Saturday, September 25, 2004

---> The History Of Boka Kotorska From Antiquity Until 1918

Croatian Studies

Based on the text "Boka Kotorska od najstarijih vremena do 1918" by Ankica and Josip Pecaric. Summarized and translated by Ivica Kresic, University of Chicago.

American Croatian Review, Year IV, No. 3 and 4, 1997, pp. 15-16.

The sound of Boka Kotorska is the biggest and most beautiful bay in the Adriatic Sea, as well as the southernmost fjord in the world. Its important geographic position, favorable topography, plentiful water and sunlight, along with its pleasant climate, have been attracting people to settle there since prehistoric times.

The oldest archeological findings in Boka date back to the late neolithic period, around 3500 B.C. Unique graveyards and cliff paintings can be traced back to the second millennium B.C. The Greeks are known to have built their colonies in Boka as early as the fourth century B.C. The Romans called the sound Sinus Rbisonicus. The present name of the sound is derived from the Roman word bocca, which means mouth, or opening. Thus, the name Boka Kotorska (Kotor being, of course, Boka's most important town).

The first recognizable long-term inhabitants of Boka were the Illyrians (intermingled with the Celts to a certain degree). By 250 B.C., Boka was part of the Illyrian state under King Agron, its capital was Skadar which is in modern-day Albania. The Illyrians were sea-pirates known to have attacked Greek shipping, providing a pretense for Roman invasion of the region. In the third and last Illyric-Roman war (168 B.C.) the Romans destroyed the Illyrian state and took control of Boka. Their rule lasted until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, around A. D. 476.

During Roman rule, primarily due to Roman immigration and assimilation of the indigenous population, Latin influences in Boka became ingrained and have remained deeply rooted in the area even several centuries after the fall of Rome. (Indeed, one could argue that they can be easily found even today).

Following the implosion of the great Western Roman Empire and 60 years of Gothic rule in the area, Boka came under the increasing influence of the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as Byzantium. The Early medieval period in Boka, as in the rest of Europe, is characterized by the mass migration of largely nomadic tribes, first the Goths, followed by the Avars, and then the Slavs.

During the Slavic migration in the sixth and seventh centuries, Croats settled regions along the Adriatic coast from Istria to Albania, regions as far north as the Drava River, as far west as Sutla, and as far east as the Drina. The oldest historical account from those times, written by a priest of Duclea (Pop Dukljanin), mentions Red Croatia, or Upper Dalmatia, a region which included Boka. Red Croatia united with Western or White Croatia into a single Croatian state as early as the middle of the tenth century.

From the mid-ninth until the end of the twelfth century, Boka was repeatedly under pressure, even periodic rule, from the Byzantine Empire on the one hand, and the states of Duklja-Zeta and Travunja on the other, states which had been formed in Boka's hinterland. By mid-twelfth century, the town of Kotor started to thrive as a maritime trade center, establishing ties with nearby Dubrovnik. The Catholic cathedral of St. Triphon (Sv. Trifun) dates back to 1166 and was built with the help of maritime traders.

From 1185 until 1371, Boka was part of a medieval Serbian state under the Nemanjic dynasty. Even during these times, however, Boka maintained broad autonomy and retained its overwhelmingly Catholic character. Many new towns were springing up along the shores of the sound. The town of Kotor continued to grow in size and influence, and it increasingly attracted various tradesmen like goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and tailors, among others. Kotor's ship building industry was also well known.

During this period, several guilds and fraternities were founded. The oldest and most famous of these fraternities, all of which had religious origins, was the fraternity of sea-farers from Boka or in Croatian, Bokeljska mornarica. It may have been founded as early as the beginning of the ninth century, but definitely existed by mid-twelfth century.

After the death of the last of the Nemanjics, Kotor came (1371) under the protection of the Croatian-Hungarian king, Ljudevit the Great. Ljudevit was the most powerful ruler of the Adriatic region at the time, forcing out Venice from the eastern side of the Adriatic region. After his death, Bosnian king Stjepan Tvrtko I. Kotormanic attempted to impose his rule on Kotor. He succeeded to gain only parts of the bay including the town of Kotor. However, his rule did not leave a lasting impact in the town or the region. The Bosnian rulers are remembered mostly for founding the town of Herceg Novi on the western side of Boka. After Tvrtko's death in 1391, and until 1420, Kotor was, like Dubrovnik, an independent city-state.

