Republic of Ragusa
Republica de Ragusa (Dalmatian)
Respublica Ragusina (Latin)
Repubblica di Ragusa (Italian)
Dubrovačka Republika (Croatian)
Repùblega de Raguxa (Venetian)
Motto: 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 well sold for all the gold"
Borders of the Republic of Ragusa, from 1426 (encompassing also the area labelled "Neum" until 1718)
Borders of the Republic of Ragusa, from 1426 (encompassing also the area labelled "Neum" until 1718)
StatusSovereign state which was a Tributary state of:[citation needed]
42°39′N 18°04′E / 42.650°N 18.067°E / 42.650; 18.067
Common languages
  • Dalmatian[a]
  • Croatian[b]
GovernmentAristocratic merchant republic (city-state)
Rector as Head of state 
• 1358
Nikša Sorgo
• 1807-1808
Sabo Giorgi
Historical eraMiddle Ages, Renaissance, Early modern period
• City established
c. 614
• Established
• Fourth Crusade
(Venetian invasion)

27 May 1358
• Ottoman tributary
from 1458
from 1684
26 May 1806
9 July 1807
31 January 1808
• Estimate
90 000 in the XVI Century
CurrencyRagusa perpera and others
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Republic of Venice
Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic)
Illyrian Provinces
Sanjak of Herzegovina
Today part ofCroatia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
a A Romance language similar to both Italian and Romanian[1]
b While present in the region even before the establishment of the Republic, Croatian, also referred to as Slavic or Illyrian at the time, had not become widely spoken until late 15th century.[1]
Dubrovnik before the 1667 earthquake
Painting of Dubrovnik from 1667

The Republic of Ragusa (Dalmatian: Republica de Ragusa; Latin: Respublica Ragusina; Italian: Repubblica di Ragusa; Croatian: Dubrovačka Republika; Venetian: Repùblega de Raguxa) was an aristocratic maritime republic centered on the city of Dubrovnik (Ragusa in Italian and Latin; Raguxa in Venetian) in South Dalmatia (today in southernmost Croatia) that carried that name from 1358 until 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, of whom 5,000 lived within the city walls.[2] Its motto was "Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro", a Latin phrase which can be translated as "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 (Latin for Ragusan Republic), first mentioned in 1385.[4] It was nevertheless a Republic under its previous name, although its Rector was appointed by Venice rather than by Ragusa's own Major Council. 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; by a folk etymology.[5] The name Dubrovnik of the Adriatic city is first recorded in the Charter of Ban Kulin (1189).[6] It came into use alongside Ragusa as early as the 14th century.[7] The Latin, Italian and Dalmatian name Ragusa maybe derives its name from Lausa (from the Greek ξαυ: xau, "precipice"); it was later altered to Rausium, Rhagusium, Ragusium or Rausia (even Lavusa, Labusa, Raugia and Rachusa) and finally into Ragusa. Another theory is that the term "Ragusa" derivatives from or is related to Proto-Albanian *rāguša meaning 'grape' (compare Modern-Albanian rrush (meaning "grape")), according to V. Orel.[8] The official change of name from Ragusa to Dubrovnik came into effect after World War I.

It is known in historiography as the Republic of Ragusa.[9]


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[10] – 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 the administrative units of the Republic were: the City of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), counties (Konavle, Župa dubrovačkaBreno, SlanoRagusan 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 Major Council. Lastovo and Mljet were semi-autonomous communities 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 Greek city of Epidaurum (modern Cavtat) after its destruction by the Avars and Slavs c. 615.[11] 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.[12] Slavs settled along the coast in the 7th century.[13] The Slavs named their settlement Dubrovnik. The Byzantines and Slavs had an antagonistic relationship, 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 Slavic name for the united town.[14] There are recent theories based on excavations that the city was established much earlier, at least in the 5th century and possibly during 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 (83 to 93 km; 52 to 58 mi) per day, and mariners 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.[15]

Early centuries

During its first centuries the city was under the rule of the Byzantine Empire.[11] The Saracens laid siege to the city in 866–867; it lasted for fifteen months and was raised due to the intervention of Byzantine Emperor Basil I, who sent a fleet under Niketas Ooryphas 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 Croats and the other Slavic tribes also began at this time.[16] With the weakening of Byzantium, Venice began to see Ragusa as a rival that needed to be brought under its control, but an attempt to conquer the city in 948 failed. The citizens of the city attributed this to Saint Blaise, whom they adopted as their patron saint.[17]

