Pagania in the 9th century, according to De administrando imperio.
The Adriatic Sklaviniae c. 800 AD, according to Klaic

Pagania or the Narentine Frontier, (Greek: (Ν)αρεντάνοι - (N)arentanoi, Croatian: Paganija, Krajinjane, Neretljani, Italian: Narentani, Narentini, Serbian: Паганија, Paganija; Неретљани, Neretljani), was a land settled by the Slav tribe known as the Narentines (Neretljani) in an area of southern Dalmatia (modern day Republic of Croatia), west of the river Neretva (Narenta). They were known for their piracy.

Pagania bordered Kingdom of Croatia to the west and spread eastwards from the river of Cetina. It was consisted out of three lesser Principalities: Makar (Makarska), Rastik (from Imotski to Ljubuški) and Dalen (which is not on the coast). It also included the islands of Mljet, Korčula, Brač and Hvar. The main Narentine cities were Vrulja (Gornja Brela), Mokro (Makarska), Ostrog (near modern Zaostrog) and Lavćen (Gradac) or Slavineca; but by far the most important was the fortified Omiš in the later ages. At the east, Neretvia reached the river of Neretva, which faced Zachlumia.


Narentines and historic sources

Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus stresses that "Pagani are descended from the unbaptized Serbs" and that "The Pagani are so called because they did not accept baptism at the time when all the Serbs were baptized." [1] The Republic of Venice sources refer to Narentines as to simply "Slavs".[2][3][4][5]

The Narentines (Neretljani) were named by their land, Neretvia, which was named by its neighbouring river. Their secondary name, Pagans (and thus their land Pagania), the Romano-Byzantines gave them because they weren't Christianized. The Latin name Merania, meaning the Coastland, was also used - and it gave the name for its inhabitants: Marians.

The region has also be referred to as being part of Red Croatia, in the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja written 1298-1300 by a Catholic monk.[6][7][8][9] They were also referred to as Neretljani Croatians.[10]


Traditional Narentine fishing vessel

The Adriatic coastland that the Narentians (Neretljani) inhabited ranged 75 kilometers from the mouth of Neretva in the Adriatic Sea at the east to the river Cetina at the west. It was 10-20 kilometers wide. Most of the soil was composed out of forests and swamps, while there was very little arable land. Also, They possessed these islands: Brač, Hvar, Mljet, Korčula, Vis and Lastovo.

The Pagans fiercely opposed Christianity, seeing it as a means of oppression, and cherished the Slavic Paganism for long.

Next to sailing, the Marians were professed in trading, growing olives, figs and vineyards. On the outskirts of Biokovo and Mosor and on the islands, they herded cattle and they were also tilling the fields to an extent. In the later medieval ages, Merania imported wheat and exported wine, solted fish, dry fruits, etc.

Their best expertise and the main income of the Pagans was piracy. The loot was split traditionally just as the catch of fish - one half goes to the provider of the ships and/or the organizer of the hunt (Prince or Archont) and the other half is split amongst the crewmembers. They were especially notorious for their slave-trade [11] The main type of vessel the Narentines used was the Slavic Sagena (Latin: "Sagitta", meaning: "arrow") from the beginning of the 9th century, a variation of the Scandinavian Viking Drakkar. It was a long, relatively shallow vessel that was specific for its high speed with a slender body, a sharp bow and a mast. It was manned by 40 crewmembers that were at the same time professional fighters. Other than this type of vessel, the Pagans used the Kondura; a ship similar to the Sagena, but a lot smaller, with a crew of 20 members. The Marians also used other types of vessels and barges.

The Marian rulers were called Morstiks and Judges, although the Church refers to them as Kings. The titles of the nobility were typical Slavic titles: Prince, Treasure-keeper, Chaplain, Knight.


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Slavic migration poured into the region in 6th and 7th century. There, they rather quickly assimilated the local Romanized Latin populace which transferred to them the secret of shipbuilding[citation needed] that combined with the already rich practical Slavic experience. Unlike elsewhere in Dalmatia, the Latin citizenry didn't manage to maintain its culture in Pagania, as cities lost their fame quickly - like Narona at the mouth of Neretva, a city that didn't survive the Slavic invasions.


