first traces of human settlement in the present-day territory of Montenegro
date from the middle Palaeolithic period. Archaeological finds from the
Crvena stijena (Red Rock) cave contain artefacts from different epochs
held to be between 60 and 35 millennia old. These were mostly tools, hunting
weapons, jewellery and items used for religious purposes. Objects close
to the Starcevo culture have been discovered throughout present-day Montenegro,
thus traces of human settlement bespeak of a continuity of living in these
spaces before any document emerged.
Human detriments were first mentioned in Psuedo-Skilis' work dating from the
4th century BC. The Illyrian tribes Ardijeji and Enheleji lived in the
territory of present-day Boka. The Romans fought during the First Illyrian
War (229-228 BC) and the Second Illyrian War (219) against the Ardijejis.
The Romans drove them from the littoral into the interior, where they died
out eventually. To the south, around Lake Skadar, lived the Leojejis who
had the fortified towns of Scutari and Meteon. The Doklejis lived nearby.
Roman conquest ended with the Third Illyrian War (107-108) BC. The Romans
encompassed all the territories but failed to consolidate their authority.
In AD 6, Baton fomented an uprising which lasted for three years. Only
after suppressing the uprising did the Romans strengthen their rule and
gradually begin Romanizing these regions. When the Roman Empire split into
the Eastern and Western empires, the territory of present-day Montenegro
belonged to the province of Previlis or Prevalis. The province was centred
in present-day Scutari, and the population lived chiefly by farming and
livestock breeding. The earliest Slavic settlers arrived in the 6th century,
bur soon moved on. Their arrival resembled plundering raids rather than
actual habitation. Actual Slavic colonization took place in the 7th century;
first the Slavs launched attacks with the Avars, and then continued on
their own, settling down and establishing larger settlements. Mingling
with the indigenous population, they adopted many of their customs and
took up farming.
Information about the first Serbian state in Zeta is quite unreliable until the 11th
century. What can be stated positively is that he first Serbian state in
Zeta encompassed a region subsequently called Brda and a small part of
the Montenegrin coast. Its northern border stretched from Risan up to the
source of the Piva river, and the southern border descended to Kotor and
Scutari. In the 11th century, the Byzantine towns of Kotor and Scutari
became part of the state of Zeta though most of the population was Roman
and would remain so until the 17th century.
The first ruler of Zeta about whom some information has been preserved was
Jovan Vladimir. He ruled from 970-1016 and his capital was in Scutari.
When unrest broke in the state of Tsar Samuel of Macedonia, Vladimir refused
to recognize Samuel's suzerainty and tried to become independent. The war
lasted for several years, and Vladimir was defeated. Samuel took Zeta,
captured Vladimir and imprisoned in Struga. Soon after, however, Vladimir
and Samuel reconciled. Samuel gave Vladimir the hand of his daughter in
marriage and invested him with governance of Zeta.
Aside to this historical story runs a legend which subsequently served as the
basis for many medieval novels about Vladimir and Kosara, and attained
literary actualization during the period of national romanticism. History
and legend concur up to the point when Samuel captured Vladimir. Legend
has it that Princess Kosara saw the prisoner, took pity on him and then
fell in love. She prevailed upon her father and Vladimir became the Tsar's
son-in-law. After the death of Samuel, his nephew Vladislav invited Vladimir
to Struga to confer with him and had him killed while the latter was leaving
church. According to the legend, Kosara endeavoured to convince Vladimir
not to trust Vladislav, but failed. After Vladimir's death strife was created
in Zeta over the throne in which Vladislav attempted to become involved,
though without much success. The grave of Vladimir and Kosara lies in Scutari,
and the Orthodox Church has made him a saint.
In the struggles for power, Vojislav (1034-1050) gained dominion over Zeta
and Trebinje by relying on Byzantium and recognizing the suzerainty of
the Byzantine emperor. After the death of Basil II when unrest broke out
in Byzantium, Vojislav stirred up an uprising in an attempt to take advantage
of the situation. The uprising was quickly crushed, Vojislav was captured
and taken to Constantinople. Breaking out of prison, he returned to Zeta,
fomented another uprising and after defeating the Byzantine near Bar (1042),
Vojislav retrieved Zeta and Trebinje and annexed Raska and Hum to his state.
Mihajlo Vojislavljevic (1051-1081), the son of Vojislav, hastened to reconcile
with Byzantium and recognize its suzerainty in order to consolidate his
rule. After a considerable period of time, when an uprising of Macedonian
Slavs broke out under Djordje Vojteh (1072) in Byzantium, Mihajlo assessed
he should take part in it, sending troops commanded by his son Bodin to
aid the insurgents. Bodin defeated the Byzantine army near Prizren but
suffered heavy losses at Paun in Kosovo, falling captive to Byzantium.
