HISTORY OF CHERSO AND THE NORTHERN DALMATIAN ISLANDS, by Palazzolo De Bianchi
FROM THE FALL OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE TO THE VENETIAN DOMINATION
The years 476 – 998
In antiquity, the island of Cherso and Dalmatia were part of the Roman Empire. Which, during the period of its maximum expansion, was composed of: on its south, besides Italy, all the lands which faced the Mediterranean Sea, extending to the north and covering most of Great Britain, east to the Aegean Sea and west to the Strait of Gibraltar including the Iberian Peninsula.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, writes Fortis (2) “…Cherso and Ossero and the dalmatian islands passed from one master to another; now to the Grecian Empire, now it was incorporated to the Hungarian Crown, now to bans, and from Slavic Kings received laws, although no remarkable events made them illustrious. Saba, captain of the Saracen, devastated her during the mid IX century; and from the chronicle of Andrea Dandolo it seems that the Venetian lords dominated her from 991”.
The Barbaric invasions
(476 – 535)
In 476, with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, begins, in Italy and in most of Europe, the barbarian invasions.The barbarians were a population of nomads or semi-nomads who came from the north and the east in the Western Roman Empire and, to a smaller degree, from its Eastern part. This phenomenon had its major relevance from the middle of the 3
rd to the middle of the 6th century. These people were principally descendants of Germans Goths, Alemanni, Vandals, Svevi, Franks, Anglo, Saxons and others, plus people of other races as the Huns, Slavs, Bulgarians and Avars. These barbaric incursions were periodic at the beginning which the Romans were able to control but, when they became more frequent and powerful, the defensive apparatus of the Empire was not able to control them in part, because of the Empire’s decline which affected its military might. In fact, during these times, its military were almost totally composed of mercenaries, whose generals were frequently dishonest barbarians.
The Dalmatian coast and the Islands were generally spared from the hordes of these new invaders, who exercised on these localities a control more nominal than factual.
In Cherso, in particular, the civil, religious and economic every-day life continued as usual, and its Roman way of life was not the least interrupted.
The first Byzantine domination
(535 – 774)Whether it is Pozzo-Balbi
(4) or Ganzetti and others writing about the Byzantine domination, but in a way we may also say “domination by the Eastern Roman Empire” or, “Domination by Constantinople” on which the island of Cherso and the dalmatian islands depended, during the period we are considering, the Eastern Roman Empire, whose seat was Constantinople, the ancient Byzantium.
The Byzantine domination did not bring changes to the island of Cherso, which did not lose its administrative autonomy.
The Frank domination
(774 – 810)
In 774 began for a good part of Italy and Europe the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne. As for Dalmatia, and the island of Cherso in particular, even as the ancient chronicles refers that the Franks subjugated Liburnia, Istria and the Apsyrtides islands, is not clear what part of Dalmatia was conquered by Charlemagne, and of the island of Chesro there is no evidence that it was dominated by the Franks. It seems that the Franks applied on Dalmatia and on the Quarnero’s islands a simple political prevalence, leaving the local government to administer the same way as it was under itsancient Roman rights. This is very important because from this point on will move, after the coronation of Charlemagne, on the new course of the story of Europe, the forming on the ways of Roman, Latin and Communes of the Dalmatian civilization, which was the fundamental way of life in the Eastern Adriatic. In this civilization the Communes, ancient and never dissolved Roman municipalities, will receive its last perfection and will consecrate the municipal liberties which is the glory of the Dalmatian past and by which distinguishes Dalmatia from the Balkans, the Latin from the Slavs. In 810 the maritime cities, therefore also Cherso, were restored to Byzantium.
The second Byzantine domination
(810 - 998)
The relationship of Cherso and the dalmatian islands with Byzantium was more organized than was with Charlemagne. The island’s principal center was Ossero, which was governed by a protospataro (dignitary who carried the sword during military ceremonies), residing in Zara (Zadar). The inhabitants were obliged to pay to the Byzantine emperor a tribute of 100 gold coins. But as far as the other aspects of life, seems that Byzantium’s influence on the island, and above all on its people was hardly noticed, if any, it had some influence on its dominant class. In this vacuum, little by little, Venice claiming its old international obligations which bound the Byzantine government started new undertakings without raising any reaction by Byzantium or Charlemagne. In this way the Venetian Republic bound rapports even more closely, on one side with the government of Constantinople and on the other side with the Holy Roman Empire (hence with the Orient and with the Occident), gaining ever more advantages for her commerce. This situation enabled her to place limits on the commercial activities of other Italian maritime cities on the Adriatic therefore reducing and nearly eliminating competition, and gaining almost exclusive domination of these seas.
