A testimony of the European Renaissance Culture in the Pre-Ottoman Period in Albania
Anonymous writers identified Skėnderbg as the dragon prince who dared to fight and win always against the fiend; while Lekė Dukagjini was seen as the angel prince who appeared with dignity and wisdom to ensure a continuity of the Albanian character.
(J.G. von Hahn) Who was this (Lekė) Dukagjini? He was he ruler of this country, as well as its law-maker after putting together the Dukagjini Kanun, i.e. the provisions, according to which live even today not only Dukagjini people but also the people coming from north Drini river
, who attribute the name of the code to their national hero.
(Edith Durham) Lekė Dukagjini with a very influential personality, had influenced the people to the extend that This is what Lekė said is more compulsory than the ten commandments of the Bible, the lessons of Islam and Christianity.
The Laws of the Seriate and the Church, all of them, should respect the Kanun of Lekė
His fame amongst the groups of population that preserve his name has surpassed the fame of Skėnderbeg as well.
Leke, co-existent of Skėnderbeg
Lekė Dukagjini is a very complex historical figure. Furthermore, he is a figure depicted in legends, if we use this term in the same way as we have done for our National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti (Skėnderbeg).
Lekė Dukagjini (1410 1481) was a co existent of Skėnderbeg (1405 1468).
The history recognizes both of them as crown princes, who were illuminated when they took over the two counties that hold the same names as their surnames: Lekė took over the county of Dukagjini, after his fathers death (Pal Dukagjini in 1446); and Gjergj took over the county of Kastrioti in 1443, eight years after his fathers death, Gjon Kastrioti. The County of Dukagjini had its center in Lezhė, and included Zadrima, the areas North and East-north Shkodra, and expanded far north up to the territories of what today constitutes Serbia, having as the second center the town of Ulpiana, close to Prizren.
The County of Kastrioti, with its center in Kruja, included the area of Mat, Dibėr, starting from the Rodon castle in the Adriatic.
Until he took over the ruling of his county, Lekė Dukagjini had gained an overall knowledge, inspired by the European Renaissance humanism, in towns such as Venice, Raguza and Shkodėr; meanwhile Skenderbeg had done a very rapid and excellent military career in the court of Sultan Murat II.
As leader of the Albanian Union (established in Lezhė in 1444) Skenderbeg always had Lekė next to him (initially his father Pal Dukagjini), because both of them fought next to each-other until Skėnderbegs death in 1468. It was Lekė Dukagjini to take Skėnderbegs work further by leading the Albanians during the most difficult period of Ottoman resistance, until his death in 1481.
The Pronounced Prince
Chronics and historians, starting from Tivarasi/Biemi, Frengu, Barleti, Muzaka, and other co-existents, up to Gegaj and Noli in the XX-th century, have illuminated the deeds of Gjergj Kastrioti, mentioning as well Lekė Dukagjini and some other princes of that time. The anonym creators of legends have been more objective than historians in portraying such historical figures. Anonymous writers identified Skenderbg as the dragon prince who dared to fight and always win against fiend; while Lekė Dukagjini was seen as the angel prince who appeared with dignity and wisdom to ensure a continuity of the Albanian character.
The historians have pronounced Lekė Dukagjini since at the beginning, because they were searching in him an antagonist character to Skanderbeg, for intriguing the biography of the sole Albanian hero, who recognized Europe in the successful confrontation Albanians-Turks, but also because they did not want to blame Eastern Europe for not being able to establish an anti - ottoman coalition in Balkans.
They did not dare to judge, in particular the Venedic Republic, which seized to be an alley of the Albanians when alone they were keeping on their shoulders the whole empire infuriated towards Europe; furthermore this republic used the Albanians resistance to the benefit of its own commercial interests by separating Albanian princes through intrigues, by putting them against each-other, and when they did not achieve this by proclaiming them as enemies of the Republic and Christianity.
Lekė Dukagjini, was the second most influential Albanian Prince, following Skėnderbeg, and for this reason he was subject to the intrigues of Veniceian politics (and historians) until Sinjoria felt the danger of the High Court at the threshold of the house and joined the Albanian resistance by declaring war to the Ottoman Empire (1463). After this year the Veniceians stopped pronouncing Lekė Dukagjini. Some historians have written about some of Lekė Dukagjini deeds - fighting next to Skėnderbeg until his death in 1468, and later on about Lekė as a leader of Albanian troops fighting in the same front with Venice troops, until Sinjoria signed peace with the High Court in 1479. Following this year, all historians remained silent. The legends let us know that Lekė Dukagjini continues the resistance by leading his county until his death.
But Lekė Dukagjini continues to be pronounced even after his death, in the same way as the anti-ottoman resistance continued in his county and other areas. The discussions about Lekė Dukagjini after his death are related to his work, the Kanun that he passed to his people, the Albanians. The core of Lekė Dukagjini Kanun is constituted by his wise sayings, which were preserved (and enriched) from generation to, for almost six centuries. The Homeric phenomena had turned the name of Lekė Dukagjini into a legend, making him a true myth at that extend that it was difficult for historians to accept him as a historic reality. For this reason, some of them have continued to pronounce Lekė Dukagjini and his Kanun, in the same way as Homer was pronounced and blinded together with the Iliad of Odyssey. (For comparison purposes, its was said that even Lekė Dukagjini had a blind brother). But, analyzing documented biographic facts about Lekė Dukagjini, we can through light over the time and circumstances when the wise sayings of Kanun were conceived.
