Ali was born in 1740 into a powerful clan in the village Beçisht, at the foot of the Këlcyrë mountains near the Albanian town of Tepelenë. He was one of the Tosk tribes and his ancestors had for some time held the hereditary office of bey of Tepeleni. His father Veli was bey (and possibly a retired Janissary).
About his origin, Robert Elsie, an expert in Albanian culture and affairs, states that he was born of a Turkish family from Anatolia. However, this has been refuted since it was proven that his family originated from southern Albania. According to other sources Ali Pasha was part of the Albanian Lab tribe´ (Liapis). As this tribe was in disrepute among the other Albanians for their poverty and predatory habits, he thought it proper to call himelf after Tepeleni, a town of the Tosks. No one dared to dispute this until after his death.
Ali's father, Veli Bey, was murdered when Ali was fourteen years old by neighbouring rival chiefs who seized the territories of his Tosk tribe. The family lost much of its political and material status following the murder of his father. In 1758, his mother, Hanko, a woman of extraordinary character, thereupon herself formed and led a brigand band, and studied to inspire the boy with her own fierce and indomitable temper, with a view to revenge and the recovery of their lost wealth. According to Byron: "Ali inherited 6 dram and a musket after the death of his father ... Ali collected a few followers from among the retainers of his father, made himself master, first of one village, then of another, amassed money, increased his power, and at last found himself at the head of a considerable body of Albanians".
Ali became a famous brigand leader and attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities. He was assigned to suppress brigandage and fought for the "Sultan and Empire" with great bravery, particularly against the famous rebel Pazvantoğlu. He aided the pasha of Negroponte (Euboea) in putting down a rebellion at Shkodër, it was during this period that he was introduced to the Janissary units and was inspired by their discipline. In 1768 he married the daughter of the wealthy pasha of Delvina, with whom he entered an alliance.
His rise through Ottoman ranks continued with his appointment as lieutenant to the pasha of Rumelia. In 1787 he was awarded the pashaluk of Trikala in reward for his services at Banat during the Austro-Turkish War (1787–1791). In 1788 he seized control of Ioannina, and enlisted most of the Brigands under his own banner. Ioannina would be his power base for the next 33 years. He took advantage of a weak Ottoman government to expand his territory still further until he gained control of most of Albania, western Greece and the Peloponnese.
During war-time, Ali Pasha could assemble an army of 50,000 men in a matter of two to three days, and could double that number in two to three weeks. Leading these armed forces was the Supreme Council. The Commander in Chief was the founder and financier, Ali Pasha. Council members included Myftar Pasha, Veli Pasha, Xheladin bej Ohri, Abdullah Pashe Taushani and a number of his trusted men like Hasan Dervishi, Halil Patrona, Omar Vrioni, Meço Bono, Ago Myhyrdari, Thanasis Vagias, Veli Gega (murdered by Katsantonis), and Tahir Abazi.
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