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Dubrovnik before the 1667 earthquake, Photogravure Kowalczyk 1909

Painting from 1667, kept today in Dubrovnik archives

The Republic of Ragusa, or Republic of Dubrovnik,[1][2] was a maritime republic centered on the city of Dubrovnik (Ragusa in Italian and Latin) in Dalmatia (today in southernmost modern Croatia), that existed from 1358 to 1808. It reached its commercial peak in the 15th and the 16th centuries, under the protection of the Ottoman Empire, before being conquered by Napoleon's French Empire in 1808. It had a population of about 30,000 people, of whom 5,000 lived within the city walls.[3] It had the motto Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro (Latin for "Liberty is not well sold for all the gold").[4]


Originally named Communitas Ragusina (Latin for "Ragusan municipality" or "community"), in the 14th century it was renamed Respublica Ragusina, first mentioned in 1385 [1] (Latin for Ragusan Republic). In Italian it is called Repubblica di Ragusa; in Croatian, it is called Dubrovačka Republika.

The Croatian name Dubrovnik is derived from the word dubrava, an oak grove;[5] by a strange folk etymology, the Turks have corrupted this into Dobro-Venedik, meaning Good-Venice. It came into use alongside Ragusa as early as the 14th century.[6] The Latin, Italian and Dalmatian name Ragusa derives its name from Lausa (from the Greek ξαυ: xau, "precipice"); it was later altered in Rausium (Appendini says that until after AD 1100, the sea passed over the site of modern Ragusa, if so, it could only have been over the Placa or Stradun) or Rausia (even Lavusa, Labusa, Raugia and Rachusa) and finally into Ragusa.

The official change of name came into effect when so ordered by the Yugoslav government after the Second World War. The name Ragusa was to be changed as it was Italian or at least looked like it. However, the name Ragusa comes directly from the Illyrian tongue and was in use back to that period of regional history.

Coat of arms

Today the coat of arms of Ragusa, in its red and blue version, can be seen in the coat of arms on the Croatian flag as it constitutes a historic part of Croatia.


The Republic of Ragusa in the mid-18th century

The Republic ruled a compact area of southern Dalmatia – its final borders were formed by 1426[7] – comprising the mainland coast from Neum to the Prevlaka peninsula as well as the Pelješac peninsula and the islands of Lastovo and Mljet, as well as a number of smaller islands off Lastovo and Dubrovnik such as Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan.

In the 15th century the Ragusan republic also acquired the islands of Korčula, Brač and Hvar for about eight years. However they had to be given up due to the resistance of local minor aristocrats sympathizing with Venice which was granting them some privileges.



The city was established in the 7th century[8] (circa 614) after Avar and Slavic raiders destroyed the Roman city of Epidaurum, today's Cavtat. Some of the survivors moved 25 kilometres (16 miles) north to a small island near the coast where they founded a new settlement, Lausa. It has been claimed that a second raid by the Slavs in 656 resulted in the total destruction of Epidaurum.[8]

Inaccurate, but frequently used alternative coat of arms of Dubrovnik. It is based on an early misconception originating after the Republic's demise (decorative ink seeping into white bars rendered them blue on old documents).

Epidaurum had earlier been destroyed in AD 265 by the Goths and, according to English writer John Gardner Wilkinson, "Rausium (Ragusa) probably was founded long before Epidaurus was finally destroyed, and that the various eruptions of barbarians, in the third and succeeding centuries, had led to the original establishment of this place of refuge".[5]

The refugees from Roman Epidaurum built their new settlement on the small island (some sources say peninsula) of Lausa off the shore while other populations (primarily Croats) settled along the coast in the following centuries, directly across the narrow channel, and named their settlement Dubrovnik. Initially the populations were skeptical of each other. Over time they grew closer and finally in the 12th century the two settlements merged. The channel that divided the city was filled creating the present-day main street (the Stradun) which became the city centre. Thus, Dubrovnik became the Slavic name for the united town.[7]

Recently another theory appeared, based on new archaeological excavations. New findings, including a chapel and part of the city walls, were dated to the 5th century, clashing with earlier theories. The size of the old chapel indicates that there was quite a large settlement at that time. A new theory appeared dating construction of Dubrovnik back to Greek times. The Greek theory was boosted with recent findings of numerous Greek artifacts during excavations in the Port of Dubrovnik.

Antun Ničetić, in his book Povijest dubrovačke luke ("History of the Port of Dubrovnik") explains his theory that Dubrovnik was established by Greek sailors. The key element in this theory is the fact that ships in ancient time traveled about 45 to 50 nautical miles per day, and required a sandy shore to pull their ships out of the water for the rest period during the night. An ideal combination would have a fresh water source in the vicinity. Dubrovnik had both, being half way between the Greek settlements of Budva and Korčula, which are 95 nautical miles (176 km; 109 mi) apart.

