Albania is a country in Southern Europe and its citizens speak a unique language, which belongs to a whole separate branch of the Indo-European language family. Did it come straight from the Yamna Culture? Are Albanians even Indo-European? Where do they come from? This article will try to provide an objective answer to those matters.
The Shkumbin River roughly demarcates the Albanian language between Gheg and Tosk dialects. Christianity in Albania was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome until the 8th century AD. In 1054 AD after the Great Schism, the North of Albania gradually became identified with Roman Catholicism and the South with Eastern Orthodoxy.
By the 15th century, the expanding Ottoman Empire overpowered the Balkan Peninsula, but faced successful rebellion and resistance led by Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg. By the 17th and 18th centuries, a substantial number of Albanians converted to Islam, which offered them equal opportunities and advancement within the Ottoman Empire.
According to a study from 2008 by Battaglia et al. the percentages of Y-DNA haplogroups in Albanian males are: 23.6% of E1b1b1a2 (E-V13), 18.5% of R1b1b2 (R1b-M269) associated with the Yamnaya Culture expansion into Western Europe after 3000 BC, 14.5% of I2a1 (Stone Age Balkan Hunter-Gatherers), 14% of J2b2 (related to Anatolian Farmers; It first appeared in Europe around 6000 BC), 9% of R1a1 (Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers), 3.6% of I1 (Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherers), 1.8% of G2a (Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers).
The Y-DNA haplogroups in modern Albanian population are dominated by E-V13, the most common European sub-clade of E1b1b1a (E-M78). E-M78 most likely originated in Northeastern Africa, while its subclade E-V13 originated in Western Asia, and first expanded into Europe around 3300 BC. The current distribution of this lineage might be the result of several demographic expansions from the Balkans, such as that associated with the Balkan Bronze Age, and more recently, during the Roman era with the so-called "rise of Illyrian soldiery".
Larger samples collected by volunteer-led projects, show that Albanians belong largely to Y-DNA haplogroups J2b2-L283, R1b-Z2103 (R1b-BY611 and R1b-Z2705) and E-V13 from Ancient Balkan populations. A skeleton dated to 1631 BC - 1521 BC found in a tumulus in Veliki Vanik, Croatia carried a J2b2a-L283 haplogroup. In a 2013 study which compared one Albanian sample to other European samples, the authors concluded that it didn't differ significantly to other European populations, especially groups such as Greeks, Italians and Macedonians. Nowadays R1b-Z2103 is mostly prevalent in Romania, Turkey (Hittites), Armenia and among Mordvins in Russia.
Ancient Albanian DNA samples from the "Southern Arc" 2022 study by Lazaridis et al. were following:
- 2663 BC - 2472 BC: Y-DNA R1b-M269 mtDNA H102 from Çinamak (sample I14689)
- 1880 BC - 1695 BC: Y-DNA J2b2a1 mtDNA H1h1 from Shkrel (sample I8471)
- 1700 BC - 400 BC: Y-DNA R1b-CTS1450 (from R1b-Z2110, from R1b-Z2103) mtDNA T1a4 from Çinamak (sample I14690)
- 600 BC - 400 BC: Y-DNA R1b-L51 mtDNA T2b from Çinamak (sample I14688)
Other common subclade of R1b in modern Albania and Kosovo (5% - 8% of all Y-DNA samples) and Western Turkey (also found in Saudi Arabia and Armenia) is R1b-PF7562 (R1b1a1a2b). It is a haplogroup brotherly to the common European haplogroup R1b-L23 (ancestor of R1b-Z2103 and R1b-L51), both coming from the R1b-M269 haplogroup. This might explain why the Albanian language differs so much from other R1b-L23 related language families like Anatolian (Hittite, Palaic, Luwian), Germanic, Celtic and Italic.
Patterson et al. 2022 study examined 18 samples from the Middle Bronze Age up to Early Iron Age Croatia, which was part of Illyria. Out of the nine Y-DNA samples retrieved, which coincide with the historical territory where Illyrians lived (including tested Iapydes and Liburni sites), almost all belonged to the patrilineal line J2b2a1-L283 (J-Z1297 subclades) with the exception of one R1b-L2 (from Italic R1b-U152). The oldest Balkan J-L283 sample was found in Early Bronze Age (ca. 1950 BC) site of Mokrin in Serbia.
