HISTORY OF THE FIRST CROATIAN RULERS

(Napisao: gosp. Marko Marelić -  S. Francisco - USA)
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The historical drama of the Croatian people unfolds more rapidly with the expansion of the Frankish power east of the Adriatic under Charlemagne. At the death of his father Pepin in 768, the kingdom of the Franks consisted mainly of the territories of present day France, Belgium and western Germany. This was Charlemagne's inheritance which he shared for a few years with his younger brother Carloman, until the death of the latter in 771. During his lifetime Charles extended the Frankish authority far to the north, east and southeast, until it included the territory of the Lombards, Frisians, Thuringians, Saxons, Bavarians, Avars and Slavs on a wide front extending from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea. So he became the successor of the Caesars, the restorer of power and vitality in the west, the founder of the first Holy Roman Empire.

Following the example of Pepin, who had conducted two successful campaigns against Aistulf of Lombardy, Charles himself invaded Lombardy in 773, and upon deposing Desiderius, successor of Aistulf, proclaimed himself king of the Lombards in 774. He also confirmed the Charter of 756, by which his father Pepin had Aistulf cede the exarchate of Ravenna and the area of Pentapolis (Ancona) into the permanent possession of the Vatican. This territory hence became known as the Papal State. Thus Lombardy together with Tuscany and the Friulian province came immediately under the Frankish sovereignty, while the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento in central and lower Italy recognized of their own accord the authority of Charles. By establishing a march in Friulia, Charles made it a springboard for subsequent campaigns against the Slovenes and Croats.

 

Conquests of Charlemagne

Having completed his campaign in Italy, Charles once more turned his attention to the north, determined to bring under Frankish dominion all the Germanic tribes living hitherto independently. He had already made one campaign against the Saxons in 772, and after tightening his hold on the Alamans, Thuringians and Frisians, he made the subjection of Saxons his main objective. Year after year he returned to the campaign until in 785 he had annexed all of Saxony as far as the Elbe, while the Saxon chieftain Widukind submitted to Charles' authority and accepted the Christian faith. Charles was then free to move against Bavaria, which he had occupied in less than two years, 787-788, practically without bloodshed. With Bavaria, Charles acquired Carinthia, a Slavic country, which was at that time a Bavarian dependency. From this region the authority of the king spread rapidly southeast along the coast, probably after the example of the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. Byzantine Istria also became Frankish.

In possession of many new lands, Charlemagne had to think of their security and protection. They lay open to attacks from the east, and the Avars were a powerful neighbor, known for their many raids in Italy, Bavaria and adjacent lands. In the days of Charles they were no longer as formidable as they had been in the sixth and seventh centuries, yet their power had to be reckoned with. They still held a strategic position along the central and lower Danube, where they inhabited the lowlands of Pannonia and Dacia. They lived in fortified camps of circular shape, and were ready for action on short notice. After a preliminary raid in 791, Charles sent another army from Carinthia against the Avars. After two years of strenuous warfare (795-96) the Frankish forces crushed the Avar resistance. The campaign ended with the capture of the Avar strongholds and seizure of the fabulous wealth massed by the Avars through centuries of looting and plunder. With this defeat the Avars vanished from the scene of history, without leaving a trace of their language or culture behind them. The Avar disaster relieved the Croats and other Slavs in the Balkans of the continuous harassment and overlordship of Bayans successors. [Even though their political power became extinct, racially the Avars, through a long series of generations, maintain themselves to this day. The name Bavaria and Bavarians, assumed a contraction of "Bayu-Avar," together with distinct phonological characteristics of its people indicate their survival.]

As a result of the Frankish victory over the Avars two great events took place: the conversion of the Pannonian Croats to Christianity and the establishment of Frankish rule in the territory between the Sava and Drava rivers extending to their confluence with the Danube River.

