An outline of important historical events during the old era and the Middle Ages on the territory of Montenegro


In the old era, the territory of the present-day Montenegro as well as all surrounding regions, were inhabited by the Illyrians. Before the conquest by the Romans, they had been under strong Greek influence. «The Illyrian State» already existed at the time of the first war between the Illyrians and Romans, during the rule of the Illyrian queen Teuta 229-228 BC. The coastal towns of Ulcinj, Budva and Risan, as well as the inland Medun date back to this earliest period. The Illyrian state finally fell to the Romans in 167 BC and the consul Lucius Ancius informed the Illyrian leaders in Skadar about the dissolution of the Kingdom.

From 11 AD onwards, the region of Montenegro, constituting part of the former Illyricum, became part of the Roman province Dalmatia, which brought about a certain degree of Roman administration to it. The town life that had already existed developed further in this period; however, it did not suppress a tribal organization in the inland, which the Romans retained in the districts. Pliny mentions Risan, Kotor, Budva and Ulcinj on this territory as oppida civium Romanorum. It seems that Risan later obtained a rank of a colony. In the inland, Doklea became a municipium. Most likely, another municipum existed on the territory of Pljevlja. By establishing the province of Prevalis in AD 297, one stronger administrative unit was formed for the first time on the territory approximate to the present-day Montenegro . The capital of the province was Skadar. The road connecting Skadar (Skodra) with Narona (Vid near Metkovici) ran in two branches via Montenegro. One branch led from Epidaurus (Cavtat), along the coast, to Ulcinj, via Budva. On it, among others, a station of Rose had developed, becoming an important settlement in the Middle Ages. The other branch led to the inland, via Anderva (near later Anagastum i.e. Nikšic), Alata and Birziminium, one of which is later Ribnica.

Between the 3rd and 6th centuries, some important social changes took place. Following the division of the Roman Empire in AD 395, a border between the provinces of Prevalis and neighbouring Dalmatia became part of the border between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, which became reflected in the church organization as well as in almost all fields of political, economic and cultural life of later periods.

During the migration of peoples in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, the East Goths held a part of Prevalis, among other areas in the west Balkans. From this period, their fortification in Nikši c (Anagastum) has survived .

The last mention of the Roman Doclea (Duklja) dates back to AD 602. Soon afterwards, Doclea was destroyed, like many other towns. The name Doclea itself has survived as the name of the whole area in later centuries. During the reign of Emperor Iraclius AD 610-641, the Slavs permanently settled the territory of Montenegro, following the first invasions with the Avars and destruction of the Roman towns. The Roman inhabitants took refuge to the remaining towns and built some new ones. Bar, Svac and Martinici were probably built in this period. The Byzantine rule over the preserved and newly built towns on the coast can be said to have been only formal in the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century, archonts, autonomous regions headed by archons were formed. In order to strengthen the imperial power, new administrative-military regions – temes - were formed out of archonts. Bar and Ulcinj belonged to the teme of Drac, while the Boka Kotorska belonged to the teme of Dalmatia .

Over time, Slavic tribes became widely established in the region and began to accept influences from the Byzantium and the Roman towns in the seaboard. A social differentiation took place. The tribal nobility became a ruling feudal class. This process was supported by the Christian church which was spreading among the Slavic tribes in the districts of Doklea. The Christianization took place mostly in the 9th century, being strengthened in the 10th century. In the mid 9th century, more precisely in 840-841, the Saracens laid waste Budva, Rose and Lower Kotor, situated on the territory of Montenegro. This devastation resulted in the change of relationships between the Slavs and Romans in the towns, which acquired a predominant Slavic character. In the 11th century, the State of Doclea consisted of Skadar, Ulcinj, Budva, Kotor and the town of Doclea. The emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus mentions another three inhabited towns in Doklea - Gradac, Novigrad and Lug. The position of these towns has not been ascertained yet.

At the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century, Doclea was ruled by Duke Vladimir who had his capital in Krajina, near the present-day village of Ostros, i.e. the Church of Our Lady of Krajina. Except for the remains of a church complex, nothing else has survived of this capital. In 1042, at the battle of Bar, Duke Vojislav and his sons defeated the Byzantine army, and finally won the independence of the State of Doclea . From this period onwards, the region came to be known under the name Zeta. Until 1082, Zeta was ruled by Mihajlo, who obtained a title of a king and was succeeded by a son Bodin, married to a Norman princess Jacinta. Doclea i.e. Zeta comprised Raška, Bosna, Trebinje and Hum. During Bodin's rule, in 1089, the bishopric of Bar was raised to the rank of an archbishopric. Following Bodin's death in 1108, Zeta suffered dynastic struggles over the throne, which left the state weakened. At the same time, Raška strengthened and in 1280s, Nemanja conquered Zeta, together with the coastal towns, annexing them to Raška.