Computing the frequency of common point mutations of the present-day European population with the Thracian population has resulted that the Italian (7.9%), the Albanian (6.3%) and the Greek (5.8%) have shown a bias of closer mtDNA genetic kinship with the Thracian individuals than the Romanian and Bulgarian individuals (only 4.2%). The Italians sampled by the autosomal DNA shared nearly as much IBD with Albanian speakers as with each other.
R1a subclades present in Albania include: R1a-M458 (mainly R1a-L1029 Dibra Cluster + R1a-L260; both West Slavic), it is a haplogroup most common in Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia; R1a-Z280 (mainly R1a-CTS1211/R1a-M558, some R1a-Z92), it is a Balto-Slavic haplogroup and R1a-Z92 is purely Baltic.
It can be concluded that the origins of Albanians and the Albanian language lay in the first invasion of the Southern Yamnaya Nomads (speaking centum form of the Indo-European language) into the the lands of the First European Farmers, who earlier mixed with the I2a1 Southern European Hunter-Gatherers. The strong connection to Italians could either suggest common origin in the Unetice Culture or going through this culture to the common population of Albanians-Tocharians-Italics-Celts-Hittites. The vocabulary section should put more light into this theory.
First a list of words that most probably originated in the times of the Southern Yamnaya Culture (R1b-Z2103; 3500 BC) and before the Indo-Iranian (R1a-Z93) branch separated from the genetic and linguistic European branches.
- bone: asht, ashti (ašt, ašti)
- Hittite: ḫa-aš-ta-a-i (ḫaštāi)
- Sanskrit: अस्थि (ásthi)
- Urdu: استھ (ásthi)
- Avestan: asti
- Persian: است (ast)
- Tocharian B: āsta ("bones")
- Ancient Greek: ὀστέον (ostéon)
- Serbo-Croatian: кост, kost
- you (plural): ju, yu
- Lithuanian: jus
- Gothic 𐌾𐌿𐍃 (jūs)
- Latvian: jūs
- Sanskrit: यूयम् (yūyám)
- Avestan: yūžəm
- Tocharian A: yas
- Tocharian B: yes
- English: you
- dog: qen (ćen)
- Latin: canis (kanis)
- Primitive Irish: ᚉᚒᚅᚐ m (cuna)
- Old Irish: cú
- day: ditë (dit)
- Sanskrit: दीति (dīti) ("brightness")
- Old English: tīd ("time")
- Old Norse: tíð ("time")
- wood: dru
- Ancient Greek: δρῦς (drûs)
- Sanskrit: द्रुम (druma) ("tree")
- Czech: drvo
- Polish: drzewo (*dreuo)
- Hittite: taru
- Icelandic: viður
- soil: tokë (tok)
- Hittite: tekan, tagan, dagan
- Tocharian B: tkaṃ
- Arabic: تَحْت (taḥt) ("underground")
- Korean: ttang- ("underground")
- tear: lot
- Sanskrit: लोत (lotha) ("tears")
This word is only present in Sanskrit and Albanian
- night: natë (nat)
- Old Norse: natt
- Gothic: 𐌽𐌰𐌷𐍄𐍃 (nahts)
- Lithuanian: naktis
- Sanskrit: नक्ति (nákti)
- Tocharian B: naktiṃ ("last night")
- drag on the ground: zvarrë (zvarr)
- Hittite: u̯arš ("pluck, reap")
- Latin: verro ("to drag, to sweep")
- Old Norse: vǫrr ("stroke")
- speak, yell (syllable, term): rrokje
- Tocharian A: raki
- Gothic: ragin ("advice")
- Latin: raccō ("to roar")
- Tocharian B: reki
- Lithuanian: rėkti ("to talk loud, yell")
- Old Church Slavonic: rekti
- Polish: rzekli ("they have spoken")
- Bulgarian: река́ (reká) ("to say")
This might also be the original Indo-European word for a bear: "The yeller", "The one who roars"
- to clothe: Të vesh
- Mycenaean Greek: wehanoi
- Latin: vestis (garment, gown, robe, vestment, clothing, vesture)
- Dalmatian: vestemiant
- Old Church Slavonic: вѣстъ ⰲⱑⱄⱅⱏ (věstŭ) ("known")
- Gothic: 𐍅𐌰𐍃𐍄𐌹 (wasti) ("clothing")
- Avestan: vaŋhaiti
- Tocharian B: wastsi
- Hittite: wassezzi ("he clothes")
- German: Wäsche
- Old English: wǣd
- *Finnish: vaate
- when: kur
- Cornish: p'eur (from *k'eur)
- Lithuanian: kur ("where")
- Albanian: ku ("where")
- Belarusian: куды́ (kudý) ("where")
- Estonian: kus ("where")
- Faroese: hvar (from *kuar) ("where")
- Gothic: 𐍈𐌰𐍂 (ƕar) ("where")
In Sanskrit it is "कदा (kadā́)" so this word surely came earlier with R1b-Z2103.
