The Kanun (or Kanuni in its defined form in Albanian) is a set of traditional Albanian laws. The Kanun was primarily oral and only in the 20th century was it published in writing.[1] There is only one Kanun since the ancient times commonly referred to the "Kanun of Leke" from which six later variations eventually evolved, categorized according to the area, the personality and their time of origin: Kanun i vjetër (English: Old Kanun), Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit (English: The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini), Kanuni i Çermenikës (English: The Kanun of Çermenikë), Kanuni i Papa Zhulit (English: The Kanun of Papa Zhuli), Kanuni i Labërisë (English: The Kanun of Labëria)[2] and Kanuni i Skenderbeut (English: Kanun of Skanderbeg)[3][4] also known as Kanuni i Arbërisë (English: Kanun of Arbëria).

The Kanun of Skanderbeg is the closest in version to the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, and the latter is usually the most known and is also regarded as a synonym of the word kanun. The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini was developed by Lekë Dukagjini, who codified the existing customary laws. It has been used mostly in northern Albania and Kosovo. It was first codified in the 15th century but the use of it has been outspread much earlier in time. It used under that form until the 20th century, and revived recently after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s.



The term kanun comes from the Greek "κανών" ("canon"), meaning amongst others "pole" or "rule"[5] and was transported from Greek to Arabic and then into early Turkish.[6] Kanun was also known by the word of Doke.


The practice of the oral laws that Dukagjini codified in the Kanun may date back to the Bronze Age.[7] Some authors have conjectured that the Kanun may derive from Illyrian tribal laws.[8] Other authors have suggested that the Kanun has retained elements from Indo-European prehistoric eras.[9] Edith Durham, a British anthropologist[citation needed] suggested that the Kanun possibly dates back to the Bronze Age culture.[7] Some other authors[who?] have suggested that there are many similarities between the Kanun and the Manusmṛti, the earliest work of the Dharmaśāstra textual tradition of Hinduism, which indicate a common origin.[7]

However several stratifications can be easily observed in the code, beginning with pre-Indoeuropean, Indoeuropean, Ancient Greek, Roman, general Balkan and Osmanli.[10]


This Kanun existed only in oral form, and was first codified by Lekë Dukagjini in the 15th century. The code was written down only in the 19th century by Shtjefën Gjeçovi and partially published in the Hylli i Drites periodical in 1913.[1] The full version appeared only in 1933 after Gjeçovi's death in 1926.[1] In 1989 a dual English-Albanian version was published.[1][11] and then replicated in a 1992 version.[12]

Although Kanuni is attributed to the Albanian prince Lekë Dukagjini, the rules evolved over time as a way to bring laws and rule to these lands. The code was divided into the following 12 books (or sections): Church, Family, Marriage, House, Livestock and Property, Work, Transfer of Property, Spoken Word, Honor, Damages, Law Regarding Crimes, Judicial Law, Exemptions and Exceptions.[13]

The Kanun has 1,262 articles which regulate all aspects of the mountainous life: economic organization of the household, hospitality, brotherhood, clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land, and so on.[1] The Besa (honour) is of prime importance throughout the code as the cornerstone of personal and social conduct.[1] The Kanun applies to both Catholic and Muslim Albanians.[1]

Some of the most controversial rules of the Kanun (in particular book 10 section 3) specify how murder is supposed to be handled, which often in the past and sometimes still now lead to blood feuds that last until all the men of the two involved families are killed. In some parts of the country, the Kanun resembles the Italian vendetta. These rules have resurfaced during the 1990s in Northern Albania, since people had no faith in the powerless local government and police. There are organizations that try to mediate between feuding families and try to get them to "pardon the blood" (Albanian: me e fal gjakun), but often the only resort is for men of age to stay in their homes, which are considered a safe refuge by the Kanuni, or flee the country. The Albanian name for blood feud is Gjakmarrja.

Former communist Albania leader Enver Hoxha effectively stopped the practice of Kanun with hard repression and a very strong state police. However, after the fall of communism, some communities have tried to rediscover the old traditions, but some of their parts have been lost, leading to fears of misinterpretation.

Notably, the current Albanian Penal Code does not contain any provisions from the Kanun that deal with blood feuds, and no acknowledgment of this code is made in the contemporary Albanian legal system.

