Books in English
General history
Medieval history
Orthodox Christianity
Petrovic Njegos Dynasty
Facsimiles of old books
State insignia and heritage
Boka Kotorska
Emigration
Unification with Serbia
Ethnic identity
Video & audio
Interesting items
What's new
Montenegro FAQ
Recommended readings
Njegos.org in Serbian
Articles in French
Montenegrin sites
Who recommends or quotes Njegos.org
Humanitarian corner
Struggle for freedom begins

With the arrival of Turks in the Zeta region, the Highlands and the Coastlands in the late 15th century, much changed in the political organization of these lands, as well as in the way of life of the population. First cases of Islamization resulted in the emergence of a new feudal stratum. The strengthening of the heathen hamlets, patriarchal culture and the conversion to the Serbian religion of a part of the heathens and Arbanas favoured the constitution of clans and a specific tribal way of life which would survive for centuries. The Turks annexed the region of Djuradj Crnojevic (which has come to be known by the name of Crna Gora, or Montenegro) to the territory of the sanjakbei of Skadar, who ruled thorough his subashi (voivode) seated in Zabljak (Zeta). There were Turkish military outposts also in Podgorica and Medun. From these three points, they successfully controlled the valleys of the jurisdiction of a kadi as well as the Highlands. Al of Montenegro was under the jurisdiction of a kadi (shari ah judge). It was divided into seven nahiyes (counties). Zuta, the Malonosics, the Pjesivacs, Cetinje, Rijeka and Crmnica. (The names of the six nahiyes were given in a defter or register of 1523, but the name of the seventh was omitted.)

In 1513. Montenegro became a separate sanjak (district) under the administration of Skenderbei (Stanisa), the youngest son of Ivan Crnojevic, converted to Islam in 1485. He ruled with the help of "24 squires", and had his family seal and coat of arms. The obligations of the people to the central Turkish authority were changed. A special law (kanun-nama or code of 1523) described Montenegro as an "impassable mountainous country, and the raya (horde, non Turkish subjects) cannot pay the tithe, poll tax, tribute and other dues", so that, according to "heathen customs," there had to be introduced lump sum taxation, with each household (there were a total of 3,151 at the time) and estate paying 55 akches (silver ieces) - 33 to the Sultan, 20 to the sanjakbei and 2 to the tax collector - and giving a worker for 15 day s labor in the salt mines in Grbalj. Muslims (the privileged chieftains) were exempt from paying these dues, but were responsible for their collection. The towns of Kotor and Budva paid tariffs directly to the Sultan. Sanjakbei Skenderbei had other sources of income, apart from this tax, so that his income in 1523 totaled 103,000 akches. These changes abolished also two Christian spahilich (feudal estates) and one kadi estate, so that the peasants became free and independent of the spahis (feudal lords). After the death of Skenderbei, Montenegro was again annexed to the Skadar sanjak, and shortly after to the Dukadjin sanjak and, for a time, to the Herzegovina sanjak. These changes seem to have been caused by the central Turkish authority's dissatisfaction with the tax collection.

In the second half of the 16th century, Montenegro witnessed the appearance of a growing number of Muslims in the fertile region and in the towns. They began seizing and settling in estates and fisheries. In their arrogance, they did not shy even from monastery estates, confiscating them or imposing tithes. This state of affairs forced the monks at the Kom and Vranjina Monasteries to complain to the Sultan in Constantinople.

Records show that in 1570. Montenegro had 2,951 households and 26 estates paying taxes and 35 Muslim households which did not have this obligation. According to another source (dating back to the year 1614), Montenegro had at the time 87 villages with 3,377 households. The Montenegro of the time comprised five nahiyes: the Katuns, the Pjesivacs, Rijeka, Ljeskopolje and Crmnica. A comparision between the territories and the number of households in the early 16th and the early 17th centuries shows an insignificant rise in the population.

