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Prince-Bishopric of Montenegro was а theocratic state that existed from 1516–1851. It emerged from the Orthodox bishops of Cetinje, later metropolitans, who renounced Ottoman overlordship and transformed the parish of Cetinje to a Russian de facto protectorate, ruling as Metropolitans (Vladika, also rendered "Prince-Bishop").[1][2][3] The history starts with Danilo Šćepčević, a bishop of Cetinje who united several clans of Montenegro into fighting the Ottoman Empire that had occupied most of southeastern Europe. Vladika Danilo was the first of the House of Petrović-Njegoš, which would occupy the office as Metropolitan of Cetinje until 1851, when Montenegro became a secular state (principality) under Danilo Petrović-Njegoš. Also, it became a brief monarchy when it was temporary abolished 1767–1773, when impostor Little Stephen, posed as Russian Emperor and crowned himself Lord of Montenegro.


The state was virtually the Metropolitanate of Zeta under the supervision of the Petrović-Njegoš family. The name mostly used in historiography is "Metropolitanate of Cetinje" or "Cetinje Metropolitanate" (Цетињска митрополија).[4] The highest office-holder of the polity was the Metropolitan (Vladika, also rendered "Prince-Bishop"). Metropolitan Danilo I (1696-1735) called himself "Danil, Metropolitan of Cetinje, Njegoš, Duke of the Serb land" („Данил, владика цетињски, Његош, војеводич српској земљи...").[5][6] When Bjelopavlići and the rest of the Hills (Seven hills) was joined into the state during the rule of Peter I, it was officially called "Black Mountain (Montenegro) and the Hills".[7] In Danilo I's Code, dated to 1855, he explicitly states that he is the "knjaz (duke, prince) and gospodar (lord) of the Free Black Mountain (Montenegro) and the Hills".[8]


Fall of Zeta[]

Zeta, which corresponded to the later Prince-Bishopric, fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1498. In 1514, it was administrated into the sanjak of Montenegro, by order of Sultan Bayezid II. The first sanjak-bey was Ivan Crnojević's son Staniša-Skenderbeg Crnojević, who was converted into Islam, and held office 1514–1528. The Crnojevići disappear from Montenegro after 1534.[9]

Metropolitanate (non-hereditary)[]

The year 1516 saw a shift in the constitution of Montenegro that many historians regard as having ensured its survival as an independent state. The last of the Crnojević dynasty retired to Venice (he had married a Venetian) and conferred the succession upon the Serbian Orthodox Bishops of Cetinje. In Montenegro the position of vladika, as the prince-bishop was known, brought stability to that country's leadership.[when?] The link between church and state elevated it in the eyes of the peasantry, gave it an institutionalized form of succession that prevented its becoming a matter of contest between minor chieftains, and excluded the possibility of compromising alliances with the Turks.

In this period, Vladikas came from different families and were elected by popular assemblies. According to St. Petar Cetinjski "The Vladika is an exemplary Montenegrin, as were the first Vladikas, and he cannot be but a born Montenegrin from one of the best Montenegrin families." A renowned writer of a history of Montenegro noted: "The Vladikas were true spiritual and popular leaders of the Montenegrin people. The Vladika was a guardian of the people's spiritual strength and self-awareness, based on faith and the tradition of heroism and glorious ancestors...the Vladikas governed not by brute force but by purely moral influence, persuasion and prayers. And they all recognized the supreme authority of the Faith and the Church in which the Vladikas and the people were one. It was a special kind of spiritual brotherhood".[10]

The institution of the theocratic sovereign and the individuals who occupied it through the centuries were key to Montenegro's independence, the Montenegrin national identity and unity, against the backdrop of tribal divisions. Surrounded by the Ottoman empire, nestled in the highlands around the Mount Lovćen, Montenegro kept its sovereignty through the leadership of the Vladikas.