Pillars of the Kanun

The Kanun is based on four pillars:


The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is composed of 12 books and 1,262 articles. The books and their subdivisions are the following:

  1. Church;
    1. The Church
    2. Cemeteries
    3. Property of the Church
    4. The Priest
    5. Church workers
  2. Family;
    1. The family make-up
  3. Marriage;
    1. Engagement
    2. Wedding
    3. The Kanun of the groom
    4. In-laws
    5. Separation
    6. Inheritance
  4. House, Livestock and Property;
    1. The house and its surroundings
    2. Livestock
    3. Property
    4. The boundary
  5. Work;
    1. Work
    2. Hunting
    3. Commerce
  6. Transfer of Property;
    1. Borrowing
    2. Gifts
  7. Spoken Word;
  8. Honor;
    1. Individual honor
    2. Social honor
    3. 'Blood' and gender; brotherhood and godparents
  9. Damages;
  10. Law Regarding Crimes
    1. Criminals
    2. Stealing
    3. Murder (discussion of sanctioning of blood feuds)
  11. The kanun of the elderly
  12. Exemptions and Exceptions
    1. Types of exceptions
    2. Death

Kanun in Literature

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare evokes the Kanun several times in his books and has it as its main theme in his novel Broken April.[14] He also evoques the kanun in his novel Komisioni i festës[15] (English: The Celebration Commission), where Kadare literally describes the Monastir massacre of 1830 as the struggle between two empires: the Albanian Kanun with its code of besa and the Ottoman Empire itself.[16]

According to Kadare in his literary critique book Eskili, ky humbës i madh (English: Aeschylus, this big loser),[17] where loser refers to the big number of tragedies that were lost from Aeschylus, there are evident similarities between the kanun and the vendetta laws in all the Mediterranean countries.

Barbara Nadel's Deep Waters[18] refers to Kanun and Gjakmarrja.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cook, Bernard (2001). Europe since 1945: an encyclopedia. Garland Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 0815340575. http://books.google.com/books?id=ox_gXq2jpdYC&pg=PA22&dq=kanun+Illyrians#v=snippet&q=already%20existing%20oral%20Illyrian%20laws&f=false. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  2. ^ R. Zojzi The Code of Labëria ("Kanuni i Labërisë" Tirana (Institute of Folk Culture Archives
  3. ^ Ilia, I.F. Kanuni i Skenderbegut (1993) The Code of Skanderbeg Shkoder Publisher:Archbishop of Shkodra.
  4. ^ Women who become men: Albanian sworn virgins By Antonia Young Page 732([1])
  5. ^ κανών, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  6. ^ Todorova, M.N. Balkan Identities: Nation and memory. NYU Press, 2004. p. 111. [2]
  7. ^ a b c Foyer/Merib (2006). Kolor. Journal on moving communities. Garant. p. 10. ISBN 9044120085. http://books.google.com/books?id=SZqcmmn2YsgC&pg=PA10&dq=kanun+illyrian#v=onepage&q=kanun%20illyrian&f=false. 
  8. ^ Dukagjini, L., Gjecov, S., Fox, L. Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit. Gjonlekaj Publishing Co., 1989. p. xvi.
  9. ^ Landfester, Manfred (2002). Brill's New Pauly: Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World. Classical Tradition. Brill. p. 92. ISBN 9004142215. http://books.google.com/books?ct=result&id=zTAZAQAAIAAJ&dq=kanun+pelasgian&q=Albanian+customary+law+(Kanun)+is+said+to+have+retained+elements+from+Indo-European+prehistoric+times#search_anchor. 
  10. ^ The Rule of Law in Comparative Perspective Author Mortimer Sellers Editors Mortimer Sellers, Tadeusz Tomaszewski Publisher Springer, 2010, p. 205, ISBN 90-481-3748-9, 9789048137480
  11. ^ Dukagjini, Lekë; Shtjefën Gjeçovi, Leonard Fox (1989). Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit. Gjonlekaj Pub. Co. http://books.google.com/books?id=dZ-RAAAAMAAJ&q=Leonard+Fox+The+Code+of+Leke+Dukagjini&dq=Leonard+Fox+The+Code+of+Leke+Dukagjini. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  12. ^ Gjecovi, Shtjefen; Anton Logoreci (Editor), Martin Camaj (Translator) (1992). Code of Leke Dukagjini. Gjonlekaj Publishing Company. ISBN 0962214108. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/ISBNInquiry.asp?r=1&IF=N&EAN=9780962214103&cm_mmc=Google%20Book%20Search-_-k118169-_-j14953980-_-Googe%20Book%20Search%20(non-B%26N%20Imprint). Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  13. ^ Religion and Society in Present-Day Albania by Antonia Young
  14. ^ "Broken April - Ismail Kadare". Longitude. http://www.longitudebooks.com/find/p/67067/mcms.html. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  15. ^ Kadare, Ismail (1980). Komisioni i festës. Prishtinë: Rilindja. http://books.google.com/books?id=VjHIOgAACAAJ. 
  16. ^ Colafato, Michele (1998). Emozioni e confini: per una sociologia delle relazioni etniche. Meltemi Editore srl. p. 82. ISBN 8886479697. http://books.google.com/books?id=KS5NwIa3Pc0C. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  17. ^ Kadare, Ismail (2006). Eskili, ky humbës i madh. Tirana: Onufri. ISBN 9994332635. http://books.google.gr/books?id=1t6eLAAACAAJ&dq=eskili+ky+humbes+i+madh. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  18. ^ Deep Waters. ISBN 0747267197. http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Waters-Inspector-Ikmen-Mysteries/dp/0747267197. 


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