Medieval Croatian state

Medieval Croatian state

The Croatian people trace their origins to Slavic peoples which moved into the territory of the former Roman provinces Pannonia and Dalmatia between the 7th and 8th centuries, and formed principalities. In the 10th century, these were joined into a unified kingdom which persisted until the turn of the 12th century.

Origin of the Croatians

The origin of the Croatian tribe before the great migration of the Slavs is uncertain. One theory suggests they are descended from ancient Persia (cf. Alans). This theory is, however, disputed by more recent Y-DNA research that traces the origins of the original Croat tribe to northern Central Asia about 10,000 years ago. The lack of common genetic lineage markers with modern-day populations that descend from the ancient Persians makes a Persian origin unlikely.

The earliest mention of the Croatian name, "Horovathos", can be traced on two stone inscriptions ("Tanais stone") in Greek language and script, dating from around the year 200 AD, found in the seaport Tanais on the Azov sea, Crimea peninsula (near the Black Sea). The inscription reads: "Horoathos archon Tanaiton" (= Croat Mayor of Tanais) and "Synodos Horouathon“ (=Convention of Croats). Both tablets are kept in the Archaeological museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

One theory suggests the name "Horovathos" originated from the Old Persian province of "Harahwati". We find this name on three stone monuments of the Persian King Darius I (522-496 BC). The Old Persian sacred script Awesta speaks of the "Harahwaiti".

In the 7th century, the Croatian tribe moved from the area north of the Carpathians and east of the river Vistula (what was referred to as the "White Croatia") and migrated into the western Dinaric Alps.

Migration of the Croatians

No contemporary written records about the migration have been preserved, especially not about the events as a whole and from the area itself. Instead, historians rely on records written several centuries after the facts, and even those records may be based on oral tradition.

The most commonly accepted facts about the origin of the Croats are that they originate from Slavic tribes that lived in and around today's Poland or western Ukraine. Many modern scholars believe that the early Croat people, as well as other early Slavic groups, were agricultural populations that were ruled by the nomadic Iranian-speaking Alans. It is unclear whether the Alans contributed much more than a ruling caste or a class of warriors; the evidence on their contribution is mainly philological and etymological.

The book "De Administrando Imperio", written in the 10th century, is the most referenced source on the migration of Slavic peoples into southeastern Europe. It states that they migrated first around or before year 600 from the region that is now (roughly) Galicia and areas of the Pannonian plain, led by the Avars, to the province of Dalmatia ruled by the Roman Empire. "De Administrando Imperio" says that the Croats were led into the Roman province of Dalmatia by a group of five brothers, Klukas, Lobel, Kosenc, Muhlo and Hrvat, and their two sisters, Tuga and Buga.

The second wave of migration, possibly around year 620, began when the Croats were invited by the Emperor Heraclius to counter the Avar threat on the Byzantine Empire.

"De Administrando Imperio" also mentions an alternate version of the events, where the Croats weren't actually invited by Heraclius, but instead defeated the Avars and settled on their own accord after migrating from an area near today's Silesia. This record is supported by the writings of one Thomas the archdeacon, "Historia Salonitana" from the 13th century.

However, the record of archdeacon Thomas, as well as the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja from the 12th century, state that the Croats did not arrive the same way that the Byzantine texts say. Instead, these works claim that the Croats were a group of Slavs that remained after the Goths (under a leader referred to as "Totila") had occupied and pillaged the Roman province of Dalmatia. The Chronicle of Dioclea, on the other hand, speaks of a Gothic invasion (under a leader referred to as "Svevlad", followed by his descendants "Selimir" and "Ostroilo") after which the Slavs merely took over.

Regardless of the different interpretations, the Croat tribes eventually settled in the area between the Drava river and the Adriatic sea, the western Roman provinces Pannonia and Dalmatia; western Balkans in modern usage. The Croat tribes had been organized into two principalitys; the Pannonian duchy in the north and the Dalmatian duchy in the south.


The earliest record of contact between the Roman Pope and the Croats dates from a mid-7th century entry in the "Liber Pontificalis". Pope John IV (John the Dalmatian, 640-642) sent an abbot named Martin to Dalmatia and Istria in order to pay ransom for some prisoners and for the remnants of old Christian martyrs. This abbot is recorded to have travelled through Dalmatia with the help of the Croatian leaders, and he established the foundation for the future relations between the Pope and the Croats.

The Christianization of the Croats began after their arrival, probably in the 7th century, influenced by the proximity of the old Roman cities in Dalmatia. The process was completed in the north by the beginning of the 9th century. The beginnings of the Christianization are also disputed in the historical texts: the Byzantine texts talk of duke Porin who started this at the incentive of emperor Heraclius, then of Prince Porga who mainly Christianized his people after the influence of missionaries from Rome, while the national tradition recalls Christianization during the rule of Dalmatian Prince Borna. It is possible that these are all renditions of the same ruler's name.

Curiously enough, the Croats were never obliged to use Latin -- rather, they held masses in their own language and used the Glagolitic alphabet. This was officially sanctioned in 1248 by Pope Innocent IV, and only later did the Latin alphabet prevail.