- to watch, observe: pashë (paš)
- Tocharian A: pās- ("to look after, guard")
- Polish: pasę ("I herd")
- Persian: پاس (pâs) ("guard")
- Polish: pasterz ("guardian of herd, herder")
- Old Armenian: պահ (pah) ("guard, watch")
- Polish: baczę ("I watch, I observe")
- Latin: pāscō (pasko) ("put to graze")
- stone, boulder, heavy: gur, guri
- Sanskrit: गिरि (giri) ("mountain, hill, rock, elevation, rising-ground")
- Avestan: gairi ("mountain")
- Old Church Slavonic: гора (gora)
- Polish: góra ("elevation, mountain")
- Greek: όρος (óros)
- Pashto: غر (ğar)
- *Georgian: გორა (gora) ("mountain")
- *Komi-Permyak: керӧс (kerös)
- *Orok: хурэ (hure)
- *Ulch: хурэ (hure)
- Ukrainian: гора́ (horá)
- *Sandawe: gáwâ
This word might have originated in the language of the Ancient North Eurasians or Caucasian Hunter-Gatherers
- The subjunctive and optative moods of a verb most probably existed in the Yamnaya language at the same time. Albanian is the only modern Indo-European language that maintains both of them in parallel. In other languages either one is dropped or both.
Now a list of Albanian words common with mostly Slavic languages
Albanian R1a-M458, which descended from R1a-Z282 around 2500 BC is mostly found in modern day Poland, Czech Republic, Sloavakia, while much more typical Albanian Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-Z2103 is around 1% in those countries. Words presented below would then be great candidates to the earliest Indo-European words connected to R1 Y-DNA haplogroup, which later split into R1a and R1b. There is also a chance that those words were brought to Albania together with R1a-M458 and R1a-Z92 haplogroups (possibly related to Thracians).
- good: mira, mirë (mir)
- Belarusian: мір (mir) ("peace")
- Russian: мир (mir) ("peace")
- Polish: mir ("peace")
- Latgalian: mīrs ("peace")
- Latvian: miers ("peace")
- Lithuanian: mieras ("peace")
- *Karachay-Balkar: мамырлыкъ (mamırlıq)
This word does not occur in the Indo-Aryan languages
- miserable, unhappy: i mjerë (i mier)
- Polish: mierny ("weak")
- Greek: μέτριος (métrios) ("medicore")
- Thunder God: Perundi, Perëndi (literally "perun + di" or "perën + di", di meaning god)
- Ukrainian: Перýн (Perun)
- Polish: prąd + dziw ("current + god")
- Polish: piorun ("lightning")
- Polish: piorę ("I beat, I wash")
- fire: zjarri, zjerma
- Old East Slavic: жаръ (žarŭ)
- Czech: žár
- Polish: żar
- Old Armenian: ջեր (ǰer)
- Sanskrit: हरस् (háras)
- Sanskrit: घर्म (gharmá)
- Lithuanian: karšta ("hot")
- Ancient Greek: θέρος (théros, here in Greek it is "dh - th" from "zi" or "dz")
- smoke: tym
- Old Church Slavonic: дымъ (dymŭ)
- Polish: dym
- Lithuanian: dūmas
This word shows the influence of Balto-Slavic R1a-Z280 on the Albanian language.
- to live forever, make eternal: amshoj
- Lithuanian: amžinai ("forever")
- Romanian: moș ("old man")
- I cook: Unë gatuaj
- Polish: ja gotuję
In Serbian it is "кувари (kuvari)" and very similar in other Slavic languages so it did not appear in the Albanian language because of the Serbo-Croatian language. It might be even the Early European Farmer word in origin that moved to Poland with Neolithic Revolution but on the other hand the root for "gotov-" is present in all the Slavic languages.