Voynimir, duke of Pannonian Croatia, had taken part in the campaign against the Avars and contributed to its success. He now became a vassal of Charlemagne's, and he was expected to pay tribute and to supply troops when called upon. Reflecting the new situation, the Croatians took the name of Charlemagne (Karl) to denote the office of the king. Most other Slavs took over this word with same meaning, since Frankish authority was extended also over the Slovenes, Slovaks, Czechs, Serbs and Vilts, from the Adriatic to the Baltic Sea.

From among the many marches which Charles established in his extensive borderlands for the defense of the frontiers of the kingdom, the most important for Croatian history was that of Friulia. The power of the king was exercised in this region through the authority of the Friulian margrave, and all Frankish inroads in Croatian territory were directed by this official. So in 799 margrave Erich of Friulia attempted to overrun Dalmatian Croatia, but was defeated near Tersat (above Fiume and Sushak) and was killed in the battle. However, a new force of the Franks soon conquered the territory. This acquisition was ratified in a peace treaty, concluded in 803 between Nicephorus, emperor of Byzantium, and Charlemagne. In exchange for his renunciation of Dalmatian Croatia, Nicephorus retained the coastal towns and islands along the coast. Soon another war broke out between the two emperors, and after a naval defeat of the Franks, a new peace was concluded in Aachen (812), confirming the former treaty. Thus Dalmatian Croatia remained under Frankish domination, and the Frankish missionaries soon converted the Dalmatian Croats to Christianity. A special Croatian bishopric was founded in Aenona (Nin) under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope. The Croatian duke, who was elected by the people, submitted to the authority of the Friulian margrave. The first known Dalmatian duke is Visheslav, a Christian, who also resided in Nin between 800 and 810. The first Croatian cathedral erected in Nin, was named after Asel, a Frankish saint.

 

Wars of Lyudevit Posavski against the Franks

After the death of Charlemagne the imperial throne passed to his son, Louis the Pious (814-840), a well-intentioned but ineffective ruler. During his reign the high officials of the empire abused the power of their rank, in promotion of their selfish ends and for personal aggrandizement. Through their exactions the lot of the people became difficult and there was considerable dissatisfaction. The conditions in the Friulian march were no better and the oppressive rule of violence and depredations by margrave Kadallo brought the Croatian people of Pannonia into a rebellious frame of mind.

The duke of Croatian Pannonia Ludevit (literally: man-healer), called Posavski, took to heart the grievances of the common people and aroused by the injustice wrought on his folk by the imperial officials, sought to remedy the situation. After several protests sent to margrave Kadallo remained ineffective, Ludevit sent special envoys to the imperial court in Heristal (818), complaining to the emperor about the oppressive rule of Kadallo. Unable to obtain redress from the emperor, Ludevit and his council decided to call the people to arms. Apprised of the insurrection, Kadallo advanced at the head of the army (819) against the rebellious prince. However, Ludevit defeated the imperial army and Kadallo returned to Friulia, where he died not long after.

In spite of his victory over the Friulian margrave, the Croatian duke sued for peace and offered to the emperor the terms under which he could submit to his sovereignty. The emperor rejected Ludevit's plea, yet expressed willingness to consider other terms. At this turn Ludevit decided to overthrow the Frankish rule and restore full independence of the Croatian people. Realizing the magnitude of the task, Ludevit sought alliance among the neighboring Slavic peoples, who were also smarting under the Frankish rule. The Slovenes, Dacian Slavs and Serbs agreed to join him, but the Dalmatian Croats, influenced by the ambitious and scheming duke Borna (810-821), refused to join the alliance. Borna preferred to remain a vassal of the emperor and took his position with the margrave against Ludevit.

