The Hidden History About Albanian Mercenaries of Europe in 15th-18th Century

By Alketa Kita-Marishta Dublin, Ireland
By Alketa Kita-Marishta Dublin, Ireland
 (AANO) Chicago Chapter Member 
  I was fascinated when I started reading about the stratioti or stradioti or estradioti which were mercenary units recruited in the Balkans from the 15th through the 18th century. Domhnall Bal- loch described that stradioti in the England archaic language of the time, were called Albanovs [1]. Before taking you to the story about Nobel stradioti and their role in many kingdoms of Europe, I want to clarify where they came from.  Many of them were Arvanites. Arvanites are Albanian settlers in Greece. They migrated to Thessaly, Attica and then Peloponnese in Greece around 1300-1600 and reached the peak dur- ing the 14th century. Many reasons of migration have been described such as invitation for employment as solders by Byzantine and Latin rulers at that time, epidemics, and later the escape of Islamization after the Ottoman conquest [2]. In the mid-15th century was estimated 30,000 Albanians lived in Morea (today Peloponnese in Greece) from a Venetian source [3]. Johann Georg von Hahn has estimated 173,000 to 200,000 Arvanites in Greece in the mid- 19th century [4]. 

German ethnographic map of the Peloponnese, 1890. Albanian-speaking areas in red. [4]
German ethnographic map of the Peloponnese, 1890. Albanian-speaking areas in red. [4] 
Who are Stradioti?

A smaller in number, no more than a thousand there were mercenaries that fought in France, English siege and Italy. The stradioti were from Balkan region during the 15th through 18th century; they were recruited in Albania, Greece, Croatia, Serbia and later Cyprus and most of the names were Albanian and Greeks as well. The first time stradioti were mobilized by the Republic of Venice against Ottoman Empire in 1475 in Friuli, which after then they replaced the Venetian light as frontier troops[5].
Flag given in 1510 to Mercurio Bua by the Emperor Maximilian I; a double -headed eagle, symbol of both Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire; the Cross of Burhundy; and four “B” s or firesteels used in the Palaiologos arms, but also linked to the House of Habsburg’s Order of the Golden fleece.
Flag given in 1510 to Mercurio Bua by the Emperor Maximilian I; a double -headed eagle, symbol of both Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire; the Cross of Burhundy;and four “B” s or firesteels used in the Palaiologos arms,but also linked to the House of Habsburg’s Order of theGolden fleece. 
The majority of stradioti were of Albanian origin from regions of Greece which they settled in Greece prior and were Hellenised for two generations before their migration to Italy 

Stradioti were called in the 18th century by the Kingdom of Naples into Royal Macedonian Regiment a light infantry [7]. 

In 1497, France under Louis XII recruited 2,000 stradioti. They were called estradiots which were Albanians and argoulets were Greeks. For some authors they are synonymous [8]. 
French estradioti and his arms. 1724(G. Daniel)
French estradioti and his arms. 1724(G. Daniel) 
The Duchy of Lorraine in 1587 recruited 500 Albanian cavalrymen and five Albanian captains [9]. Estradioti served also in the Guard of King Ferdinand in the Spanish Royal Guard. Henry VIII of England in 1514 employed estradioti during the battles with the Kingdom of Scotland [10]. Empress Maria Theresa in the middle of 18th century employed estradioti against Prussian and French Troops during the War of the Austrian Succession [11]. 

Nobel Stradioti 

Nobel Mercurio Bua (in Albanian: Merkur Bua) was a famed Albanian estradioti and com- mander of the Venetian army. He received a title Count of Aquino and Roccasecca. He was born in Nafplion in the Peloponnese from an Albanian family of Bua and Arianiti. His father Theodore Bua was also a stradioti and his uncle Constantine Arianiti was a nobleman of the holy Roman Empire and Count of Montferrat [12]. The Hellenization of the Albanians in Greece at this period was described in the poems of Tzanes Koronaios, a stradioti and a companion of Merkourios Bouas which is written in Greek letters gives Bua's mythological pedigree, which includes Achilles, Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus [13]. Bua died in Treviso Italy between 1527 and 1562. The following inscription was in his monument: 

“Mercurio Bua Comiti E. Principibus Peleponnesi Epirotarum Equitum Ductori. Anno Salu MDCXXXVII”. (Which means "To Count Mercurio Bua, Prince of Peloponnesus, Leader of the Epirote Horsemen, Year of our Salvation, 1637) [14]. 

