Arvanites: Wikis


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This page is about the dialectological group of Arbëreshë in Southern Greece. For an overview of different communities of Albanian origin in Greece, see Albanian communities in Greece. For other uses of the term Arbëreshë, Arbër or Arbëror see Arbëreshë (disambiguation).
Total population
est. 50,000-150,000 (see below)
Regions with significant populations

Arvanitika, Greek


Greek Orthodox

Arvanites (Greek: Αρβανίτες, Arvanitika: Arbëreshë or Αρbε̰ρεσ̈ε̰) are a population group in Greece who traditionally speak Arvanitika, a sub-branch of the Tosk dialect of the Albanian language. They settled in Greece during the late Middle Ages and were the dominant population element of some regions of Peloponnisos and Attica until the 19th century.[1] Arvanites self-identify as Greeks.[2] Arvanitika is in a state of attrition due to language shift towards Greek and large-scale internal migration to the cities and subsequent intermingling of the population during the 20th century.



Arvanites in Greece originated from Albanian settlers who moved south at different times between the 11th and 16th century from areas in what is today southern Albania.[3][4] The reasons for this migration are not entirely clear and may be manifold. In many instances the Arvanites were invited by the Byzantine and Latin rulers of the time. They were employed to re-settle areas that had been largely depopulated through wars, epidemics, and other reasons, and they were employed as soldiers. Some later movements are also believed to have been motivated to evade Islamization after the Ottoman conquest. The main waves of migration into southern Greece started around 1300, reached a peak some time during the 14th century, and ended around 1600.[5] Arvanites first reached Thessaly, then Attica, and finally the Peloponnese.[6]

In areas such as Mesogeia, many Arvanitika-speaking populations did not see language as the defining criterion of their Greek identity. Their sense of identity relied upon their adherence to the Greek Orthodox Church, their sense of localism with ties to the land, and their sense of kinship. All of these attributes had long served as cohesive elements of identity within the Ottoman Empire, which provided the Arvanites the ability to establish a form of ethnic unity and a stronger form of Greek self-identification.[7] Throughout the Ottoman period, the Arvanites always maintained their ethnic Greek identity,[8] as well as their loyalty to the Greek Orthodox Church during their conflicts against the Ottomans[9].

German ethnographic map of the Peloponnese, 1890. Albanian(Arvanitika)-speaking areas in red.

During the Greek War of Independence, many Arvanites played an important role fighting on the Greek side against the Ottomans, often as national Greek heroes. With the formation of modern nations and nation-states in the Balkans, Arvanites have come to be regarded as an integral part of the Greek nation. In 1899, leading representatives of the Arvanites in Greece, among them descendants of the independence heroes, published a manifesto calling their fellow Albanians outside Greece to join in the creation of a common Albanian-Greek state.[10] In 1903, Arvanites like Vangelis Koropoulis from Mandra, Attica, participated in the Macedonian Struggle.[11]

During the 20th century, after the creation of the Albanian nation-state, Arvanites in Greece have come to dissociate themselves much more strongly from the Albanians, stressing instead their national self-identification as Greeks. They are reported to resent being called Albanians.[12] At the same time, it has been suggested that many Arvanites in earlier decades maintained an assimilatory stance,[13] leading to a progressive loss of their traditional language and a shifting of the younger generation towards Greek. At some times, particularly under the nationalist 4th of August Regime under Ioannis Metaxas of 1936–1941, Greek state institutions followed a policy of actively discouraging and repressing the use of Arvanitika.[14] In the decades following World War II and the Greek Civil War, many Arvanites came under pressure to abandon Arvanitika in favour of monolingualism in the national language, and especially the archaizing Katharevousa which remained the official variant of Greek until 1976. This trend was prevalent mostly during the Greek military junta of 1967–1974.[15]


Regions with a strong traditional presence of Arvanites are found mainly in a compact area in southeastern Greece, namely across Attica (especially in Eastern Attica), southern Boeotia, the north-east of the Peloponnese, the south of the island of Euboea, the north of the island of Andros, and several islands of the Saronic Gulf including Salamis. In parts of this area they formed a solid majority until about 1900. Within Attica, parts of the capital Athens and its suburbs were Arvanitic until the late 19th century.[16]

