Republic of Ragusa

Republic of Ragusa
Respublica Ragusina  (Latin)
Repubblica di Ragusa  (Italian)
Dubrovačka Republika  (Croatian)
Vassal state of :
Flag Coat of arms
Latin: Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro
Croatian: Sloboda se ne prodaje za sve zlato svijeta
Italian: La libertà non si vende nemmeno per tutto l'oro del mondo
"Liberty is not sold for all the gold in the world"
Borders of the Republic of Ragusa, from 1426
Capital Ragusa (Dubrovnik)
42°39′N 18°04′E / 42.650°N 18.067°E / 42.650; 18.067
Languages Latin until 1492 and then Italian as official. Croatian and Dalmatian as the spoken languages[1]
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Aristocratic oligarchic republic (City-state)
Rector as Head of state
   1358–1370 Nicola de Sorgo
  1808 Simone de Giorgi
Historical era Middle Age, Renaissance, Early Modern Age
  City established c. 614
   Established 1358
  Fourth Crusade
(Venetian invasion)

  Treaty of Zadar 27 June 1358
  Ottoman tributary from 1458
  Joint protectorate from 1684
  Invasion by France 26 May 1806
   Annexation by Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy 31 January 1808
   1808 (?) 1,500 km² (579 sq mi)
   1808 (?) est. 30,000 
     Density 20 /km²  (51.8 /sq mi)
Currency Ragusa perpera and others
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Republic of Venice
Illyrian Provinces
Today part of  Croatia
Dubrovnik before the 1667 earthquake, Photogravure Kowalczyk 1909
Painting from 1667, kept today in Dubrovnik archives

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


Originally named Communitas Ragusina (Latin for "Ragusan municipality" or "community"), in the 14th century it was renamed Respublica Ragusina (lat. for Ragusan Republic), first mentioned in 1385.[4] In Italian it is called Repubblica di Ragusa; in Croatian it is called Dubrovačka Republika (Croatian pronunciation: [dǔbroʋat͡ʃkaː repǔblika]).

The Slavic 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, Rhagusium or Ragusium (Appendini says that until after 1100 CE, 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 from Ragusa to Dubrovnik came into effect during Austria-Hungary. It is known in historiography as the Republic of Ragusa.[7]


Territory of the Republic of Ragusa, early 18th century

The Republic ruled a compact area of southern Dalmatia – its final borders were formed by 1426[8] – 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 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.

In the 16th century administrative units of the Republic were: the City of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), counties (Konavle, Župa dubrovačka - Breno, Slano - Ragusan Littoral, Ston, Island of Lastovo, Island of Mljet, Islands of Šipan, Lopud and Koločep) and captaincies (Cavtat, Orebić, Janjina) with local magistrates appointed by the Grand Council (Great Council). Lastovo and Mljet were semi-autonomous communities (lat. universitates) each having its own Statute.

Historical background

Origin of the city

According to the De administrando imperio of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, the city was founded, probably in the 7th century, by the inhabitants of the Roman city of Epidaurum (modern Cavtat) after its destruction by the Avars and Slavs in ca. 615.[9] 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.[10] Slavs, including Croats and Serbs, settled along the coast in the 7th century. The Slavs named their settlement Dubrovnik. The Romance ("Latin") and Slavs held each other antagonistically, though by the 12th century the two settlements had 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 Croatian name for the united town.[8] There are recent theories based on excavations that the city was established much earlier, at least in the 5th and possibly to the Ancient Greek period (as per Antun Ničetić, in his book Povijest dubrovačke luke). 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 halfway between the Greek settlements of Budva and Korčula, which are 95 nautical miles (176 km; 109 mi) apart.