Contemporarily because of the events previously cited, Dalmatia and the island of Cherso were exposed to Slavic immigration and their evangelization, by the Saracen incursions and by the birth of the Communes, significant phenomenon, which mark the passage from the ancient period to the medieval. (n.41)
(1) Montanelli, Storia di Roma, Rizzoli, Milano 1973
(2) A. Fortis, Saggio d’osservazioni sopra l’isola di Cherso ed Ossero, Venezia 1771
(3) G. Ganzetti, Riflessi di storia dalmata sulle vicende del isola di Cherso, Padova 1997
(4) L.Pozzo-Balbi, L’isola di Cherso, A.R.E., Roma 1934
THE ARRIVAL AND PRESENCE OF THE SLAVS IN DALMATIA 1
At a certain point, in the Roman world of Dalmatia and its islands, the chroniclers begin to write of the Slavs presence (2), “Slavs”, in this case, mean the Indo-European people whose cradle was central Europe, in a place not exactly determined by scholars, whence they spread in all directions, scattering and differentiating, with time, in various groups of Croats, Serbians, Bulgarians, Bohemians, etc., as they are known today. At its beginning, the Slavic world appears as a pure psychological space, horizon of silence, without writings before the 9th century, it came to light in an indirect way and very rarely from within; and to the vision of the bordering people it presented an image of a savage planet. Very little remains of their habitations, because they were nomads, these were not built to last but consisted of semi-subterranean shelters used during their stays, which with time and weathering, were nearly completely destroyed. What remains is completely of a linguistic or anthropological character, concerning a topology of villages, mountains and rivers or of physical characteristics of the inhabitants of a particular locality, varied traces which are difficult to interpret. Furthermore, we have chronicles of some monks and travelers. Anyway, it seems that toward the 6th century, these people left, for reasons which are unknown to us, their original place in central Europe and began a long emigration which brought them – as illustrated on the enclosed map – east up to the rivers Dvina and Dnepr, by the Azov and Black seas, to the south by the Mediterranean sea, and west to the to the Adriatic sea and the rivers Drava, Danube and Elba, north to the Baltic sea. They were nited as a tribe, with an economy based on collective property, moved by foot or carriages, with women, children and their provisions, without a systematic plan for conquest, on the search of land to farm. Sometime invasions transformed into permanent colonization, accepted by both sides, with the Slavs assimilating with local culture.
Dalmatia and its island constituted their extreme territorial and temporal end for Slavic emigration, but to them their arrival on these lands attributed a significant reach for demonstrating its relevance for all the following centuries up to our days. Other information on the relations among Liburnia, Istria, Dalmatia and the more southern lands which face the Adriatic may certainly be added by more extensive and systematic historical-archaeological research which should be done, not only along the Oriental coast of Istria, but also along those of Dalmatia and the islands. In fact, certainly there is more to discover, because studies on the nationality of the inhabitants of Dalmatia at the dawn of the medieval period, presumably when the Slavs reached Dalmatia and the islands, only began about the middle of 1,800, and definite word on this argument probably was not yet spoken. Certain attentive reflections on this argument are attributed to the illustrious Croatian historian V. Klaic` who, among other things, refers to Porfirogenito, Byzantine emperor of the 10th century, who was a passionate lover of historical literature (3).
According to Klaic`, the only source of history which is testimony of the arrival of the Slavs and whence they originally came constitutes, exactly, works from Costantino Porfirogenito. His work however, written for his own use was probably not written all by himself, is full of contradictions and not very homogenous, is immensely contested by modern historiographers, among other things, seem strange the contradictions on the writings of the ancient history of the Slavs, which author Klaic` by duty must have known well, dealing, for him, with the more recent past.It seems that the Slavs arrived on the Balkan peninsula on the 7th century (between the years 600 and 700), at the time of emperor Eraclio and Pope John IX, but signs of their presence on the island of Cherso-Ossero indicates that they came on about the middle of the 9th century. According to others, they came even earlier.
In Dalmatia they encountered a strong resistance. The colonies and those of the Roman caste, as in Zara (Zadar) ad Trau were able to prevent being overrun, or as in the case of Epidauro and Solona, its inhabitant, unable to resist attacks by the assaulting horde, abandoned their cities and founded others nearby. This way Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Spalato (Split) were born.
Little by little, in front of the Slavic invasion, the Romans retreated in the coastal cities, which were well protected and fortified, leaving to the Slavs the interior lands of the Balkan Peninsula. The Slavs, in order to legalize and consolidate their holdings, asked and obtained from the Byzantine emperor permission to make the occupied lands their home.If it is difficult to date the epoch of the Slavs arrival in Dalmatia, it seems there is no doubt on the occasion of their coming. Toward the middle of the 6
th century the emperor Justinian asked the help of the Avars to contain and subdue the barbarians of German and Slavic origin who permeated the empire’s southern borders, the emperor’s enemies. These Avars asked, as compensation, to settle on corresponding land on the actual Dubrogia, a region situated between the Black sea and the Danube, and Justinian agreed to it. But Justin II, his successor, revoked this permission of settlement inducing the Avars to find a new territory to settle on, in order to be able to sustain their people. The territory to the north-east was occupied by the powerful Gepidi, to the Avars the only option remained the Carpathians.
During this search for a new place to settle, the Avars met the Slavs, whom they subjugated. The Slavs were the type of people they really needed. In fact the Avars, being a nomad people, dedicated to raiding and robbing, considered the Slavs as a people lacking warring attitude, therefore people whom they needed that is, foot soldiers destined to be the first to confront the enemy in battle.
According to other authors the Slavs were a race of ferocious warriors.
The first Slavs who later reached the island of Cherso certainly were foot soldiers. They settled in the small internal agglomerations on the island, denominated “castellieri”, where they dedicated themselves to raising livestock, mainly sheep.
At the beginning it seems that they lacked experience with the sea, but gained it by being in contact with the local population and by learning it they began pursuing piracy.