Loyal to their pledge, the Slovenes soon took up arms against the Franks, and Ludevit hastened with his own troops to their aid. In the meantime a Friulian army, headed by margrave Balderic invaded the Slovenian lands. The two armies had several clashes without coming to a decisive battle. Apparently the forces of Ludevit had been ambushed without serious injury and he decided to retreat. However, his retreat was attended by a series of spectacular victories, the echo of which rang far and wide. While he was absent from Pannonia, the Dalmatian duke Borna, as an ally of the Franks, invaded his land. The army of Ludevit fell upon the invaders and in a battle on the banks of Colapis (Kupa), near Sisak, annihilated the Dalmatian army. Borna himself barely escaped death. In retaliation Ludevit invaded Dalmatia, smashing the remainder of Borna's forces. Borna took refuge in a fortification, but did not attempt to meet the invaders in the open. After some lingering in Dalmatia, Ludevit returned with his army to Sisak, his capital.

As the news of Ludevit's victories spread, the rest of the Slovenian population joined in the campaign, and the general dissatisfaction reached as far as the river Socha (Isonzo) in the west. The matter was brought up in the imperial diet early in 820, and the emperor decided to send three armies to the land of the rebellious duke. Borna was present at court and helped to work out a plan for the campaign against Ludevit. So in the spring of the same year three large Frankish armies advanced against the Slovenes and Pannonian Croats. Resistance was stiff but both territories were overrun. Retreating before the overwhelming force of the imperial troops, Ludevit took refuge with his army in an impregnable fort and watched the movements of the enemy. After plundering and devastating the country, the Frankish army returned home without having destroyed the power of Ludevit, who was now free to prepare his country for further struggle and resistance.

The Franks were back in the summer of 821 with three new armies, plundering the towns and laying waste to the fields, but they could not defeat the army of Ludevit, nor could they force him into submission. Again they retired from Pannonia. This new failure caused the emperor to order a campaign with overwhelming forces. It was incidentally the tenth army to be sent against Ludevit. At the news of the impending invasion Ludevit withdrew his troops to Serbia obviously with the intention of staging a comeback with the united forces of the neighboring Slavs.

Meanwhile the traitorous Borna died and Vladislav (821-835) was placed in charge of the government in Dalmatia. Believing that he could win the new duke over to his cause, Ludevit went to Dalmatia. He made the fatal error of accepting the hospitality of Lyudemisl, an uncle of Borna. Probably at the instigation of the Franks, Lyudemisl assassinated the great leader. Although death cut short his plans, Ludevit Posavski stands out as the greatest national figure of the early Croatian history. He had the courage to defy the power of a giant, and vision enough to unite all the oppressed Slavs against the common foe. From his struggles we may conclude that he had planned a large Slavic state along the course of the Danube River, which would have succeeded the Avar power.

 

Bulgarian Raids in Pannonia

After their conquest of Ludevit's land the Franks were not left undisturbed to consolidate their holdings. Under the pressure of a Bulgarian invasion in 827 they had to retire from the country, while the Bulgarians overran most of the territory and left their own chiefs in place of the Frankish counts. In the following year the Friulian march was abolished, its territory reapportioned and its defense reorganized. Friulia, Istria and Croatian Dalmatia were formed into one unit and transferred to the kingdom of Italy, while Carinthia and Pannonia on both sides of the Drava River were subordinated to Louis the German, king of Bavaria. Louis resumed the war with the Bulgars, rather ineffectually. In 829 the Bulgars made a successful drive against the Franks but since both were vitally interested in other theaters of war, the situation remained largely stationary, and a peace treaty was concluded in Paderborn (845). Before this treaty, the Bulgars controlled the eastern half of Slavonia, Sirmium, Belgrade and the northern part of the present-day Serbia, while west of that area duke Ratimir (829-838) asserted his power with Bulgar aid.

After the treaty of Paderborn the Bulgars retained only Sirmium; the rest of Pannonian Croatia seems to have fallen then, or a little later, under the authority of the Bavarian king. The administration of the territory during this period is somewhat uncertain, since the sources speak only of a Croatian Pannonian duke named Braslav (880-896), who was a loyal vassal of the emperor. Upon the election of Charles the Fat as emperor (884-887), Braslav came to render homage to his chief.