Early centuries

During its first centuries the city, known as Ragusium in Latin and Ra[g]ousion (Ῥα[γ]ούσιον) in Greek, was under the rule of the Byzantine Empire.[9] The Saracens laid siege to the city in 866–67; 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. Ooryphas' "showing of the flag" had swift results, as the Slavic tribes sent envoys to the Emperor, once more acknowledging his suzerainty. Basil dispatched officials, agents and missionaries to the region, restoring Byzantine rule over the coastal cities and regions in the form of the new theme of Dalmatia, while leaving the Slavic tribal principalities of the hinterland largely autonomous under their own rulers; the Christianization of the Serbs and the other Slavic tribes also began at this time.[11] 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: Sveti Vlaho), whom they adopted as the patron saint.[12]

The city remained under Byzantine domination until 1204, with the exception of periods of Venetian (1000–30) and later Norman (1081–85, 1172, 1189–90) rule.[9] 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.[12] Stephen's grant also included the harbour of Gruž, which is now the commercial port for Dubrovnik.[12]

Thus the original territory of the Ragusan municipality or community (District of Ragusa, ital. Distretto di Ragusa) comprised the city of Ragusa, Župa dubrovačka, Gruž, Ombla, Zaton, the Elafiti islands (Šipan, Lopud, and Koločep) and some smaller islands near the city.

The famous Arab 12th century geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi mentioned Dubrovnik and the surrounding area. In his work, he referred to Dubrovnik as the southernmost city of Croatia.[13][14][15]

In 1191, Emperor Isaac II Angelos granted the city's merchants the right to trade freely in Byzantium. Similar privileges were obtained several years earlier from Serbia (1186) and from Bosnia (1189). The Charter of Ban Kulin of Bosnia is also the first official document where the city is referred to as Dubrovnik.[8]

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.[16]

In the middle of the 13th century the island of Lastovo was added to the original territory. On 22 January 1325, Serbian king Stefan Uroš III issued a document for the sale of his maritime possessions of the city of Ston and peninsula of Pelješac to Ragusa.[17][18] In 1333, during the rule of Serbian king Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55), the two possessions were handed over to Ragusa.[19] In January 1348, the Black Death visited the city.[20]


Independence from Venice (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.[21] The last Venetian conte left, apparently in a hurry.[22]

In 1399, the city acquired the area between Ragusa and Pelješac, called the Primorje (Dubrovačko primorje) with Slano (lat. Terrae novae). It was purchased from Bosnian king Stephen Ostoja. A brief war with Bosnia in 1403 ended with Bosnian withdrawal. Between 1419 and 1426, the Konavle region, south of Astarea (Župa dubrovačka), including the city of Cavtat, was added to the Republic's possessions.[8]

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, 1708

Ottoman suzerainty

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.[23]

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 (as long as not conflicting with Ottoman interests), and its ships sailed under its own flag. Ottoman vassalage also conferred special trade rights 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.[24]

Merchants from Ragusa could enter the Black Sea which was otherwise closed to non-Ottoman shipping. They paid less in customs duties than other foreign merchants, and the city-state enjoyed diplomatic support from the Ottoman administration in trade disputes with the Venetians.[25]

For their part, Ottomans regarded Ragusa as a port of major importance, since 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)–NovibazarSkopjePlovdivEdirne.[26]

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.[25]

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.[16]

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, and Louis XII in 1502. In the first decade of the 16th century, Ragusan consuls were sent to France while their French counterparts were sent to Ragusa. Prominent Ragusans in France included Simon de Benessa, Lovro Gigants, D. de Bonda, Ivan Cvletković, captain Ivan Florio, Petar Lukarić (Petrus de Luccari), Serafin Gozze, Luca de Sorgo. 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–MamelukeZamorin 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: 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 Luža Square survived. 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 Caboga (1630–1692)[27] 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 1683 the Ottomans were defeated in the Battle of Kahlenberg outside Vienna. The Field marshal of the Austrian army was Ragusan Frano Đivo Gundulić. In 1684, the emissaries renewed an agreement contracted in Visegrád in the year 1358 and accepted the sovereignty of Habsburg as Hungarian Kings over Ragusa, 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. In the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), the Ottomans ceded all of Hungary, Transylvania, Slavonia, Dalmatia and Podolia to the victorious Habsburgs, Venetians, and Poles. 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 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 America, 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.

French occupation

The Battle of Austerlitz and the consequent peace treaty, having compelled Austria to hand over Dalmatia to France, put Ragusa in a dilemma. The nearby Bay of Kotor was a Venetian frontier against the Ottomans. But while France held the land, the United Kingdom and Russia held the sea; and while French troops marched from Austerlitz to Dalmatia, eleven Russian ship of the line entered the Bay of Kotor, and landed 6,000 men, later supported by 16,000 Montenegrins under Petar I Petrović-Njegoš. As 5,000 Frenchmen under General 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 there is no way from Dalmatia to Kotor but through Ragusa, General 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.