There are also settlements in some other parts of the Peloponnese, and in Phthiotis (Livanates, Malesina, Martino villages). There are no reliable figures about the number of Arvanites in Greece today and their exact number is unknown (no official data exist for ethnicity in Greece)[3]. The last official census figures available come from 1951. Since then, estimates of the numbers of Arvanites has ranged from 50,000 to 250,000, with no real effort to distinguish Arvanite-descended Greeks from Arvanitika-speakers. The following is a summary of the widely diverging estimates (Botsi 2003: 97):

  • 1928 census: 18,773 citizens self-identifying as "Albanophone", including other Albanian-origin communities of Greeks.
  • 1951 census: 22,736 "Albanophones".
  • Furikis (1934): estimated 70,000 Arvanites in Attica alone.
  • Trudgill/Tzavaras (1976/77): estimated 140,000 in Attica and Boeotia together.
  • Sasse (1991): estimated 50,000 Arvanitika speakers in all of Greece.
  • Ethnologue, 2000: 150,000 Arvanites, living in 300 villages.
  • Federal Union of European Nationalities, 1991: 95,000 "Albanians of Greece" (MRG 1991: 189)

Like the rest of the Greek population, Arvanites have been emigrating from their villages to the cities and especially to the capital Athens. This has contributed to the loss of the language in the younger generation.


According to the anthropological studies of Theodoros Pitsios, Arvanites in the Peloponnese in the 1970s were physically indistinguishable from other Greek inhabitants of the same region. This may indicate that either the Arvanites shared extant physical similarities with other Greek populations or that early Arvanite groups extensively incorporated parts of the autochthonous Greek population.[17][18]

Anthropological studies on the Arvanites reflect historical facts pertaining to the Arvanites' Greek consciousness and allegiance to Greek movements. Arvanites are Orthodox Christians. Specific Arvanite cultural activities appear to be limited. Tsitsipis has reported only occasional folklore festivals, music, and poetry contests.[19] Since the 1980s, there has been a creation of Arvanite cultural associations and publication of a magazine and some books on Arvanite culture, however very little has been published in Arvanitika.[20]


The name Arvanites and its equivalents are today used both in Greek (Αρβανίτες, singular form Αρβανίτης, feminine Αρβανίτισσα) and in Arvanitika itself (Arbëreshë or Arbërorë). In Standard Albanian, both three names are used: Arvanitë, Arbëreshë or Arbërorë.

The name Arvanites and its equivalents go back to an old ethnonym that used in Greek to refer to Albanians.[21][22] It originally referred to the inhabitants of that region Arvanon (Άρβανον) or Arvana (Άρβανα),[23] and then to all Albanian-speakers. In Albanian language the self-designation Arbëror, which is still in use by Arvanites and Arbëreshë of Italy, had been exchanged for the new name Shqiptarë since the 17th century, an innovation that was not shared by the Albanophone migrant communities in the south of Greece. The alternative exonym Albanians may ultimately be etymologically related, but is of less clear origin (see Albania (toponym)). It was probably conflated with that of the "Arbanitai" at some stage due to phonological similarity. In later Byzantine usage, the terms "Arbanitai" and "Albanoi", with a range of variants, were used interchangeably, while sometimes the same groups were also called by the classicising names Illyrians. In the 19th and early 20th century, Alvani (Albanians) was used predominantly in formal registers and Arvanites (Αρβανίτες) in the more popular speech in Greek, but both were used indiscriminately for both Muslim and Christian Albanophones inside and outside Greece. In the course of the 20th century, it became customary to use only Αλβανοί for the people of Albania, and only Αρβανίτες for the Greek-Arvanites, thus stressing the national separation between the two groups.

Another subbranch of Albanians, native to Greece, is that of Cham Albanians. They speak another dialect of the Albanian language, but the Orthodox population is regarded as Arvanites, by Greeks, although they designate themselves as Shqiptar. Greeks distinguish the Christian Chams from the Muslim Chams, who were expelled to Albania at the end of World War II.

