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The Reign of Koloman (1102-1116)

Now that he was the crowned king of Croatia, Koloman decided to assert his sovereignty also over the Croatian cities of Zadar, Trogir and Split, and likewise over the islands of Rab, Tsres, Osor and Kerk. In ordinary times, such a course would have been bound to bring him into direct conflict with the emperor of Byzantium, the actual sovereign of these cities, and also with Venice, their immediate “protector.”

In the year 1104, however, the youthful John Comnenus, son of the Byzantine emperor Alexis, married the Hungarian princess Piroshka (renamed Irene), daughter of the Saint-King Ladislaus. As a result of this dynastic, tie friendly relations were established between Koloman, who was a cousin of Piroshka, and her father-in-law Alexis. About the same time Robert Guiscard’s son Boemundus, duke of Antioch and Tarentum, planned a new attack against Durazzo and the schismatic emperor and began to recruit crusaders in western Europe. In order to ward off this threat Alexis and Koloman made an alliance against Boemundus. Through this alliance, and because of the family relationship which was strengthened further by political ties between the two sovereigns, Alexis agreed, during a campaign in Asia Minor, that his friend and ally Koloman should occupy the Dalmatian cities and islands. This arrangement was naturally a stunning blow to Venice. But being commercially and otherwise tied up with Byzantium, Venice grudgingly submitted to the decision of Alexis, biding her opportunity to regain the lost possessions.

In the spring of 1107, Koloman set out with his army for the seacoast. Several Hungarian bishops and grandees accompanied him in this campaign. The king first approached Zadar, as the most important of the recalcitrant Dalmatian cities, and commanded it to surrender. But the citizens decided to offer resistance. Koloman began to attack the city, surrounding it from the mainland, and he pounded at its heavy walls with powerful siege weapons.

Under such circumstances, John, the bishop of Trogir, entered the beleaguered city from the sea and tried to persuade its defenders to come to terms with the king. Shortly after, Koloman also sent messengers to Zadar, urging the citizens to surrender and to make peace with him “under the best of conditions.” The citizens accepted the offer by which Koloman guaranteed Zadar and its Church all the ancient privileges inherited from Byzantium. He confirmed this pledge with his own oath and that of the Hungarian churchmen and noblemen from his entourage. After this the citizens of Zadar took an oath of loyalty to the new ruler and received him in the city with great pomp and ceremony.

Similar scenes were enacted in other cities. In the company of Bishop John, Koloman proceeded along the coast. The city of Trogir opened its gates without resistance, whereupon the king issued a decree similar to that of Zadar and lavishly endowed the church of Trogir. He then proceeded to neighboring Split. This city at first hesitated to recognize Koloman, but when the king began to prepare for siege operations it surrendered, and through the intercession of its archbishop Crescentius, obtained a decree similar to that given to Zadar and Trogir.

After this, Koloman returned to Zadar where the Croatian banus Ugra had assembled thirteen vessels. Amassing a fairly large land army, he landed on the island of Rab, which surrendered after some hesitation. The islands of Tsres, Osor and Kerk were occupied in this manner as well.


Assembly Before Zadar

After the surrender of the cities and islands, Koloman made a significant move of friendship toward his new subjects. He summoned all the Dalmatian citizenry to an assembly which was held in an open field before Zadar and took a public oath that he and his heirs would at all times protect and respect the old self-rule of the Dalmatian cities, granting them full freedom to elect their own magistrates and bishops. The royal pledge was confirmed by a similar oath taken by all the Hungarian churchmen and civil dignitaries who were present in his escort and army.

Still another constitutional enactment took place at this assembly. In assertion of the political independence of the Croatian-Dalmatian kingdom, Koloman’s six-year-old son Stephen was proclaimed a separate king of Croatia and Dalmatia. Contemporary church inscriptions in Zadar refer to Stephen as “our king” alongside Koloman as “King of Hungary, Dalmatia and Croatia.” Regardless of who the title-holder of sovereignty was the power was actually in the hands of the Croatian banus Ugra. The military, judicial and administrative power which he exercised in Croatia and Slavonia was now extended also over the newly acquired cities and islands. Thus Koloman fully achieved his purpose, and having restored peace and order in his new possessions, he returned in 1107 to Hungary.