"Dear as this land is to me," said Count Vlaho Caboga, "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."

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, however, that would expose them to the vengeance of Napoleon, then in the zenith of his ambition and military power. So the occupation of the city was assigned to the French under General Jacques Lauriston. Soon thereafter, the Russian force moved to besiege the city, accompanied by the Montenegrins which was 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, thickly with villas, the results of a long prosperity, were plundered, including half a million sterling.

The city was in the utmost straits; General Molitor who had advanced within a few days' march of Ragusa, made an appeal to the Dalmatians to rise and expel the Russian–Montenegrin force, 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 Dmitry Senyavin 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[28] 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. According to an 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 cannon 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 had left the city by ship.

The Great Council of the Ragusan nobility (as the assembly of 44 patricians who had been members of the Great Council before the Republic was abolished by France) met for the last time on 18 January 1814 in the Villa Giorgi in Mokošica, Ombla with the efforts to re-establish the Republic of Ragusa eventually failing. Even they had elected Miho Bona as the Ragusan representative on the forthcoming peace conference (the Congress of Vienna), he was denied to participate as Austria strongly opposed any attempt to restore the Republic.

On 27 January, the French capitulation was signed in Gruž and ratified the same day. It was then that Vlaho Caboga 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 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 agreement he had made with the nobility in Gruž. The events which followed can be best epitomized in the so-called flag episode.[29]: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 Sabo Giorgi (Đorđi) to lower it. Overwhelmed by a feeling of deep patriotic pride, Giorgi, 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 everything in their power to eliminate the Ragusa issue at the Vienna Congress of 1815. The Ragusa representative, Miho Bona, elected on the abovementioned last meeting of the Great Council, was denied participation in the Congress, while Milutinović, prior to the final agreement of the allies, assumed complete control of the city.[29]: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.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Ragusa and the territories of the former Republic were made part of the crown land of the Kingdom of Dalmatia, ruled by the Habsburg Monarchy, after 1868 known as the Austria-Hungary, which it remained a part of until 1918.

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 Habsburg Monarchy. Some of the families that were recognized and survived were Ghetaldi-Gundula, Gozze, Kaboga, Sorgo, Zlatarić, Zamagna, Pozza, Gradi, and Bona.

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


The Rector's Palace (the seat of the Rector, the Minor Council, the Senate and the administration of the Republic from the 14th century to 1808), behind it the Sponza Palace

The Republican Constitution of Ragusa was strictly aristocratic. The population was divided into three classes: nobility, citizens, and plebeians who were mainly artisans and peasants (serfs, coloni and freemen). 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 (Great Council, Consilium maius, Maggior Consiglio), the Small Council (Minor Council, Consilium minus, Minor Consiglio) (from 1238) and the Senate (Consilium rogatorum, Consiglio dei Pregadi) from 1253. The head of the state was the Rector (also known as the Duke, ital. il Principe) elected for a term of office for one month (from 1358).

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

The Grand Council (Great Council, Consilium maius, Maggior Consiglio) consisted only of members of the aristocracy; every noble took his seat at the age of 18 (from 1332 when the council was "closed" and only male members of Ragusian noble (patrician) families had seat in it - Serrata del Maggior Consiglio Raguseo). It was supreme governing and legislative body which (after 1358) elected other councils, officials and the Rector (duke, principe, ceremonial head of state).

Every year, members of the Small Council (Minor Council, Consilium minus, Minor Consiglio) were elected by the Grand Council (Great Council). Together with a duke (Rector) the Small Council (Minor Council) had both executive and ceremonial functions. It consisted first of eleven members and after 1667 of seven members.

The main power was in the hands of the Senate (Consilium rogatorum, Consiglio dei Pregadi), which had 45 members over 40 years of age, elected for one year also by the Grand Council (Great Council). First it had only consultative functions, later (during the 16th century) the Senate became real government of the Republic. In the 18th century the Senate was de facto the highest institution of the Republic and senators became nobles of the nobility.