There is some uncertainty to what extent the term Arvanites also includes the small remaining Christian Albanophone population groups in Epirus and West Macedonia. Unlike the southern Arvanites, these speakers are reported to use the name Shqiptarë both for themselves and for Albanian nationals,[24] although this is reported not necessarily to imply Albanian national consciousness.[25] The word Shqiptár is also used in a few villages of Thrace, where Arvanites migrated from the mountains of Pindus during the 19th century[26] however they also use the name Arvanitis speaking in Greek, while the Euromosaic (1996) reports notes that the designation Chams is today rejected by the group. The report by GHM (1995) subsumes the Epirote Albanophones under the term Arvanites, although it notes the different linguistic self-designation,[27] on the other hand, applies the term Arvanites only to the populations of the compact Arvanitic settlement areas in southern Greece, in keeping with the self-identification of those groups. Linguistically, the Ethnologue[28] identifies the present-day Albanian/Arvanitic dialects of Northwestern Greece (in Epirus and Lechovo) with those of the Chams, and therefore classifies them together with standard Tosk Albanian, as opposed to "Arvanitika Albanian proper" (i.e. southern Greek-Arvanitika). Nevertheless, it reports that in Greek the Epirus varieties are also often subsumed under "Arvanitika" in a wider sense. It puts the estimated number of Epirus Albanophones at 10,000. Arvanitika proper[29] is said to include the outlying dialects spoken in Thrace.

Language use and language perception

Opening verses of a poem composed in Arvanitika, with Greek translation, honouring the marriage between Alexandra and Archduke Paul of Russia; 1889

While Arvanitika was commonly called Albanian in Greece until the 20th century, the wish of Arvanites to express their ethnic identification as Greeks has led to a stance of rejecting the identification of the language with Albanian as well. In recent times, Arvanites had only very imprecise notions about how related or unrelated their language was to Albanian.[30] Since Arvanitika is almost exclusively a spoken language, Arvanites also have no practical affiliation with the Standard Albanian language used in Albania, as they do not use this form in writing or in media. The question of linguistic closeness or distance between Arvanitika and Albanian has come to the forefront especially since the early 1990s, when a large number of Albanian immigrants began to enter Greece and came into contact with local Arvanitic communities.[31]

Since the 1980s, there have been some organized efforts to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of Arvanites. The largest organisation promoting Arvanitika is the "Arvanitic League of Greece" (Αρβανίτικος σύλλογος Ελλάδος).[32]

Minority status

Although sociological studies of Arvanite communities still used to note an identifiable sense of a special "ethnic" identity among Arvanites, the authors did not identify a sense of 'belonging to Albania or to the Albanian nation'.[33]

Arvanitic culture



Fara (Greek: φάρα, from Albanian fara 'seed'[34] or from Aromanian fară 'tribe'[35]) is a descent model, similar to Scottish clans and Malësia tribes in Northern Albania. Arvanites were organised in phares (φάρες) mostly during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The apical ancestor was a warlord and the phara was named after him. In an Arvanitic village, each phara was responsible to keep genealogical records (see also registry offices), that are preserved until today as historical documents in local libraries. Usually, there were more than one phares in an Arvanitic village and sometimes they were organised in phratries that had conflicts of interest. Those phratries didn't last long, because each leader of a phara desired to be the leader of the phratry and would not be led by another.[36]

Role of women

Women held a relatively strong position in traditional Arvanitic society. Women had a say in public issues concerning their phara, and also often bore arms. Widows could inherit the status and privileges of their husbands and thus acquire leading roles within a phara, as did, for instance, Laskarina Bouboulina.[37]

Arvanitic songs

Traditional Arvanite folk songs offer valuable information about social values and ideals of Arvanitic societies.[38]