Municipal Privileges

The privileges which Koloman gave in his own name and that of his successors to the Dalmatian cities were quite extensive. They provided for exemption from all manner of taxes, including the onerous “peace tax” which had been paid since the time of Emperor Basil I (about 822) for the undisturbed possessions of the Croatian lands in the rural districts. Koloman gave the people this “royal peace” without compensation. Besides that, he guaranteed their ancient self-government rights in all the municipal affairs, including the election of their “prior (mayor)” and their bishop. Through resort to the autonomous local courts they were relieved from seeking justice elsewhere, to the exclusion of the royal court itself.

At the same time, the king was moderate in his claim of revenue, which he restricted to the collection of port fees from foreign vessels. Two-thirds of these fees went into the royal treasury, while the balance was distributed between the mayor and the local bishop. Furthermore, the Dalmatian citizens were exempted from the “royal visit tax.” Neither should the members of the king’s escort be quartered forcibly in the homes of private citizens. Compared with similar provisions in other European countries, the Dalmatian franchises were most liberal and comprehensive.


Boemundus at Durazzo

By the end of 1107, the Norman duke Boemundus led an army of 34,000 men against the Byzantine coastal city of Durazzo (Drach). His attack, however, was repulsed and his army was encircled by the forces of Emperor Alexis. After a year of fruitless struggle, Boemundus was forced to sue for peace. With the aid of Venetian galleys, the forces of Koloman invaded Norman Appulia in the spring of 1108, laying waste to the land of Boemundus. But after three months of marauding and pillaging they returned to Dalmatia. At the conclusion of peace between Emperor Alexis and Boemundus in Durazzo, two of Koloman’s ambassadors were present. One of them was a Croatian.


Struggle with Germany

Through a quarrel with his brother Almos, Koloman soon had to match his power with that of Henry V, emperor of Germany. The success of Koloman in Croatia had irritated Almos to such a degree that he sued for aid in Germany, but failing to obtain it, he was temporarily reconciled to his position. However, when Koloman took the Dalmatian cities and islands and proclaimed his son Stephen as Croatian-Dalmatian King, Almos set out again to sue for Polish and German aid with which to attack his brother. In Germany the news of the capture of the Dalmatian cities had been received with misgivings, since Croatia and Dalmatia had been considered part of the Western Roman Empire since the times of Charlemagne. Upon the request of Almos, Henry V set out at the head of his army to invade Hungary, justifying his campaign with Koloman’s attack against the maritime provinces. Late in the fall of 1108 Henry V laid siege to the city of Pozhun (Presburg; Pozsony; Bratislava), but having achieved nothing, had to retreat in haste. Thus, under the walls of Pozhun, Koloman not only defended his newly acquired Dalmatian cities and islands from the powerful Germans, but definitely and for a long time to come, put an end to the German attacks against Hungary.


Blinding of Almos and Bela

After the failure of Henry V’s campaign, Almos again made peace with his brother, but once more only for a short period of time. Koloman, meanwhile, became gravely ill. In 1115, worried over some new intrigue of Almos directed against the throne and life of Stephen, now 14, he seized his brother and the latter’s nine-year-old son Bela by surprise, and ordered them blinded. After this crime, both Almos and Bela were imprisoned in the Monastery of Doemoesh (not far from Vatz) where they remained in seclusion until the death of Koloman on February 3, 1116. Thereupon, aided by influential friends, Almos went to Byzantium where he was well received by Emperor Alexis and his son John, husband of his cousin Piroshka – Irene. Almos committed his blind son Bela to the friendly care of trusted friars at the Pechvarad Monastery, who attended him with such devotion that King Stephen, up to the end of his life, could not learn his whereabouts.