The city remained under Byzantine domination until 1204, with the exception of periods of Venetian (1000–1030) and later Norman (1081–1085, 1172, 1189–1190) rule.[11] In 1050, Croatian king Stjepan I (Stephen) made a land grant 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 spring at the head of the Ombla inlet.[17] Stephen's grant also included the harbour of Gruž, which is now the commercial port for Dubrovnik.[17]

Thus the original territory of the Ragusan municipality or community 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 12th century Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi mentioned Ragusa and the surrounding area. In his work, he referred to Ragusa as the southernmost city of Croatia.[18][19][20]

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.[21]

Venetian suzerainty (1205–1358)

In 1202, the Venetian Republic invaded Dalmatia with the forces of the Fourth Crusade, and Ragusa was forced to pay tribute. Ragusa began supplying Venice with products such as hides, wax, silver, and other metals. Venice used the city as its naval base in the southern Adriatic Sea.

The Venetians used Ragusa as an important base for the traffic of the ancient Balkan slave trade, from which slaves were transported from the Balkans across the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean Sea,[22] from which they were sold on to either slavery in Spain in the West or slavery in Egypt in the South.[23]

Unlike with Zadar, there was not much friction between Ragusa and Venice as the city had not yet begun to compete as an alternative 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.[24]

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.[25][26] In 1333, during the rule of Serbian king Stefan Dušan (Stefan Uroš IV, r. 1331–1355), the two possessions were handed over to Ragusa.[27] In January 1348, the Black Death struck the city and decimated the urban population.[28]


See also: History of Dubrovnik

Independence from Venice (1358)

In 1358, the Treaty of Zadar forced Venice to yield all claims to Dalmatia. The city accepted the mild hegemony of King Louis I of Hungary. On 27 May 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 the Hungarian court at 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.[29] The last Venetian conte left, apparently in a hurry.[30] Although under the Visegrád agreement Dubrovnik was formally under the jurisdiction of the ban of Croatia, the city successfully resisted both the royal and ban authority.[31]

In 1399, the city acquired the area between Ragusa and Pelješac, called the Primorje (Dubrovačko primorje) with Slano (lat. Terrae novae).[10] It was purchased from Bosnian King Stephen Ostoja. A brief war with Bosnia in 1403 and 1404 ended with Bosnian withdrawal.[32] Between 1419 and 1426, the Konavle region, south of Astarea (Župa dubrovačka), including the city of Cavtat, was added to the Republic's possessions.[10]

In the first half of the 15th century Cardinal Ivan Stojković (Johannes de Carvatia) was active in Dubrovnik as a Church reformer and writer. During the peak of trade relations between the Bosnian kingdom and other neighboring regions, the largest caravan trade route was established between Podvisoki and Ragusa. This trading activity culminated in the year 1428, on 9 August, when a group of Vlachs pledged to the lord of Ragusa, Tomo Bunić, that they would provide a delivery of 600 horses along with 1500 modius of salt. The intended recipient of the delivery was Dobrašin Veseoković, and in exchange the Vlachs agreed to receive payment equal to half the amount of salt delivered.[33]

Ottoman suzerainty

In 1430 and 1442, the Republic signed short-term arrangements with the Ottoman Empire defining its status. In 1458, the Republic signed a treaty with the Ottomans which made it a tributary of the sultan. Under the treaty, the Republic owed the sultan "fidelity", "truthfulness", and "submission", and an annual tribute, which was in 1481 defined at 12,500 gold coins. The sultan guaranteed to protect Ragusa and granted them extensive trading privileges. Under the agreement, the republic retained its autonomous status and was virtually independent,[34] and usually allied with the Maritime Republic of Ancona.[35]

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.[36][page needed]

Merchants from Ragusa could enter the Black Sea, which was otherwise closed to non-Ottoman shipping. The Ragusan merchants paid less in customs duties than other foreign merchants, and the city-state enjoyed diplomatic support from multiple foreign powers, including from the Ottomans, in disputes with the Venetians.[37][38][39]

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.[40][page needed]

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.[41]

Along with England, Spain and Genoa, Ragusa was one of 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.[24]

Decline of the Republic

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With the Portuguese explorations which opened up new ocean routes, the spice trade no longer went through the Mediterranean. Moreover, the discovery of the Americas started a crisis of Mediterranean shipping. This 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.[citation needed] 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, and 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).