Conflicts began to break out within Montenegrin society with the strengthening of the Serbian Christian Orthodox Church, the Turkish feudal stratum and the creation of a domestic aristocracy. The Church maintained a certain territorial integrity of Montenegro, nurtured an awareness of the Serbian state and the Nemanjic era. It was based in the Cetinje Monastery (which was the most powerful economically) and the influence of the Monastery of Moraca was strong in the Highlands. Most often, the source of conflict was the refusal (not only in Montenegro) of the people to pay taxes. This caused the first armed clashes and, in part, haiduk life, which would prove a lucrative line of business.

The position of Montenegro as an imperial has (a has was a feudal estate which brought to the "lord of the land" in excess of 100,000 akches per annum), suited both the Turkish central authority and the population. The authorities took a realistic view of the economic inadequacy of the region and the maintenance of the state apparatus in the territory. Between the authorities and the heads of families there were only the local men - chieftains (Muslims). This autonomy de facto was consolidated at the time of the appoint by the Sultan, of Vujo Rajcev as the "head of all Montenegro", giving him feudal privileges. It is not quite clear whether it was in the late 16th or the early 17th century that the Montenegrins obligations to the Sultan underwent a change: the tax was replaced by a tribute in the form of a harach (poleax), which the entire region paid to the Sultan. It was ordained that the tribute could be collected only by the tribute could be collected only by the person appointed by the Sultan himself, and the other imperial officials did not have the right to travel in Montenegro without the Sultan's authority. The Montenegrins had an obligation to serve in the army, even outside their country, if called upon to do so by the Sultan. Montenegro's autonomy was reelected also in the existence of self governing bodies: 2. the Montenegrin Assembly, 2. the People's Court, which had 24 jurors (headmen). The casting vote in the Assembly was held by the bishop (the highest Church dignitary) and the chieftains. Troubles for Montenegro and the Montenegrins came mainly not from a firm status of the acts of the central Turkish authority, bu from the neighboring Islamic feudal lords and their constant desire to seize adjacent estates. In this perpetual strife, the local Turkish authorities invariably made use of the Montenegrin disunity and their poor relations with the Highlanders and the Herzegovina clans. This was what happened in 1634. when the Turks stifled a rebellion of the Kuc and the Piper clans. A refusal of the Montenegrins to pay tribute prompted the sanjakbei of Skadar in September 1645 to mount an expedition to collect the imperial tax at arms. United Montenegrins and Grbljans offered strong resistance, but normalized relations with the new sanjakbei in April of the next year. In time, the Venice Republic emerged as an important political force in Montenegro, Initial contacts were probably made in coastal towns (the trading ports for salt) and the Pastrovics, which recognized the authority of Venice. Early in the Candian war between Turkey and the Republic of Venice in 1646-47, the Mainas, Pobors and Grbljans took the side of the enemies of Turkey. With their help, the Venetian army seized Cetinje. This success had little significance, because the Turks defeated the Venetian army in 1649. and pushed it back all the way to Kotor. The results of the Candian war were, on the whole, not unfavorable for the Montenegrins, because Turkish authority in no way disturbed their original autonomy. However, the unfavorable part, which would prove of far reaching consequence, was the consolidation of Turkish feudalism in the fertile valleys of Montenegro.

Clan Society

Developing of clans was a slow process, based on blood relations. This was most important for the creation of fraternities which make up a clan. Fraternities could be of different origin, and oral tradition had generated an awareness of origin from a single common progenitor. Another factor was the economic and geographical factor, with each clan having its own territory which was clearly demarcated and inviolable and defended at arms, if need be. The territories of the clans corresponded to the territories of the districts, which formed the nahiyes. The number of districts in the late 17th century corresponded to the number of clans in the 19th century.

Fraternities were made up of families, and the families, of households. Each member of a household and family was equal with the other members. This principle of family democracy existed also on the level of clans. The supreme organ of a clan was the assembly which could be attended by all members of the clan. Assemblies decided on all questions of importance to the life of the clan. The executive body was the Council of Tribal Headmen, which was made up of the chieftain, the headmen of the fraternities and, occasionally, prominent husbands. The most influential of the headmen came from the strongest fraternities. At the helm of a tribal array was usually the chieftain (voivode) and other tribesmen were the troops.