While the Republic was under the rule of Venice (1204 - 1358), the duke (comes, conte) was Venetian; but after 1358 the elected Rector was always a person from the Republic of Ragusa chosen by the Grand Council (Great Council). 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.

This organization was designed to prevent any single family, such as the Medici in Florence, from gaining absolute control. Nevertheless, historians agree that the Giorgi and Sorgo families generally had the greatest influence (especially during the 18th century).

Until the 15th century, judicial functions were in the hand of the Small Council (Minor Council), then separate Civil Court (Curia consulum causarum civilium) and Criminal court (Sex iudices de criminali) were established leaving the Small Council (Minor Council) and the Senate only supreme appellate jurisdiction. Judges of the Criminal and Civil Court had to be Ragusan patricians elected annually by the Grand Council (Great Council).

The officials (magistrates) known as provveditori (proveditores terrae) supervised work and acts of the councils, courts, as well as other officials. Known as the "guardians of justice", they could suspend decisions of the Small Council (Minor council) presenting them to the Senate for final deliberation. Provveditori were annually elected by the Grand Council (Great Council) among patricians above 50 years of age.

Statute (Liber statutorum civitatis Ragusii from 1272 with 1358 modifications), Liber omnium reformationum (1335 - 1410), Liber viridis (1358 - 1460) and Liber croceus (1460 - 1808) were main legislative books of the Republic (fontes iuris Ragusii - Republic's constitution). Important legislative acts, among others, include Liber statutorum doane Ragusii (the old customs statute) (1277), Capitolare della doana grande (the new customs statute) (1413), Ordo super assecuratoribus (maritime insurance) (1568), Regolamenti della Repubblica di Ragusa per la navigazione nazionale (national maritime regulations) (1745) ecc.

The government of the Republic was liberal in character and early showed its concern for justice and humanitarian principles, but also conservative considering government structure and social order. 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 slave trade was forbidden in 1416. The Republic was 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.

Patrician families

Coats of arms of the Ragusan families
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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 Rector (known also as the Duke), while during the period of Venetian suzerainty the rector (comes, conte) 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 January 1808. There were 4397 rectors elected; 2764 (63%) were from "old patrician" families: Gozze, Bona, Caboga, Cerva, Ghetaldi, Giorgi, Gradi, Pozza, Saraca, Sorgo, and Zamanya.

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 (Minor Council) and 15 of the 20 Great Council (Grand Council) members were from the same 11 families.

The Ragusan aristocracy[30] 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.

Original patriciate:

Families that joined the patriciate after the 1667 earthquake:

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 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and King 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.

Coat of arms

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).

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.


Vekaric, (1998) used tax evidence from the Dubrovnik littoral (Croatian: Dubrovačko Primorje) and a census to find that the Republic of Dubrovnik (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.[31]


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 (Croatian) language in senatorial debate. The gospari (aristocracy) held on to their language for many a century, while it slowly disappeared.

Although Latin was in official use until 1492, by the end of the 14th century inhabitants of the republic were mostly native speakers of Croatian.[1][32] Dalmatian was also spoken in the city. Italian, official since 1492, as spoken in the republic, was heavily influenced by the Venetian language and Tuscan dialect. Italian took root among the Dalmatian Romance-speaking merchant upper classes, as a result of Venetian influence.[33]

When Ragusa was part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, between 1808 and 1810, the Italian language was still in official use.

Ragusan literature

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.[34]

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.[35]

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), Franatica Sorkočević (1706–71).

The Croatian language works from the Republic of Ragusa had a large role in the developing of Croatian literature, as well as modern Croatian language.

Ethnic groups

Women from Herzegovina with a view on Ragusa

The inhabitants of the Republic of Ragusa were Catholics and spoke the local variant of the Shtokavian dialect, the same dialect upon which modern Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin and Serbian are all based. Among the modern South Slavic nations, Ragusans are mostly attributed to Croats.[36][37] 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. There was a Serb-Catholic movement in Dubrovnik.