Early centuries

The Saracens laid siege to Dubrovnik in 866 and 867; the siege lasted for fifteen months and was raised due to the intervention of the Byzantine Emperor, Basil the Macedonian, who sent a fleet under Niketas Oryphas in relief.[9] With the weakening of Byzantium, Venice began to see Ragusa as a rival that needed to be brought under her control, but the attempt to conquer the city in 948 failed. The citizens of the city attributed this to Saint Blaise (Croatian language: Sveti Vlaho ), whom they adopted as the patron saint.[10]

Ragusa in those early medieval centuries was an island, and had a population of Latinized Illyrians, who spoke their own Romance Dalmatian language[11]

In 1050, Croatian king Stjepan I, ruler of Croatia and Dalmatia, made a grant of land along the coast that extended the boundaries of Ragusa to Zaton, 16 km (10 mi) north of the original city, giving the republic control of the abundant supply of fresh water that emerges from a source vauclusienne at the head of the Ombla inlet.[10] Stephen's grant also included the harbour of Gruž, which is now the commercial port for Dubrovnik.[10]

In the 11th century, Dubrovnik and the surrounding area were described in the work of the famous Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi. In his work, he mentioned Dubrovnik as the southernmost city of "the country of Croatia and Dalmatia".[12][13]

In 1191, the city's merchants were granted the right to trade freely in Byzantium by Emperor Isaac II Angelos. Similar privileges were obtained several years earlier from Serbia (1186) and from Bosnia (1189). The treaty with Bosnian Ban Kulin is also the first official document where the city is referred to as Dubrovnik.[7]

Venetian suzerainty (1205–1358)

When, in 1205, the Republic of Venice invaded Dalmatia with the forces of the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa was forced to pay a tribute and became a source of supplies for Venice (hides, wax, silver and other metals). Venice used the city as its naval base in the southern Adriatic Sea. Unlike with Zadar, there was not much friction between Ragusa and Venice as the city had not yet begun to compete as an alternate carrier in the trade between East and West; in addition, the city retained most of its independence. The people, however, resented the ever growing tribute and an almost epic hatred between Ragusa and Venice began to grow.[14]

In the middle of the thirteenth century the island of Lastovo was added to the original territory. Then in 1333, the Pelješac Peninsula and Dubrovačko primorje were purchased from Serbia[7] with the blessing of Bosnia; the island of Mljet was acquired in 1345.[10] In January 1348, the Black Death visited the city.[15]

Independence from Venice and establishment of the Republic (1358)

After Venice was forced in 1358, by the Treaty of Zadar, to yield all claims to Dalmatia, the city accepted the mild hegemony of King Louis I of Hungary. On 27 June 1358, the final agreement was reached at Visegrád between Louis and the Archbishop Ivan Saraka. The city recognized Hungarian sovereignty, but the local nobility continued to rule with little interference from Buda. The Republic profited from the suzerainty of Louis of Hungary, whose kingdom was not a naval power, and with whom they would have little conflict of interest.[16] The last Venetian rector left, apparently in a hurry.[17]

In 1399, the city acquired the area between Ragusa and Pelješac, called the Primorje. Moreover, between 1419 and 1426, the Konavle region south of Astarea, including the city of Cavtat, was added to the republic's possessions.[7] In the first half of the 15th century Cardinal Ivan Stojković (Johannes de Carvatia) was active in Dubrovnik as a Church reformer and writer.

A merchant from the Republic

Ottoman suzerainty

The Rector's Palace and behind it the Sponza Palace

In 1458, the Republic signed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire which made it a tributary of the sultan. Moreover, it was obliged to send an ambassador to Constantinople by 1 November of each year in order to deliver the tribute.[18]

When in 1481 the city passed into Ottoman protection, it was to pay an increased tribute of 12,500 ducats. For all other purposes, however, Ragusa was virtually independent. It could enter into relations with foreign powers and make treaties with them, and its ships sailed under its own flag. Ottoman vassalage also conferred special rights in trade that extended within the Empire. Ragusa handled the Adriatic trade on behalf of the Ottomans, and its merchants received special tax exemptions and trading benefits from the Porte. It also operated colonies that enjoyed extraterritorial rights in major Ottoman cities.[19]

Merchants from Ragusa could enter the Black Sea which was otherwise closed to non-Ottoman shipping. They paid less in than other foreign merchants, and the city-state enjoyed diplomatic support from the Ottoman administration in trade disputes with the Venetians.[20]

For their part, Ottomans regarded Ragusa as a port of major importance. After all, most of the traffic between Florence and Bursa (an Ottoman port in northwestern Anatolia) was carried out via Ragusa. Florentine cargoes would leave the Italian ports of Pesaro, Fano or Ancona to reach Ragusa. From that point on they would take the land route Bosnasaray (Sarajevo)–Novibazar–Skopje–Plovdiv–Edirne.[21]

When in the late 16th century, Ragusa placed its merchant marine at the disposal of the Spanish Empire, on condition that its participation in the Spanish military ventures would not affect the interest of the Ottoman Empire, the latter tolerated the situation as the trade of Ragusa permitted the importation of goods from states with which the Ottoman Empire was at war.[20]

Along with England, Spain and Genoa, Ragusa was one of the Venice's most damaging competitors in the 15th century on all seas, even in the Adriatic. Thanks to its proximity to the plentiful oak forests of Gargano, it was able to bid cargoes away from the Venetians.[14]

File:Ragusan Soldier.jpg

Ragusan soldier



Vekaric, (1998) used tax evidence from Dubrovacko Promorje [the Dubrovnik littoral] and a census to find that the Dubrovnik republic (Ragusa) had a population of nearly ninety thousand by 1500; it was rather overpopulated. From then to 1700 the population declined: in the first half of the 16th century, it had more than 50,000 inhabitants; in the second half of the 16th century, between 50,000 and 60,000; in the 1630s, about 40,000; and in 1673-74, only 26,000 inhabitants. In the second half of the 15th century, due to Turkish expansion, Dubrovnik received a large number of Christian refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, offering them the less fertile land. Numerous epidemics, the Candian War of 1645-69, the 1667 earthquake, and emigration greatly reduced the population levels. The population of the republic never again reached its previous levels.[22]

Decline of the Republic

With the great Portuguese explorations which opened up new ocean routes, the spice trade no longer went through the Mediterranean sea. Moreover, the discovery of America started a crisis of Mediterranean shipping. That was the beginning of the decline of both the Venetian and Ragusan Republics.

