Robert Elsie

Robert Elsie (June 29, 1950 – October 2, 2017) was a Canadian-born German scholar who specialized in Albanian literature and folklore.

Robert Elsie
Born(1950-06-29)June 29, 1950
DiedOctober 2, 2017(2017-10-02) (aged 67)
Bonn, Germany
Resting placeTheth, Albania
Awards Albanian Medal of Gratitude
Academic background
Academic work
Main interestsAlbanian history, culture
Notable worksAlbanian Literature : A Short History
The Highland Lute (Lahuta e Malcís): The Albanian National Epic.

Elsie was a writer, translator, interpreter, and specialist in Albanian studies,[1] being the author of numerous books and articles that focused on various aspects of Albanian culture and affairs.


Born on June 29, 1950 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Elsie studied at the University of British Columbia, graduating in 1972 with a diploma in Classical Studies and Linguistics. In the following years, he continued his post-graduate studies at the Free University of Berlin, at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and at the University of Paris IV: Paris-Sorbonne, at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and at the University of Bonn, where he finished his doctorate on Linguistics and Celtic Studies in 1978 at the Linguistics Institute.

Robert Elsie (top right in blue pants and with mustache) in Butrint, 1978

From 1978 on, Elsie visited Albania several times with a group of students and professors from the University of Bonn. For several years, he also attended the International Seminar on Albanian Language, Literature and Culture [sq], held in Pristina, Kosovo. From 1982 to 1987, he worked for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn, and from 2002 to 2013 for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, in particular as an interpreter for several noted cases including the trial of Slobodan Milošević.

Elsie's scholarly travels and interest in Albanian dialects brought him into contact with Albanians from Albania, Kosovo, Greece, Montenegro, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Macedonia, and Turkey and made dozens of recordings of the Albanian language.[2]

As a translator Robert Elsie offered the reader “a selection of songs from the best known cycle of Albanian epic verse”.[3]

Elsie during his lifetime authored many works of scholarship and had no major unpublished work left for completion prior to his death.[2]


Grave site of Robert Elsie in Theth cemetery

On October 2, 2017 Robert Elsie died of motor neuron disease in Bonn, Germany.[4][5][6] His last words before passing away were "death is so boring. So slow. One only waits for it".[2] At the time of Elsie's death, it was initially reported in the media that he had requested in his will to be buried in Albania,[7][5][8] although it emerged two weeks after those events that Elsie did not specify in his will where to be buried.[2] Instead it was the decision of his life partner, Stephan Trierweiler, that he should be buried in Albania due to the deep love Elsie had for the country.[2]

Elsie's coffin was brought to Albania to lay in repose at the National Library in Tirana for people to come and pay their respects.[8] A farewell ceremony paying tribute to Elsie was held in Tirana, bringing together friends, academics and politicians from Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia.[2] During his lifetime, Elsie developed a fondness for Theth, seeing it as an Albanian "Shangri-La". On October 18, he was buried in the northern village located in the Albanian Alps.[8][2] A prolific author of scholarly works, Elsie's untimely death within the context of Albanian studies has been seen as a "big blow" for its international promotion.[2]


Below are a selection of his publications of which he was an author, editor or translator. Elsie published around 60 books in English, Albanian or German.

  • Robert Elsie, Baron Franz Nopcsa and his contribution to Albanian studies.[9]
  • Robert Elsie (2001). The Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology and Folk Culture. Hurst & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1850655701.
  • Robert Elsie, ed. (2006). Balkan Beauty, Balkan Blood : Modern Albanian Short Stories (Writings from an Unbound Europe). Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-2336-3.
  • Robert Elsie (2006). Albanian Literature: A Short History. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 1-84511-031-5.
  • Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck, ed. (2004). Songs of the Frontier Warriors: Kenge Kreshnikesh--Albanian Epic Verse in a Bilingual English-Albanian Edition. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers; Bilingual edition. ISBN 0-86516-412-6.
  • Visar Zhiti [sq] (2004). The Condemned Apple : Selected Poetry. Robert Elsie (Translator). Green Integer; Bilingual edition. ISBN 1-931243-72-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Robert Elsie (2011). Historical Dictionary of Kosovo. Historical Dictionaries of Europe. Vol. 79. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-7231-8.
  • Robert Elsie (2010). Historical Dictionary of Albania. Historical Dictionaries of Europe. Vol. 75. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6188-6.[permanent dead link]
  • Robert Elsie (2013). Leo Freundlich: Die Albanische Korrespondenz, Agenturmeldungen aus Krisenzeiten. Oldenburg Verlag. ISBN 978-3-486-70716-8.
  • Robert Elsie (2013). Biographical Dictionary of Albanian History. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-78076-431-3.
  • Robert Elsie (2013). The Cham Albanians of Greece: A Documentary History. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-780760-00-1.
  • Robert Elsie (2013). The Balkans Wars: British Consular reports from Macedonia in the Final Years of the Ottoman Empire. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-780760-76-6.
  • Robert Elsie (2015). The Tribes of Albania: History, Society and Culture. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9780857739322.
  • Robert Elsie (2019). The Albanian Bektashi: History and Culture of a Dervish Order in the Balkans. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781788315715.


  •   Medal of Gratitude (Albania, 15 May 2013) – decorated by President of Albania Bujar Nishani. Robert Elsie received the honour for his contributions as a scholar for over 35 years focusing and internationally promoting the "culture, language, literature and history of Albanians" alongside the "positive image of Albania in the world".[10] Offering his gratitude, President Nishani referred to Elsie as "a good Albanian".[10]


  1. ^ "Robert Elsie". Macmillan. 2009-12-04. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Robert Elsie's last wish comes true as Albanologist laid to rest in Albanian Alps". Tirana Times. 22 October 2017.
  3. ^ John Kolsti. "Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck, eds. and trans". Folklorica. Retrieved June 26, 2012.
  4. ^ "Robert Elsie's web site". 2017-10-02. Retrieved 2017-10-02.
  5. ^ a b "Robert Elsie, one of the greatest Albanologists, passes away at 67". Tirana Times. 2 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Shuhet në moshën 67-vjeçare albanologu i njohur Robert Elsie". 2 October 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  7. ^ "Ka ndërruar jetë albanologu i shquar Robert Elsie". 2 October 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Semini, Llazar (17 October 2017). "Albania pays last respects to Robert Elsie, folklore scholar". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 17 October 2017.
  9. ^ Robert Elsie. "Baron Franz Nopcsa and his contribution to Albanian studies". Albanian Photography. Archived from the original on 2014-06-13. Additional archives: 13 June 2014, 25 February 2011. The essay, first published on Elsie's website, is the basis for the "Introduction" to Nopcsa's memoirs titled Traveler, Scholar, Political Adventurer (2014) edited by Robert Elsie.
  10. ^ a b "President Nishani awards the Medal of Gratitude to the distinguished Albanologist Robert Elsie". Archived from the original on 9 October 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2013.

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