As the unrest in Byzantium failed to quiet, Mihajlo took advantage of a
Norman meditation to release his son Bodin and obtain independence. He
appealed to Pope Gregory VII who recognized him as king, separated Zeta
from the archbishopric in Split and established a bishopric in Bar (1077).
The last of the more significant rulers of Zeta prior to the period of the
Nemanjic house was Bodin (1081-1101). Bodin pursued the policy of his father,
relying on the Curia and the Normanís rather than waging a direct war with
Byzantium, the occupied Bosnia and Raska. When Byzantium checked the Normanís,
Bodin reconciled with it, losing Raska in return. To compensate, the Pope
raised the bishopric to the rank of archbishopric and granted the archbishop
of Bar the title of primate of Serbia. After the death of Bodin, struggles
for the throne broke out again, lasting for several decades. Bodin's first
heir was a certain Vukan from Raska who should not be confused with Nemanja's
son Vukan who governed Zeta after Nemanja's abdication. Finally, the grand
zupan of Raska Stefan Nemanja became involved in the struggles, and with
aid from Byzantium from 1183-1196 extended his rule on to Zeta.
Cultural circumstances in the early state of Zeta
The oldest written document preserved from the early state of Zeta is the Genealogy
of Bar dating from the 12th century, referred in scientific circles as
the Chronicle of Pope Dukljanin. The original has not been preserved. There
is enough evidence to indicate that it was written in the Slavic. Only
one copy of the Latin translation, which was discovered in Bar, has been
preserved. The Chronicle, though not very reliable, is the sole source
of information for the early period in the history of Zeta. It contains
traditions testifying to the existence of different forms of popular creativity
by word of mouth. The Genealogy also includes individual documents of which
originals have not been preserved.
Individual forms o written literature, chiefly prayer-books and liturgies, existed
in the coastal towns of Budva, Bar, Ulcinj, Kotor and Perast for the churches
erected there. Some of the contain the hagiographies of saints to whom
they are dedicated. The most renown shrines dating from that period are
the church of St Trifun in Kotor (809), the church of St Mihailo in Ston
(late 10th an early 11th centuries) and the St Toma church in Kuti (11th
century). The churches were erected chiefly in the Roman or Byzantine styles
until 1228 and the appearance of Franciscans who endeavoured to introduce
their own style. Unfortunately, only fragments of the paintings have been
Even though Stefan Nemanja directly engaged in the struggles for Zeta and won
dominion over it, he was officially granted the rule by Byzantium. At the
time, state traditions in Zeta were so firmly established that it received
a kind of autonomy. Zeta was ruled by a governor who was by tradition heir
to the throne of Raska. When Nemanja abdicated, leaving the throne to his
younger son Stevan, his eldest son Vukan received governance of Zeta. For
a short period, Raska and Zeta were separated. When Vukan engaged in a
war with his brother and St Sava reconciled them, the unity of Zeta and
Raska was resorted. However, Zeta continued to nurture strong, separatistís
tendencies during the entire Nemanjic period. The roots of this stem not
only from the established state tradition but also the different cultural
level of the two Serbian provinces. Compared with Raska, Zeta was economically
more developed and culturally advanced.
The advance continued during the Nemanjic period, in particular during the
reign of King Uros I who marked roads, opened mines, granted benefits to
coastal towns which developed trade, erected new churches and monasteries
and restored old ones. The king was assisted in this by his mother Jelena
of Anjou who made sure that relations between the Serbian state and the
coastal towns were as good as possible. predominantly Roman or Greek, the
coastal towns had internal autonomy, they paid tribute, but the suzerain
did not interfere in internal affairs. They occasionally changed patrons
which in time helped increase their autonomy. Each town had its own statute
which defined the rules of conduct and under which the municipal administration
Overly impatient heirs sometimes took advantage of the separatist aspirations
nurtured by the landed gentry in Zeta to rise against central rule. Thus
Stefan Decanski, subsequently a king, rose in 1314 against his father King
Milutin; he was defeated, blinded and sent in shackles to Constantinople,
while his younger brother Constantine was invested with governance of Zeta.