During the reign of Arnulf (877-899) Braslav assisted the emperor with advice and troops in his war against Svatopluk, duke of Moravia. During this campaign the Magyars appeared on the Danube, joining the forces of Arnulf against Svatopluk. At the same time Arnulf appointed Braslav duke of northwestern Pannonia (north of Drava), assigning to him protection of this region from the Magyars. However, during the reign of Arnulf's son Louis the Child (889-911) the Magyars overran Bavaria, and since that time no trace is left of the Frankish rule in Croatian Pannonia. Instead we soon find the Croatian Pannonia in close cooperation with Dalmatian Croatia, both of which will form a united Croatian kingdom.

 

Frankish Rule in Dalmatian Croatia

The first three Dalmatian rulers, Visheslav, Borna and Ladislav, are known to have been little more than loyal vassals to the Frankish king. However, the Frankish overlordship over the Adriatic coast ended sooner than it did in Pannonia. This change came about in part through the resistance of the Dalmatians to foreign domination, and in part through the mutual antagonism of Venice, Byzantium and Carolingian emperors. The internal strife in the Western Empire and gradual weakening of the Byzantine power aided the cause of emancipation materially. At the same time the Saracen domination of the sea and their naval victories over Venice kept this maritime power in check for a long time and helped to encourage the trade centers that were forming along the eastern coast of the Adriatic.

Torn by three years of internal warfare, Byzantium lost the island of Crete in 826 and Sicily in 827 to the Saracens. This was a signal for the Balkan Slavs to rise up and overthrow the authority of the emperor. Thus the balance that had been established for two centuries between Constantinople and the vast Slavic territory north and west of the imperial city was definitely upset. The Narentian Slavs inhabiting the seacoast and its hinterlands between the rivers of Tsetina (Tilurus) and Neretva (Narenta) were also drawn into the stream of general unrest. Having the advantage of numbers and good naval forces, the Narentians (Neretvlyani) isolated the Dalmatian cities and occupied the nearby islands, including Mlyet, Korchula (Corcyra), Hvar (Pharos, and Brach (Brattia). In order to save them from fusion with the Slavic population and from merger with the hinterland, Emperor Michael II made a treaty with Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, which guaranteed the independence of the imperial territory in Dalmatia.

 

Struggles with Venice - Mislav (835-845)

The loss of imperial authority along the eastern Adriatic coast expedited the emancipation of Venice from Byzantium. But in attempting to seize control of the Adriatic and exercise the policing function of that sea, hitherto an imperial privilege, Venice met with the stubborn resistance of both Narentians and Croatians. Her first attacks were directed against the Narentians, who as pagans did not enjoy the protection either of the Byzantine or Western emperors. The Croatians of Dalmatia were protected by the authority of Lothair (840-855), who was both emperor of the West and king of Italy. Thus the Venetians, at first, avoided conflict with the Croatians.

On the other hand, the growing sea power and daring raids of the Narentians, who cruised all over the Adriatic and raided both the Italian and Istrian coasts, made them close rivals of the Venetians. Soon war broke out between the two rivals. Under the reign of duke Mislav (835-845) the Croatians joined the Narentians in their struggle against Venice.

The course and outcome of this war is not known, except that the Venetian doge Pietro Tradonicus (834-864), came personally to the court of Mislav and signed a treaty. Having made peace with the Croatians, Tradonicus approached the Narentian duke Druzhak with the same mission. However, the peace with the Narentians did not last long because the next year (840) saw the Narentians win a great naval victory over the Venetians on the high seas. The Venetian sea power was at this time on an ebb. Between 820 and 842, Venice suffered three naval disasters in close succession at the hands of the Arabs. The Narentians took over the ascendancy in the Adriatic, and in 846 they even raided the town of Caorle, a suburb of Venice.