The great cartographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi (in 1154), considered Dubrovnik a part of Croatia (Grwasiah) and 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).[13][14][38]


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

See also


  1. 1 2 R. Anthony Lodge, Stefan Pugh: Language contact and minority languages on the littorals of Europe, 2007, p. 235
  2. David Rheubottom (2000). Age, Marriage, and Politics in Fifteenth-Century Ragusa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-823412-0.
  3. Riley, Henry Thomas (1866). Dictionary of Latin quotations, proverbs, maxims, and mottos. Covent Garden: Bell & Daldy. p. 274. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
  4. Dubrovnik Annals. Zavod za povijesne znanosti Hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti u Dubrovniku. 2004.
  5. John Gardner Wilkinson (1848). Dalmatia and Montenegro, J. Murray
  6. Croatia (2006), Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 23 August 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
  7. 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.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Peter F. Sugar (1983). Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1804, University of Washington Press, ISBN 0-295-96033-7.
  9. 1 2 3 Krekić, Bariša; Kazhdan, Alexander (1991). "Dubrovnik". In Kazhdan, Alexander. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 665. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
  10. 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
  11. Nicol, Donald MacGillivray (1992). Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations. Cambridge University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-521-42894-7.
  12. 1 2 3 A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples, Cambridge University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-521-27485-0
  13. 1 2 Bresc & Nef 1999, p. 387.
  14. 1 2 G. Oman, Al-Idrīsī (1986) [1971]. Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3 (New ed.). Brill Publishers. pp. 1032–35. ISBN 90-04-03275-4.
  15. Zubrinic, Darko (1995). "Croatia – historical and cultural overview". Zagreb. Retrieved 4 November 2009.
  16. 1 2 Frederic Chapin Lane (1973). Venice, a Maritime Republic, Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-1460-X
  17. Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti 1908, p. 252
  18. Istorijski institut u Beogradu, SANU 1976, p. 21
  19. Miloš Blagojević (2001). Državna uprava u srpskim srednjovekovnim zemljama. Službeni list SRJ. p. 211.
  20. OLE J Benedictow (1973). The Black Death, 1346–1353, Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 0-85115-943-5
  21. Kenneth Meyer Setton (1978). The Papacy and the Levant, 1204–1571 Vol. 2, (Diane Publishing), ISBN 0-87169-127-2
  22. Harris 2003, p. 61.
  23. Theoharis Stavrides (2001). The Sultan of Vezirs, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 90-04-12106-4
  24. Barbara Jelavich (1983). History of the Balkans, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-27458-3
  25. 1 2 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
  26. Halil Inalcik, An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-57455-2
  27. 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, p. 226
  28. Dalmatia and Montenegro: Volume 2 by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson
  29. 1 2 Ćosić, Stjepan (2000). "Dubrovnik Under French Rule (1810–1814)" (PDF). Dubrovnik Annals (4): 103–142. Retrieved 11 September 2009.
  30. Patrick Doreian, Vladimir Batagelj and Anuška Ferligoj (1998) "Symmetric-Acyclic Decompositions of Networks" (PDF). (130 KiB), to appear in Journal of Classification
  31. Nenad Vekaric, "The Population of the Dubrovnik Republic in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries," Dubrovnik Annals 1998, Vol. 2, p7-28
  32. Cvitanic, Marilyn (2010). Culture and Customs of Croatia. ABC-CLIO. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-313-35117-4.
  33. di Scaglioni Marzio, Laurea, La presenza italiana in Dalmazia 1866–1943 [The Italian presence in Dalmatia 1866–1943] (Tesi) (in Italian), Milano, IT: Facoltà di Scienze politiche, Università degli studi di Milano.
  34. Heinrich F. Plett (1993). Renaissance Rhetoric/Renaissance-Rhetorik, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-013567-1
  35. Stephen R. Graubard (1998). A New Europe for the Old?, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0-7658-0465-4
  36. Hastings, Adrian, The construction of nationhood: ethnicity, religion, and nationalism; Cambridge University Press, 1997 ISBN 0-521-62544-0
  37. Matjaž Klemenčič, Mitja Žagar; The former Yugoslavia's diverse peoples: a reference sourcebook; ABC-CLIO, 2004 ISBN 1-57607-294-0
  38. See Tabula Rogeriana.


Further reading

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