Almos was not the only family liability of Koloman. The king married twice: in 1097 he married the Norman princess Busilla who bore him Stephen; in 1112 Koloman married for the second time. His new wife was the Russian Euphemia, daughter of the grand duke Vladimir II of Monomachos of Kiev. This marriage was not a happy one, and in the next year Koloman sent Euphemia home, charging adultery. In Kiev she gave birth to a son Boris Kolomanovich, who was raised entirely in the Russian manner. Relying on the power of Kiev, Boris became a grave threat to his Hungarian kin.


Koloman’s Reign in Croatia

Very little is known about the activities of Koloman in Croatia after his occupation of the Dalmatian cities. The absence of any record of complaints or strife in Croatia and Dalmatia during his reign indicates that his rule was benign. The most important fact about his reign is that he again united the Croatian territory from the Drava River to the Adriatic Sea and turned it over to the Croatian banus for administration. From that time forward the banus became the chief representative of royal power in the land. It is quite certain that during Koloman’s reign, if not earlier, three important administrative districts (zhupaniya) were organized which have endured to this day: Varazhdin, Krizhevats, and Zagreb counties). Apparently much building activity went on during Koloman’s reign. A highway connecting the towns of Koprivnitza and Chazma in the Drava region, and a bridge spanning the river, were identified by the name of Koloman long after his death. He encouraged the settling of the Hungarian nobility in the dense forests of Slavonia, a process that gained momentum as time went on. The king himself had extensive estates in Slavonia.


Stephen II (1116-1131)

Koloman’s son Stephen II ascended the throne at the age of fifteen. He was no longer a child to be placed under tutelage, but neither had he reached that degree of maturity which would make a wise and disciplined ruler. So the young king plunged into a course of dissipation which destroyed his health and bodily fitness. Thus the change on the throne of Hungary and Croatia brought in its wake a drastic readjustment in the international situation, since the neighbors of Stephen were only too eager to profit by the errors of the youthful king. In the first place, they tried to extend their own frontiers at the expense of Hungary and Croatia. Yet the youthful Stephen bravely faced the situation and avoided serious injury on one hand by resorting to diplomacy, and on the other, by effective use of armed force.

Having ironed out his differences with Austria and Bohemia, Stephen turned his attention to Croatia, where Venice still hoped to recover the Dalmatian cities and islands seized by Koloman. Since Koloman had won Dalmatia through the connivance of Byzantium, the Venetians strove in turn for the favor of the emperor. An opportunity soon presented itself through the family feud at the Hungarian Court. Princess Piroshka (Irene), whose influence at the court of Byzantium was a powerful one, she being the wife of the heir apparent, supported the party of Almos in opposition to Koloman. When she heard that Almos and his son Bela had been blinded by Koloman, she used her influence with Alexis to support the Venetians. The result was a change of policy which brought on a long and bitter struggle between Stephen on the one hand, and the allied forces of Venice and Byzantium on the other.

In August 1115, with the consent of Byzantium, the Venetian doge Ordelafo Faledro captured Zadar. However, the municipal castle, garrisoned by Croatian troops under the command of banus Kledin, could not be taken. In this campaign the doge occupied Trogir and Split, as well as the islands, but his attack against Beograd failed.

The easy victory of the doge was due largely to the infirmity of Koloman, and his preoccupation with his feud with Almos. Thus the defense of his maritime province was badly neglected, so that with the exception of Beograd and the municipal castle of Zadar, no other place along the coast was protected by his troops.

In May 1116, the doge again put to sea in the direction of Dalmatia. On this occasion he was aided both by the Byzantine and Roman empires. On June 29, 1116, a great battle was fought under the walls of Zadar in which the Croatian banus Kledin was defeated. The doge seized the municipal castle and soon afterwards neighboring Beograd. Having captured Shibenik as well and having demolished its fortifications, the doge returned to Venice in triumph. Thus, in 1116, the Republic of St. Mark had in its power not only all Byzantine Dalmatia but also two Croatian cities: Beograd and Shibenik.

Stephen was occupied in the meantime with his Czech and Austrian affairs, and only in the following year (1117) was able to rush with his forces to Dalmatia and Croatia. The tide now turned. Soon Ordelafo Faledro, the victorious leader of the previous campaigns, was badly beaten, and died from wounds incurred in battle. The new doge Domenico Michieli sued for a five year truce, which was granted to him by Stephen (117-1122). But after the lapse of the truce period Stephen renewed the campaign (1124) and in a victorious dash recaptured the cities of Beograd, Shibenik, Trogir and Split. The islands and city of Zadar, however, were denied him.