Charles VIII of France granted trading rights to the Ragusans in 1497. These rights were also granted by Louis XII in 1502. In the first decade of the 16th century, Ragusan consuls were in France while their French counterparts were sent to Ragusa. Prominent Ragusans were in France during this period and include such dignitaries as Simon Benessa, Lovro Gigants, D. Bondić, Ivan Cvletković, Captain Ivan Florio, Petar Lukarić, Serafin Gucetić, Luka Sorkočević. The Ragusan aristocracy was also well represented at the Sorbonne University in Paris at this time.

Old map of the Republic of Ragusa, dated 1678

The fate of Ragusa was linked to that of the Ottoman Empire. Ragusa and Venice lent technical assistance to the Ottoman–EgyptianZamorin's Calicut–Gujarati alliance that was defeated by the Portuguese in the Battle of Diu in the Indian Ocean (1509).

On 6 April 1667, a devastating earthquake struck and killed over 5,000 citizens, including many patricians and the Rector (Croatian language: Knez ) Šišmundo Getaldić. The earthquake also levelled most of the city's public buildings, leaving only the outer walls intact. Buildings in the Gothic and Renaissance styles – palaces, churches and monasteries – were destroyed. Of the city's major public buildings, only the Sponza Palace and the front part of the Rector's Palace at Luza Square surviving. Gradually the city was rebuilt in the more modest Baroque style. With great effort Ragusa recovered a bit, but still remained a shadow of the former Republic.

In 1677 Marin Kaboga (1630–1692)[23] and Nikola Bunić (ca 1635–1678) arrived in Constantinople in an attempt of aversion of the imminent threat to Ragusa: Kara-Mustafa's pretensions for the annexation of Ragusa to the Ottoman Empire. The Grand-Vizier, struck with the capacity Marin showed in the arts of persuasion, and acquainted with his resources in active life, resolved to deprive his country of so able a diplomat, and on 13 December he was imprisoned, where he was to remain for several years. In 1683, Kara-Mustafa was killed in the attacks on Vienna, and Marin was soon free to return to Ragusa.

In 1684, the emissaries renewed an agreement contracted in Višegrad in the year 1358 and accepted the sovereignty of the Austrian Emperor over Ragusa as a Hungarian King, with an annual tax of 500 ducats. At the same time Ragusa continued to recognize the sovereignty of Turkey; which was nothing unusual in those days. After this even greater opportunities opened up for Ragusa ships in ports all along the Dalmatian coast, in which they anchored frequently.

File:Marino de Caboga.jpg

Marin Kabužić

In 1683 the Turks were defeated in the Battle of Kahlenberg outside Vienna. The Field marshal of the Austrian army was Ragusan Frano Đivo Gundulić. In the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699, the Ottomans ceded all of Hungary, Transylvania, Slavonia, Dalmatia and Podolia to the victorious Habsburgs, Venetians, and Poles.

The Ottoman Empire was no longer a threat to Christian Europe. After this, Venice captured a part of Ragusa's inland area and approached its borders. They presented the threat of completely surrounding and cutting off Ragusa's trade inland. In view of this danger and anticipating the defeat of the Turks in 1684 Ragusa sent emissaries to the Austrian Emperor Leopold in Vienna, hoping that the Austrian Army would capture Bosnia. Fortunately for the Republic, the Ottomans retained their control over their hinterland. With the 26 January 1699 peace agreement, the Republic of Ragusa ceded two patches of its coast to the Ottoman Empire so that the Republic of Venice would be unable to attack from land, only from the sea. One of them, the northwestern land border with the small town of Neum, is today the only outlet of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Adriatic Sea. The southeastern border village of Sutorina later became part of Montenegro, which has coastline to the south. Ragusa continued its policy of strict neutrality in the War of Austrian succession (1741–48) and in the Seven Years' War (1756–63).

Flags of the Republic of Ragusa in the 18th century, according to the French Encyclopédie.

In 1783 the Ragusan Council did not answer the proposition put forward by their diplomatic representative in Paris, Frano Favi, that they should establish diplomatic relations with the USA, although the Americans agreed to allow Ragusan ships free passage in their ports.

The first years of the French war were in recent times the most prosperous for Ragusa. The flag of Saint Blaise being neutral, the Republic became one of the chief carriers of the Mediterranean. The Continental blockade was the life of Ragusa; and before the rise of Lissa the manufactures of England, excluded from the ports of France, Italy, Holland, and Germany, found their way to the centre of Europe through Saloniki and Ragusa. But this state, which had managed the Turks so skilfully, which had survived the Greek and Serbian Empires as well as the Republic of Venice, was unable to stand upright in the terrible contest which included the extremities of Europe in its sphere. The philanthropic republicans of France offered to fraternise with all other republics; and we shall see that Napoleon, with the Imperial Crown on his head, did not despise the small Republic of Ragusa.