When Kanun was being conceived
By the end of the 50s in the XV century, the County of Dukagjini has lost both of its developed centers: Lezhė was given to Venedic (1393), Ulpiana, the capital of the county, was completely destroyed by the Turks before they took over Prizren (1458), which was another developed center of Dukagjini county. In these conditions, Lekė Dukagjini conquered the castle of Shati in Zadrimė to use it as royal residence, but Skėnderbeg attacked it and returned it to the Veniceians. Without a royal residence and in the middle of three fires for some time (Turks, Veniceians and Skėnderbeg), Lekė Dukagjini built his shelter in the mountains of his county, building fortresses and residences with the helpof the free people living in those areas these people respected and welcomed their leader, coming from the court of Dukagjini, and his wife, Teodora of Muzakaj from Berati, as well as all the court members following them.
Together with the people of Dukagjini County, well known for their courage (M. Barleti: 98), Lekė was able to build his fortresses and bring up fighters who played an important role in the troops of Lezhė Union, under the command of Skėnderbeg. In return to the devotion given by his people, Lekė Dukagjini ensured to the members of his county and to all who joined him seeking protection, in particular after Skenderbegs death, freedom within their organizational groups, which in those conditions was institutionalized by the reorganization of wise-councils at the village and area level.
During this period (1459-1481), while he lead all the gatherings and wise-councils, it was conceived Kanun this code was inherited from generation to generation as a practice of judgment and wise sayings formulated or repeated by him in judicial sessions. Although Kanun did not take a written form, it was used in centuries as common law, until it was collected and put into a code by Shtjefėn Gjeēovi between XIX-XX century.
National Hero or
At the time when Gjeēovi was working on the code materials, all Albanians, independently of their religion, had sanctified Kanun and its author. The name of Lekė Dukagjini was not simply pronounced by common people; on the contrary he became a hero.
The fact that a ruler became a true, popular and national hero can be explained by a theory which states when popular masses accept their rulers and leaders and heroes, they identify themselves with the values and nobility of the leader, or at least, because they need to organize their world according to the models given by the ruling group (P. Burke:169).
The Kanun of Lekė Dukagjini is a unique piece of work with European Renaissance humanist spirit, written in the Albanian language. Even though it was and continues to be pronounced even up to date, Kanun considered by important local and foreign researchers as a monumental piece of work (A. Buda / Gjeēovi Kryeziu: 22), contribution to the worldwide culture (C. Von Schwerin / Ylli i Dritės 1939:502); while its author, Lekė Dukagjini, was recognized as an influential personality (E Durham: 116) and National Hero of its people (J. Hahn: 114).
Many writers and artists have dedicated to Lekė their works, including Dritėro Agolli (The defeat of Lekė Dukagjini poetry 1969), Henrik Laēaj (Two princes for one girl historical drama put on stage and directed by the author himself and interpreted by the theatre group Rozafat in Shkodra in 1937, where the role of Lekė Dukagjini was played by Loro Kovaēi), the arbėresh writer Anton Santori (Alessio Ducagini, melodrama, written between 1855-1860 and published in 1983), the painter Naxhi Bakalli (Dukagjini meeting, mural table 4x3.2m in the Historic Museum of Burrel, 1986); the Kosovar painter Engjėll Berisha (Dukagjini Roots, drawings 1950-1956); the painter Simon Rrota (Lekė Dukagjini, portrait, private collection in Shkodra); the sculptor Sotir Kosta (Lekė Dukagjini, portrait in bronze GKA Tiranė and National Museum of Skėnderbeg in Krujė, 1982), etc.
The Forgotten humanist
The apocrypha of Lekė Dukagjini is considered to be the portrait of Simon Rrota (1887-1961) who shows the author of Kanun in a frontal portrait, with a sharp look, bringing together the cleverness and wisdom, wearing a body-waist from the traditional costume of northerners, wearing a sword in his waist and holding a manual-script of Kanun on this left hand, which suggests the humanist intellectual of the XV century.
When historians describe the Florentine noble, Lorenzo de Medici, having an extraordinary personality and a genius politician: we like to compare Lekė Dukagjini with him. The preface of his book describes Lorenzo in the streets of Florence, dressed up as a common citizen, surrounded by girls who sing his ballads
. In reality, Lorenzo was a poet and the most generous supporter of other poets, scientists and philosophers (K. Clark: 106). We can try to draw parallelisms between Lorenzo and Lekė, up to a certain extend, because the poems of Lekė would be the sentences in Kanun. If this parallelism isnt be very appropriate, as any other parallelism, at least the county of Dukagjini can resemble small courts in northern Italy at the end of XV century, and the Renaissance owes to these courts almost as much as it owes to Florence (K. Clark: 107). And may be Lekė may resemble the Duke of Urbino, Frederigo Montefeltro, who wasnt only an extraordinary educated and wise man, but he was also the biggest leader of his times, who knew how to protect his territory against the villains that surrounded him. He was very fond of collecting books and precious portraits. He is dressed up in a shield and all the fighting gear
. His palace was built as a castle on an almost inaccessible rock, and only after he was secure enough, it was allowed to give to the palace a more refined look, which makes it one of the most architectural monuments in the world (K. Clark: 107).
Today we are not able to renovate a fortress or a royal palace of Lekė Dukagjini; moreover we can not talk with superlatives about what doesnt exist anymore: the best in the world, Mediterranean or region, because at that time fortresses and flourished (Albanian) towns
.. with palaces and monuments
.. vanished from the surface of the earth
.and they remained as shadows of the beauty and glamour of old times (F S Noli: 591-592).
But the Kanun of Lekė Dukagjini is the most important monument of the Albanian culture during the period of European Renaissance, which has lived through six centuries and has played an immense role in the life of the people and the language in which it was written.