This activity was not practiced by them as something that was wrong but as a commercial activity, as a livelihood source. How could this activity be “disapproved” by the law if part of the booty went to the king or master?
Pushing themselves onto the islands of Cherso-Ossero and the other islands of the Quarnero, toward the middle of the 9th century, were mainly the Croatians, that is, part of the people residing between the rivers Arsa and Cetina, whose base was at the mouths of Sirbenik. From these positions, of great strategic value, they began affecting the security of the Adriatic Sea with their acts of piracy.As a confirmation of the Slavic presence on the island of Cherso, at about the middle of the 9
th century, was cited by the peace stipulated in the year 835 between the commander of the Venetian fleet, Pietro Tradonico, prosy leader of the Narentian pirates and Mislav, leader of the Croatian pirates, in a locality called S. Martino.
According to P. Diacono and S. Mitis this S. Martino would be the village situated on the west coast of the island of Cherso. This interpretation however is not a confirmed proof, as it seems that in Dalmatia, in that epoch, were at least a dozen settlements bearing this name, while it is not certain of the existence, during that epoch, of the settlement of S. Martino on the island of Cherso. Furthermore, there is no trace of Slavs on the island until few years before the year 1000, as is confirmed by the same Porfirogenito, about 100 years later, when he observed that the inhabitants of Ossero, near where S. Martino is located, were Romans.Seems that the Slavs arrived on the island of Cherso few at the time and must have been of a small number during the whole 10
th century and until the first few dozen years of the 11th century if they did not have, until this epoch, any form of political organization, nor they had counties (zupanije) therefore the island (and other nearby islads) conserved its Latin character. An indirect source of this affirmation comes also from Giovanni Diacono (4) when he refers that, for the arrival in Ossero of the doge Pietro Orseolo II, convenes in the city not only the Roman citizens but also the whole people of the nearby castelliere, whether Romans or Slavs. According to Pozzo-Balbi, only in 999 we find a document on which was reported a Slavic surname, the one of a certain Dalio Dalione.
The Slavs, in Dalmatia and on the Quarnero islands – being constantly present and living peacefully with the Romans and with the Venetians first, then with the Italians –never had a dominant role as for language, culture or customs, until the end of World War II. Generally the population of the larger centers and those on the coasts were Italian while that of the interior was Croatian.Present, but not dominant or prevalent, was also the Croatian language, generally a Croatian dialect. Therefore, the religious functions, at that time were celebrated in Latin everywhere, the sermons and rosary could be delivered also in Croat. The teaching in the schools was, depending on the location and period, in Croatian or Italian during Hungarian period and in Italian during the Fascist period. Within families, apart from theofficial language used in formal dealings, everyone spoke the mother language.
1. Also in this part of the history of Cherso, as in the preceding ones, we will refer to, in particular, to G. Ganzetti, Riflessi di storia dalmata sulle vicende dell’isola di Cherso, Padova, 1977.
(2) Whoever wishes to delve deeper in the references about the migration of the Slavs, we recommend reading the volume by Francis Conte, Gli Slavi (The Slavs). Le civilita` del Europa centrale e orientale (The civilizations of central and eastern Europe), Einaudi, Torino1991.
(3) V. Klaic`, C. Porfirogenito, de Thematibus et de Administratio Imperio, Washington 1967.
(4) G. Diacono, Cronica Veneziana, a cura dell’Istituto Storicho Italiano, Roma 1890.
THE EXPEDITION INTO DALMATIA AND THE ISLANDS BY THE VENETIAN DOGE PIETRO ORSEOLO IIAround the year 1000, the dalmatian islands were populated mainly by descendants of the romanized Illyrians (1), but south of Zara (Zadar) there was a huge presence inside the islands of slav populations living mostly of pyracy.
In this environment, the maritime Republic of Venice was making progress in gaining control of the Adriatic Sea for her commerce. The doge Pietro Orseolo II, at the command of a strong and well organized armada, completed an expedition in Dalmatia and on the islands.
This expedition was made following the request by a Dalmatian delegation, who promised their eternal subjection to Orseolo and his heirs.Called an immediate meeting of the Council and obtained their consensus, Orseolo assembled a large fleet, composed of warships and troop transports, then went to S. Peter cathedral to implore heaven’s protection for this enterprise, as was commonly done in those times. Received from the bishop’s hands the standard of the Republic, together with his blessings, Ascension Day of the year 1,000, which fell on the 9
th ofMay – as was precisely written by Silvio Mitis (2) – Orseolo departed with his large fleet for a stopover in Grado where, in the patriarchal church, in the presence of a cheering and approving public, the religious ceremony previously celebrated in Venice was repeated. From here the fleet went toward Istria and a brief stopover in Parenzo (Porec) then Pola (Pula). Here the doge made a stopover of few days in order to receive the delegations of Capodistria (Koper), Pirano (Piran), Isola (Izola), Umago (Umag), Rovigno (Rovinj), Albona (Labin). Received their homage and pledge of fidelity, Orseolo completes the recruitment of needed troops and sailors then raises sails for Dalmatia. The fleet crosses the Quarnero then, on the 19th of May, moors in Bier, a harbor near the city of Ossero (3). In Ossero he was greeted as a liberator and was showered with extravagant feasts to which also participated the Slavic population from the interior villages of the island. According to Italian historians these were few and peaceful farmers while quoting Romanin (4) “Orseolo landed on the stony islands of
Cherso and Ossero then occupied by the Croatian Slavs”, information which is held as unfounded because, if true the Slavic population would have been so large on these islands in that epoch that they surely would have had some form of organization, of which there is no record.The 5
th of June, feast of Pentecost, in the cathedral of Ossero was held a solemn ceremony in the presence of the illustrious guest, in whose honor the “Laudi” (Lauds), were sung which up to then were dedicated only to the emperor of Byzantium.