The Narentine pirates have started to improve their shipbuilding trades when the Arabs started to massively jeopardize the Eastern Roman Imperial waters. The old fierce pirateering Illyrian tradition and their famous resistance against the Romans was relived. The Slavs became skilled shipbuilders and talented in the naval arts. As the original Illyrian population dwindled, the remaining Illyrians taught[citation needed] the Slavic people the traditional trade of the coast, becoming the only experts in navigation and buccaneering that the Slavic people have turned out.[12]

Already by the middle of the 7th century - in 642 - the Slavs dispatched from the dalmatian coast towards Italy and invaded Siponto at the Gulf of Monte Gargano. Afterwards, raids in the Adriatic increased rapidly, until Slavs became the most fearsome threat to safe travelling.

In 827-828, when the majority of the Venetian naval power was campaigning in the Sicilian waters, the Narentines took more liberty in their raiding quests; but after the Venetian Navy returned, the Marians eased down again. One Narentine leader was baptised in the Republic of Venetia in 829, marking a Treaty between Merania and the Venetian Republic. Although, not feeling any excessive vow of loyalty - as soon as the times in the Adriatic or in Venetia got worse - they resurrected their old trade, thus braking the treaty. When the Narentines raided and slaughtered several Venetian traders returning from the Duchy of Benevento in southern Italia in 834/835, the Venetians were petrified. It is because of this that the new Venetian Doge, Pietro Tradonico [13] led a large fleet against these slavic pirates across the Adriatic in 839. To divide and conquer them, the Venetians made peace with Neretvia's traditional allies, the Croats of Dalmatia under Duke Mislav and with some of the Marian tribes led by Prince Družak (Drosaico, Marianorum judice). The Venetian offensive was launched again in 840 against the Narentine Prince Ljudislav, but met little success. Doge Pietro had lost more than 100 men on this campaign and had to return to Venetia.

Balkan Polities, late 9th century

These Dalmatian Slavs utilized the moment of Venetian weakness when the Arabs were heavily attacking them, and took more and more daring military attempts against the Venetians. In 846, they breached to Venice itself and robbed the neighbouring lagoon city of Caorle. After numerous successful military attempts; self-conscience, freedom and tribalism gained ever more strength in Neretvia. The Marians were the first South Slavs that took the initiative of fighting for themselves, but unlike other Slavs, these were strictly for the personal gains and guaranteed attaining of the loot.

The Narentines have for long by the second half of the 9th century been trying to remove their pirateering habits and change their lifestyle completely.[citation needed] Despite that, the Narentines kidnapped the Roman Bishop's emissaries that were returning from the Ecclesiastical Council in Constantinople in the middle of March of 870. The Pagans have for long resisted the influences of Christianity, until Eastern Roman Emperor Basil I of the Macedonian dynasty finally pacified them with a naval military attempt, after which he reunified the whole of Dalmatia under Imperial Byzantine rule and Constantinople. Pressed, the Pagans sent emissaries to the Emperor and requested baptising. The Byzantine Empire sent Priests to Pagania and put its Slavs under its protectorate.

The Arab mariners raided Narentine Brač in 872.[citation needed] The Arabs continued to dominate the Adriatic seas until the Byzantines pushed the Saracens out of it and the surrounding regions. As soon as the Imperial Navy abandoned the waters of the Adriatic, the Pagans couldn't resist to once more relive their old habits - which caused a Venetian military offensive against them in 886. Venetia's Doge Pietro I Candiano himself went with 12 Galleys to invade Neretvia's waters in 887 and sank 5 Narentine ships in the Port of Mokro. After he landed his forces near Mokro, he chased the Marians, advancing deeper inland. On 18 September 887, the Narentines rushed against him and decisively defeated him. In the battle, Doge Pietro I himself lost his life. Day of Narentines victory has become day of Croatian navy. This caused the Venetian Republic to renew the anti-Slavic alliance with King Berengar of Italy on 7 May 888.[citation needed]


Rascia's Princes have long wore the titles Grand Princes, seeing the Narentine territories, among others, as legally parts of their realm. After the 893 friendship between the former enemies, Rascia and Bulgaria, Grand Prince Petar Gojniković of the House of Vlastimirović started to exert his Rascian influence over Pagania with full effect. Dyrrhachium's Commander Lav Ravduh came to the Narentine Frontier to seek allies and to gain surport against the growing Bulgarians. He met with Grand Prince Petar of Gojnik on the coast of Merania, where the Rascian ruler negotiated an alliance with the Byzantines.[citation needed]