Therefore, Eparchy of Cetinje, having overcome the phase of a passive onlooker, took active, and even leading political role in the fight for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the 17th century, Montenegrins fought and won two important battles at Ljeskopolje (1603 and 1613), under the leadership and command of Cetinje's metropolitan, Rufim II Njeguš.[11] This was the first time that the Turks were defeated under the leadership of a Cetinje's vladika, and that became tradition thereafter. At the same time this signify the beginning of the factual autocephalic activity of Montenegrin Orthodox Church[citation needed], institutionalized in the diocese of Cetinje.[12]

Danilo I of Montenegro

The 17th century was a difficult period for the small, landlocked state, which was almost constantly at war with the Ottoman Empire. Although Ottoman forces suffered many defeats in the hands of Montenegrins who not only kept their independence but progressively reasserted their sovereignty over neighboring territories, Cetinje itself was captured in 1623, in 1687, and again in 1712. Three factors explain the failure of the Ottomans to subdue it completely:[citation needed]

  • the obdurate resistance of the population,
  • the inhospitable character of the terrain (in which a cynic may say that "a small army is beaten, a large one dies of starvation"), and
  • the adept use of diplomatic ties with Venice.[13]

From 1519 until 1696 the position of vladika was an elective one, but in the latter year Metropolitan Danilo I Petrović-Njegoš was elected to the position with the significant novelty of being able to nominate his own successor. Although Orthodox clergy in general are permitted to marry, bishops are required to be celibate; consequently, Danilo passed his office to his nephew-founding a tradition that lasted until 1852.


Metropolitans of the Petrović-Njegoš family[]

During the reign of Danilo two important changes occurred in the wider European context of Montenegro: the expansion of the Ottoman state was gradually reversed, and Montenegro found in Russia a powerful new patron to replace the declining Venice. The replacement of Venice by Russian patronage was especially significant, since it brought financial aid (after Danilo visited Peter the Great in 1715), modest territorial gain, and, in 1789, formal recognition by the Ottoman Porte of Montenegro's independence as a state under Petar I Petrović Njegoš.

Vladika Danilo was succeeded by Vladika Sava and Vladika Vasilije. Vladika Sava was predominantly occupied with clerical duties and did not enjoy as much charisma among tribal heads as his predecessor did. However, he managed to keep good relations with Russia, and to get considerable help from Peter the Great's successor empress Elizabeth. During his trip to Russia his deputy Vasilije Petrović gained considerable respect among clan heads by giving support to some Montenegrin tribes who were attacked by Turks. He was as much hated by the Venetians as he was by Turks. Vasilije was also active in trying to solicit Russian support for Montenegro. For that purpose he went three times to Russia where he died in 1766. He also wrote one of the earliest historical books ("History of Montenegro") on Montenegro.

Reign of impostor Stephen the Little[]

During Christmas fasting in 1766, after the rumors spread by captain M. Tanović, in Montenegro appeared, supposedly, the Russian tzar Peter III, who was believed to had been murdered by the lovers of Catherine II in 1762. Having affection for Russia, Montenegrins accepted the newcomer as their new tzar (1768) under the name of Stephen the Little (Šćepan Mali). Vladika Sava conveyed to people Russian message that Šćepan is an ordinary crook, but the people believed the tzar rather than Sava. Following this event Šćepan the Little put Sava under house arrest in Stanjevići monastery.

Šćepan the Little was very cruel but respected and feared man during his reign. After realizing how much respect he commands, and that only him can keep Montenegrins together, Russian diplomat Dolgoruki abandoned his efforts to discredit Scepan giving him even financial support (Jagos Jovanovic, Stvaranje Crnogorske drzave i razvoj Crnogorske nacionalnosti, 1947, Obod-Cetinje).[page needed] In 1771 Šćepan founded the permanent court composed of most respected clan leaders, and stubbornly insisted on respect of the courts decision.

The importance of Šćepan personality in uniting Montenegrins was realized soon after his assassination conducted by order of vizier of Skadar, Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija. Montenegrin tribes once again engaged into blood feuding among themselves. Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija tried to seize the opportunity and attacked Kuči with 30 000 troops. For the first time since Vladika Danilo, Kuči were helped by Piperi and Bjelopavlići, and defeated Turks twice in two years.[14]

Reign of Petar I Petrović Njegoš[]

After Šćepan's death, Gubernadur (title created by Metropolitan Danilo to appease Venetians) Jovan Radonjić, with Venetian and Austrian help, tried to impose himself as the new ruler. However, after the death of Sava (1781), the Montenegrin chiefs chose archimandrite Petar Petrović, who was a nephew of Metropolitan Vasilije, as successor.