The Battle of Austerlitz, and the consequent Treaty of Pressburg, having compelled Austria to hand over Dalmatia to France, Ragusa was put in a novel dilemma. Kotor held by the Venetians against the Turks, was always accessible to Venice, which was a naval power. But while France held the land, the United Kingdom and Russia held the sea; and while France was marching her troops from Austerlitz to Dalmatia, eleven Russian sail of the line entered the Bay of Kotor, and landed 6000 men, later supported by 16000 Montenegrins under Petar I Petrović-Njegoš. As 5000 Frenchmen under Marshal Gabriel Jean Joseph Molitor marched southwards, and took pacific possession, one after another, of the fortresses of Dalmatia, the Russians pressed the senators of Ragusa to allow them to occupy their city, as it was an important fortress, – thus anticipating France might block the further progress to Kotor, as the reader will see by an examination of the map that there is no way from Dalmatia to Kotor but through Ragusa. Marshal Gabriel Molitor was equally abundant in friendly professions, pressing instances, and solemn pledges, to respect the integrity of the Republic, in his passage to Kotor. Ragusa felt herself without the power of causing her neutrality to be respected, and long and anxious were the debates that ensued.[citation needed]

"Dear as this land is to me," said Count Vlaho Kaboga, "consecrated as it is to our affections by its venerable institutions, its wise laws, and the memory of illustrious ancestors, it will henceforth cease to deserve the name of patria, if its independence be subverted. With our large fleet of merchantmen, let us embark our wives and our children, our state treasures and our laws, and ask of the Sultan an island in the Archipelago, which may become a new Epidaurus, and the sanctuary of our time-honoured institutions."[citation needed]

File:Ragusan Ducats.jpg

Ragusan ducat of 1753 with the effigy of the sitting Rector

Serious as the dilemma was, the senators were unprepared for so desperate a remedy. A large majority were for opening the gates to Russia; but the echoes of Austerlitz had scarce died away, and such an act would have at once exposed them to the vengeance of Napoleon, then in the zenith of his lawless ambition and military power. So the occupation of the city was assigned to the French under General Jacques Lauriston. No sooner did this take place than the Russian force moved to the siege of the city, and unhappily for Ragusa the 16-thousand Montenegrin army accompanied the regular Russian troops; and such a scene of horror had not been seen since the Huns and the Avars swept round Aquileia. The Montenegrin army was fully equipped to the standards of the Russian army, but the officers and generals of the army quite hated the Ragusans for their betrayal of Montenegro during Šćepan Mali's rule. The environs were studded thickly with villas, the results of a long prosperity; and the inhuman scenes of rapine with which the wars of the Montenegrines with the Turks were accompanied were transferred to these abodes of ease and luxury. Accustomed to the poverty of their own mountains, these invaders could scarce believe their own eyes when, passing Cavtat, the smiling villas and well-filled store-houses of Breno Ombla and Pile were presented to their cupidity, and the siege of Ragusa commenced by the burning and plundering of the villas, involving the irretrievable loss of above half a million sterling.

The city was in the utmost straits; General Gabriel Molitor, who had advanced within a few days' march of Ragusa, made an appeal to the Dalmatians to rise and expel the Russians and Montenegrins, which met with a feeble response, for only three hundred men joined his standard; but a stratagem made up for his deficiency of numbers. A letter, seemingly confidential, was despatched to General Lauriston in Ragusa, announcing his proximate arrival to raise the siege with such a force of Dalmatians as must overwhelm Russians and the vast Montenegrin army; which letter was, as intended by Molitor, intercepted and believed by the besieging Russians. With his force thinly scattered, to make up a show, Molitor now advanced towards Ragusa, and turning the Montenegrin position in the valley behind, threatened to surround the Russians who occupied the summit of the hill between him and the city; but seeing the risk of this, the Russians retreated back towards the Bay of Kotor, and the city was relieved. The Montenegrin army had followed the order of Admiral Dimitry Senyanin who was in charge of the Russian troops, and retreated to Cetinje

End of the Republic

Marshal Auguste de Marmont, Duke of Ragusa during French rule

Around the year 1800, the Republic had a highly organized network of consulates and consular offices in more than eighty cities and ports around the world. In 1806, the Republic surrendered to forces of the Empire of France[24] to end a months-long siege by the Russian fleets and the Montenegrin army (during which 3,000 cannonballs fell on the city). The French lifted the siege and saved Ragusa. The French army, led by Napoleon, entered Ragusa in 1806. In 1808, Marshal Marmont abolished the Republic of Ragusa and amalgamated its territory into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, himself becoming the "Duke of Ragusa" (Duc de Raguse). In 1810 Ragusa, with all Dalmatia, went to the newly created French Illyrian Provinces. Later, in the 1814 Battle of Paris, Marmont abandoned Napoleon and was branded a traitor. The word ragusade was coined in French to signify treason and raguser meant a cheat.

The Ragusan nobility were disunited in their ideas and political behavior. Article "44" of the 1811 Decree abolished the centuries-old institution of fideicommissum in inheritance law, by which the French enabled younger noblemen to participate in that part of the family inheritance, which the former law had deprived them of. The annulment of fideicommissum struck at Antonio Degl’Ivellio. According to a 1813 inventory of the Dubrovnik district, 451 land proprietors were registered, including ecclesiastical institutions and the commune.

