania as the name of a region in the Balkans attested in Medieval Latin. It may derive from an ethnonym, Albanoi, the name of an Illyrian tribe. Some linguists[2] propose a derivation from the Proto-Indo-European root *albho-[3], which meant 'white'; referring perhaps to the snow-capped mountains of Albania. Others[citation needed] think the source may be a non-Indo-European root *alb-, meaning "hill, mountain", also present in alp "mountain pasture".


The toponym Arbon (Greek: Ἄρβων or Ἀρβών) [4] or Arbo[5] (Greek: Άρβωνα)[6] is mentioned by Polybius in the History of the World (2nd century BC). It was perhaps an island[7] in Liburnia or another location within Illyria. Stephanus of Byzantium in the 6th century AD, in his important geographical dictionary entitled Ethnica (Εθνικά), cites Polybius, saying it was a city in Illyria and gives an ethnic name for its inhabitants,calling them Arbonios (Greek: Αρβώνιος) and Arbonites (Greek: Αρβωνίτης).[8]


Albanoi first occurs in extant written sources in a work of Ptolemy dating back to 150 AD.[9] "Albanopolis of the Albanoi" appears on a map of Ptolemy, a place located in what is now North central Albania.

The area where they were located, has been identified by latter historians with the Zgërdhesh hill-fort near Kruja in northern Albania.[10]


Arbanon, originally, was a region in the mountainous area to the west of Lake Ochrida and the upper valley of the river Shkumbin in 11th century AD.[11]

We learn about the ancestors of the modern Albanians in their native land as the Arbanites of Arbanon in Anna Comnena's account (Alexiad, IV) of the troubles in that region caused in the reign of her father Alexius I Comneus (1081–1118) by their fights against the Normans. Before that, in History written in 1079-1080, Byzantine historian Michael Attaliates was first to refer to the Albanoi as having taken part in a revolt against Constantinople in 1043 and to the Arbanitai as subjects of the duke of Dyrrachium. In later Byzantine usage, the terms "Arbanitai" and "Albanoi", with a range of variants, were used interchangeably.

In the 12th to 13th centuries, Byzantine[12] writers use the words Arbanon (Greek: Άρβανον) for a principality in the region of Kruja. In 1190 the Principality of Arbanon or Albanon (Albanian: Arbër or Arbëria, Gheg Albanian: Arbn or Arbnia,[13] Greek: Ἄρβανον), became the first Albanian state during the Middle Ages.[14]

Their descendants in Greece, Italy and Croatia have been called in different ways with the passing of the years: Arbërór (in Arvanitic) or more commonly Arvanites (in Greek), Arbënor, Arbëreshë, Arbëneshë.

The medieval ethnonyms Arbanitai and Arbanios and the corresponding modern ethnonyms Arvanite, Arbër, and Arbëreshë are considered by many linguists to have the same etymology as Albania, being derived from the stem Alb- by way of a rhotacism, Alb-Arb-. Compare the rhotacism of alb- into arv- in the Neapolitan dialect of Italy.

Some linguists have argued that Arbanitai derives from the place, or river, called Arbanon, and Greek linguist Georgios Babiniotis states that Arvanite, Arbër, and Arbëreshë do not derive from Albania or Albanoi.

However, the ethnonym Albanians does not derive from Arbanon.[15]


Albania was defined as an unambiguous territorial category for the first time when Ottoman Empire established the Sanjak of Albania after the Battle of Savra in 1385.[16]

Albania (Scotland)

Alba, a Gaelic name for Scotland, may be related to the Greek name of Britain Albion, Latinized as Albania during the High Medieval period, and later passed into Middle English as Albany. Some recent scholarship has however connected it with one of the early names of Ireland, "Fodla", which is taken to mean (land of the) "going down" (of the Sun), in contrast to Alba which means (land of the) "rising" (of the Sun). This is consistent with one of the ancient emblems of Scotland consisting of a rising sun crossing the horizon, a symbol laden with much significance.

Albion (UK)

Albion (Ancient Greek: Ἀλβίων) is the oldest known name of the island of Great Britain. Today, it is still sometimes used poetically to refer to the island. The name for Scotland in the Celtic languages is related to Albion: Alba in Scottish Gaelic, Albain in Irish, Nalbin in Manx and Alban in Welsh, Cornish and Breton. These names were later Latinised as Albania and Anglicised as Albany, which were once alternative names for Scotland. New Albion and Albionoria ("Albion of the North") were briefly suggested as possible names of Canada during the period of the Canadian Confederation.


  1. Price, Glanville (1992). The Celtic Connection. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-86140-248-9. Retrieved 17 December 2013. Indeed, Eire might well have become the Gaelic name of Scotland as it is that of Ireland. But it was Alba that finally won as the vernacular name while Scotia survived as entirely a literary term<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Indo-European Etymological Dictionary) 1959 p. 30-31
  3. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Indo-European Etymological Dictionary) 1959 pp. 30–31
  4. The general history of Polybius, Tome 1,"and escaped to Arbon"
  5. Polybius, Histories,2.11,"Of the Illyrian troops engaged in blockading Issa, those that belonged to Pharos were left unharmed, as a favour to Demetrius; while all the rest scattered and fled to Arbo"
  6. Polybius, Histories,2.11,"είς τόν Άρβωνα σκεδασθέντες"
  7. Strabo, Geography H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A., Ed,"The Libyrnides are the islands of Arbo, Pago, Isola Longa, Coronata, &c., which border the coasts of ancient Liburnia, now Murlaka."
  8. Ethnica, Epitome, page 111,line 14, : Αρβών πόλις Ιλλυριας.Πολύβιος δευτέρα, το εθνικόν Αρβώνιος και Αρβωνίτης, ως Αντρώνιος και Ασκαλωνίτης.
  9. Madrugearu A, Gordon M. The wars of the Balkan peninsula. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. p.146
  10. Richard Talbert, Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, (ISBN 0-691-03169-X), Map 49 & notes.
  11. Studies in late Byzantine history and prosopography Volume 242 of Collected studies Variorum reprints ; CS242 Volume 242 of Variorum reprint Author Donald MacGillivray Nicol Edition illustrated Publisher Variorum Reprints, 1986 ISBN 0-86078-190-9, ISBN 978-0-86078-190-5 page. 160
  12. Comnena, Anna. The Alexiad, Book IV, p.8; Book VI, p.7.
  13. Fialuur i voghel Sccyp e ltinisct (Small Dictionary of Albanian and Latin), page 4, 1895, Shkodër
  14. Clements 1992, p. 31 "By 1190, Byzantium's power had so receded that the archon Progon succeeded in establishing the first Albanian state of the Middle Ages, a principality"
  15. Britannica
  16. Licursi, Emiddio Pietro (2011), Empire of Nations: The Consolidation of Albanian and Turkish National Identities in theLate Ottoman Empire, 1878 – 1913, New York: Columbia University, p. 19, This is of key importance, as it demonstrates the Ottoman center’s direct influence in defining Albania as a stable, unambiguous territorial category, for the first time.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>