Michael of Zahumlje

Michael of Zahumlje
Mihajlo Višević
Prince of Zahumlje ("dux Chulmorum")[1]
Reign floruit c. 913 – 926[2][3]
Family Višević
Father Busebutze[4]
Religion Christian[5]

Michael of Zahumlje, also known as Michael Višević (Croatian/Bosnian/Serbian: Mihajlo Višević, Cyrillic: Михаило Вишевић) or rarely as Michael Vuševukčić,[6][7] was an independent Slavic ruler of Zahumlje, in present-day western Herzegovina and southern Croatia, who flourished in the early part of the 10th century. A neighbour of the Kingdom of Croatia and Serbia as well as an ally of Bulgaria, he was nevertheless able to maintain independent rule throughout at least a good part of his reign.[8]

Michael came into territorial conflict with Petar of Serbia, who attempted to expand his power westwards.[9] To eliminate the threat, Michael warned his ally, the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I, about the alliance between Peter and Symeon's enemy, the Byzantine Empire.[9] Symeon attacked Serbia and captured Peter, who later died in prison.[10]

Michael was mentioned together with Tomislav of Croatia in Pope John X's letter of 925.[8] In that same year, he participated in the first church councils in Split,[8] something that some historians have taken as evidence of Zahumlje being a vassal of Croatia. In any case, Michael, with grand titles of the Byzantine court as anthypatos and patrician (patrikios), remained ruler of Zahumlje through the 940s, while maintaining good relations with the Pope.[11]


Map of the territorial extent of Michael's Chelmia (Zahumlje) at its zenith, between the Kingdom of Croatia and the Bulgarian Empire.

Compiled in c. 950, the historical work De administrando imperio, ascribed to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, notes that Michael was a son of Busebutze (Greek: Bouseboutzis)[4] and that unlike many other Slavs in the Dalmatian region, his family did not descend from the "unbaptized Serbs".[8] According to Constantine, his family belonged to the Litziki (Λιτζίκη), a unbaptized people on the River Vistula from south Poland.[4][12] The region around upper Vistula was also known as a part of White Croatia (Chrobatia), from where the Croats have migrated to the Roman Dalmatia invited by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Heraclius.[13] However, H. T. Norris notes that Croats and Serbs were intermixed in those parts of Poland.[14]

The area controlled by Michael comprised Zahumlje, later known as Hum (what is now western Herzegovina and southern Croatia), as well as Travunia (now eastern Herzegovina and southern Croatia with center at Trebinje) and a good part of Duklja (modern Montenegro).[9] His territory therefore formed a block along the southern Dalmatian coast, from the Neretva river to Ragusa (Dubrovnik), latter serving as a tributary region.[5][12]

Before the annexation of Serbia in 924, Bulgaria did not yet border on Zahumlje and a part of Croatia lay between both lands. For instance, the chronicler John the Deacon (d. 1009) says that in 912, a Venetian traveller who had just passed through Bulgaria and Croatia on his way home, next found himself in Zahumlje.[15][16]

"Qui (Petrus) dum Chroatorum fines rediens transire vellet, a Michahele Sclavorum duce fraude deceptus...
[While he (Peter) was returning from Croatian territory he was deceived through fraud by Michael, duke of the Slavs...]"
-Chronicon Venetum, John the Deacon

Alliance with Simeon I of Bulgaria

Michael was a close ally of Simeon I of Bulgaria, who had been mounting a number of successful campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. The traveler of John the Deacon's account was an ambassador, son of the Venetian doge Ursus Particiacus II, who was returning from a diplomatic mission to Constantinople. When he entered Zahumlje, Michael "a prince of the Slavs" (dux Sclavorum) had him captured and sent as a gift to Simeon.[17]

Simeon's march for power posed such a great threat to the Byzantine Empire that it looked for allies in the area. Leo Rhabduchus, the strategos of Dyrrhachium, found one such ally in Serbia, Peter Gojniković, who had been subject to Bulgaria since 897. Peter had been busy extending his power westwards, and appears to have come into territorial conflict with Michael in the process of doing so.[9] Constantine writes that Michael, "his jealousy aroused by this", warned Symeon of the conspiracy. Symeon attacked Serbia and captured Peter, who died in prison.[10] Most scholars prefer to date the war on Serbia to 917, after 20 August, when Simeon had massacred much of the invading Byzantine army at its landing place at Anchialos. In 924, Simeon conquered Serbia and, instead of appointing a vassal to govern on his behalf, placed it under his direct authority. In effect, Simeon became a neighbour of Michael and of Croatia, which was then under King Tomislav and had good relations with Byzantium.[11] It seems probable that Michael remained loyal to Simeon until the latter's death in 927.[11]

Church councils in Split, Croatia

The sources show Michael involved in important church affairs which were conducted on Croatian territory in the mid-920s. Two church councils were convened in Split (Latin: Spalatum), in 925 and 928, which officially established or confirmed the recognition of Split as the archiepiscopal see of all Dalmatia (rather than just the Byzantine cities).[18][19] Another major issue of concern was the language of liturgy: since the conversion of the Slavs by Cyril and Methodius in the previous century, the Slavic church was accustomed to use Slavonic rather than Latin for its church services.