According to other sources this expedition occurred in 998 but I do not believe this small difference in years is of great importance after so many centuries.
In Ossero came to render homage to the Venetian prince people from the nearby islands of Veglia (Krk) and Arbe (Rab), whence the expedition continues to Zara (Zadar). Here came, to honor him and swear their fidelity, the representatives of Serbenico (Serbenic), Spalato, Trau` Almissa, Ragusa, besides those from the surrounding islands of Pago (Pag) Brazza, Lissa, and from many other parts. The exception was only the islands of Cuzzola and Lessina, which were places of refuge and depository of booty for the Narentan pirates and therefore in their possession.
The doge occupies the two islands then goes on the mainland, inhabited by pirates, and put siege to it until the same pirates come to him to implore mercy. They obtained a ceasefire in exchange of payment for damages done to Venetian citizens and a promise to cease their piracy.
With this the doge concludes his enterprise. Before returning to Venice he revisits the places which submitted to the Republic and reinforced their allegiance.
Finally, returning victorious to the city in the lagoon, he calls for a general assembly in order to give account of his expedition, for which he was widely hailed. In exchange for his services to the city he was also conferred the title of Doge of Venice and Dalmatia, a title conveyed also to his successors.
With this expedition the Duke Orseolo II wanted to show Venice’s power in order to demonstrate that in the upper Adriatic the Franco-Byzantine supremacy ceased to exist and began that of Venice.The occasion for this Venetian expedition was brought about by the lack of payment, by Venice, of the tribute required by the Croats which was imposed by the Byzantine emperor Basilio (Basil) as
praetium pacis. We already talked about this and weremember that it deals with Emperor Basilio’s attempt to discourage piracy by the Slavs in order to have peaceful commerce in the upper Adriatic by routing to the Slavs the tribute which the maritime cities made in order for them to be able to navigate safely these waters.As a matter of fact this piracy was mainly the selling of slaves, a principal source of livelihood for the coastal population. It is not even clear how Venice came about paying this praetium pacis. According to Orlini, Venice assumed the obligation of paying this tribute for the Dalmatians, because it became a heavy burden for them. However there are no documents supporting this thesis. It is certain that Venice, in 991 or 992, under the dogeship of Pietro Orseolo II, decided to discontinue the tribute. The Croats reacted violently provoking a counter-reaction by Venice, which anyway was not able to quiet the Slav’s protest. Orseolo then warns them of an armed intervention, which followed as we have already said.
Independent from the motive which provoked the expedition, if we think that maritime Dalmatia was a Byzantine dominium, it raises doubts on the expedition legitimacy. As a matter of fact Orseolo, according to international rights, violated the sovereignty of a country and assumed the role of an aggressor. It is very likely that the subjugation by Orseolo’s expedition, in some ways, made it official.
While pro-Venetian historiographers generally extol the event and justified them by the Byzantine ineptitude to control the ever increasing pirate raids in Dalmatia, the Slavs usually condemns the event but their interpretation of the facts is not unanimous.
The major part of Slav historians maintains that the goal of Venice was to extend its dominium in order to economically exploit these conquered lands meanwhile making its maritime traffic more secure. Interesting is the version of Smiciklas who, after having stated that the Dalmatian cities and the islands of the Quarnero were autonomous as was Cherso or subjects of the Croatian king, maintains that the emperor of Byzantium, in 995, ceded to the duke Orseolo the rights to Dalmatia in exchange for her help with his war against Germany and the Croatian pirates. Furthermore the emperor would have conceded important privileges to the Venetian merchants in exchange for a likewise arrangement by Venice with the Dalmatians. All this done, including the breach of faith by the littoral region’s ban Svetoslao, in order that Orsoleo would be received with open arms.
Officially, the Dalmatians continued to recognize the Byzantine sovereignty even after Orseolo’s voyage their emperor continued to dispense honoraries. Also may be that this expedition was undertaken without Informing Byzantium and without her consent, but it probably can be confirmed that the emperor overlooked this happenings, but he may have done so out of weakness, because of palace’s affairs or the conflicts
with the Arabs or Bulgarians or for other motives. On the other hand the Dalmatians needed help in freeing themselves from annoyances by the Slavs, even if the later preferred being governed by Byzantium which, because of its distance, permitted them greater liberties.
For this motive maybe the local authorities would not have welcomed the Venetian duke’s voyage if it was not for the emperor’s consent.Venice, who already enjoyed great prestige in the Adriatic Sea, needed to confirm it, for this reason the enterprise of Orseolo was viewed as a political and military need. It may be also that the emperors, Constantine and Basil, both knowing that Dalmatia would be lost anyway, preferred to know that it would be under the friendlier Venice than under
the Croats. The later ones in fact if they would have become more powerful, wouldhave been a danger for the whole empire.