 

The First National Dynasty

The reign of duke Mislav was followed by that of Terpimir (845-864), founder of a dynasty that was to rule for over two hundred years. Like his predecessors, Terpimir was a vassal of the king of the Franks and emperor of the West. After the suppression of the Friulian March in 828, Dalmatia, together with the other Friulian dependencies, came under the immediate authority of the king of Italy. During the civil wars caused by the division of the empire among the sons of Louis the Pious, the Italian authority in Dalmatia became nominal, and both Mislav and Terpimir took advantage of the dynastic wars to strengthen their own power. During this period the capital of Dalmatia was transferred from Nin (Aenona) to Klis.

The weakening of the central power tended to exalt the authority of the local prince. Both Mislav and Terpimir exercised nearly sovereign power over extensive areas. Their principal function was to command the armed forces, administer justice, and protect the church. Each held a court (curtis) after the fashion of the Frankish kings. The household of Terpimir was distinguished by wealth and glamour. In his palace in Klis he was surrounded by important tribesmen (Zhupani) who helped him with their counsel in the affairs of government. The clergy formed a special chapel under the authority of the archchaplain who administered the Holy Sacraments to the family of the duke, and who was also in charge of the chancellery and legal affairs of the prince.

As in the court of Charlemagne, here too, the affairs of the sovereign's household were not strictly separated from the affairs of the State. Both services were rendered at the same time by a retinue of high court officials. Chief among them was the chamberlain acting as a treasurer of the State and governor of the palace. The court larder and the estates supplying it were in the charge of the seneschal. The butler supervised the cellar, while the constable or marshal had authority over the stable of the court. This office also carried with it the high command of the army.

Justice was administered by the common law of the native tribes, and in part probably after the Salian Law of the Franks. The cities, on the contrary, were following the Roman tradition as codified in the edicts and Pandects of Justinian. Terpimir assumed the title: "By the grace of God the duke of the Croatians" (dux Chroatorum invatus munere divino).

Two important events fall in the reign of Terpimir. A Bulgarian invasion of the Dalmatian territory led to war. In a battle fought in 855 Terpimir defeated the Bulgarian army and forced the Bulgarian Khan Boris to sue for peace. This episode is significant because it shows that Bulgaria and Dalmatia had a common frontier, probably somewhere in the northeastern part of Bosnia, or on Machvan territory (present-day Serbia). Toward the end of Terpimir's reign a momentous struggle broke out in Constantinople, which had as its immediate effect the schism or separation of the Greek and Latin churches (857-868).

The schism created a great confusion among the Balkan Slavs and advanced problems which still today await their solution. Due to the growing estrangement between the two churches and the ever widening chasm between the two political dominions, a lasting union between the Croats and Serbs, in spite of the propitious outlook at the beginning, never could be effected. The Bulgars were divided between the two churches, by assuming first the Byzantine ritual (865-866), then changing the allegiance to the Church of Rome (866-870), and finally returning to the Greek Orthodoxy during the eighth ecumenical council in Constantinople in 870.

As a result of some dynastic quarrels at home, and following intervention by Rome, Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, denounced as anathema some teachings of the Western Church, and in 867 excommunicated the pope Nicholas I. This move had a stunning effect both on the clergy and laity throughout the Christian world. The clergy living under Byzantine sovereignty rallied around Photius and severed their ties with Rome. The separation of the eastern clergy created grave problems in Dalmatia because the cities were still under Byzantine rule, while the countryside was administered by the native clergy of Roman-Frankish allegiance. The two factions were soon at cross purposes and friction in the ranks of the clergy continued through many generations in the future.

 

Domagoy (864-867)

Terpimir was succeeded by Domagoy (864-867). His reign was momentous in early Croatian history because it brought about the struggle for independence from the Frankish overlordship. A number of outside factors precipitated this struggle. Upon Domagoy's accession to the throne Dalmatia was suddenly attacked in 865 by the naval forces of Orso Participazio, the doge of Venice (864-881). In view of the peace treaty of 839 binding both Venice and Croatia to mutual peace and friendship, the attack of Participazio came as a surprise, which Domagoy was not prepared to meet. Therefore he sued for peace and gave hostages for fulfillment of the terms of the treaty.