Petar I Petrović assumed the leadership of Montenegro at a very young age and during most difficult times. Petar I was a wise Bishop and a great military commander who led Montengrins to many crucial victories. He ruled almost half a century, from 1782 to 1830. When he died, he was by popular sentiment proclaimed the Saint of the Orthodox Church in Montenegro as St. Peter of Cetinje (Sveti Petar Cetinjski). Petar I won several important battles against the Ottomans, including the battles at Martinići and Krusi in 1796. According to the standards of time, these were major battles. At the crucial Martinići battle in the valley of Zeta, the Turkish army of 18,000 led by Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija was defeated with heavy casualties by a force of 3,000 Montenegrins.[15] The rugged terrain and the Montenegrin perfected guerrilla style of warfare helped the Montenegrin army hold losses to a minimum. Another battle at Krusi ended in a similar defeat of the Turkish army. With these victories in hand, Petar I liberated and consolidated control over the northern highlands (Brda) that had been the focus of constant warfare with the Ottomans. And these victories strengthened both the bond with the population of the Kotor Bay, and the Montenegrin quest for control of the southern Adriatic coast. But these were only the beginnings of the major military victories that Petar I Petrović secured.

In 1806, as the French Emperor Napoleon advanced toward the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, aided by several Russian battalions and a fleet of Dmitry Senyavin, went to war against the invading French forces. Undefeated in Europe, Napoleon's army was forced to withdraw under advance from the Montenegrin army led by Vladika Petar I. The Montenegrin army defeated the French at Cavtat and at Herceg-Novi. But in 1807, the peace treaty between Russia and France granted the control of the Kotor Bay to France. The peace lasted less than seven years. In 1813, the Montenegrin army, with ammunition support from Russia and Britain, liberated the Kotor Bay from the French. An assembly held in Dobrota resolved to unite the Bay of Kotor with the Montenegrin mainland. But at the Congress of Vienna, with Russian consent, the control of the Bay was granted to Austria. In 1820, in the north of Montenegro, the highlanders from Morača led by Serdar Mrkoje Mijušković won a major battle against the Turkish force from Bosnia.

During his long rule, Petar strengthened the state by uniting the often quarreling tribes, consolidating his control over Montenegrin lands, and introducing the first laws in Montenegro (Zakonik Petra I). He had unquestioned moral authority strengthened by his military successes. His rule prepared Montenegro for the subsequent introduction of modern institutions of the state: taxes, schools and larger commercial enterprises.[16]

Reign of Petar II Petrović Njegoš[]

Petar II Petrović Njegoš, Lord of Montenegro, poet and philosopher.

Following the death of Petar I Petrović, his nephew, the 17-year old Rade Petrović became Vladika Petar II Petrović Njegoš. The people called him by his first name, Vladika Rade. He was the second son of Tomo Markov Petrović and Ivana Proroković. By historians' and literary consensus, Petar II Petrovic Njegoš was the most impressive Montenegrin Bishop-Prince, who laid the foundation of the modern Montenegrin state and the subsequent Kingdom of Montenegro. And he was the most acclaimed Montenegrin poet.

A long rivalry had existed between the Montenegrin Vladikas from the Petrović family and the Radonjić family, a leading clan which had long vied for power against the authority of the Vladikas. This rivalry culminated in Njegoš's era. Njegoš came out victorious from this challenge and strengthened his grip on power by expelling from Montenegro many members of the Radonjić family.

In domestic affairs, Njegoš was a reformer. He introduced the first taxes in 1833 against stiff opposition from many Montenegrins whose strong sense of individual and tribal freedom was fundamentally in conflict with the notion of mandatory payments to the central authority. He created a formal central government consisting of three bodies, the Senate, the Guardia and the Perjaniks. The Senate consisted of 12 representatives from the most influential Montenegrin families and performed executive and judicial as well as legislative functions of government. The 32-member Guardia traveled through the country as agents of the Senate, adjudicating disputes and otherwise administering law and order. The Perjaniks were a police force, reporting both to the Senate and directly to the Vladika.

