The Principality of Arbanon or Albanon (Albanian: Arbër or Arbëria, Gheg Albanian: Arbn or Arbnia, Greek: Ἄρβανον), was the first Albanian state during the Middle Ages. The state was established by archon Progon in the region of Kruja, in ca 1190. Progon, the founder, was succeeded by his sons Gjin and Demetrius, the latter which attained the height of the realm. After the death of Dhimiter, the last of the Progon family, the principality came under Gregory Kamonas, and later Golem. The Principality was dissolved in 1255.
Throughout its existence, the principality was an autonomous dependency of its neighbouring powers, first Byzantium and, after the Fourth Crusade, Epirus, while it also maintained close relations with Serbia.
Before 1204, Arbanon was an autonomous principality of the Byzantine Empire. The titles archon (held by Progon) and panhypersebastos (held by Dhimiter) is a sign of Byzantine dependence. After 1204, the Albanians naturally followed the Despotate of Epirus, the successor of the Byzantine Empire. The Gëziq inscription mention the Progon family as judices, and notes their dependence on Vladin and Đorđe Nemanjić (r. 1208–1216), the princes of Zeta. The rulers were connected to the Serbian Nemanjić dynasty, through marriage and alliances. In 1252, Golem submitted to the Empire of Nicaea.
In the beginning the name Arbanon was applied to a region in the mountainous area to the west of Ohrid Lake and the upper valley of the river Shkumbin in the 11th century AD. There are scarce sources about Arbanon. In 1166, prior ArbanensisAndrea and episcopis Arbanensis Lazarus participated in a ceremony held in Kotor (then under the Serbian Grand Principality). A year later in 1167, Pope Alexander III, in a letter directed to Lazarus, congratulates him for returning his bishopric to Catholic faith and invites him to acknowledge the archbishop of Ragusa as his superior. After some resistance from local officials, the bishopric of Arbanon was put under the direct dependence of the Pope, as documented in a Papal letter dated in 1188. Little is known about archon Progon who was the first ruler of Kruja and its surroundings, between 1190 and 1198. The Kruja fortress stayed in the possession of the Progon family, and Progon was succeeded by his sons Gjin, and later Dhimitër.
Reign of Demetrius Progoni
Demetrius Progoni was the third and last lord of the Progon family, reigning between 1208 and 1216. He succeeded his brother Gjin and brought the principality to its climax. Contemporary Western sources attribute the titles judex (“judge”) andprinceps Arbanorum (“prince of the Albanians”) to him, while Byzantine records refer to him as megas archon (“grand lord”). In 1208, Demetrius married Komnena Nemanjić, the daughter of Serbian Grand Prince, later King Stefan Nemanjić (r. 1196–1228). A brief alliance was established between the two countries amidst conflicts with the Republic of Venice. Demetrius’s marriage with Nemanja’s daughter did not rule out the risk of a Serbian expansion toward the Albanian domains. However, in 1204, the most serious threat came from the Venetian Duchy of Dyrrhachium, a Latin entity formed after the Fourth Crusade in the former territories of the Byzantine Empire. In search for allies, Dhimitër signed a treaty with the Republic of Ragusa in 1209 and began negotiations with Pope Innocent III regarding his and his subjects’ conversion to Catholicism. This is considered a tactful move, which Demetrius undertook to establish ties with Western Europe against Venice. The friendship with the pope was of short duration, and soon turned into ill-feeling.
Reign of Komnena Nemanjić and Gregory Kamonas
After Demetrius died in 1215, the power was left to Komnena, who soon married Greek Gregory Kamonas, who took power of Kruja, strengthening relations with Serbia, which had been weakened after a Serbian assault on Scutari. According to Frasheri, Kamonas was elected. Komnena had a daughter with Kamonas that married Golem.
Reign of Golem
Demetrius had no son to succeed him. His wife, Komnena, remarried and had a daughter with Gregory Kamonas. The daughter married Golem, who was the lord of Kruja and Elbasan in ca 1254. During the conflicts between Michael II Komnenos Doukas of Epirus and Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes, Golem and Theodore Petraliphas, who were initially Michael’s allies, defected to John III in 1252. He is last mentioned in the sources among other local leaders, in a meeting with George Akropolites in Durrës in 1256.
The initial Nicaean conquest proved short-lived, as the region erupted in a pro-Epirote revolt that lasted until 1259.
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