In the next year (866) a strong Arab fleet appeared before Dubrovnik (Ragusa), and laid siege to the city. Exhausted by the strain of a 15 months siege the Ragusans appealed for aid to Basil I, emperor of Byzantium. Basil, who was eager for military glory, sent a strong imperial navy under the command of Admiral Nicetas Oriphos to relieve the Ragusans in their distress. On appearance of the fleet the Arabs raised the siege and fled.

The fame of the exploit at Dubrovnik restored the emperor's prestige throughout the Balkans and along the Adriatic coast. The Slavic tribes of southern Dalmatia renewed their allegiance. Only the proud Narentians refused to give up their independence by submitting to Constantinople. This favorable turn of affairs encouraged the emperor to form some ambitious plans. If he could eliminate the Arabs from the Adriatic and southern Italy, he would considerably strengthen his position in the Mediterranean. Yet the episode of Dubrovnik showed clearly that this could not be achieved without the supporting action of sizable land forces. Obviously the Frankish emperor alone could supply the necessary land troops.

 

Siege and Capture of Bari (871)

Spurred by the Arab defeat at Dubrovnik, Louis II, son of Lothair, who combined both the title of the Frankish emperor and king of Italy (855-875), came similarly upon the idea that the Arabs could be expelled from Italy by armed force. He coveted possession of southern Italy and Sicily no less than his imperial colleague, Basil. To Byzantium the claim of Louis was as much of a violation of its legal rights as the Arab occupation of this territory. It was a three-cornered fight in which Byzantium and the Saracens were to lose, while the Croatians and other Adriatic Slavs had to fight in both imperial camps, in order to finally rid themselves of the authority of both.

The momentous events developed as follows. In 867 Louis sent an army against Bari, the chief Saracen stronghold in southern Italy. The slow progress of the campaign soon convinced the emperor that the city could not be taken without an effective blockade of the seacoast by a strong fleet. At this turn Basil, who was eagerly watching the Bari episode, thought that his opportunity had come and he offered an alliance with naval aid, to Louis. The Frankish emperor accepted the proposal, and Basil took immediate steps to organize a large sea force. He ordered his new subjects from across the Adriatic, including Travunyani (Trebonians), Konavlyani (Canalese), Dubrovchani (Ragusans), the Dalmatian cities and islands to send all their naval forces to the siege of Bari. In charge of the operations was the veteran admiral Nicetas Oriphos. In the summer of 869 Oriphos appeared with a fleet of four hundred vessels before Bari, in order to supplement the land action of the Frankish army. On his arrival, however, he found only scanty troops stationed before the beleaguered city, instead of the large Frankish army that had been agreed upon between the two emperors. Oriphos was deeply disappointed, and suspecting bad faith on the part of the Frankish emperor, raised the siege and left for Constantinople.

 

Struggle for Independence and National Unity

On the other hand, Louis II, seeing the vast naval power of the Adriatic Slavs, did not object to Oriphos' withdrawal. He also had Slavic subjects along the northern coast of the Adriatic, and made up his mind to use the naval resources of Dalmatian Croatia. So he summoned Domagoy and the Dalmatian Croats to appear with all their naval forces before Bari and assist him in capturing the city. Domagoy collected an impressive fleet, with considerable land forces, and hastened to the aid of the emperor. With the combined land and sea operation of the Croats and Franks, Bari was taken on the second of February 871. This event raised the prestige of Domagoy - the Pope called him dux gloriosus - glorious duke - and his Croatian warriors. At the same time Louis took possession of southern Italy, while Basil I turned his vengeance on Domagoy and devastated the Croatian islands.

The fact was that the antagonism between the two emperors had begun to show. Seizing upon a minor incident caused by some Narentian pirates, Basil sent Admiral Oriphos to raid the Narentian territory and harass its inhabitants. Apparently as an extension of this operation the imperial forces landed all along the Croatian coast, destroying the cities and dragging their residents into slavery. There is little doubt that with this attack Basil aimed at forcing Domagoy and his host to abandon the emperor's camp at Bari, and rush to the defense of their native land. However, Domagoy refused to play Basil's game and continued the siege of Bari until its fall.