Stephen came down to Croatia acting as a benevolent ruler. He confirmed the privileges given by Koloman to Trogir and Split, and attended to some constitutional matters. The situation was favorable for the king’s dispositions, because the main Venetian force had been lingering in the Holy Land since 1122, engaged in the siege of Tirus. But in May 1125, the doge Domenico Michieli returned from the East and again invaded Dalmatia. In the course of this campaign he recaptured the cities of Split, Shibenik and Trogir, and demolished Beograd to its very foundations. Thus Stephen’s success of the preceding year was reduced to nothing. The situation was now aggravated by a dispute between Stephen and a much more dangerous enemy than Venice, Emperor John Comnenus Kalojohannes (1118-1143), the gifted son and sole heir of the late Alexis I.


Byzantine Empire in the 12th Century

Throughout the 11th and 12th centuries Byzantium was still the most important empire or political government in Europe. It still held extensive areas in Asia Minor and the Balkans, plus fragmentary holdings in Italy. It drew its force mainly from a loyal and rich citizenry. Its military, financial and legal institutions were so perfected that western Europe looked to them for inspiration. Its industry, especially its crafts, stood unchallenged; the glamour of its letters and arts continued untarnished, and its commerce spread all over the known world. Heir to a vast treasury and in command of an excellent army, John Comnenus strove with great ambition and adroitness to revive the ancient Byzantine claims and dreams of world domination.

Fortunately for Stephen’s kingdom, Emperor John was preoccupied with other affairs during his first ten years in office and could not throw all his forces against Stephen. Nevertheless, he egged on Venice to the conquest of Dalmatia and laid difficulties in the way of the Hungarian-Byzantine trade along the Danube. His wife Irene (Piroshka) received the blinded duke Almos and little by little the court became a haven for the Hungarian rebels. These were dissidents and malcontents of all description, who tried to persuade the Byzantine court to overthrow Stephen and raise Almos to the throne of Hungary and Croatia. The emperor encouraged these Hungarian émigrés and assisted in many ways, but while he was occupied elsewhere with more urgent business, he was not in a position to descend in the field with all his forces against Stephen.


War with Byzantium

On the other hand, Stephen did not underestimate the peril threatening him from Byzantium. Having renewed friendly relations with the margrave (military governor) of Austria, the prince of Bohemia and Emperor Henry V of Germany, he made an attempt to contact all the enemies of Byzantium, and especially the south Italian Normans and Serbs, who also were fighting Byzantium for their independence. When Stephen had brought his army into fighting readiness and made proper arrangements with his allies, he demanded that Emperor John expel from his empire all the Hungarian refugees, including his uncle Almos.

Naturally, John refused to comply. In retaliation Stephen sent his army across the Sava River in 1127 and captured the cities of Belgrad and Branichevo. Encouraged by his initial success, he proceeded south to the cities of Nish and Sofia, but near the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv the emperor forced him to retreat. In the meantime, Stephen demolished Belgrad to its foundations. Furthermore, he had the stones of that ruined city ferried across the Danube River in order to lay the foundation of the present-day town of Zemun at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube Rivers.

A bitter but indecisive struggle continued for two years. Finally the opponents came to terms on a status quo basis (1120) making the course of the Sava and Danube Rivers the boundary line of the empire. The treaty did not provide for the rights of either Duke Almos, who died in 1127, nor for those of his son Bela because no one suspected that he was alive.

In the meantime, Stephen returned from the campaign with broken health and everyone in his entourage realized that his days were numbered. The agony of the king was heightened by the fact that he had no children, and the Arpad dynasty was about to become extinct. Then he heard the news that the blind Bela was still alive. The king promptly took him to his court and by royal proclamation made him his successor. He also arranged for his marriage with the Serbian princess Helena, daughter of the grand duke Urosh. Early in March 1131, Stephen died and was buried in Oradia Mare (Nagy Varad), an ancient city of Transylvania.