In 917 Grand Prince Petar was tricked, and the Bulgarians installed his cousin, Pavle Branović of the same dynasty. As Pavle denied the suzerainty of the Bulgarian Czardom, Tsar Simeon deposed him because of this and implanted his brother-by-uncle Zaharije Pribislavljević in 920-923. With the Bulgarian destruction of the Rascian realm by trickery in 924, stateless anarchy under Bulgarian occupation came, with an extent of Croatian influence being present.[citation needed]

In 927 Prince Časlav Klonimirović, the last of the Vlastimirović dynasty returned and rebuilt Serbia by 931, maintaining relations with the suzeiran Byzantine Empire. After the death of Croatia's King Krešimir in 945, civil war erupted for the Croatian crown's succession, and the Narentine took the islands of Kaza, Vis and Lastovo. They stubbornly did not give up their old habits towards piracy, which caused Venetian Doge Pietro III Candiano to lead a fleet of 33 Galleys against them in 948, attacking twice; in two waves. Both military attempts have utterly failed to put an end to the Narentine domination of the Adriatic, and ever since the second, the Venetians were forced to pay taxes to the Marians for safe passage through the Adriatic Sea. In 960 the Serbian realm collapsed and the Byzantines created their own Theme of Serbia in its place and Narentines has fallen to Croatian influence.

On 9 May 1000 during the Spring, Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo [14] decided to subject the allied Croats and Narentines, protecting the interests of their trading colonies and the Dalmatian Romanized citizery. Without difficulties, he stroked the entire eastern Adriatic coastline - with only the Marians offering him some resistance. As a counterattack, the Narentines kidnapped 40 of Zadar's (Zara) first-graded citizens and stole a transportation loaded by goods from Apulia. On their way home, Venetian Doge Peter II dispatched 10 ships that surprised them between Lastovo and Kača and took them as prisoners to Trogir. Narentine emissaries came to the Doge's temporary residence at Split (Spalato) to beg for the release of the prisoners. They guaranteed that the Marian Prince himself will show up with his men and renounce the old rights to tax the Venetians for free passage. All prisoners were allowed to return to their homes, except for 6 Narentines that were kept as hostages.

Lastovo and Korčula continued to oppose the Venetians. Korčula was conquered by Doge Peter II and Lastovo fell too after long bloody fights. As Lastovo was very infamous in the Venetian world for being a pirate haven, the Doge ordered the Lastovo city to be evacuated in order to be razed. After the denizens of Lastovo soundly refused to concur, the Venetians attacked the City. It was seized and entirely razed to the ground by the Venetian forces.

As soon as the Bulgarian Empire was destroyed by the Byzantines in 1018, the Neretvians are for short time annexed by Byzantine Empire.[citation needed]


On each 18 September a special festivity is held in Croatia to honor the Narentines' victory over the Venetians in Makarska, known as the "Marathon of Galleys", from Metković to Ploče.

See also


  1. ^ De Administrando Imperio (DAI), Chapter 36
  2. ^ When Ethnicity did not Matter in the Balkans by John Van Antwerp Fine (p.39):
    • "Venice continued having trouble with the Neretljani, sending ships against the Neretljani Slavs (Narrentanos Sclavos) in 887, as noted above, and also in 948. Having reached his own times, John the Deacon becomes aware of the term..."
  3. ^ Venice, a Maritime Republic by Frederic Chapin Lane. Page 24
  4. ^ Venice and its Story by Thomas Okey
  5. ^ Great Powers and Geopolitical Change by Jakub J. Grygiel
  6. ^ Byzantium's Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204 by Paul Stephenson
  7. ^ Presbyter Diocleas: De Regno Sclavorum; Ioannes Lucius: De Regno Dalmatie et Croatiae (Amsterdam 1666) 287-302; Schwandtner Scriptores rerum Hungaricarum III (Vienna) 174; Sl. Mijušković: Letopis Popa Dukljanina (Titograd 1967)
  8. ^ Flavius Blondus: Historiarum ab Inclinatione Romani Imperii, dec II, lib II (Venetiae 1483, f. 115 r; ed Basilea 1559) 177.
  9. ^ Andrea Dandolo (1300-1354), the Venetian author of Chronicle of Dalmatia, who writes of Croatian lands (Dalmatian Kingdom), reiterated the boundaries of Red Croatia
  10. ^ A History of the Croats by Ivo Peric. page 1754
  11. ^ The Slavs-Encyclopedia/The Advent
  12. ^ Semple, Ellen Churchill (1916). Pirate Coasts of the Mediterranean. Geographical Review. pp. 145. 
  13. ^ Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1982.
  14. ^ Venice, a Maritime Republic By Frederic Chapin Lane. page 26


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