Meanwhile, the troops of Oriphos had conquered the Narentian area and all the lands from the mouth of Tsetina (Tilurus) to that of Drim, imposing the emperor's authority upon the land of Hum and Praevalis as well. Thus for the loss of southern Italy Basil was compensated with the gain of an extensive area on the eastern Adriatic coast and its hinterland. The Frankish emperor protested this action, demanding the return of the Croatian prisoners and reparations for all damage done by Byzantine troops in the Croatian coast land. Thus ended the friendship of the two emperors, while the Balkan peninsula became divided between the Bulgarian, Byzantine and Frankish power.

After their victorious return from Bari, Domagoy and his warriors were confronted with serious tasks at home. The country had been laid waste by the Byzantine marauders. Moreover, a new war broke out in 873 with Venice. The Narentians joined with the forces of Domagoy in a long and bitter struggle against the Venetians. By the abuse and maledictions heaped upon Domagoy in various Venetian documents, we may judge that the course of this war favored the Croatian and Narentian arms. In the midst of the conflict, Emperor Basil, through some of his adherents, undertook to stir up the dissention in order to create a favorable opportunity for the assassination of Domagoy. This was a familiar business to Basil, who had ascended the imperial throne after assassinating his predecessor Michael III (842-867), and his uncle Bardas. The plot against Domagoy failed, and one of the conspirators was put to death.

 

The Last War with Franks

In 875 Emperor Louis II died and left Italy to his nephew Carloman (876-880), son of Louis the German. As a dependency of Lombardian Italy, Croatian Dalmatia also fell under the German sovereignty. This change of allegiance was repugnant to the Dalmatians and they rose against the Frankish rule. After years of struggle both on land and sea the Croats of Dalmatia overthrew the Frankish rule forever. In 876 they defeated the Frankish army headed by Kotsel of Pannonia, a Slavic leader in the employ of the German king. Kotsel himself was killed in the battle.

On the sea the Croats had to engage the Venetians, who were supporting the Franks in this war. According to the chronicle of Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennete, this war lasted seven years and was extremely brutal. For example, he states that the Franks killed Croatian infants and threw their bodies to the dogs. In the midst of the struggle, death overtook Domagoy, a resolute man of great courage, ability and vision. There can be no doubt that he was the greatest ruler in the early history of Dalmatian Croatia.

 

Ilyko (876-878)

While the war of liberation was still raging, Domagoy's son Ilyko (876-878) succeeded to the ducal throne. In order to concentrate on his struggle with the Franks, the new duke made a treaty of peace and friendship with Venice. However, the Narentians did not join in the treaty and continued their naval war with the Venetians. Neither the course nor the outcome of this war between the Narentians and the Venetians is known. In the meantime, the authority of Ilyko was overthrown by Zdeslav (878-879, a son of Terpimir.

 

Zdeslav (878-879)

During the short reign of Zdeslav from 878 to 879 important political changes took place in Dalmatian Croatia. For reasons of his own Zdeslav recognized the sovereignty of the emperor Basil, and thus took his country from under the Frankish rule to that of Byzantium. Furthermore, Zdeslav invited Greek missionaries who converted the Narentians and the residents of Praevalis to Christianity, attaching them to the Eastern Church. This brought the new duke into open conflict with the Croatian bishopric of Nin (Aeona). The people at large watched with misgiving the moves of Zdeslav, and became alarmed at the prospect of Greek overlordship in the wake of the bitter struggle to shake off the Frankish yoke. Amid a general disaffection Branimir, a prominent tribesman, rose against the duke and killed him. With the consent of Theodosius, bishop of Nin, and supported by his friends, Branimir seized power. His reign from 879 to 892 became a turning point of early Croatian history because he established the political independence of the new Croatian State.