Among the others, one of the more logical theses seems to be the one by De Voinovich, who maintains that their meddling in the Byzantine lands can be explained only if we suppose an explicable agreed situation or implicit acknowledgment by the maritime jurisdictions – evidence of Venetian pertinence – and territorial sovereignty pertaining to the emperor.In the everyday life of Cherso and Ossero and other dalmatian islands we can not verify any changes as the Byzantine domination was only nominal and the substitution of the doge with an overseer is a strategy solely for Dalmatia leaving the people of the island to themselves.
(1) Lacking otherwise specific indication, this part is mainly treated by G. Ganzetti. Riflessi di storia dalmata sulle vicende del
Isola di Cherso, Padova 1997.
(2) Silvio Mitis, Storia di Cherso – Ossero dal 476 al 1409, Parenzo 1925.
(3) For a description of the expedition of the duke Orseolo II, we referred to the text by Matteo Nicolich, Storia documentata
dei Lussini, Rovigno 1871.
(4) S. Romanin, Storia documentata di Venezia, Venezia 1972.
BEGINNING OF THE VENETIAN PERIOD
The troubled eleventh century (1)
Four powers, two eminent, the pope and the emperor, and two sovereign, the doge of Venice and the king of Croatia who are jockeying among themselves in Dalmatia, Croatia and Italy.
In particular, in the year 1,000, following the duke Orseolo’s expedition into Dalmatia and the islands and the defeat of the Narentian pirates, the Republic of Venice stops paying tribute to the Croatian princes which, times ago, was established by Byzantium as “pro bono Pacis”, and begins her maritime supremacy on the Adriatic Sea. At this time Venice was not interested in territorial possessions. It follows a relatively peaceful period of security for her commerce. The emperor of Byzantium maintains his political power, in fact he continues with his political duties, distributes honors, and his political acts carries the empire’s stamp of approval, in church they always sing lauds in his honor – but weak, far away and constantly busy with internal and external conflicts – has minimal influence on the political and social life of those lands.But the peace is short lived because new political conflicts, among the Byzantine emperor, the pope and the Venetian Republic in which, because of their position, our lands became inevitably involved, not as much for Cherso, where these events were reflexes rather than affecting her directly, as were the Dalmatian cities, such as Spalato and Zara. Further complicating things, among the emperor, the pope and the Venetian Republic is the desire by the Slavic people to conquer new territory toward Dalmatia and the islands, favored by the birth of the Slavic national party and by two strong princes: Cresimiro and Demetrio Zvonimiro. Anyway the peace lasts until the death, in 1009, of the duke Pietro Orseolo II. Who was succeeded by his son Ottone Orseolo, at
the age of 15; and attacks by the Slavs to Venetian shipping and incursions into the maritime cities of Dalmatia, instigated by Cresimiro I, king of the Croats, resume.
Ossero, Cherso and the other islands of the Quarnero live in a situation of constant danger for which, in 1018, asks the duke Ottone orseolo to intervene. Thereafter the Venetian fleet confronts king Cresimiro in the Quarnero seas where she defeats him.
The doge, during his return voyage to Venice, briefly stops in the more important cities to ask for payment of a tribute. In Ossero the doge is greeted by the bishop Martino and by Priore Giovanni who took charge, in the name of the local population, to give as payment, on Christmas day of every year, forty marten skins.According to some Croatian historians, among who is Kralic, Cresimiro was then in charge of nearly all dalmatia, but according to Ganzetti there it is no evidence of document that proves and support this croatian statement.
Alarmed by the number and power of the Slavs, Pope Gregory VII and the Dalmatians, separately, requested help. Gregory VII first asks a noble of Danemark, to subjugate Croatia and to become its king; then he allied himself with the Dalmatians, who had already asked for help from the Norman King Amico. He defeats the king of Croatia and imprisons him on the island of Pago (Pag) but did not become king of Croatia because of some political and religious conflict of interest. Even the Venetian Republic did not see as a good thing this Norman presence in Dalmatia, other than in southern Italy and, in 1076, sent a powerful fleet, commanded by doge Domenico Selvo’ against Amico, Domenico Selvo defeated Amico, re-establishing Venice’s dominance on the Adriatic Sea and re-takes the title of Dux Dalmatiae. After this victorious expedition, the doge Domenico Selvo reunites, in Spalato, the representatives of the Dalmatian communes and made them promise – what has never happened before – that from then on no one could introduce in Dalmatia Normans or other foreigners, through them or through others. This way was established two separate kingdoms: the one of Dalmatia, whose imperial sovereignty was represented by Venice, and the one of Croatia with its king.
King Michael VII, weak and incompetent, was king of Byzantium until 1081; with a coup he was substituted by Alessio Comneno, active and energetic, who brought to an end thirty years of disorder, of anarchy, of humiliation and rebuilds its army. He is
totally absorbed in this task for which he neglects Dalmatia.
This lack of interest was noticed right away by Roberto the Giuscardo, who had decided to conquer a kingdom on the eastern coast of the Byzantine Empire. Allied with him were the Croatian king and the Dalmatian Communes, this is in open violation of the pact of Spalato. This –according to Ganzetti – is the first time that the Dalmatian Communes betrays the Eastern Roman Crown, represented by the Venetian Republic, and many historians do not mention this. The reasons for this turnabout could be:
- the hard monopolistic Venetian intransigence along their coasts;
- the desire to regain their own autonomy;
- the influence of the Benedictine monasteries, always richer and more potent, and favoring alliance between the pope and Roberto the Giuscardo.