Although there is no evidence of the size of their estates, the nobles, undoubtedly, were in possession of most of the land. Eleven members of the Sorgo family, eight of Gozze, six of Ghetaldi, six of Pozza, four of Zamagna and three members of the Saraka family were among the greatest landowners. Ragusan citizens belonging to the confraternities of St. Anthony and St. Lazarus owned considerable land outside the City. Regardless of the events taking place in the City, it was besieged by a Pro Austrian force of Croats under Todor Milutinović helped by the British Royal Navy who had enjoyed unopposed domination over the Adriatic sea. Captain William Hoste joined the siege in late January 1814 with his ships HMS Bacchante and HMS Saracen. They hauled canon up the hill and after a two day bombardment the French with 500 troops under General Joseph de Montrichard settled the surrender of the City under honorable terms. With the aim of avoiding greater conflict, the Austrians agreed to the French conditions.General Milutinović promised that the victorious Montenegrin, Austrian and British armies would not march into the city before the last Frenchman was evacuated from the city by ship.

On 27 January, the French capitulation was signed in Gruž and ratified the same day. It was then that Vlaho Kaboga openly sided with the Austrians, dismissing the rebel army in Konavle. Meanwhile, Đivo Natali and his men were still waiting outside the Ploče Gates. After almost eight years of occupation, the French troops marched out of Dubrovnik on 27 and 28 January 1814. On the afternoon of 28 January 1814, the Montenegrin, Austrian and British troops made their way into the city through the Pile Gates, denying admission to the Ragusa rebels. Intoxicated by success, and with Vlaho Kaboga's support, General Milutinović ignored the Gruž agreement he had made with the nobility in Gruž. The events which followed can be best epitomized in the so-called flag episode.[25]:141

The Flag of Saint Blaise was flown alongside the Austrian and British colors, but only for two days because, on 30 January, General Milutinović ordered the Mayor Savo Đorđi to lower it. Overwhelmed by a feeling of deep patriotic pride, Đorđi, the last Rector of the Republic and a loyal francophile, refused to do so "jer da ga je pripeo puk" ("for the masses had hoisted it"). Subsequent events proved that Austria took every possible opportunity to invade the entire coast of the eastern Adriatic, from Venice to Kotor. The allies did ever anything in their power to eliminate the Ragusa issue at the Vienna Congress of 1815. The Ragusa representative, Miho Bona, was denied participation in the Congress, while Milutinović, prior to the final agreement of the allies, assumed complete control of the city.[25]:141–142

In his 1908 book The Fall of Dubrovnik (Pad Dubrovnika), Lujo Vojnović, the younger brother of Ivo Vojnović, makes every effort to justify the popular actions and prove the solidarity of all social groups in achieving their common goal to restore the Republic. The records, however, seem to indicate a different situation. There was in fact little understanding between the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the peasantry, and slim chances of these groups of having any common basis for further activities. The three groups had different reasons to be dissatisfied with the French government, and the moment when they rejoiced together over their victory was not strong enough to unite all the segments of Dubrovnik society in a struggle to restore the Republic. After Ragusa suffered a political breakdown, it was brought to the verge of economic ruin, and was forsaken by the international community; the City and its territories were handed over to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna. In 1814, led by general Todor Milutinović, the Austrian army marched into Dubrovnik. With them came the British army and the local insurgents against the French occupation. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Ragusa was made a part of the crown land of the Kingdom of Dalmatia, ruled by Austria-Hungary, which it remained a part of until 1918.

In 1815, nobles of the former Ragusan Government met for the last time, with their efforts to re-establish the Republic of Ragusa eventually failing. After the fall of the Republic most of the aristocracy died out or emigrated overseas; around one fifth of the noble families were recognized by the Austrian empire. Some of the families that were recognized and survived were Ghetaldi-Gundula, Gozze, Kaboga, Sorgo, Zlatarić, Zamagna, Pozza, Gradi, and Bona. The Greater Council met for the last time on 29 August 1814 in the Vila Đorđi (the home of Sabo Đorđi) in Mokošica.

Location of the Republic of Ragusa within the boundaries of present-day Croatia


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Coat of arms of Dubrovnik in the Austrian Empire

The Republican Constitution of Ragusa was strictly aristocratic. The population was divided into three classes: nobility, citizens, and artisans or plebeians. All effective power was concentrated in the hands of aristocracy. The citizens were permitted to hold only minor offices, while plebeians had no voice in government. Marriage between members of different classes of the society was forbidden.

The organization of the government was based on the Venetian model: the administrative bodies were the Grand Council (supreme governing body) and the Small Council (executive power) (from 1238) and the Senate (from 1253). The head of the state was the Rector, elected for a term of office for one month.

Ceremonial sword of the Rector of Ragusa, donated 1466 by King Matthias Corvinus as a sign of his judicial authority.

The Grand Council (Consilium maius) consisted only of members of the aristocracy; every noble took his seat at the age of 18. Every year, 11 members of the Small Council (Consilium minus) were elected. Together with a duke, the Small Council had both executive and representative functions. The main power was in the hands of the Senate (Consilium rogatorum), which had 45 members elected for one year. This organization was designed to prevent any single family, such as the Medici in Florence, from gaining absolute control. Nevertheless, historians agree that the Sorgo family generally had the greatest influence.