Bela (Adalbert), the Blind (1131-1141)

Because of his blindness, Bela could not perform military or political duties of any importance. In his time, the practical exercise of the royal power was in the hands of his trusted men, and especially of his wife Helena. His own person was merely a symbol of legitimacy based on his descent from the Arpad dynasty.

Even in this respect he had a serious contender in the person of Boris Kolomanovich, son of Koloman and Euphemia of Kiev. Boris came to Hungary to claim the throne of his father. But the archbishop of Ostrogon (Esztergom), as primate of Hungary, refused to recognize the legitimacy of his birth as a descendant of the Arpad dynasty. Boris now went to the court of Emperor John Comnenus for assistance. He was received with great honors, and the emperor gave him an imperial princess in marriage. Thence Boris proceeded to Poland where he collected an army, at the head of which he crossed the Carpathian Mountains and broke into Hungary in the year 1132. However, he lost the decisive battle and abandoned further attempts to overthrow Bela.

During the short reign of the blind king there was no conflict with Byzantium, but in the continuing struggle with Venice, he recovered all of Dalmatia, with the exception of the city of Zadar and the islands (1131).

For some unexplained reason, Bela took the title of “rex Ramae” (king of Rama), which was interpreted as “king of Bosnia.” Since there was no war with Bosnia, and consequently no conquest of that country, nor any constitutional act on record by which Bosnia had submitted to the king of Croatia or Hungary, some have explained it as an act of inheritance, which is also subject to doubt. Whatever the origin of this title, it was seized upon by the later kings of Hungary in making their claims upon Bosnia, and in enforcing them.


Geyza (Geza) (1141-1162)

The blind king died in February 1141. He left three sons: Geyza, Stephen and Ladislaus. Geyza, as his first-born, succeeded him on the throne, while Stephen was given the title of duke of Croatia, and Ladislaus that of duke of Bosnia. All three being minors, the royal power in Hungary and Croatia was exercised by their uncle, banus Byelosh, while banus Borich ruled in Bosnia.

At that time the situation for Hungary and the southern Slavic countries was very unfavorable, since Germany and Byzantium combined forces to effect their conquest. The new emperor Emanuel Comnenus (1143-1180) advanced claim to all the countries which in time past had been within the confines of the Eastern Roman Empire. By this he meant Serbia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Hungary (Pannonia) and the south Italian Normandy. In making this claim Emanuel referred to the principle of seniority, which was universally applied among the Slavs, and prevailed also in Hungary. According to this law, not the son succeeds the father on the throne, but the oldest member of the royal family. In order to ward off the impending menace, the court of Ostrogon concluded a new military alliance with the Serbs and the Normans.

The war began in 1146 with a German invasion, but the German armies were beaten and fled and banus Byelosh, following in hot pursuit, caught and crushed them on the banks of the Layta River. In the next year (1147), when the troops of crusaders passed through Hungary on their way east, Boris Kolomanovich joined their ranks in order to get to Byzantium. He was cordially received by Emperor Emanuel. In 1150 a rebellion broke out among the Serbs, who were assisted by the Hungarians and Croats, but the emperor defeated the allies on the banks of the Tara River.

The following year Emanuel broke into Hungary and Croatia, captured Zemun and devastated Sirmium. In 1152 Geyza made him a peace offer, which Emanunel accepted. But in 1154 the war was renewed. In the course of the fighting, Boris Kolomanovich lost his life. Peace was concluded soon after in 1156. In the treaty, Geyza profited not only by favorable terms, but also by dissolution of the alliance between Germany and Byzantium. Moreover, Geyza entered into an alliance with Frederic Barbarossa. This favorable situation was upset when Geyza’s brothers, first Stephen and then Ladislaus picked a quarrel with him and fled to Byzantium. Emperor Emanuel received them with joy and promptly made up his mind to use them in a showdown with Hungary and Croatia.