More difficult to explain is the alliance with the Croatian king.
The fact is that Byzantium and Venice become alarmed and, in 1081 there was a clash first between the Venetian fleet and the one of Giuscardo, resulting in a Venetian victory, then between the one of the emperor and the one of Giuscardo. Regrettably the winner was the Norman fleet and Roberto the Giuscardo settles in the Dalmatian littoral, but was compelled, after a brief time, to abandon camp after being recalled to Italy because the pope needed help against Enrico IV. His son Boemondo remained in Durazzo, southern Dalmatia.
Between 1085 and 1086 the doge Domenico Selvo, because of the defeat of Roberto il Guiscardo, was replaced by Vitale Falier, who allies himself with Byzantium and, finally, together were able to defeat the Normans and remove them from Dalmatia.Because of this victory, whose credit was attributed mainly to Venice, the emperor Alessio Comneno and the doge Vitale Falier stipulate an accord that the doge, bearing the title “leader of Dalmatia and Croatia and imperial
protosebasto”, gains the full possession of Dalmatia.
This is an act on which were given various interpretations. We will rely on the one by Romanin according to whom, in reality, Byzantium did not renounce Croatia or Dalmatia even if the fact is that the Venetian doge was nominated leader of these two regions.
Was only granted to Venice certain rights on the eastern Adriatic Sea, but Dalmatia continued to be, nominally and officially, part of the Eastern Roman Empire even after 1085 and until the fall of Constantinople.
However, few months later the situation changes again with the nomination, by the pope, of the pontifical aide Demetrio Zvonimiro as king of Dalmatia and Croatia. In exchange he pays the pope 200 Byzantine gold coins and promise to defend with his army all rights of the Church.
While in the political arena all this happens, the peoples of the dalmatian islands govern themselves, with their own laws and statutes. The city of Ossero, as the other cities, have their own magistrates for administering the city’s affairs, collect taxes, and provide for the people’s necessities. The Venetian Republic keeps the local Authority in place but sends, to direct her own interests, a Curator or Mayor. As a sign of dependence, to the government of the duke Ottone Orseolo, is understood that the major cities must pay Venice a tribute, based on the quantity and quality of the natural local products; that is, Ossero, on Christmas Day of every years, must give Venice, a tribute of forty marten pelts; Arbe, ten pounds of silk; Muggia, Umago, Cittanova and Parenzo a certain quantity of oil and wine and, in case of need, a certain number of boats.
Aside the social class of nobles and clergies, begins to gain importance and being recognized is the middle class, consisting of people of commerce, and artisans.
While the political power in Dalmatia and the islands, as a matter of fact, was passing from the hands of the Byzantine emperor to those of the doge of Venice, in the religious camp Christianity had two loci: Rome and Byzantium, often fighting between themselves, especially for the control of Illyrium and the Dalmatian coasts. The bishops of Zara, Ossero and Spalato, sometimes unsure which way Christianity was leaning, decided to adhere to the Church of Rome, Instead Byzantium became the religious capital of the Slavic people.While the other spheres of the Church had their so called battle, on the territories of our interest, was being founded and developed the monastic order of the Benedictines: it seems that along the shores, from Veglia to Cattaro (Kotar), were established,
between men and women, at least forty monasteries. Ossero was an important seat of the bishops, who left more than an important trace on the Church history. Here, during this period, we find the notable bishop Gaudenzio, who later became Saint Gaudenzio, Ossero’s protector. He founded numerous Benedictine convents, among which, in Ossero is the ones of S. Pietro dentro le Mura and the other one is for the nuns of S. Maria delle Grazie. According to popular belief, he also founded the chiostri (cloisters) of S. Francesco of Neresine and that of S. Martino. These convents were not only centers of religious life but also true centers of language, culture and Roman traditions for people who were at the edge of Byzantine and Slavic influence. For their indisputable cultural and organizational superiority, they had great influence not only on the religious life of the place but also on its civil and political life; in the monasteries they studied, learned a trade and often treaties of peace between belligerent parties were penned there. (n.45)
(1) Except where stated, for this part of the story I used the following sources:
- P. Ganzetti, Riflessi sulla storia dalmata sulle vicende del Isola di Cherso, Padova 1997
- M. Nicolich, Storia documentata dei Lussini, Rovigno 1878
- A. Fortis, Osservazioni sopra l’isola di Cherso ed Ossero, Venezia 1771
(2) G. Lucio, De regno Croatiae et Dalmatiae, Trieste 1983
S. Romanin, Storia documentata di Venezia, Venezia 1972
THE TWELFTH CENTURY (1)
For the island of Cherso, the other islands of the Quarnero and Dalmatia, the twelfth century was not quieter than the eleventh. The Adriatic Sea which laps this territory is always the object of interest for the Venetian Republic but during this period other players enters the arena, such as the Republic of Pisa and Hungary.
In this century the Venetian government was not as prominent as it was during the past centuries, for which the various Dalmatian communities often suffers during confrontations. Another important happening during this century is the fourth crusade. But we delve a bit deeper on this century’s happenings that is, from the year 1100 to about 1200.