The Small Council (Consilium minus) consisted first of 11 members, and after 1667 of seven. Members were elected by the Rector.

The Senate was added in 1235 as a consultative body. It consisted of 45 invited members, over 40 years of age. While the Republic was under the rule of Venice, the Rector was Venetian; but after 1358 the Rector was always a person from the Republic of Ragusa. The length of the Rector's service was only one month, and a person was eligible for reelection after two years. The rector lived and worked in the Rector's Palace, but his family remained living in their own house.

The government of the Republic was liberal in character and early showed its concern for justice and humanitarian principles. The Republic's flag had the word Libertas (freedom) on it, and the entrance to the Saint Lawrence fortress (Lovrijenac) just outside the Ragusa city walls bears the inscription Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro (Liberty can not be sold for all the gold of the world). The Republic imposed some restrictions on the slave trade in 1416. The Republic was also a staunch opponent of the Eastern Orthodox Church and only Roman Catholics could acquire Ragusan citizenship.

An inscription on the Council's offices read: Obliti privatorum publica curate (Manage the public affairs as if you had no private interests); in the nineteenth century, the undertones of this political epigraph must have struck the Austrian governors of Ragusa as potentially dangerous, for they had it removed. The new government was probably irritated by its air of republicanism, a reminder of the statehood that was to be extirpated in integrating Ragusa into a new Habsburg frame. As a pregnant expression of civic virtue and republican values, this political maxim has been frequently cited ever since. Scarcely can be found a popular text on the heritage of Ragusan statehood or the political history of the Republic, whether printed, online, or spoken, in which this motto does not appear.[Clarification needed]

Patrician families

File:Ragusan family crest.jpg

Coats of arms of the Ragusan families

The city was ruled by the aristocracy, and marriage between members of three different social classes was strictly forbidden. The nominal head of state was the Ragusan Duke, while during the period of Venetian suzerainty the rector held considerable influence. Real power, however, was in the hands of three councils that were held by the nobility.

The Ragusan archives document, Speculum Maioris Consilii Rectores, lists all the persons that were involved in the Republic's government between September 1440 to June 1860. There were 4397 rectors elected; 2764 (63%) were from "old patrician" families: Gučetić, Bunić, Kabužić, Crijević, Gundulić, Getaldić, Đorđić, Gradić, Pucić, Saraka, Sorkočević, and Džamanjić.

  • in the 17th century, 50% of the dukes and senators were from the following families: Bunić, Gundulić, Gučetić, Menčetić, Sorkočević.
  • in the 18th century, 56% of senators were from these families: Sorkočević, Gučetić, Džamanjić, Kabužić, Đorđić.
  • in the last eight years of the Republic, 50% of dukes were from the Sorkočević, Gučetić, Gradić, Bunić, or Ranjina families.

A big problem of Ragusan noble families was also that because of the decrease of their numbers and lack of noble families in the neighborhood (the surroundings of Dubrovnik was under Turkish control) they were becoming more and more closely related, the marriages between relatives of the third and fourth degree were frequent.

An 1802 list of Dubrovnik Republic's governing bodies showed that six of the eight Small Council and 15 of the 20 Great Council members were from the same 11 families.

The Ragusan aristocracy[26] evolved in the 12th century through the 14th century. It was finally established by statute in 1332. New families were accepted only after the earthquake in 1667. In the Republic of Ragusa all political power was owned by noble males older than 18 years. These in total formed the Great Council (Consilium majus) which had the legislative function. Every year, 11 members of the Small Council (Consilium minus) were elected. Together with the duke (who was elected for a period of one month) it had both executive and representative functions. The main power was in the hands of the Senate (Consilium rogatorum) which had 45 members elected for one year. This organization prevented any single family, unlike the Medici in Florence, from prevailing. Nevertheless the historians agree that the Sorgo family was consistently among the most influential.

Original patriciate:

  • House of Basiljević (Bassegli)
  • House of Benešić (Benessa)
  • House of Binčulić (Binciola)
  • House of Bobaljević (Bobali)
  • House of Bunić (Bona)
  • House of Bundić (Bonda)
  • House of Buća (Bucchia)
  • House of Crijević (Cerva)
  • House of Đurđević (Giorgi)
  • House of Getaldić (Ghetaldi)
  • House of Gradić (Gradi)
  • House of Gučetić (Gozze)
  • House of Gundulić (Gondola)
  • House of Kabužić (Caboga)
  • House of Lukarević (Luccari)
  • House of Menčetić (Menze)
  • House of Palmotić (Palmota)
  • House of Proculo
  • House of Prodanelli
  • House of Pucić (Pozza)
  • House of Ragnina
  • House of Rastić (Resti)
  • House of Saraka (Saraca)
  • House of Sorkočević (Sorgo)
  • House of Tudišević (Tudisi)
  • House of Džamanjić (Zamagna)

Families that joined the patriciate after the 1667 earthquake:

  • House of Božidarević (Bosdari)
  • House of Bučić (Bucchia)
  • House of Klašić (Clasci)
  • House of Natali (Natalić)
  • House of Pavlić (Pauli)
  • House of Primi-Marinetti
  • House of Ranjina (Ragnina)
  • House of Restić (Resti)
  • House of Vodopić
  • House of Zlatarić (Slatarich)