What characterized all tribal societies, in such a way those of Montenegro, the Highlands and Herzegovina, were frequent conflicts among the clans. The causes of wars were vendettas, usurpation or infringement of pasture land or water rights. The poor country and the undeveloped economy produced banditry as a specific phenomenon. Bands and individuals mounted expeditions against the territories of others, incursions into another's estates and holdups of trading caravans for the propose of looting and plundering. This form of war - banditry - was thus turning into an economic activity which naturally over time produced a feeling among the Montenegrins that banditry was a heroic venture, that it was in fact, a form of struggle for liberation and independence and that work detracted from the dignity of a warrior. All this found expression in folk poetry and the oral tradition in general which has considerably influenced the outlook of the subsequent generations.

The reality in Montenegro was marked also by poor public safety and a general legal insecurity. Disputes of whatever nature were dealt with by fraternal and tribal councils and assemblies on the basis of customary law. Problems began with the execution of the sentences. The ultimate punishment was banishment from the clan and confiscation of property. the bloody reaction from the Turkish state, included, punitive military expeditions. The development of banditry over a feud and the vendetta were responsible for the greatest part of inter clan disunity, but not to an extent where they obscured the general Montenegrin interest and the awareness of a compact community held together by a common religion language and tradition. A strongly integrative role was played by the Orthodox Church, the Bishopric of Cetinje, headed by the bishops, which nurtured an awareness of the Serbian state of the Nemanjics.

At the dawn of the 18th century, in 1707, an event occurred in Montenegro, known as the liquidation of the converts to Islam (Islamized Christians), which would become a grand theme in folk poetry and the famous Gorski Vijenac (The Mountain Wreath) epic of P.P. Njegos. Its initiator was Bishop Danilo Scepcevic (later Petrovic), invested by Patriarch Arsenije III Carnojevic in 1700. The event itself was highly localized in character (it happened in the clan of the Djeklics) but, from the historical point of view, it marked the beginning of a process which would continue throughout the 18th century and end with the disappearance of converts.

First conflicts with Turkey

The early 18th century was characterized by another event which would have far-reaching consequences for the history of Montenegro. This was the establishment of contacts with Orthodox Russia. It began in 1710, with Peter the Great of Russia calling on all Balkan Christians to unite in a war against Turkey. then followed the arrival in Montenegro of Russian emissaries - Colonel Mihajlo Miloradovic and Captain Ivan Lukacevic - in the summer of 1711. They brought an "Imperial Charter", money and immediately organised battle with help from Bishop Danilo. The battle, which involved Montenegrin, Highland and Herzegovina clans, attained unprecedented proportions. They attacked (though not conquered) Niksic, Spuz and Gacko. The neighbors, two republics - the Republic of Venice and the Dubrovnik Republic - did not support the warring Serbian clans; on the contrary, feigning neutrality, they in fact prevented them from obtaining war materiel.

Further developments in 1711 in no way favored the Montenegrins and Highlanders: the Turkish army defeated the military of Russia's Emperor Peter I on the River Prut, bringing to an end the Turkish-Russian war. The next year, 1712, Turkey turned against Montenegro. The Sultan entrusted the punitive expedition to Ahmed-pasha. The pasha's superior army (which numbered an improbable 20,000 troops, according to Venetian sources), battled its way to Cetinje in early August. Bishop Danilo and Colonel Miloradovic, with some 500 men, retired to Herzegovina, leaving Ahmed-pasha to plunder the Cetinje Monastery and force into submission some of the clans. Since Cetinje and Montenegro could not support a large Turkish military outpost, Ahmed-pasha's army withdrew, and the Montenegrins resumed their banditry. This prompted the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman Court in Constantinople) to mount another punitive expedition. In the summer of 1714, the expedition was led by the vizier of Bosnia, Numan-pasha Cuprilic, According to Venetian sources, Cuprilic's army numbered some 30,000 men. The expedition has gone down in history for its ruthlessness, plundering and destruction, unrivaled by any other expedition, pas or future. The Montenegrin resistance, fierce and heroic though it was, could not accomplish any positive results: Bishop Danilo had managed to evacuate to Russia in time, and about 2.300 people fled to Venetian territory. This state of affairs was not conducive to peace. On the contrary. Venice's refusal to extradite the Montenegrin refugees was taken by Turkey as cause for war which it declared on December 10,1714. The new Montenegrin-Venetian alliance failed in the course of the year 1715 to turn the tide of war either in the diplomatic field or on the front. In early 1716, Bishop Danilo returned from Russia with a gift: he had received 2,700 ducats and 13,400 rubles from the Emperor. Another favorable circumstance was Austria's entry in the war.