With the year 1000 and the famous expedition in Istria, Dalmatia and the Quarnero’s islands by the Venetian doge Pietro Orseolo II does not start the peaceful predominance by Venice on the Adriatic Sea. As a matter of fact this Venetian predominance on the Adriatic Sea was fiercely contested by Hungary who desired an opening on the sea and asserted rights on Dalmatia through Demetrio Zvonimiro, the pontifical aide named king of Dalmatia and Croatia by the pope. Zvonimiro was the husband of Helen, sister of the king of Hungary Ladislao I
This is why, when, in 1091, Zvonimiro was assassinated and the country was in turmoil caused by fights among numerous pretenders to the crown, Helen asked her brother for help.
This is the more credible thesis for explaining the Hungarian descent into Dalmatia, but others maintain simply that king Ladislao took the occasion for an easy conquest, of the country, weakened by civil wars. According to others he was solicited by an important Croatian political person to take this opportunity that is, called to help the Dalmatian cities. According to Ganzetti this region welcomed the Hungarians, the same way they have previously welcomed the Normans, with the illusion of conserving the political-administrative and religious liberties which so far no one was able to take away and which was easier to conserve when the rulers were far away. The presupposed who form the base of this new dominance are the same as the preceding ones: conflicts among the various ruling groups and incapacity, by the Dalmatian communes, to maintain their own autonomy because of political and military weakness, which renders them vulnerable, that is, for fear of being conquered by anyone, they search and offer themselves to some power agreeable to them with the illusion that, provided the necessary protection, the chosen power, quietly disappears without taking nothing in exchange. Anyway, the action of king Ladislao touched only Croatia and not the maritime region of Dalmatia but is important to know this because it affects what follows.
In 1095 king Ladislao I died, was succeeded by Colomano, who has the same aims on the Adriatic Sea as had his predecessor and, for lack of interest by the pope, by Venice and by the emperor because they were all busy with the fourth crusade, descends into Dalmatia and conquers her.
Colomano leave to the Dalmatian Communes their liberties but… does not keep his word and, few years later (in 1,112) there was an insurgency by the Communes against the Hungarian power and the king reviews his position.However, Venice and Byzantium can not tolerate this foreign interference on the
Adriatic Sea and Byzantium turns to Pisa offering her, in exchange for her help against the Hungarians, the privileges and favors once granted to Venice and never revoked.
This caused a break of the ancient Byzantium-Venice ties.
The maritime Republic of Pisa does not ask for a prayer because for her this is an occasion for her to extend her political power and her commerce on the Adriatic Sea, where Venice always dominated. The latter however can not take Dalmatia and the Quarnero islands, which would confer her a position and rank of a great power.
Meanwhile, in 1115, while the Venetian fleet was in the Holy Land, the doge Ordelafo Falier place himself personally as the head of an expedition to conquer the Dalmatian lands.
According to Venetian historians the doge, conquers Dalmatia, also takes Croatia and assume the title of “Dux Croatiae et Dalmatiae”. However Dandolo does not mention it.
Ordelafo Falier succeeds the doge Domenico Michiel, during whose government is enjoyed five years of peace, negotiated by the pope in view of the fourth crusade.
Passed this truce, the Hungarians take to the offensive against the Dalmatian cities, taking advantage of the fact that Venice was busy in the Holy Land, but at their return home, the Venetians re-conquer the lost lands. It is a continuous back-and-forth which renders difficult the life of its inhabitants. Thing are not any easier for Venice either, whether because of particular disregards by the Communes or because of fighting for religious supremacy.
Zara, for example, does not want to stay united with Spalato(Split) not religiously nor politically, for this reason the bishop of Zara request and obtain from the pope the declaration that his city be declared archdioceses and it is for this reason that the dioceses of Ossero, Arbe, Veglia and Lessina became dependent of Zara. It was an act which practically sanctionned Zara’s autonomy, something to which Venice did not agree for which, in 1155, the pope placed Zara to the dependence of
Grado, whose Patriarch assumed the title of Pre-eminence of Dalmatia. This fact had great political-national and religious relevance because it sealed her civil control on Zara and the islands and, from the religious point of view, with this act the Dalmatian communities became less prone to Slavic influence.
But with it Zara also lost its autonomy, for which she struggled so much and…gives itself to Hungary.Venice, to assure herself of closer control over this region, reacts by imposing in all the Communes a Count chosen from among the more noble Venetian families who are faithful to the doge and, in order to render the situation even more stable, to some of these nobles were imposed marriages with members of royal families of the frontier towns; this way the count of Ossero marries the daughter of the
grangiuppano of Serbia. The Venetian Counts become true feudal who limit or truly annul every communal liberty, they build imposing palaces and appropriate al the sources of rights and sustenance of the people. The communes try, without success, to correct this situation for the whole sixtieth decade of the century (1160).
With the new decade (1170) in this panorama Pisa is inserted, who binds commercial and political relations with Ragusa (Dubrovnik), Spalato and the Eastern Empire but not with Venice, as a matter of fact the Venetian residents in the Empire were imprisoned and their respective properties confiscated.In Zara and on the islands there were no significant changes: the Venetian counts
continued to govern with an iron fist and exploit the local population.
Venice however is in difficulty because of conflicts with Dalmatian ships which prevents the development of commerce causing a crisis in the economic sector which induces Venice to conclude a truce with Hungary lasting two years.