Dusan, too, rebelled against his father, but the two eventually reached
an agreement.. The Zeta and Albanian landed gentry would not forgive Dusan
for the agreement. At the beginning of his reign a landed proprietor, Bogoja,
and the Albanian Dimitrije Suma rebelled, apparently aided by Dusan's stepmother,
the widow of Stefan Decanski. Dusan quelled the rebellion and came to terms
with the insurgents, although during the reign of Tsar Uros, with the empire
crumbling down, the landed gentry of Zeta was the first to become independent.
Cultural circumstances during the period of the Nemanjics
Some of the most outstanding literary works and artistic monuments of the Nemanjic
era were created in the spaces of Zeta, above all Miroslav's Gospel, written
in 1180 for Prince Miroslav of Hum, nephew of Stefan Nemanja. It was written
on parchment, adorned with miniatures and initials in color, and accompanied
by illustrations which altogether make a masterpiece in the skill of writing
for many subsequent periods. It was written as a liturgical book for Miroslav's
endowment, the church of St Petar in Bijelo Polje. The church is one of
the first endowments erected by a Nemanjic in these spaces, and also on
of the first monuments erected in this territory during the renaissance
of the Palaeologus dynasty.
Another significant piece of literature is Vukan's Gospel dating from the late
12th and the early 13th centuries. now kept in Leningrad. It was commissioned
by Nemanja's eldest son Vukan and belongs to the same artistic school as
does Miroslav's Gospel. Illustrated with elaborate initials, miniatures,
letters in different colors, it is significant both as an artistic and
literary record of its date.
The Collection of Father Dragoje , written at about the same time, contained
various traditions, legends and anecdotes and was characteristic of the
medieval period. Unfortunately, mere fragments published by Panta Sreckovic
supplemented by his brief descriptions tell us all we know about this work,
as it was burnt away on April 6, 1941 in the National Library in Belgrade.
Wherever they ruled, and thus in Zeta, the Nemanjic rulers left behind many churches
and monasteries as their endowments. Above all, the church of St Petar
in Bijelo Polje, erected between 1124 and 1166. The church was built for
nearly 40 years and contains traits distinctive of a transitional period
in art in which various styles and epochs were mingled. Another edifice
of the Nemanjic epoch is the monastery of Djurdjevi Stupovi (Djuradj's
Columns) of 1219. In addition to rich paintings inside, characteristic
of this period of the Nemanjic epoch, the exterior is elaborately decorated
in plastic. The monastery of Moraca, completed in 1252. is much simpler
on the outside, but its frescos are a tribute to our medieval painting.
The existence of an art school in Kotor whose masters were mainly Franciscans
is concordant in time with the period of the Nemanjic rule in Zeta. In
addition to numerous icons painted for the coastal churches, some of which
reached the other side of the Adriatic, the masters in Kotor also painted
frescos and were good architects. The influence of the Kotor art school
is felt on Studenica, from the marble coating enveloping the church to
the plastic, both on the shrine and on Radosav's parvis. The most renown
master from Kotor was Fra Vito Kotoranin, who painted the endowment of
King Stefan Decanski, the monastery of Visoki Decani, wielding the experiences
of the Renaissance and mingling Byzantine tradition with new trends in
The Balsic family became quite independent towards the close of the reign of
Tsar Uros. They were first mentioned as the rulers of Bar in 1360. Until
1421, they were the actual rulers of Zeta. When Vojislav Vojinovic engaged
in a war with Dubrovnik, the Balsic family did not side with him but displayed
complaisant neutrality towards Dubrovnik. Taking advantage of the war,
they expanded their region from Drivast to Ulcinj. Three brothers, Stratimir,
Djuradj and Balsa strove to establish family ties with the neighbouring
landed gentry and thus further expand their territories. In 1366, the Balsic
brothers formally declined to recognize the supreme rule of Tsar Uros and
relied on Venice, in order to project their independence as much as possible.
Venice agreed to the Balsic brothers having their own fleet in the Adriatic
on condition they never use their ships against the interests of the Republic.
Djuradj Balsic waged wars with Dubrovnik and fought Albanian tribes. After the
death of King Vukasin in 1371, he conquered first Prizren and the Pec.
In a war between King Tvrtko an Prince Lazar against Nikola Altomanovic,
the Balsic brothers sided with Lazar and Tvrtko; they gained Dragicevce,
Konavlje and Trebinje and compelled Dubrovnik to pay annual tribute od
200 perpers. In 1377, Tvrtko seized Dragicevce, Konavlje and Trebinje from
Balsic, and after the death of Djuradj, Vuk Brankovic succeeded in retrieving
Prizren. Djuradj's heir, Balsa II, married the daughter of the Albanian
nobleman Karlo Topi and through the marriage acquired Vlora, Breat and
Himara. He fought a long war with King Tvrtko of Bosnia and defeated him.