Most likely, the majority of towns i.e. minor fortifications in the inland territory of Montenegro had already been built by this period, if not as a solidly built architecture, then at least, as wooden architecture. These towns were Žabljak, (Lug?), Spuž, Moraca, Soko in Piva, (Medjurjecje?) Bihor, Gradac and Plav. Mainly, they were centres of the Slavic districts. We can conclude that they were constructed in the early Middle Ages because very little or not at all traces of them have survived on the terrain. Probably by this time, Ratac had already been established on the coast, and later strengthened.

Nemanja gave Zeta with Trebinje to his son Vukan, who was succeeded by a son Ðordje. Throughout the whole Nemanjic period, Zeta was ruled by the dynasty members or hears to the throne. In this period, Zeta always had a privileged position in relation other parts of the state, because it was relatively the most developed area. The coastal towns, being the centres of trade and artisan activity, had their self-government. They exerted a strong cultural influence on the inland.

Mining centres in the inland developed during the Nemanjic time, as well; therefore the foundation of Brskovo and possibly Koznik is connected to this period.

Following emperor Dušan's death, a great feudal state crumbled, while the nobility in certain regions strengthened. From 1361 onwards, the Balšics, who held Bar and Budva, were mentioned in Zeta. They expanded their territory, so that in 1373 they were holding lands from Dubrovnik to Prizren. At that time, a feudal lord of the Upper Zeta, Radic Crnojevic, rebelled, while the Turks were advancing towards Zeta through Albania . Failing to receive the sought-for assistance from Venice, Balša II, the ruler of Zeta, opposed the Turks on his own and was killed in 1385. He was succeeded by a nephew Ðuradj III Balšic, who lost some southern lands, including Skadar, Drivast and St. Srdj, but managed to regain some lands of the rebellious and independent Crnojevics in the Upper Zeta, following the death of Radic . The son of Ðuradj, Balša III, tried to recover the parts of Zeta previously taken by the Venetians, but since he had Crnojevics against him, as well, he had to give up his intentions. After he had gone ill, he went to his uncle, despot Stevan, in Serbia where he died in 1421. He left all his lands to despot Stevan.

During the Balšics rule, the monasteries on the islands of Skadar Lake were built as minor, fortified entities.

Following the dissolution of Dušan's empire, the present-day north and northwest areas of Montenegro belonged, first, to king Tvrtko, and then to Sandalj Hranic. During the time of king Tvrtko, the town of Novi in Dracevica (later Herceg Novi) was built in 1382. We cannot conclude with certainty whether the town was newly built. It is possible than an older fortification was reconstructed after many centuries.

Despot Stevan and Despot Ðuradj waged wars against Venice over the lands in Zeta, but following the fall of despotovina (domain of a despot) in 1439, a way was opened for Venice to conquer the whole coastal part of Zeta. The Crnojevics were submitted to the supreme rule of Venice.

The revival of despotovina (domain of a despot) in 1444 meant the revival of conflicts between despot Ðuradj and Venice. For a time, the Crnojevics sided with the despot, but when a rebellion of peasants against Venice broke out in Grbalj, they turned to Venice and crushed the rebellion. The arisen struggles between the despot and the Crnojevics were brought to an end by the Turks who, after conqueriing Medun, put under their control the remaining despot's lands in Zeta. The Venetians held the coastal part and controlled the territory of Stefan Crnojevic in the Upper Zeta. The north and northwest areas of Montenegro were held by Herceg Stjepan at that time, but not for long. The Turks posed a constant threat to the Crnojevics, and Stefan's son Ivan, after not receiving any assistance from the Venetians turned against them and attacked their holdings. Due to the immediate threat from the Turks and through the mediation of Herceg Stjepan, he made peace with the Venetians. In meanwhile, in 1479, the Turks took Skadar and Žabljak, the capital of Ivan Crnojevic. Since the Venetians had made peace with the Turks, Ivan was forced to leave the country and take refuge in Italy. At that time, the Turks put Zeta under their control. In 1481, following the death of Mahmud II, the circumstances were convenient for Ivan to continue struggles against the Turks and set his lands free. Hovewer, in the end, he was forced to recognize the Turkish supremacy, to surrender Žabljak with the plains and to retreat to Cetinje. Ivan's sons Ðuradj and Stevan ruled as the Turkish vassals. Ðuradj had to escape to Venice because Stevan had revealed to the Turks his intention to take part in an uprising against them. Stevan continued to rule on his own, but in 1499, the Turks sent him to Skadar and annexed Montenegro to the Skadar sanjak.

Soko near Štitari, Kom, Ðurdjevac, Obod and Cetinje were built on the Crnojevics' territory, during their rule, although it is possible that some of them had been built even earlier, during the Balšics' rule, prior to the rebellion of Radic Crnojevic.

Budoš, Ostrog, Norin and Susjed, at the border of Herceg's lands with Zeta, were built in the first half of the 15th century at the latest, probably even before the Herceg's time.

Following 1499, the Turks held the majority of towns in Montenegro and throughout several centuries, they reconstructed and rebuilt the ones they were using. Some of them fell to ruins already in the 16th century. In the coastal towns, held by the Venetians, the extensive construction interventions on defensive architecture, adjusted to the use of increasingly efficient cannons, were undertaken in that period.