Greeks, Croatians and Albanians of Italy

Location: Southern Italy
Population: Greeks: 7,500-15,000; Croatians: 2000-3000; Albanians (Tosko): 80,000 speakers
% of population: 0.17% total
Religion: Greek Orthodox (Greek); Catholic (Croatian, Albanian)
Language: Community languages, plus Italian

The Greeks, Croats and Albanians of southern Italy are tiny minorities not enumerated on the official census and virtually ignored by the Italian state. It is hard to estimate the numbers involved and the communities are often no more than small villages where only the older generation retains its own language as mother tongue.


Speakers of the Italiot dialect of Greek are descendants of Byzantine invaders who entered Italy between the sixth and tenth centuries. Today they are found around Salento in Puglia and in the east of Reggio Calabria. Although there has been a renewed interest in Greek culture since 1955 the Italiot Greek is no longer used in schools or churches and the younger generation speaks only Italian.


Croatian speakers are found only in three villages in Molise in southern Italy. They are the descendants of refugees who escaped the Turkish invasions of present-day Croatia during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and their language is an archaic form of that spoken along the border between the Yugoslav Republic of Croatia and Bosnia. During the last 30 years there has been a revival of interest in Croatian culture and the Primate of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia conducted mass in Croatian in 1967. The Italian branch of the International Association for the Defence of Threatened Languages and Cultures has encouraged the renewal of contacts with Croatia. Free Croatian-Italian grammars have been distributed among the villagers and at one stage there was a bilingual journal; despite these moves the Croatian language is the smallest minority language in Italy and is unlikely to survive in view of the small numbers involved.


The Albanians (Arbereshe) are more numerous than the two other small minorities and may number up to one quarter of a million in total. They are descended from mercenaries used by King Alfonso of Naples in the fifteenth century and from those who fled the Turkish conquest of Albania. They live scattered throughout the poor farming regions of Calabria, Abruzzo, Basilicate, Molise, Campania, Puglia and Sicily and there are substantial settlements in big Italian cities. However only about one third of those of Albanian descent are believed to have a working knowledge of Albanian as an everyday language although almost all speak Italian also. There is an Institute of Albanian Studies at Palermo and the Albanian language can be studied at the universities of Rome and Naples but it is not taught in schools and has no official status. Several Albanian speakers have held prominent positions in Italy’s political and religious life and there have been a number of notable Italian writers of Albanian descent. There are a number of languages and cultural societies which act to protect and promote the Albanian language in Italy. In recent years it has been possible for Albanian speakers to visit Albania and to renew cultural and linguistic ties with that country.

(See also Sardinians)