Relations among the nobility

Ragusan costumes

It is peculiar that the nobility survived even when the classes were divided by internal disputes. When Marmont arrived in Dubrovnik in 1808, the nobility was divided into two blocks, the "Salamankezi" (Salamanquinos) and the "Sorbonezi" (Sorboneses). These names alluded to certain controversy arisen from the wars between Charles V of Spain and Francis I of France, which happened some 250 years previously. It was in the 1667 earthquake that a great part of the nobles were annihilated, it was necessary for him to retain the control and so he did with the inclusion of certain plebeians into noble class. To these the "salamanquinos", those in favor of Spanish absolutism, did not treat like equals; but the inclined "sorboneses", sided with the French and to a certain liberalism accepted them without reserves. Another factor that could have taken part in this conduct is that the "sorboneses" had been very decreased by the great earthquake and they did not want to lose their wealth and status. In any case, both sides retained their status and they seated together in the Council, but they did not maintain social relations and were not even greeting each other in the streets; an inconvenient marriage between members of both groups was of so serious consequences as if it occurred between members of different classes. This social split was also reflected in the inferior layers: “The plebeians, as well, were divided in the brotherhoods of Saint Antony and Saint Lazarus, who were so unfriendly in their relations as "salamanquinos" and "sorboneses". But the nobility was always the essence of the Republic that always had to be defended from the neighboring empires – “first Hungary, soon Venice, later Turkey” – and that was structured for a reduced number of people, around the 33 original noble families from the 15th century.


The official language until 1472 was Latin. Later, the Senate of the Republic decided that the official language of the Republic would be the Ragusan dialect of the Romance Dalmatian language (as opposed to Croatian), and forbade the use of the Slavic language in senatorial debate. The gospari (the aristocracy) held on to their language for many a century, while it slowly disappeared.

Although the Latin language was in official use until 1492, inhabitants of the republic were mostly native speakers of the Croatian language[27] (as confirmed by P. A. Tolstoj in 1698, when he noted In Dalmatia... Dubrovnikans... called themselves as Croats). Dalmatian was also spoken in the city. Italian, official since 1492, as spoken in the republic, was heavily influenced by Venetian language and Tuscan dialect. Italian took root among the Dalmatian Romance-speaking merchant upper classes, as a result of Venetian influence. When Ragusa was part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, between 1808 and 1810, the Italian language was yet in official use.

Ragusan literature

File:Ragusan dance.jpg

Ragusan dance

Tears of the Prodigal Son, cover of the 1622 edition by Ivan Gundulić, Croatian Baroque poet.

The Ragusan literature in which Latin, Italian and Croatian languages coexisted blossomed in the 15th and 16th century.[28]

According to Graubard:

During the Renaissance era, Venetian-ruled Dalmatia and Ragusa gave birth to influential intellectuals – mostly minor aristocrats and clergymen, Jesuits especially – who kept alive the memory of Croatia and the Croatian language when they composed or translated plays and books from Italian and Latin into the vernacular. No matter that the dialects of Dalmatia and Dubrovnik were different from each other ... and both these dialects were somewhat different from the dialect of Zagreb, capital of the Habsburg-ruled north. They still thought of it as Croatian. ... The Dubrovnik poet Dominko Zlatarić (1555–1610) explained on the frontispiece of his 1597 translation of Sophocles' tragedy Elektra and Tasso's Aminta that it had been "iz veće tudieh jezika u Hrvacki izlozene," "translated from more foreign languages in Croatian.[29]

Croatian language was normally used among lower classes, Italian in the upper. Ragusans were in general bilingual: speaking Croatian in common day to day duties and Italian in official occasions or mixing both. Literary works of famous Ragusans were written in both Croatian and Italian language.

Among them are the works of writers Džore Držić, Marin Držić, Ivan Bunić Vučić, Ignjat Đurđević, Ivan Gundulić, Šišmundo (Šiško) Menčetić, Dinko Ranjina; and following writers, beside others from the 16th to the 19th century (before the Age of Romantic National Awakenings) were explicit in declaring themselves as Croats and their language as Croatian: Vladislav Menčetić, Dominko (Dinko) Zlatarić (see above), Bernardin Pavlović, Mavro Vetranović, Nikola Nalješković, Junije Palmotić, Jakov Mikalja, Joakim Stulli, Marko Bruerović, Peter Ignaz Sorgo, Antun Sorkočević (1749–1826), Giovanni Francesco Sorgo (1706–71).

The Croatian-language works from republic of Dubrovnik had a large role in the developing of Croatian literature, as well as modern Croatian language.


File:Ragusan Women.jpg

Women from Herzegovina with a view on Ragusa

The inhabitants of the Republic of Ragusa were chiefly of South Slavic ethnicity. They were Catholics and spoke the local variant of the Shtokavian dialect (the same dialect upon which all modern regional languages are based). Among the modern South Slavic nations, Ragusans are mostly attributed to Croats in modern literature.[30][31] However, discussions on the subject of Ragusan ethnicity are mainly based on revised concepts which developed after the fall of the Republic; in particular, the time of Romantic Nationalism resulting from the French Revolution. Before this, states in general were not based on the contemporary unifying concepts such as nation, language or ethnicity; loyalty was chiefly to family, city, and (among Catholics such as the Ragusans) the Church.