There is some evidence of Ragusan trade with India in the 16th century.[citation needed]

On 6 April 1667, a devastating earthquake struck and killed around 2,000 citizens, and up to 1,000 in the rest of the republic,[42] 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)[43] and Nikola Bunić (ca. 1635–1678) arrived in Constantinople in an attempt to avert an 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.

A merchant from the Republic, 1708

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 the Ottomans, a common arrangement at the time. This opened up greater opportunities 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 Ottomans in 1684 Ragusa sent emissaries to Emperor Leopold in Vienna, hoping that the Austrian Army would capture Bosnia. Unfortunately for the Republic, the Ottomans retained 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. After the treaty, Neum and Sutorina were attached to Sanjak of Herzegovina of Bosnia Eyalet.[44] Ragusa continued its policy of strict neutrality in the War of Austrian succession (1741–48) and in the Seven Years' War (1756–63).

Ragusan tallero (1½ ducat) of 1752 with the effigy of a former Rector
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 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.

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 ships 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 peacefully took control of the fortresses of Dalmatia, the Russians pressed the senators of Ragusa to allow them to occupy the city, as it was an important fortress – thus anticipating that France might block further progress to Kotor. As there was no way from Dalmatia to Kotor but through Ragusa, General Molitor was equally ardent in trying to win Ragusa's support.

The Republic was determined to maintain its strict neutrality, knowing that anything else would mean its destruction. The Senate dispatched two emissaries to Molitor to dissuade him from entering Ragusan territory. Despite his statement that he intended to respect and defend the independence of the Ragusan Republic, his words demonstrated that he had no qualms about violating the territory of a neutral nation on his way to take possession of Kotor, and he even said that he would cross the Ottoman territories of Klek and Sutorina (bordering the Republic to the north and south, respectively) without asking permission from the Ottoman Empire.[45] To the emissaries' protestation he responded by promising to respect Ragusan neutrality and not enter its territory in exchange for a loan of 300,000 francs. It was clearly blackmail (a similar episode occurred in 1798, when a Revolutionary French fleet threatened invasion if the Republic did not pay a huge contribution).[46] The Ragusan government instructed the emissaries to inform Molitor that the Russians told the Republic quite clearly that should any French troops enter Ragusan territory, the Russians and their Montenegrin allies would proceed to pillage and destroy every part of the Republic, and also to inform him that the Republic could neither afford to pay such an amount of money, nor could it raise such an amount from its population without the Russians being alerted, provoking an invasion. Even though the emissaries managed to persuade General Molitor not to violate Ragusan territory, Napoleon was not content with the stalemate between France and Russia concerning Ragusa and the Bay of Kotor and soon decided to order the occupation of the Republic.[47]

Upon entering Ragusan territory and approaching the capital, the French General Jacques Lauriston demanded that his troops be allowed to rest and be provided with food and drink in the city before continuing on to Kotor. However, this was a deception because as soon as they entered the city, they proceeded to occupy it in the name of Napoleon.[48] The next day, Lauriston demanded an impossible contribution of a million francs.[49]

The Times in London reported these events in its edition of 24 June 1806:

General Lauriston took possession of the City and Republic of Ragusa, on the 27th of May. The Proclamation which he published on that occasion is a most extraordinary document. The only reason advanced for this annihilation of the independence of that little State is an obscure insinuation, that the enemies of France exercised too much influence there. The Proclamation does not mention in what respect this influence has proved prejudicial to France, although the dignity of Buonaparte, it seems, is concerned in putting an end to it. M. Lauriston would have come off much better, if he had disdained making any excuse, and suffered the circumstance to stand upon its own unqualified foundations of state necessity and the right of the strongest. A very important fact is, however, disclosed in this Proclamation. It is not the surrender of Cattaro, it seems, that will satisfy the Emperor of the French. He looks forward to the evacuation of Corfu, and the whole of the Seven Islands, as well as the retreat of the Russian squadron from the Adriatic. Until that be effected, he will retain possession of Ragusa; but is there anyone who will believe, that if there was not a Russian flag or stand of colours to be seen in Albania, or on the Adriatic, that he would reestablish that Republic in its former independence?"[50]