Under the peace accord, Balsa II became lord of Durazzo. However, after
his death in 1385, the Albanian towns came into the possession of his wife
and were separated from the state of Zeta. The state of his heir Djuradj
II was reduced to the region of Lake Skadar and a small portion of the
littoral around Ulcinj. A conflict with the Turks ensued and in one of
the battles Djuradj II was captured.
After yielding Scutari to the Turks, Djuradj relied increasingly on Venice, recoiling
more and more from the Turks. Although he was married to the daughter of
Prince Lazar, Jelena, Djuradj II did not take part in the battle of Kosovo.
He apparently strove, rather short-sightedly and erroneously, to steer
his politics towards the Adriatic neighbor and shun Balkan conflicts, but
failed. His heir, Balsa III (1403-1421), radically changed the foreign
policy of Zeta. he viewed Venice as Zeta's arch enemy and waged long and
exhausting wars with it by relying on the Turks. Balsa first attacked Kotor,
and then, took advantage of the 1405 rebellion in Scutari and the Scutari
region against Venice to conquer Scutari and Drivast with Turkish assistance.
Soon the fortunes of war changed and Venice retrieved Ulcinj, Bar, Budva
and a large part of the surrounding area of Scutari and Drivast. Aveary
from the wars, Balsa III went his uncle, Despot Stefan Lazarevic, where
he died. Balsa's death gave Despot Stefan Lazarevic a chance to get involved
in the fresh struggles for Zeta and annex it to the Despotize.
Jelena Balsic, sister of Despot Stefan Lazarevic and daughter of Prince Lazar,
exerted considerable political influence on her son and was an important
cultural figure at her time. She liked to write; the Goricki Collection
has been preserved and contains the correspondence of Jelena Balsic with
individual monks on literature, philosophy, religion and everyday life.
Some art historians consider Jelena Balsic the first Serbian woman writer,
stating in corroboration that her letters were written in good language
in a fine, lapidary style, with a markedly imaginative imagination. In
addition to being a writer, Jelena had several endowments erected, such
as the Mother of God Krajinska, the church of St Djordje in Beska and small
churches in the islands Striceva Gorica and Moranta in Lake Skadar.
Like most feudal lords who wanted to become independent, the Balsic family,
too, devoted much attention to their administration and had a well organized
court office with many scribes who displayed much skill in decorating charters,
engraving seals and perfecting their hand. They gladly issued charters,
granting privileges and recognizing acquired rights to lesser feudal lords,
coattail towns, churches and monasteries. They also minted their own money,
and as much as possible during times of war, the Balsic family did much
to promote handicraft and trade.
After the death of Balsa III, Despot Stevan Lazarevic annexed Zeta to the Despotize
of Serbia, braking off the struggles for the throne which started during
Balsic's sojourn in Serbia and because of which Balsa III left Zeta. The
Venetian succeeded in taking Bar and Ulcinj, and soon after conflicts arose
with what was left of the remnants of Byzantium, with Albanian tribes and
Venice. Fearing Turkey as a major threat, Stefan hastened to come to terms
with his neighbours in Zeta and soon after, by the tradition rendering
him rightful succession to the throne of Zeta, he invested his nephew Djuradj
Brankovic with governance of Zeta. Djuradj fought with the Venetian for
some time and then concluded a peace treaty which in a way represented
a division of the spheres of interest, conceding to Venice Scutari, Bar
and Ulcinj, with Drivast belonging to the Serbian state.
In the struggles for succession after the Balsic family, Stefan, or Stefanica,
Crnojevic rapidly emerged and during the period close to the fall of the
Despotize became one of the most powerful feudal lords in Zeta. After the
fall of the Despotize to the Turks, the Crnojevic family rose, becoming
the last dynasty of Zeta and the first of Montenegro, as the Crnojevic
family named their estate Montenegro and their subjects Montenegrins.
Making advantage of the troubles which raged in these spaces during the entire
period Zeta was part of the Despotize, Stefanica-Stefan Crnojevic opted
for Venice in order to distance himself as much as possible from central
rule. In 1452, he recognized Venetian rule, became the "supreme voivode
of Zeta" and received 500 ducats per annum. The agreement created misunderstandings
in the Crnojevic family, but Stefanica emerged as the winner. The agreement
with Venice also strained relations between the Despot and Crnojevic. When
the Grbljani tribe rose against Venice, Stefanica quelled the rebellion.