Notable Arvanites

See also


  1. ^ Jonathan M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity, p.29, ISBN 0521789990
  2. ^ Botsi (2003: 90); Lawrence (2007: 22; 156)
  3. ^ See Biris 1960, Poulos 1950, Panagiotopulos 1985, Kocollari 1992, Ducellier 1994.
  4. ^ Some authors, particularly Biris (1961), have likened the medieval Arvanitic migrations to that of the ancient Dorians. Some Greek authors go one step further, and have proposed theories that link the ultimate ancestors of the Arvanites with pre-Greek "Pelasgians" (Kollias 1983), or relate Arvanitika with Ancient Greek. These views have no echo in mainstream modern scholarship. The "Pelasgian" view was fashionable in Greece in the 19th century and was then applied to Albanians in general. It was used to claim autochthonous status and hence historical affinity with the Greek nation, since at that time Greeks wished to win the Albanians over for the formation of a common Greater Greek nation state (Gounaris 2006). "Pelasgian" theories are currently still propagated by the largest association of Greek Arvanites (Αρβανιτικός Σύνδεσμος Ελλάδος, [1] and [2]). Other Greek authors have proposed an ancient Greek identity of the settlers based on their supposed Epirote ancestry.
  5. ^ Troupis, Theodore K. Σκαλίζοντας τις ρίζες μας. Σέρβου. p. 1036. Τέλος η εσωτερική μετακίνηση εντός της επαρχίας Ηπειρωτών μεταναστών, που στο μεταξύ πλήθαιναν με γάμους και τις επιμειξίες σταμάτησε γύρω στο 1600 μ.Χ.
  6. ^ Biris gives an estimated figure of 18,200 Arvanites who were settled in southern Greece between 1350 and 1418.
  7. ^ Gefou-Madianou, p. 420. "For the Arvanitika-speaking populations of the Mesogeia, however, language was not the definite criterion of their Greekness. For them, attributes such as adherence to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, a sense of localism, and ties to the land and kinship, attributes that had long served as cohesive forces within the Ottoman Empire, provided a sense of ethnic unity and identified them as Greeks. They felt they could trace their ancestry back many generations and still be found to inhabit the same land: Attica."
  8. ^ P. J. Ruches. Albania's captives. Argonaut, 1965, p. 28.
  9. ^ P. J. Ruches. Albania's captives. Argonaut, 1965, p. 28, 40.
  10. ^ First published in Ελληνισμός, Athens 1899, 195-202. Quoted in Gkikas 1978:7-9.
  11. ^ Stamou, Ch. Μακεδονικός Αγώνας (1903-08). "...θα αγωνισθώ μέχρι να ελευθερωθεί η Μακεδονία και θα πεθάνω εδώ..." (English translation: "...I will fight until Macedonia is free and I will die here...")
  12. ^ GHM 1995.
  13. ^ Tsitsipis 1981, Botsi 2003
  14. ^ GHM 1995, Trudgill/Tzavaras 1977. See also Tsitsipis 1981, Botsi 2003.
  15. ^ Gefou-Madianou, pp. 420-421. "Those speakers of Arvanitika who were living in or near the capital came under greater criticism since their presence allegedly embodied the infection that contaminated the purity of the ethnic heritage. Thus, some decades later, during the dictatorship of August 4, 1936, the communities of Arvanites suffered various forms of persecution at the hands of the authorities, though during the 1940s their position improved somewhat as their members helped other Greek soldiers and officers serving in the Albanian front. Later, during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, especially during the years of the military junta (1967-74), their lot was undermined once more as the Greek language, and especially katharevousa during the junta, was actively and forcibly imposed by the government as the language of Greek nationality and identity."