The Historia Salonitana, whose composition may have begun in the late 13th century, cites a letter of Pope John X to Tomislav, "king (rex) of the Croats", in which he refers to the first council in some detail. If the letter is authentic, it shows that the council was attended not only by the bishops of Croatian and Byzantine Dalmatia, but also by Tomislav, whose territory also included the Byzantine cities of Dalmatia, and by a number of Michael's representatives.[19] In this letter, John describes Michael as "the most excellent leader of the Zachlumi" (excellentissimus dux Chulmorum).[5] The sources have nothing to say about the nature of the relationship between Michael and Tomislav. Some historians have taken Michael's participation at the church council as evidence for the idea that Michael had switched allegiance to Croatia. John V. A. Fine, however, rejects this line of reasoning, saying that the events represented an important ecclesiastical affair for all Dalmatia and stood under papal authority. Moreover, Michael appears to have retained a neutral position when Croatia and Bulgaria were at war in 926 and so it may be that Michael was on good terms with the rulers of both lands at the same time.[11]

Michael apparently sacked Siponto (Latin: Sipontum), which was a Byzantine town in Apulia on 10 July 926.[1] It remains unknown if he did this by Tomislav's supreme command as suggested by some historians. According to Omrčanin, Tomislav sent the Croatian navy under Michael's leadership to drive the Saracens from that part of southern Italy and free the city.[20] Interesting, Constantine in his De administrando imperio makes no mention of Michael's raid, nor does he mention Church councils in Split.[21]

Later years

Constantine remembers Michael as a prince (archon) of the Zachlumi, but also uses such grand titles of the Byzantine court as anthypatos and patrician (patrikios) to describe his political rank and status.[8][22][23] These titles have been interpreted as reflecting a more subordinate position after Simeon's death in 927, when Michael lost the Bulgarian support needed for any higher recognition.[11] Michael does not appear in the sources for events after 925,[5] but historian Fine thinks that his reign lasted into the 940s.[11] Časlav, who became ruler of Serbia after Symeon's death, may have seized some of Michael's territory while securing his conquest of Travunia.[5]



  1. 1 2 Rački, Odlomci iz državnoga práva hrvatskoga za narodne dynastie:, p. 15
  2. Runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his reign:, p. 212
  3. Klaić 1882, Poviest Bosne do propasti kraljevstva, p. 95: "Prvi poznati vladar humske zemlje jest Mihajlo Višević (912 do 926)"
  4. 1 2 3 Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio, ch. 33.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Vlasto, The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, p. 209.
  6. Mihanovich, The Croatian nation in its struggle for freedom and independence: a symposium, p. 112
  7. Dominik Mandić; Basilius S. Pandžić (1963). Dionis Lasić, ed. Rasprave i prilozi iz stare Hrvatske povijesti [Discussions and articles on ancient Croatian history] (in Croatian). Hrvatski Povijesni Institut. p. 385. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Curta, Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250, p. 210.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Fine, The early medieval Balkans, p. 149.
  10. 1 2 Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio, ch. 32.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fine, The early medieval Balkans, p. 160.
  12. 1 2 Vlasto, The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, pp. 381-382.
  13. Dvornik, The Slavs: their early history and civilization, p. 63
  14. Norris, Islam in the Balkans: religion and society between Europe and the Arab world, p. 15
  15. John the Deacon, Chronicon Venetum, ed. Pertz, pp. 22-3.
  16. Fine, When ethnicity did not matter in the Balkans, p. 63 note 103.
  17. Runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his reign:, p. 223
  18. Fine, The early medieval Balkans, p. 260
  19. 1 2 Fine, When ethnicity did not matter in the Balkans, p. 55.
  20. Omrčanin, Military history of Croatia:, p. 24
  21. Runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his reign:, p. 210
  22. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio, ch. 32 and 33.
  23. Ostrogorski, History of the Byzantine state, p. 268.


  • Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio, ed. Gy. Moravcsik and tr. R. H. J. Jenkins (1967 [1949]), Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies.
  • Dvornik, Francis (1959). The Slavs: their early history and civilization. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
  • John the Deacon, Chronicon Venetum, ed. G. H. Pertz (1846). Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores 7. Hanover. pp. 1–36: 22–3.  A later edition is that by G. Monticolo (1890), Rome: Forzani. The relevant passage is also found in Rački, F. (1877). Documenta historiae chroaticae periodum antiquam illustrantia. Zagreb. pp. 388 (no. 197.1 ). 
  • Curta, Florin (2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500-1250. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-89452-4. 
  • Fine (Jr), John V. A. (2006). When Ethnicity Did Not Matter in the Balkans: A Study of Identity in Pre-Nationalist Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 9780472114146. 
  • Fine (Jr), John V. A. (1986). The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 
  • Mihanovich, Clement Simon (1955). The Croatian nation in its struggle for freedom and independence: a symposium. "Croatia" Cultural Pub. Center. 
  • Norris, H. T. (1993). Islam in the Balkans: religion and society between Europe and the Arab world. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9780872499775. 
  • Omrčanin, Ivo (1984). Military history of Croatia. Dorrance. ISBN 9780805928938. 
  • Ostrogorski, George (1969). History of the Byzantine State. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813505992.  Translated from the German by Joan Hussey.
  • Rački, Franjo (1861). Odlomci iz državnoga práva hrvatskoga za narodne dynastie (in Croatian). F. Klemma. 
  • Runciman, Steven (1988) [1929]. The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign: A Study of Tenth-Century Byzantium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-35722-5. 
  • Vlasto, A. P. (1970). The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom: An Introduction to the Medieval History of the Slavs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521074599. 

Further reading

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