The period of Venetian rule over Kotor and Boka started in 1420 and lasted, with a few interruptions, until 1797. It was a period of numerous wars and permanent insecurity on both land and the sea. By the end of the fifteenth century, Turks had conquered the lands of Boka's hinterland, including some lands on the north west side of Boka. For the ensuing 200 years, the sound was thus divided between the Venetians and the Turks. During that time, the population, power, and significance of Kotor decreased dramatically, turning Kotor into one of the most devastated and most pillaged cities in the bay. After the Austro-Venetian war against the Turkish Empire (1715-1718), Venice was able to expand its territories into Dalmatia even further. She took complete control over Boka sound once again, and her rule lasted until the fall of Venice in 1797.

On August 24th, 1798 a Croatian from Lika, general Matija Rukavina, marched alongside Austrian troops into Kotor. Rukavina entered Kotor in the name of the Croatian-Hungarian king, convincing the citizens of Boka to accept the Habsburg rule.

In the midst of the Napoleonic wars, after the Austrian defeat at Austerlitz, Austria was supposed to turn over Boka to the French. However, the Russians, who were not obliged to honor this agreement, in the vain hope of stopping Napoleon's eastward advance, took possession of Boka in 1806. After the Russian defeat at Friedland and after little over a year of Russian rule, Russia was forced to accede Boka to the French. With the fall of Dubrovnik republic in 1808, Boka became territorially connected with the rest of Dalmatia.

In their six years of rule, the French introduced an array of innovations. The most important of these probably being democratization and the abolishment of all aristocratic privileges.

In 1807, the Croatian parliament (Sabor) again requested that Dalmatia, of which Boka was now a part, must be reunited with Croatia and Slavonia. This request would constantly resurface until unification in the latter part of the century.

After the fall of Napoleon in 1813 and while awaiting the final peace settlement, Boka was temporarily united with Montenegro for several months. Two strong factions had emerged in Boka at this time. The pro-Austrian and pro-Montenegrin one favored a union of Boka with Montenegro. This faction was supported mostly by Orthodox villagers living in the hills above the sound who had settled there during Turkish rule. A numerically greater, pro-Austrian faction enjoyed support from predominantly Croatian Catholic coastal cities, as well as some villages. The final decision came at the all-important Vienna Congress of 1814, in which Austria was confirmed as the successor of all the territories of the Venetian and Dubrovnik republics. The Kingdom of Dalmatia was formed, with its capital in Zadar, and Boka became part of the Austrian state. The second Austrian rule was to last for 104 years, until 1918.

In the 1830's, the so called Illyrian Renewal, or the Croatian national revival movement, swept Boka as well. Long after the national homogenization of Boka's minority Serbs, Boka's Croats finally started to unite under their Croatian national identity. The appointment of count Josip Jelacic to the governorship of Dalmatia and the rest of Croatia had finally come. Many songs and poems were written in Jelacic's honor. Croatian tricolors were displayed on all ships as well as in all of Boka's towns alongside the official Austrian flag. However, unification was still some decades away.

At the assembly in 1861, it had been decided that all citizens of Boka, Croats and Serbs alike, unconditionally support the unification of Boka and all of Dalmatia with Croatia proper. Representatives of Boka in Dalmatia's Sabor at the time, three Croats and a Serb, and all members of the People's Party, supported unification with Croatia. Responding to greater-Serbian tendencies, the People's Party gradually shifted its ideological orientation from South-Slavism to Croatianism in the 1870's, when it became the majority party in Dalmatia's Sabor. The final break between the Croatians and the Serbs came after the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1878. The Croatians supported occupation because it reunited Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats with the rest of the Croatian nation, while the Serbs vehemently opposed it, because it ran counter to greater-Serbian claims to Bosnia.

In the second half of the nineteenth century Boka experienced an economic revival. The number of affluent Croatian families increased quite dramatically. Maritime trade regained much of its former glory by 1870. However, the rapid development of the steam ship dealt a fatal blow to Boka's trade - one from which it was never able to recover.

Sharing the fate of the rest of Croatia, Boka became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes after World War I. Thus started the most difficult period in Boka's history - the period in which the greater-Serbian politicians would attempt, and largely succeed, to assume full control of one of Croatia's most beautiful regions.

Interesting, if sad, statistics:

In 1910, Catholics of mostly Croat nationality made up 69 percent of the total population of the town of Kotor, 70 percent in Herceg Novi, and 95 percent in Tivat. In 1991, Croat share in the total population in the same towns was only 7, 2, and 23 percent respectively.



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