  16. ^ Travellers in the 19th century were unanimous in identifying Plaka as a heavily "Albanian" quarter of Athens. John Cam Hobhouse, writing in 1810, quoted in John Freely, Strolling through Athens, p. 247: "The number of houses in Athens is supposed to be between twelve and thirteen hundred; of which about four hundred are inhabited by the Turks, the remainder by the Greeks and Albanians, the latter of whom occupy above three hundred houses." Eyre Evans Crowe, The Greek and the Turk; or, Powers and prospects in the Levant, 1853: "The cultivators of the plain live at the foot of the Acropolis, occupying what is called the Albanian quarter..." (p. 99); Edmond About, Greece and the Greeks of the Present Day, Edinburgh, 1855 (translation of La Grèce contemporaine, 1854): "Athens, twenty-five years ago, was only an Albanian village. The Albanians formed, and still form, almost the whole of the population of Attica; and within three leagues of the capital, villages are to be found where Greek is hardly understood." (p. 32); "The Albanians form about one-fourth of the population of the country; they are in majority in Attica, in Arcadia, and in Hydra...." (p. 50); "The Turkish [sic] village which formerly clustered round the base of the Acropolis has not disappeared: it forms a whole quarter of the town.... An immense majority of the population of this quarter is composed of Albanians." (p. 160)
  17. ^ Θ. Κ. Πίτσιος. “Ανθροπωλογική Μελετή του Πληθυσμού της Πελοπονήσσου: Η Καταγωγή των Πελοπονησσίων.” ["Anthropological Study of the Peloponnesian Population: The Ancestry of the Peloponnesians"] Βιβλιοθήκη Ανθροπωλογικής Εταιρείας Ελλάδος. Αρ. 2, Αθήνα, 1978.
  18. ^ Pitsios, Theodoros (1986): "Anthropologische Untersuchung der Bevölkerung auf dem Peloponnes unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Arwaniten und der Tsakonen". ["An anthropological study of the Peloponnesian population, with a special focus on the Arvanites and Tsakonians"] Anthropologischer Anzeiger 44.3: 215-225.
  19. ^ Tsitsipis, 1983 and 1994.
  20. ^ Gerou, 1994.
  21. ^ Fine, John Van Antwerp (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-08260-5.
  22. ^ ΛΕΞΙΚΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΙΤΑΛΙΚΗΣ ΓΛΩΣΣΗΣ ΣΥΝΤΕΘΕΝ ΠΑΡΑ ΣΠΥΡΙΔΩΝΟΣ ΒΛΑΝΤΗ. Καὶ παρ' αὐτοῦ πλουτισθὲν τῆ προσθήκῃ περίπου δεκακισχιλίων Λέξεων. ΕΚΔΟΣΙΣ ΤΕΤΑΡΤΗ. ΕΝ ΒΕΝΕΤΙᾼ. ΠΑΡΑ ΝΙΚΟΛΑῼ ΓΛΥΚΕΙ Τῼ ΕΞ ΙΩΑΝΝΙΝΩΝ• 1819; ΛΕΞΙΚΟΝ ΓΕΩΓΡΑΦΙΚΟΝ ΙΤΑΛΙΚΟ ΓΡΑΙΚΙΚΟΝ. (σελ. 5)... Albania: Ἐπαρ. τῆς Εὐρωπ. Τουρκίας. Ἀλβανία, κοιν. Ἀρβανιτία.
  23. ^ Michael Attaliates, History 297 mentiones "Arbanitai" as parts of a mercenary army (c.1085); Anna Comnena, Alexiad VI:7/7 and XIII 5/1-2 mentions a region or town called Arbanon or Arbana, and "Arbanitai" as its inhabitants (1148). See also Vranousi (1970) and Ducellier (1968).
  24. ^ Banfi 1996
  25. ^ Kollias 1983
  26. ^ Moraitis (2002)
  27. ^ Botsi (2003: 21)
  28. ^ Ethnologue (2005). "Albanian, Tosk: A language of Albania".
  29. ^ Ethnologue (2005). "Albanian, Arvanitika: A language of Greece".
  30. ^ Breu (1985: 424) and Tsitsipis (1983).
  31. ^ Botsi (2003), Athanassopoulou (2005).
  32. ^ Arvanitic League of Greece
  33. ^ Trudgill/Tzavaras 1977
  34. ^ , Χριστοφορήδης. Κων. ΛΕΞΙΚΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΑΛΒΑΝΙΚΗΣ ΓΛΩΣΣΗΣ. p. 456
  35. ^ Babiniotis, Lexiko tis neoellinikis glossas
  36. ^ See Biris (1960) and Kollias (1983).
  37. ^ Kollias (1983)
  38. ^ Songs have been studied by Moraitis (2002), Dede (1978), and Gkikas (1978).
  39. ^ Απομνημονεύματα Μακρυγιάννη
  40. ^ Κριεζής, Θεόδωρος (1948), Οι Κριεζήδες του Εικοσιένα
  41. ^ Bintliff (2003: 139)
  42. ^ Πάγκαλος, Θεόδωρος (1950), Τα απομνημονευματά μου, 1897-1947 : η ταραχώδης περιόδος της τελευταίας πεντηκονταετίας
  43. ^ "Εικονοστάσι ηρώων". Τα Νέα. 1999-03-03. p. P12.  


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