Dynastic Strife

Geyza I died on the 31st of March, 1162. He left the throne to his son Stephen IV. But Emanuel Comnenus set out in the field with a strong army, and forced the new king to yield the throne, on the principle of seniority, to his uncle Stephen. However, the Hungarian magnates refused to accept this Stephen, deciding in favor of his elder brother Ladislaus I (1162-1163). Ladislaus died soon after his enthronement (January 14, 1163), and the Estates finally recognized Stephen V (1163), son of Bela, as their sovereign. The Croats, being the first to take the assault of Byzantium, supported the succession claims of the emperor’s favorite. But the extravagance of the new king soon provoked a rebellion and the people drove him from the country. After this, Stephen IV (1163-1172), son of Geyza, returned to the throne. This change precipitated a brief war with Emperor Emanuel, but peace was soon restored. In the terms of peace, the emperor agreed to withdraw support from Stephen V, while King Stephen IV, in return, ceded Sirmium to the emperor. Further, the king agreed to send his brother Bela to Byzantium for education and turn over to the emperor the administration of Bela’s heritage, namely Croatia south of Velebit, and Dalmatia.

So Bela went to Constantinople where the emperor betrothed him to his daughter Maria and, having no son of his own, proclaimed him successor to the Byzantine throne. In spite of that, Stephen refused to give up Bela’s heritage. Moreover, in the fall of 1163 he came to Croatia and Dalmatia, where he confirmed the privileges given by his predecessors to the Dalmatian towns, and in all probability had himself crowned Croatian-Dalmatian king. Because of this move, a new war broke out in 1164 and Stephen was forced once more to cede the Croatian lands to Emanuel. However, the peace was only short lived because the ex-king Stephen V provoked a new war, in the course of which King Stephen IV took from Byzantium the province of Sirmium with the town of Zemun, which he had recently ceded to Emanuel.


Byzantine Overlordship in Croatia

During the siege of Zemun in 1165, the ex-king Stephen V died from poisoning. In the meantime, Emperor Emanuel set out at the head of a powerful army against Croatia and Hungary. With one half of his forces, he went to Sirmium and took Zemun by storm, while he sent the other half into Bosnia, Croatia and Dalmatia, which were quickly conquered by the imperial prince, John Dukas. Stephen IV, in a panic, sued for peace. By the terms of the treaty he again obligated himself to cede Bela’s heritage to the emperor. However, he soon found a strong ally in Venice, and new war was under way in 1166. In the course of this campaign Stephen quickly reoccupied the Croatian lands, and granted the city of Shibenik the same privileges which Split and Trogir had obtained from King Koloman. Stephen’s treachery aroused Emperor Emanuel and he now decided to fight it out to the bitter end. The imperial forces were successful, and in 1169 Byzantium extended its sway over Sirmium, Bosnia, Croatia, south of the Kerka River and Dalmatia, with the exception of Zadar and the islands which were under Venetian authority. At the head of the administration in Byzantine Croatia the emperor placed Constantine, a relative who was very respectful in his dealings with the Croats, respecting both their property and the Catholic faith. In the meantime Emanuel became the father of a son who was given the name Alexis. Thereupon he only voided Bela’s rights to the succession, but also cancelled his daughter’s betrothal to Bela, giving him in her stead an obscure princess from Antiochia. In the meantime, Stephen IV suddenly died in 1172 and the young duke returned to Hungary where he ascended the throne under the name of Bela II.

His authority extended over Hungary and Croatia from the Drava River to the Kerka River. The authority of Byzantium continued in the rest of Croatia until the death of Emanuel on September 24, 1180, when the power of the Byzantine Empire began the long and gradual decline toward its disintegration and downfall.


Names of Islands and Towns on Adriatic Archipelago in Croatian and Italian

Croatian Italian Croatian Italian


















Capo d’Istria





Herceg Novi





























Spalato, Spalatro











Otok Dugi

Isola Lunga































> Excerpts from “A HISTORY OF THE CROATIAN PEOPLE”, Vol. 1, by Francis R. Preveden, copyright 1955, pgs 93-99; pg 124

Compiled by Marko Marelich
Retired Mechanical Engineer
San Francisco, California USA
Apr, 2008