Portrait of Mercurion Bua by Lorenzo Lott.
Portrait of Mercurion Bua by Lorenzo Lott. 
French painting of c. 1500 depicting stradioti of the Venetian Army at the Battle of Fornovo
French painting of c. 1500 depicting stradioti of the Venetian Army at the Battle of Fornovo 
The history of Bua family starts with Petro Bua. Diana Gilliland Wright, an historian of 15th century of the Byzantines, the Venetians and the Ottomans wrote: 

“When the City was taken in May 1453, the Morea went into panic. It was said that both the despots, Demetrios and Thomas were leaving for Italy. No one knew what was going to happen to the Morea. There was no identifiable authority. This is when Petro Bua enters the written record. He urged the Albanians to elect their own leaders, and they did, and despite Greek historians recording this as a revolt or uprising, they were in fact filling the void left by the total failure of the Greek despots.... Sphrantzes said that essentially all the Albanians in the Morea* were in revolt: the Venetians said thirty thousand... By 1459 Ve- netian documents called him caput of all the Moreote Albanians, and he, with Manuel Ral- lis -- one of the twelve -- was fighting with the Venetians at the Isthmus in August 1463....Uncle of the famous condottiere, Mercurio Bua -- he had no sons of his own so Venice recognized his nephews Mercurio, Nicolò, and Petro as sons -- Petro Bua was still leading stratioti for the Venetians in the Ionian islands twenty-five years after the submis- sion and as late as 1489 was being given a new contract by Venice.” [15]. 

Petro Bua
Petro Bua
Demetrio Reres (in Albanian Dhimiter Reres) is another Albanian stradioti which in 1448 with his troops and his two sons George and Basil went from Albania to the Kingdom of Naples in Italy to fight for Alfonso V. [16]. After the Alfonso V. approval, they were the first settle- ments of Albanians in Southern rural area of Italy, today Arberesh to avoid struggling of Otto- mans in Albania [17]. 

Thomas of Argos or Thomas Bua was the captain of the battalion of Greek stratioti who served with the English army during Henry VIII’s wars against Scots [18]. Thomas comes from Bua Albanian family. It has been a dispute about the Albanian or Greek origin. Thomas was known for the victory of Siege of Boulogne when his unit of 550 men and a superior group of nearly 1,000 heavenly armoured cavalries leaving at the end of the battle 35 Greeks and 360 French dead. Thomas was wounded. His bravery was praised by Henry VIII and he returned to England. His speech before the battle elevated the courage of his men and here again it shows the Hellenization of two or more generations after the immigration: 

“Comrades, as you see we are in the extreme parts of the world, under the service of a King and a nation in the farthest north. And nothing we brought here from our country other than our courage and bravery. Thus, bravely we stand against our enemies, because their numbers cannot match our virtue. We are children of the Greeks (*) and we are not afraid of the barbarian horde. .... Therefore, courageous and orderly let us march to the enemy, ... and let us prove with our action the famous since olden times virtue of the Greeks (*) [18]. 
(*) Έλληνες (Hellenes) in the original Greek text 

The details about Thomas actions and the short speech above were recorded by Nikandros Noukios who followed as a non-combatant the English combat with Scots in 1545 and the ex- pedition to Boulogne in 1546. 

I have founded from the Historum forum by Garibaldi: January 30th, 2015 at 02:39 PM, a copy of a letter of the English ambassador in France about Thomas Bua, which confirm his Albanian identity[19].

Gilbert John Miller, an historian of early modern 15th -18th century will beautifully describe in his article ‘The Albanians: Sixteenth Century Mercenaries’: 

“If one reads the military history of the sixteenth century, an obvious fact-that few wars were ever waged on a large scale without reliance upon mercenary troops. Indeed, there was virtually no nationality that did not, at one time or another, provide its quota of professional soldiers of fortune.....One seemingly military despatches of the times, are the Al- banians....The great majority of these solders, however, who were designated by the term ‘Albanian’ resided, not in Albania, but in Christian, as distinct from Turkish, Greece and in the republic and princely states of Italy. To understand this, it is essential to know a little of the history of Albania, the Balkan land that lent his name to these ferocious fighters.”

Professor of History at Sam Houston State University, Nicholas C.J. Pappas wrote in his re- search article about stratioti: 

“Most modern, as well as a good number of early authors have indicated that the stradioti were Albanian. This is true to a certain extent but has to be qualified. A Greek author made a study of the names of stradioti found in the most extensive documentary collection of materials dealing with the stradioti and found that some 80% of the names were of Albanian origin, while the rest were of Greek origin. ... They also appreciated the right to practice their religion, the Greek rite, be it Orthodox or Unite...While the bulk of stradioti rank and file were Albanian origin from Greece, by the middle 16the century there is evidence that many had become Hellenized or even Italianized” 

Pappas explains that the older Latin sources from the early 15th century use the variation of Greek stratioti, but the most modern and a good number of early authors have indicated the Albanian origin of stratioti. 