The Latin Rite prevailed over the Byzantine Rite rather early due to numerous interventions from the Holy See. There were numerous church synods held in Dalmatia in the 11th century, particularly after the East-West Schism, during the course of which the use of the Latin rite was continuously reinforced until it became dominant.

Rise of Croats

Croatian lands in the Dark Ages were located between three major entities: the Eastern Roman Empire which aimed to control the Dalmatian city-states and islands, the Franks which aimed to control the northern and northwestern lands, and the Avars, later Magyars, and other fledgling states in the northeast. The fourth relevant group, but not so powerful with regard to the Croatian state, were the nearby Slavs in the southeast, the Serbs and the Bulgarians.

The north became subject to the Carolingian Empire around 800, when in 796 a Croatian Pannonian prince Vojnomir switched sides between the Avars and the Franks. The Franks established control over the region between Sava, Drava and Danube which was under the Margrave of Furlania. The patriarchy of Aquileia was then allowed to Christianize the remaining Slavs in the region. Charlemagne invaded the Dalmatian portion of Croatia in 799, contesting its Byzantine suzerainty, and after a lengthy war, conquered it in 803. The prince who headed the Croats in the south at the time was called Višeslav.

Charlemagne's invasion of the Dalmatian cities provoked a war with the Eastern Roman Empire — after a peace deal was signed, the Byzantium restored the city-states and islands while Charlemagne kept Istria and inland Dalmatia. After the death of Charlemagne in 814, the Frankish influence decreased, and the Croatian prince Ljudevit Posavski raised in Pannonia a rebellion (819). The Frankish Margraves sent armies in 820, 821 and 822, but each time they failed to crush the rebels until finally Ljudevit's forces withdrew to Bosnia. Most of the Pannonian Croatia would remain in Frankish suzerainty until the end of the 9th century. What is today eastern Slavonia and Srijem fell to the Bulgarians in 827 after a border dispute with the Franks. By a peace treaty in 845, the Franks were confirmed as rulers over Slavonia, whilst Srem remained under Bulgarian clientage.

In the meantime, the Dalmatian Croats were recorded to have been subject to the Kingdom of Italy under Lothair I, since 828. The Croatian Prince Mislav (835–845) built up a formidable navy, and in 839 signed a peace treaty with Pietro Tradonico, doge of Venice. The Venetians soon proceeded to battle with the independent Slavic pirates of the Pagania region, but failed to defeat them. The Bulgarian duke Boris I also waged a lengthy war against the Dalmatian Croats, trying to expand his state to the Adriatic.

The Croatian Prince Trpimir I (845–864) succeeded Mislav and managed to finally win the war against the Bulgarians and their Rascian subjects. Trpimir I expanded his realm to include the whole of Bosnia up to the Drina river.Trpimir I managed to consolidate power over Dalmatia and much of the inland regions towards Pannonia, while instituting counties as a way of controlling his subordinates (an idea he picked up from the Franks). The first known written mention of the Croats, dates form March 4852, in statute by Trpimir. Trpimir is remembered as the initiator of the Trpimirović dynasty, that ruled in Croatia, with interruptions, from 845 until 1091.

In the meantime, the Saracens, a group of Arab pirates, invaded Taranto and Bari in the 840s. The extent of their piracy forced the Byzantium to increase its military presence in the southern Adriatic. In 867 a Byzantine fleet lifted the Saracen siege over Dubrovnik (then known as Ragusa) and also defeated the pirates of Pagania.

Facing a number of naval threats, the Croatian Prince Domagoj (864–876) built up the Croatian navy again and helped the Franks conquer Bari in 871. The Croatian vessels also forced the Venetians to start paying tribute for sailing near the eastern Adriatic coast. Domagoj's son, of unknown name, ruled Dalmatian Croatia between 876 and 878. His forces attacked the western Istrian towns in 876, but were subsequently defeated by the Venetian navy. His ground forces defeated the Pannonian duke Kocelj (861–874) who was suzerain to the Franks, and thereby shed the Frankish vassal status. Wars of Domagoj and his son liberated Dalmatian Croats from supreme Franks rule.

The next Prince Zdeslav (878–879) owerthrew Domagoj's son, but reigned briefly, only to see the Byzantine Empire conquer large portions of Dalmatia. He was then overthrown by Prince Branimir (879–892), who was supported by the Western Church, and the country was recognized by Pope John VIII as an independent principality under Branimir in 879 (Branimir was dubbed "dux Chroatorum"). Branimir proceeded to repel the Byzantine incursion and strengthen his state under the ægis of Rome. After Branimir's death, Prince Muncimir (892–910), Zdeslav's brother, took control of Dalmatia and ruled it independently of both Rome and Byzantium as "divino munere Croatorum dux" (with God's help, duke of Croats).

The last Prince of the Pannonian Croats under the Franks was Braslav (died in 897?), mentioned in 896, who died in a war with the Magyars, who then migrated to the Pannonian plain. In Dalmatia, Duke Tomislav (910–928) succeeded Muncimir. Tomislav successfully repelled Magyar attacks, expelled them up to the Drava River on north, and united Pannonian and Dalmatian Croats into one state.

ee also

* List of rulers of Croatia

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