- time: kohë (koh)
- Old Prussian: kīsman
- Old East Slavic: часъ (časŭ)
- Polish: czas
It shows that the "h" in Albanian is either very old and came before "k" or it came from "s". This word is present only in Balto-Slavic. The Pre-Albanian word would either be *kos or *cos.
- female braid: kezë (kez)
- Old Prussian: keksti
- Latvian: kasa
- Lithuanian: kasa
- Old Church Slavonic: коса (kosa)
- Upper Sorbian: kosa
It is related to Slavic "чесати (česati)" and Hittite "𒆠𒅖𒍣 (ki-iš-zi)".
- we cook: ne gatuajmë
- Polish: my gotujemy
- Lithuanian: mes *gatujame
This form of Albanian plural ending "-më" is exactly the same in the Lithuanian language "-me"
- mud, sludge, bog, swamp: baltë (balt)
- Romanian: baltă
- Greek: βάλτος (baltos, váltos)
- Belarusian: бало́та (balóta)
- Polish: błoto
- Italian: palta
- Old Church Slavonic: блато (blato)
- Bulgarian: бла́то (bláto)
This is most probably a very old R1a-Z280 word
- frost: mardhë (mardh)
- Polabian: marznĕ ("to get cold")
- Belarusian: маро́з (maróz)
- Kashubian: marz
- Polish: marznąć, mierznąć ("to get cold")
- Polish: mróz
The Albanian "dh" clearly is a cognate to the Slavic "z" here. For example Albanian "mardhem" means "to tremble with cold" and in Slavic it would be "*marzem".
There are also a number of possible Pre-Indo-European words in Albanian such as: zhduku ("go away!"), vajza ("girl"), djali ("boy")
Pagan Albanian Religion
The earliest attested cult of the Albanians is the worship of the Sun and the Moon in 1534 AD. Albanian myths and legends are organized around the dichotomy of good and evil, the most famous representation of which is the legendary battle between Drangue (Dragua, Thunder God) and Kulshedra (multi-headed female serpentine dragon), a conflict that symbolises the cyclic return in the watery and chthonian world of death, accomplishing the cosmic renewal of rebirth. The weavers of destiny called ora (fatí) control the order of the universe and enforce its laws.
Albanian folk beliefs also retained a typical Indo-European tradition of the deities located on the highest and most inaccessible mountains (Mount Tomor). There are sky, lightning, weather and fire deities (Zojz, Perëndi, Shurdh, Verbt, En, Vatër, Nëna e Vatrës). There is a legend about the "Daughter of the Sun and Moon" (Bija e Hanës e Diellit), Bushi i kënetës - bull of ponds and swamps which can cause rain by bellowing. The above mentioned "serpent-slaying" and "fire in water" myths (Drangue and Kulshedra), the Fates and Destiny goddesses (Zana, Ora, Fatí, Mira) and the guard of the gates of the Underworld is the three-headed dog who never sleeps.
There are also pagan beings in common with Slavic people: Rusale (mermaid), Shtriga (vampiric witch), Vampir, Vurvolaka (werewolves), Gogol (bogeyman), Dhampir (half-vampire, half-human). A Llamja, Lamia (half snake, half woman) is most probably a being connected to the Early European Farmers because it is also present in the Basque mythology and Baltic mythology. The most common Y-DNA of the Basque Country before the Bell Beaker invasion was I2a in skeletons without any Steppe derived autosomal DNA. This would suggest that the Llamja belief originated in Albania already with the spread of European Hunter-Gatherers that carried the I Y-DNA haplogroup and that the influx of R1b into Basque Country was purely associated with the Steppe related Bell Beakers.
The Albanian heroic songs are substantially permeated by the concepts contained in the Kanun, a code of Albanian oral customary laws: honor, considered as the highest ideal in Albanian society; shame and dishonor, regarded as worse than death; besa and loyalty, gjakmarrja. Another characteristic of Albanian heroic songs are weapons. Their importance and the love which the heroes have for them are carefully represented in the songs, while they are rarely described physically. A common feature appearing in these songs is the desire for fame and glory, which is related to the courage of a person.
Nata e Buzmit: "Yule log's night" is celebrated around the time of the winter solstice, between December 22 and January 6. In Albanian beliefs it marks the return of the sun for summer and the lengthening of the days.