The ultimate object of the Montenegrin struggle against Turkey was final liberation from Turkish rule and they were prepared to have it replaced by Venetian rule. A Montenegrin delegation (of headmen) formulated a 12-point proposal to Venice on February 23.1717, under which Montenegro should be placed under Venetian protection. the proposal guaranteed internal self-rule and church autonomy, salaries and pension benefits to the headmen and, naturally, military and financial assistance. The Venetian senate accepted the proposal without taking a comprehensive look at the actual situation. The newly made allies mounted some military operations (attack on Bar and Ulcinj), but without any substantial results. Independently of the legal situation created with the signing of the treaty between Montenegro and Venice, the war ended with the signing of a peace treaty in Pozarevac on July 21, 1718, under which Montenegro continued to be regarded as part of the Ottoman Empire but without four of its communes (Mainas, Pobors, Grbaljs and Brajics), which were given to the Venice Republic. At that time, Montenegro comprised the following nahiyes: the Katuns, the Pjesivacs, Rijeka, the Ljesans and Crmnica. Montenegro's population in the 18th century is estimated at between 15 thousand and 40 thousand. Turkish domination was exercised through control of the towns (Bar, Podgorica, Zabljak, Spuz) and the exacting of a tribute, which the pasha of Skadar collected by force, if necessary. The only nahiye that was truly free and outside Turkish control was the Katuns nahiye. In order to consolidate their authority and facilitate the launching of punitive expeditions, the Turks fortified the Skadar-Gaco line, with strongholds at Spuz, Niksic and Trebinje, where they manned permanent military outposts (garrisons). The Treaty of Pozarevac, regardless of the fact that in annulled, both de facto and de jure, the Venetian protectorate of Montenegro, helped the people recover from Cuprilic's expedition. Peace continued until 1736. This state of affairs suited the venetian Republic, too, which was loath to enter into fresh conflicts with Turkey. This did not mean that Venice no longer had an interest in Montenegro. On the contrary, fully aware of its weakness in comparison with Russia and Austria, it strove to maintain and consolidate its influence with money, which it gave to individual headmen. Bishop Sava, nephew and successor to Bishop Danilo, was also under Venetian influence, but only for a time, until he ceded his place to his cousin Vasilije Petrovic. Thus, contrary to practice, the bishop's miter became hereditary in the House of Petrovic.

Bishop Danilo died in 1735, and Austria and Russia embarked on another war against Turkey the following year. During the war, the Montenegrins kept their peace, apart from limited banditry. The 1739 Belgrade Treaty, too, signed between the belligerents, brought to change in Montenegro.