 

Branimir Establishes the Independent Croatian State

In keeping with his anti-Byzantine course, Branimir sought to establish friendly relations with the Holy See. For this reason he sent bishop Theodosius to Rome, affirming his loyalty to the Pope and the Western Church. Gratified over this act of friendship, Pope John VIII bestowed his apostolic benediction upon the duke, the people and the land of Croatia in a solemn Mass celebrated on Ascension Day May 21, 879 over the tomb of St. Peter. Thus a tie was formed between the Croatian people and the Church of Rome that has not dissolved to this day. After this event Pope John VIII made a strenuous effort to attach the Dalmatian cities also to his authority.

In the midst of the strife created by the activity of patriarch Photius, this policy failed, but after prolonged negotiations the Pope induced the emperor and patriarch of Constantinople to waive their claim to the diocese of Nin, and to renounce all sovereignty over the Croatian lands. Thus Dalmatian Croatia became in 880 politically independent, with no secular sovereignty over the power of the duke as the chief of state. Theodosius returned the next year in 881 to Rome and was consecrated by the Pope among solemn rites as the first "Croatian bishop of Nin." In a special bull Pope John VIII confirmed this important act, and promised the blessing and protection of the Holy See in return for loyalty on the part of the Croatian people. He also invited the Croatians to send their representatives to the Holy See, and promised to send his own legates to apprise him of the needs and wishes of the Croatian people.

Through a sequence of fortunate events the power and prestige of Branimir rose to a point where even Emperor Basil deemed it best to cultivate the friendship of the Duke of Croatia. Toward the end of his reign Basil instructed the population of the Dalmatian cities and islands to pay annual tribute to the Croatian ruler as a rent for the use of the lands outside the city walls, and as a token of good will for the continuation of friendly and peaceful relations with the Croatian authorities. The amount of this tribute would be deducted from the taxes paid by the towns and islands to the emperor. This decree is significant of the future assimilation of the cities and their populations within the body of the Croatian nation.

After the death of Basil I a new attempt was made to reconcile the ecclesiastic organizations of the imperial cities to the Croatian bishopric of Nin. With the death of Marinus, archbishop of Spalato (Split) in 887, sponsors of the religious unity of Dalmatia were given an opportunity to advance their plans. The residents of Split elected Theodosius, bishop of Nin, as their archbishop, thus giving proof of their friendship both for Rome and the Croatian people. Theodosius accepted the high office, but he also retained his Croatian diocese of Nin. Branimir favored the action of Theodosius and gave him his support. Although protests came from Rome, Theodosius retained his dual office until his death. Concerned over attacks of the Arabs, Stephen V, the new Pope, had to rely on the friendship and armed support of Leo VI the Wise (886-912), successor of Basil I on the throne of Byzantium. In such circumstances the Pope was unwilling to sacrifice the good will of the emperor for administrative friction, and discouraged further cementing of ties between the municipal dioceses and the Croatian bishopric of Nin. Thus this temporary union was dissolved and the imperial Dalmatian Church continued under the authority of the patriarch of Constantinople.

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Submission of Venice

Some foreign political developments also contributed to the enhancement of Branimir's power and prestige. On the 18th of September 887 Pietro Candiano I, the doge of Venice, was waging a military and naval campaign against the Narentian pirates, called Pagans, which included the islands of Brac, Hvar, Vis, Korcula and Lastovo. He was the first Venetian doge who fell in battle with the pirates. The Venetian armies suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Narentians. This disaster forced Venice into a humiliating peace, by the terms of which Venice agreed to pay an annual tribute to the pirates. The Venetian preferred to pay a price for peace in kind for friendly relations with the pirates. Through this sacrifice Venice was assuring the unchecked navigation and full freedom of commerce through the Adriatic seaboard.

Excerpted from: “A History of the Croatian People” Vol. 1, by Francis R. Preveden,
published by Philosophical Library, New York, pg. 51-59.


Compiled by: Marko Marelich
Retired Mechanical Engineer
San Francisco, California - USA
July 20, 2007