Before his death in 1851, Petar II Petrović Njegoš named his nephew Danilo as his successor. He assigned him a tutor a send him to Vienna with a message for a Russian representative who would forward him to Russia to further his education. According to some historians Njegoš himself was most likely preparing ground for the new ruler of Montenegro to be a secular leader. However, when Njegos died, the Senate, under influence of Djordjije Petrović (the wealthiest Montenegrin at the time), proclaimed Njegoš's elder brother Pero Tomov Petrović as Prince and not Vladika. Nevertheless, in a brief struggle for power, Pero Tomov, who commanded the support of the Senate, lost to the much younger (22) Danilo who had more support among the people. In 1852, Danilo proclaimed secular Principality of Montenegro with himself as Prince and formally abolished theocracy.[17]

List of rulers[]

  • Vavila (Metropolitan from 1493) (1516–1520)
  • German II (1520–1530)
  • Pavle (1530–1532)
  • Vasilije I (1532–1540)
  • Nikodim (1540)
  • Romil (1540–1559)
  • Makarije (1560–1561)
  • Ruvim I (1561–1569)
  • Pahomije II Komanin (1569–1579)
  • Gerasim (1575–1582)
  • Venijamin (1582–1591)
  • Nikanor (1591–1593)
  • Stefan (1591–1593) (Jointly with Nikanor)
  • Ruvim II Boljević-Njegoš (1593–1636)
  • Mardarije I Kornečanin (1639–1649)
  • Visarion I (1649–1659)
  • Mardarije II Kornečanin (1659–1673)
  • Ruvim III Boljević (1673–1685)
  • Vasilije II Velikrasić (1685)
  • Visarion II Bajica (1685–1692)
  • Sava I Kaluđerović (1694–1696)
Petrović-Njegoš Metropolitans
  • Danilo I (1696–1735)
  • Sava II (1735–1782)
  • Vasilije III (1750–1766)
  • Šćepan Mali (1767–1773)
  • Arsenije Plamenac (1781–1784)
  • Petar I (1782–1830)
  • Petar II (1830–1851)
  • Danilo I (1851–1852)

See also[]

  • Old Montenegro


  1. Victoria Clark, Why angels fall: a journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo, p. 93
  2. Robert Bideleux, Ian Jeffries, A history of eastern Europe: crisis and change, p. 86
  3. Anthony Trollope, Saint Pauls, Volume 5, p. 430
  4. Milija Stanišić (2005). Dubinski slojevi trinaestojulskog ustanka u Crnoj Gori. Istorijski institut Crne Gore. p. 114. "Као што смо претходно казали, стицајем историјских и друштвених околности Цетињска митрополија је постала не само духовни него и политички центар Црне Горе, Брда и негдашњег Зетског приморја. Заједно са главарским ..." 
  5. Matica srpska, Lingvistička sekcija (1974). Zbornik za filologiju i lingvistiku, Volume 17, Issues 1-2. Novi Sad: Matica srpska. p. 84. "Данил, митрополит Скендерије u Приморја (1715. г.),28 Данил, владика цетински Његош, војеводич српској земљи (1732. г.)." 
  6. Velibor V. Džomić (2006). Pravoslavlje u Crnoj Gori. Svetigora. "То се види не само по његовом познатом потпису „Данил Владика Цетињски Његош, војеводич Српској земљи" (Запис 1732. г.) него и из цјелокупког његовог дјелања као митрополита и господара. Занимљиво је у том контексту да ..." 
  7. Etnografski institut (Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti) (1952). Posebna izdanja, Volumes 4-8. Naučno delo. p. 101. "Када, за владе Петра I, црногорсксу држави приступе Б^елопавлиЬи, па после и остала Брда, онда je, званично, „Црна Гора и Брда"" 
  8. Stvaranje, 7–12. Obod. 1984. p. 1422. "Црне Горе и Брда историјска стварност коЈа се не може занема- рити, што се види из назива Законика Данила I, донесеног 1855. године који гласи: „ЗАКОНИК ДАНИЛА I КЊАЗА И ГОСПОДАРА СЛОБОДНЕ ЦРНЕ ГОРЕ И БРДА"." 
  9. (J.Jovanovic,1948, Stvaranje Crnogorske Drzave i Razvoj Crnogorske Nacionalnosti, 1948, Cetinje, p. 54-55).
  10. (Rovinski, Crna Gora u proslosti i sadasnjosti, 1989, Cetinje, 352-3)
  11. (D. Zivkovic, Istorija Crnogorskog Naroda, Cetinje, 1989)[page needed]
  12. (D. Zivkovic, ibid.)
  14. (Jagos Jovanovic, Stvaranje Crnogorske drzave i razvoj Crnogorske nacionalnosti, 1947, Obod-Cetinje).[page needed]
  15. (Momir M. Markovic, Crnogorski rat, Podgorica, 1993, p.122)
  17. (Jagos Jovanovic, Stvaranje Crnogorske drzave i razvoj Crnogorske nacionalnosti, 1947, Obod-Cetinje, p. 233).

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