At the end of these two years the Hungarians and Serbs form an alliance then occupies Ragusa and Spalato. Zara takes this opportunity to replace their Venetian count with a man who they trust and esteemed by the Hungarians, and for tying an alliance pact with Pisa in order to have her help in case of a Venetian reaction. As a matter of fact, after two years (about 1180) Venice reacts sending a fleet to conquer the city, but it was defeated.During the last decade of the twelfth century to Venice remained only the islands of the Quarnero,
(1) Also in this part of the History of Cherso, except where indicated, we refer to the volume of Gianluigi Ganzetti, Riflessi di storia Dalmata sulle vicende delI’isola di Cherso, Padova 1997.
THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY (1)
The 13th century is characterized by the authorization and organization of the Fourth Crusade in the Holy Land and, from the social-political point of view, by the ongoing communal regulations.
In the milieu of the Fourth Crusade, which the pope was soliciting, Venice assumed the burden of transporting the troops with its fleet “but – as it is sustained by doge Enrico Dandolo in a letter which he subsequently sent to the pope – Our fleet was caught in this a late season voyage and, with the bad weather approaching, we were compelled to spend the winter season in Zara. A city which belonged to us and despite the pact she swore she rebelled against us. We vindicated on her and we think we have had the rights…”
The whole Christian world fiercely criticizes this act : the pope hits Venice with excommunication.
Venice’s use of the crusaders to regain Zara certainly was not a proper gesture but the behavior of the rulers during the Middle Ages can not be judged on its actual merit and, on the morality of that epoch, her act was, if not really permissible, it was consented.
But, as soon as the Crusaders leave, the people of Zara, with the pope’s help, who sends them the Knights and a fleet of ten fighting ships (galere) re-take the city.
We touched on the Venetian expedition to Zara because it has great political significance from the international point of view and with her policy toward the communes of Dalmatia and the islands because, for the first time, Hungary was forced to back out from the Dalmatian coasts by an international force and, having taken the city with a large European armada (the one of the Crusaders), this act places her within the circle of the great continental powers, which increases her prestige and the revival of her preponderance on the Adriatic Sea.
Furthermore, this fact signals the beginning of a new political policy by Venice toward the Dalmatian communes and the islands, which will not be considered anymore as her fiefdoms, but as free lands, administered by simple functionaries obliged to observe its citizens statute.This was the itinerary but to reach the objective of free communes there was a long road ahead. But look to see what happened in the 13th century on the island of Cherso.
The thirteen century on the island of Cherso
During this period we talk, indifferently, of Ossero or of Cherso when we refer to the island or we may use the two names together. According to Mitis, the county of Ossero also covered the nearby islands of Lussino, Veglia. Arbe, Pago, Selve and Premuda and the reefs (small islands) of Levrera, the two Canidole, Sansego, S. Pietro in Nembi, Asinello, the two Oriuole, and of Ordura, and Palazzuolo.
Also on the Island of Cherso the road toward a free commune begins with the count of the fiefdom. The first person of this category in Cherso was Guido Polani, who in the year 1145 was named count-for-life for this city. As it is shown in the list of Mitis on the document titled “Cherso ed Ossero sotto la serenissima”, Guido Polani was not the only son of a doge but so were nearly all others counts-for-life of this city who were not, as some other authors maintain, “decadent nobles, full of arrogance and self importance who often were trying to redo themselves in the cities of the province…”
Even if the feudal counts of Cherso were not the transplanted ones, they obliged the inhabitants of the island to pay a series of tributes, allowances, and abundant gratuities for which the citizens complained constantly even committing acts of violence. A happening of this type occurred under the governorship of Guido Polani when, was assassinated Nicolo Guercini, sent to the island by Venice to quiet the revolt which occurred out of desperation, by some people from Caisole, (Beli), a large possession owned by the Morosini family.
The rebellion quieted down only after Venice held hostage some nobles from Cherso and the governorship of the island was trusted to Matteo Giustinian, who assumed, for the first time, the title of Podesta` (Mayor).
The brief governorship of Matteo Giustinian however was only a parenthesis, which signals the end of power for the Morosini family but not for the feudal period. The Morosini were replaced by the family Tiepolo, with the title of count-for-life, in 1234, Pietro Tiepolo was the son of doge Jacopo. The family Tiepolo governed the island for 34 years, until 1268. Then the governorship passes to four Venetians (2), who held the governorship for one biennial each. During the governorship of the latter, Marco Michiel, there was discord between Ossero and Cherso because sheep and pigs belonging to the Chersini (people from Cherso), where breaking out of their pastures and were grazing on the cultivated farms of the Osserini (people from Ossero); on their part the Chersini complained that the Osserini were not paying for their grazing rights that is, the tax levy due for using the Chersini’s fields for feeding their cows. In order to settle this discord they send to Venice their respective representatives: Michele, known as Panza, for Ossero and, for Cherso, Angelo Bocchina, of the family who will eventually take the name Antoniazzo, one of the ancient noble families of this city.
Only a few croatian families were living in the interior of the islands of Cherso and Lussino at the end of the thirteen century, but disappeared in the next years with the epidemies related to the Black Plague. Meanwhile, the Republic of Venice in that century brought some families from Veneto and northern Italy to populate the northern dalmatian islands and Lissa.