As recorded by ancient Roman writers, Illyrians believed in the force of spells and the evil eye. Many examples of objects with the shape of phallus, hand, leg, and animal teeth are indicators of a belief in the protective and beneficial force of amulets.
Prende was the Illyrian love-goddess and the consort of the sky and Thunder God Perëndi (some dialectal alternative forms include: Perendi, Perenni, Perundi, Perudi, Perndi and Parandi). The fire was deified as En, which has been interpreted as a cognate of the Vedic fire god Agni, descending from the Proto-Indo-European divinised fire. En, Perëndi and Prende were worshipped by Illyrians until the spread of Christianity in the region, after which En was demoted to demonic status, although his name survived in the Albanian language to refer to Thursday (enjte). Prende was similarly inherited as a root for Friday (premte) and Saint Venera (Shënepremte), while Perëndi was retained as the Name of God.
The conclusions below are solely based on the "Indo-European Connection" comparisons through many different word articles. There is no other logical explanation for that Thracian god's name that can be found on the internet.
Interesting seems the case of an Albanian god called Shurdh. He was a god of rain and his name is most probably connected to "peeing" or "urine". In this case the only cognate would be Polish: "siuśki" ("urine") and "siur". It is important because it is another evidence for the exachange of "dh" and "s" in the Albanian language. For example the Thracian god Zibelthiurdos was also known as: Zbelthiourdes, Zbelthourdos, Zberthourdos, Zbelsourdos, Svelsurdus, Zbeltiurdus. In this case "th" or rather "dh" in Zbeldhurdos was also said as "s", thus creating Zbelsurdos. The first compound of that name "Zbel" might be related to a Latvian "zibens", "zibele" and Latgalian "zibsnis" both meaning "lightning". By following this etymology the meaning of "Zibelsiurdos" (Zbelthiurdus) would be "The One Who Rains/Showers/Pees Lightning" or rather "Lightning Showerer", "Lightning Thrower" ("Zbel Thur", "Zibel Thor").
The Albanian name for a goddess is "Zoja" and it could also be related to a Polish word "Dziewoja" ("Woman, Priestess") from "dziew" + "oja" and then Albanian initial "z" could then easily be explainted as originating in "dz". This name was used in the name of the Goddess of Love: "Zoja Prenne", her name is used to denote Friday and that name for a fifth day in Germanic languages (Friday) itself could be related to a word "friend" and come from an earlier Pre-Proto-Germanic "priend". That is why her other name in Albanian is "Prende" which is closest to Germanic "Frende" or rather "Friende". Prende is also the goddess of beauty and fertility, the Albanian equivalent of Roman Venus, Norse Freyja and Greek Aphrodite.
During the Bronze Age, in the territory of what is nowadays Albania, both flat graves and tumuli were built. The tumulus-burial is considered to have been imported from the first Indo-European wave that spread throughout the Balkans towards the beginning of the Bronze Age. This form of burial practice, once it appeared, especially in central and Southern Illyria, continued without interruption throughout the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, becoming in this period a specific component of the Illyrian ethnic tradition.
During the Bronze Age until the beginning of the Iron Age, the most common funerary practice was to lay out the body in a contracted position, a tradition continued from Neolithic times. Cremation, on the other hand, was very rare, however it was not discontinuous by the Middle Bronze Age. In the Iron Age, during the late 6th and early 5th century BC, the increase in cremation graves in the Glasinac culture has been interpreted as a possible collapse of the tribal structure which led to changes in the prevailing religious beliefs.
The shift from inhumation to cremation is thought to be an evidence of the arrival of new people from the North (most probably R1a-Z280 and R1a-M458). In fact, cremation became a more common rite among Northern Illyrians, while inhumation persisted as the dominant rite in the South. The gradual transition from the rite of cremation to that of inhumation during the Roman period can be interpreted as a sign of greater concern for the afterlife. The rich spectrum in religious beliefs and burial rituals that emerged in Illyria, especially during the Roman period, is an indicator of the variation in cultural identities in this region.
Pagan Albanian Religion section based on Wikipedia articles "Albanian folk beliefs" and "Illyrian religion".
Article created between the 26th of July and 6th of August 2021. DNA section updated on 25th of August 2022 and 7th of December 2022.