Romioi (Greek) stratioti of 1507
Romioi (Greek) stratioti of 1507 
As a conclusion: 

First, Albanian mercenary’s role in the Ottoman-European Wars of 15th-16th century was cru- cial and for 4 centuries Albanians become the best mercenaries in Europe. They served both sides. While more is known about their service as janissaries in Ottoman empire, their service of Albanians for European kings is not much known. Janissaries were an elite infantry unit of Ottoman Sultans and the first modern standing army in Europe. They were kidnapped as young Christian boys mostly preferred from Albania, Bosnia and Bulgaria, converted to Muslims and became famed for strict discipline and order [22]. The Albanian National Hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg was one of those janissaries which the Ottomans gave his name “Iskandar” which means Alexander. Here is how Henry Skene in his book ‘The Albanians” describes them: 

“Albanians are compared with the Highlanders of Scotland’s... with their present state, and their character and habits, as well their dress and their appearance, certainly bear a strong mutual resemblance. Active and daring, hardly and frugal, they may become the finest light infantry in the world; and, in fact, the Turkish ranks are solely dependent upon them for the branch of their army.... Albanians, which are brought out by their adventurous life, for instance, they possess great presence of mind when exposed to danger, and in gen- eral they know not of the existence of such a feeling as the fear of death” [24]. 

Second, the ethnic identity of Albanians has been threatened from the past. Edwin Jacques wrote in his book ‘The Albanians: An ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present’: 

“Many Albanians, who are descended from the Illyrians and Pelasgians, trace their roots to Achilles and other heroes of the siege of Troy, and claim Alexander the Great as their own. During twelve consecutive periods of foreign domination, the ethnic identity of the Albanians has been constantly threatened, first by the Eastern and Western empires of Christendom, then by the Ottoman Turks...” [23]. 

Third, there are many parts of Greece that has been populated from Albanians over the years because of migration at that time for different reasons. Henry Skene wrote: 
“They are supposed to have overrun Epirus about the time of the fall of the Byzantine Em- pire. In advancing towards the south, they also spread over the greatest part of Greece Proper, and many villages of the Morea are Albanian. Indeed, with the exception of the Mainotes or modern Spartans, the most warlike communities of Greece, such as the islands of Hydra and Spetzia, are formed of this nation, and not of Greeks. Attica, Argolis, Phocis, and Boetia, are likewise all peopled by them, and there are Albanian colonies even in Ca- labria and Sicily” [24]. François Charles Hugues Laurent Pouqueville in his book ‘Travel to Morea, Albania, and other parts of Ottoman Empire’ describes about Pyrgo: 

“Inhabitants of this town cultivate a little cotton together with some corn; they are besides shepherds, and feed silk worms. They are for the most part of originally from Albania. The people of this latter country consider Morea as a land of riches and plenty” [25]. 

François Charles Hugues Laurent Pouqueville was French diplomat, writer, historian, physi- cian and explorer and Napoleon Bonaparte’s general consul at the court of Ali Pasha of Ioan- nina. Niko Bakos describes the assimilation of Arvanites (Albanian population) overtime with Greeks: 

“The Albanian speakers of south and central Greece were really not a problem; not only was the language clearly dying out of its own by the early twentieth century, but Pelo- ponesian Albanians were already Greeker than the Greeks in their ethnic consciousness and had proven it by essentially fighting our war of independence for us; it seems that, historically, you give Albanians — Christian or Muslim — an incentive to go to war and they’ll become more zealous crusaders of your cause than you are yourself” [26]. 

The 600 years old Arberesh song ‘Moj e bukura More’ that is translated as ‘Thou beautiful More’, hides the whole historical painful migration of the Albanians of More (today Pelopon- nese, Greece) to Italy. Arberesh are the Albanians of Southern Italy that migrated in early 1500 from Albania or Morea. 

Last, both those bravery Albanian and Greek men of Balkan have fought together, have bled together in many battles in Europe, have healed together the wounds for defending the territorial integrity of their country and others.

By the author Alketa Kita-Marishta: 

‘I am not an historian, but I have an interest in Albanian history and culture. It fascinates me that there is so much history written about Albanians from foreign sources. I hope you can find fascinating this historical research of mine about Albanians and their bravery. I tried to search for resources that were not Albanian or Greek.’  


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