After this an attack by the Despot's army ensued and Crnojevic 10th Mt
Zabljak temporarily. The Despot's second army suffered defeat, thus Stefan
Crnojevic expanded his lands to the River Moraca and in 1453 retrieved
Mt Zabljak, areas surrounding the rivers Zeta and Moraca and the surrounding
area of Podgorica.
When the Turks took Medun in 1456, Crnojevic was forced to repulse Turkish attacks
and come nearer to Venice. Under an accord in Vranjina in 1455, a treaty
was concluded with Venice in the communes of Upper Zeta whereby Crnojevic
recognized Venetian suzerainty. Venice was under the obligation not to
interfere in economic relations and respect the laws of the Montenegrin
metropolis. Steering a middle course between Stefan Vukcic Kosaca, who
became increasingly i involved in the affairs of Zeta, Venice and Despot
Djuradj Brankovic, Stefan Crnojevic finally opted for Stefan Crnojevic
finally opted for Stefan Vukcic Kosaca, giving his son Ivan as hostage,
who stayed hostage with Stefan for ten years.
Stefanica was succeeded by Ivan Crnojevic (1465-1490) who tried to rid himself of
Venetian influence. After stirring up the Grblji and Pastrovici clans,
Ivan launched an attack on Kotor but failed to take it. Subsequently Ivan
as hostage, who stayed hostagetor but failed to take it. Subsequently Ivan
and Venice reconciled under the same terms under which Stefan and Venice
cooperated. This compelled Ivan to join the Venetian in their struggles
in Albania which caused fresh complications in his relations with Turkey.
In order to save himself of frequent Turkish raids, Ivan recognized Turkish
suzerainty in 1471 in addition to recognizing Venetian supreme rule, and
was under the obligation to pay 700 ducats annual tribute. As Ivan continued
to rely on Venice, the Turks continued to raid his territory. Ivan stopped
paying tribute after losing lands on the left banks of the Moraca and Zeta
rivers. Venice conferred upon him an aristocratic title, promised him military
aid and shelter should the Turks rout him. After the battle of Scutari,
in which Ivan triumphed, and taking advantage of Turkey's engagement in
Asia Minor, Ivan endeavoured to secure his lands by erecting a chain of
fortresses of which the most well-known is in Obod. Together with Vojvode
Vlatko Vukovic of Herzegovina, he waged wars against Turkey with initial
In early 1477, the Turks launched fresh conquests. One Turkish army attacked
Albania and another Upper Zeta. In 1478, the capital Zabljak fell. Ivan
sought shelter in Italy and Montenegro fell under Turkish dominion temporarily.
Ruling over Ivan's lands was a certain Voivode Daut about whom little is
known. As the Turks were preoccupied with internal strife in the empire
after the death of sultan Mehmed II (1481), Ivan returned to the country
and came to terms with Sultan Bayezid II.
In 1475, Obod became the capital of the Crnojevic state. Soon Ivan moved the
capital to a then unknown village under Mt Lovcen - Cetinje. There, in
1482, he recited his own residence, set up court offices, and two years
later erected the monastery of Cetinje. During his long reign, Ivan achieved
considerable independence in his relations with Venice, but his son Djuradj
consolidated these ties.
During Ivan's reign the economic structure of the country altered. Ivan granted
a large number of benefits to tribal chiefs who gained considerable independence.
He quarrelled with Venice over salt pans in the Adriatic which the Republic
annexed during his refuge in Italy. He restricted trade with coastal towns.
Stimulating handicraft, Ivan wanted to make his state capable of existing
When Djuradj Crnojevic assumed power in 1490, distension was created in the
Crnojevic family pressure increased from the Turks and Venetian. In order
to quiet the Venetian, Djuradj married a Venetian landed properties, which
was not welcomed in Montenegro. If he was not successful enough in foreign
politics, Djuradj was quite successful on the plane of culturally advancing
his country. He founded a printing office in which the first book in the
Cyrillic were printed. Towards the end of his reign, Djuradj made some
arrangements with the Kingdom of Naples with the aim of stirring up Albanian
tribes in southern Italy and creating unrest in Turkey. Djuradj's brother
Stefan stood by the Turks, thus Djuradj was forced to leave the country.
Stefan was the nominal ruler of Montenegro for two years after which he was forced
to leave and Montenegro fell under Turkish dominion. Djuradj attempted
to return from Venice and retake the throne and negotiated on the matter
with the sanjak-bey of Scutari. The sanjak-beysent Djuradj to Istanbul
and the sultan gifted him an estate in Anatolia.
Djuradj's departure to Turkey closed the independence of Montenegro and the territory
was controlled by Djuradj's islamized brother Stanisa Skender-beg.