Reliance on Russia

The internal situation in Montenegro and an obviously altered ratio of forces between the Christian powers (Russia and Austria) and Turkey prompted Montenegro to launch a foreign political initiative. First, Bishop Sava left for Russia (in 1742) seeking financial assistance, which he obtained, and then Vasilije, the bishop's cousin, left of his own accord For Venice (in 1744). This triggered a conflict between the cousins, but after a reconciliation, Vasilije, as archimandrite, became Sava's assistant. Vasilije was appointed bishop by Serbian Patriarch Atanasije in Belgrade in 1750. After this act, Vasilije left for Vienna where, again on his own, he solicited Empress Maria Theresa's protectorate for Montenegro. This was not taken seriously in Vienna. However, Vasilije could not sit still: in 1752. he went to Russia, to remain for two years. There, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, he got to meet many functionaries, explaining the position of his homeland and people and again, this time from the Emperor of Russia, soliciting protection and proposing that the "Principality of Montenegro should be included in the title of His Imperial Majesty." All this came to nowhere, but the failure did not totally discourage Vasilije. in the pursuit of his plans, ideas and visions, he wrote Istorija o Cernoj Gori (A. History of Montenegro) with a certain disregard for the historical facts, so that it acquired the characteristics of historical-political memoirs. It so happened that the author was thinking in terms of politics and wanted to produce direct political effects. Returning from Russia (with 5.000 rubles and church books) to Montenegro, Vasilije embarked on an anti-Turkish and anti-Venetian policy. His refusal to pay taxes and continued banditry again provoked a Turkish punitive expedition. The expedition was launched in November of 1756. The Montenegrins, led by Governor Stanislav Radonjic, offered fierce resistance which however proved insufficient to prevent the Turks from reaching all the way to Cevo. Heavy reins discouraged them from an expedition to Cetinje, which the Montenegrin oral tradition interprets as a great Montenegrin victory. The next year, a truce was signed, under which Montenegro undertook to pay taxes and abandon the practice of banditry. Bishop Vasilije, who had fled to Venice before the Turkish expedition., wrote to Count Bestuzhev-Ryumin about the Turkish assault and begged Empress Elizaveta Petrovna to intercede with the Sublime Porte and the Venice Seignitory on behalf of Montenegro.

The restless spirit of Bishop Vasilije and his efforts to obtain as much assistance as possible led him to Russia for a second time. He arrived in the late winter of 1758, and again developed a lively activity. His fantastic suggestions (that the Russian Court annually pay Montenegro 50.000 chervontsi, that the Russian Court obtain from Empress Marija Theresa the port-town of Rijeka for easier traffic with Montenegro, and the like) impaired his reputation. His downfall in Russia was plotted by none other than members of his entourage Monk Teodosije Mrkojevic and Major Sarovic. All this intensified the suspicions of the russian Court, which reflected on the financial aid given to Vasilije (1,000 ducats for the people, 50 ducats to each member of the delegation, 50 rubles a month to all for expenses incurred during the visit, 2,000 rubles for the road, 1,000 rubles to Vasilije and 3,000 rubles to the Monastery of Cetinje, with the Holy Synod throwing in another 1,000). The suspicion was reflected also in that Vasilije left for Montenegro accompanied by Colonel Puchkov, who had orders to distribute 15,000 rubles among the Montenegrins and report on the situation in Montenegro. In the autumn of 1759, after several weeks in Montenegro, Colonel Puchkov made his report, none too flattering either for the Montenegrins or for Vasilije himself: "The people are wild, they live in disorder, heads roll for the least offense, the clergy is grasping, the churches deserted, Russian assistance distributed among the bishop's cousins." The report had nothing good to say of Vasilije, and few good things of Bishop Sava. It is not known how this affected Vasilije, but it is known that he changed his behavior: he inaugurated a policy of peace, recommended the payment of taxes and devoted himself to good works in order to improve the financial standing of the Cetinje Monastery until June of 1765, when he went on his third visit to Russia. Here he again pursued his usual activities: he begged Russia for money and protection for Montenegro. Nothing came of it, and Vasilije died suddenly in March of 1766 in St. Petersburg, where he was buried.

Vasilije's policy of reliance on Russia left lasting consequences: it mostly developed and consolidated the Montenegrins' love for Russia, which would substantially and constantly define both the home and foreign policy orientations of Montenegro. Direct financial assistance received by Vasilije from the Russian Court mostly benefited the Cetinje Monastery, whose enrichment led to its becoming the shrine for all Orthodox Christians in Montenegro, the Highlands and Boka. Officially, the bishops were only the spiritual leaders of the Cetinje Metropolitan, but in fact they played a most important political role.


Serbian State in Zeta (X - XV c.) | Contents | Dreams of the Montenegrin Man
Serb Land of Montenegro