The great cartographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi (in 1154), considered Dubrovnik as a part of the Croatian (Grwasiah) entity (mentions it as "the last Croatian coastal city") in his book Nuzhat al-Mushataq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq (English: Joy for those who wish to sail over the world).[12][32][33]


The Republic of Ragusa used various currencies over time and in a variety of systems:

  • Artiluc
  • Perpera
  • Dukat
  • Libertine

See also


  • Tomaz, Luigi, Il confine d'Italia in Istria e Dalmazia. Duemila anni di storia, Think ADV, Conselve 2007.
  1. Columbia University Slavonic studies, Volume 1. Columbia University Press. 1922. pp. pages 29 and 57. 
  2. Gerald Henry Blake, Duško Topalović and Clive H. Schofield (1996). The maritime boundaries of the Adriatic Sea. IBRU. p. page 47. ISBN 978-1-897643-22-8. 
  3. David Rheubottom (2000). Age, Marriage, and Politics in Fifteenth-Century Ragusa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-823412-0. 
  4. Riley, Henry Thomas (1866). Dictionary of Latin quotations, proverbs, maxims, and mottos. Covent Garden: Bell & Daldy. p. 274. Retrieved 28 February 2010. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 John Gardner Wilkinson (1848). Dalmatia and Montenegro, J. Murray
  6. Croatia (2006), Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 23 August 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Peter F. Sugar (1983). Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1804, University of Washington Press, ISBN 0-295-96033-7.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Andrew Archibald Paton (1861). Researches on the Danube and the Adriatic; Or Contributions to the Modern History of Hungary and Transylvania, Dalmatia and Croatia, Servia and Bulgaria, Brockhaus
  9. H.T. Norris (1994). Islam in the Balkans, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, ISBN 1-85065-167-1
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples (1985). A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-27485-0
  11. Ragusa was an island originally
  12. 12.0 12.1 G. Oman, Al-Idrīsī (1971, reprinted 1986). Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3 (New ed.). Brill Publishers. pp. 1032–35. ISBN 90-04-03275-4. 
  13. Zubrinic, Darko (1995). "Croatia – historical and cultural overview". Zagreb. Retrieved 4 November 2009. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Frederic Chapin Lane (1973). Venice, a Maritime Republic, Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-1460-X
  15. OLE J Benedictow (1973). The Black Death, 1346–1353, Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 0-85115-943-5
  16. Kenneth Meyer Setton (1978). The Papacy and the Levant, 1204–1571 Vol. 2, DIANE Publishing, ISBN 0-87169-127-2
  17. Robin Harris (2003) Dubrovnik, A History, Saqi Books, ISBN 0-86356-332-5
  18. Theoharis Stavrides (2001). The Sultan of Vezirs, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 90-04-12106-4
  19. Barbara Jelavich (1983). History of the Balkans, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-27458-3
  20. 20.0 20.1 Suraiya Faroqhi, Bruce McGowan, Donald Quataert, Sevket Pamuk (1997). An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-57455-2
  21. Halil Inalcik, An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-57455-2
  22. Nenad Vekaric, "The Population of the Dubrovnik Republic in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries," Dubrovnik Annals 1998, Vol. 2, p7-28
  23. Andrew Archibald Paton, Researches on the Danube and the Adriatic; or Contributions to the modern history of Hungary and Translvania, Dalmatia and Croatia, Servia and Bulgaria, p226
  24. Dalmatia and Montenegro: Volume 2 by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson
  25. 25.0 25.1 Ćosić, Stjepan (2000). "Dubrovnik Under French Rule (1810–1814)" (PDF). pp. 103–142. Retrieved 11 September 2009. 
  26. Patrick Doreian, Vladimir Batagelj and Anuška Ferligoj (1998) Symmetric-Acyclic Decompositions of Networks PDF (130 KiB), to appear in Journal of Classification
  27. Cvitanic, Marilyn (2010). Culture and Customs of Croatia. ABC-CLIO. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-313-35117-4. 
  28. Heinrich F. Plett (1993). Renaissance Rhetoric/Renaissance-Rhetorik, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-013567-1
  29. Stephen R. Graubard (1998). A New Europe for the Old?, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0-7658-0465-4
  30. Hastings, Adrian, The construction of nationhood: ethnicity, religion, and nationalism; Cambridge University Press, 1997 ISBN 0-521-62544-0
  31. Matjaž Klemenčič, Mitja Žagar; The former Yugoslavia's diverse peoples: a reference sourcebook; ABC-CLIO, 2004 ISBN 1-57607-294-0
  32. See Tabula Rogeriana.

Further reading

  • D'Atri, Stefano. "Ragusa (Dubrovnik) In Eta Moderna: Alcune Considerazioni Storiografiche," [Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in the modern era: some historiographic considerations] Societa e Storia(giu 2005), Vol. 28 Issue 109, p599-609, covers 1500 to 1600
  • Delis, Apostolos. "Shipping Finance and Risks in Sea Trade during the French Wars: Maritime Loan Operations in the Republic of Ragusa" International Journal of Maritime History (June 2012) 24#1 pp 229–242
  • Rešetar, Milan (1929) (in Croatian). Dubrovačko Veliko vijeće. 
  • Vekaric, Nenad. "The Population of the Dubrovnik Republic in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries," Dubrovnik Annals 1998, Vol. 2, pp 7–28

External links

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