Almost immediately after the beginning of the French occupation, Russian and Montenegrin troops entered Ragusan territory and began fighting the French army, raiding and pillaging everything along the way and culminating in a siege of the occupied city during which 3,000 cannonballs fell on the city.[51] The environs, thick 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. Only three hundred men joined him, but a stratagem made up for his deficiency of numbers. A letter, seemingly confidential, was dispatched to General Lauriston in Ragusa, announcing his proximate arrival to raise the siege with such a force of Dalmatians as must overwhelm the 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

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Marshal Auguste de Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, during French rule

Around 1800, the Republic had a highly organized network of consulates and consular offices in more than eighty cities and ports around the world. In 1808, Marshal Marmont issued a proclamation abolishing the Republic of Ragusa and amalgamating its territory into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, himself claiming the newly created title of "Duke of Ragusa" (Duc de Raguse). In 1810, Ragusa, together with Dalmatia and Istria, went to the newly created French Illyrian Provinces. Later, in the 1814 Battle of Paris, Marmont abandoned Napoleon and was branded a traitor. Since he was known as the "Duke of Ragusa", the word ragusade was coined in French to signify treason and raguser meant a cheat.

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 Ragusan 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 of the Saraca family were among the greatest landowners. The citizens belonging to the confraternities of St. Anthony and St. Lazarus owned considerable land outside the city.

After seven years of French occupation, encouraged by the desertion of French soldiers after the failed invasion of Russia and the reentry of Austria in the war, all the social classes of the Ragusan people rose up in a general insurrection, led by the patricians, against the Napoleonic invaders.[52] On 18 June 1813, together with British forces they forced the surrender of the French garrison of the island of Šipan, soon also the heavily fortified town of Ston and the island of Lopud, after which the insurrection spread throughout the mainland, starting with Konavle.[53] They laid siege to the occupied city, helped by the British Royal Navy, who had enjoyed unopposed domination over the Adriatic sea, under the command of Captain William Hoste, with his ships HMS Bacchante and HMS Saracen. Soon the population inside the city joined the insurrection.[54] The Austrian Empire sent a force under General Todor Milutinović offering to help their Ragusan allies.[55] However, as was soon shown, their intention was to in fact replace the French occupation of Ragusa with their own. Seducing one of the temporary governors of the Republic, Biagio Bernardo Caboga, with promises of power and influence (which were later cut short and who died in ignominy, branded as a traitor by his people), they managed to convince him that the gate to the east was to be kept closed to the Ragusan forces and to let the Austrian forces enter the city from the west, without any Ragusan soldiers, once the French garrison of 500 troops under General Joseph de Montrichard had surrendered.[56]

The Major Council of the Ragusan nobility (as the assembly of 44 patricians who had been members of the Major Council before the Republic was occupied by France) met for the last time on 18 January 1814 in the Villa Giorgi in Mokošica, Ombla, in an effort to restore the Republic of Ragusa.

On 27 January, the French capitulation was signed in Gruž and ratified the same day. It was then that Biagio Bernardo Caboga openly sided with the Austrians, dismissing the part of the rebel army which was from 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. With Caboga'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.[57]: 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 Mayor Sabo Giorgi 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 "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 Austrians did everything in their power to eliminate the Ragusa issue at the Congress of Vienna. Ragusan representative Miho Bona, elected at the last meeting of the Major Council, was denied participation in the Congress, while Milutinović, prior to the final agreement of the allies, assumed complete control of the city.[57]: 141–142 

Regardless of the fact that the government of the Ragusan Republic never signed any capitulation nor relinquished its sovereignty, which according to the rules of Klemens von Metternich that Austria adopted for the Vienna Congress should have meant that the Republic would be restored, the Austrian Empire managed to convince the other allies to allow it to keep the territory of the Republic.[58] While many smaller and less significant cities and former countries were permitted an audience, that right was refused to the representative of the Ragusan Republic.[59] All of this was in blatant contradiction to the solemn treaties that the Austrian Emperors signed with the Republic: the first on 20 August 1684, in which Leopold I promised and guaranteed inviolate liberty ("inviolatam libertatem") to the Republic, and the second in 1772, in which the Empress Maria Theresa promised protection and respect of the inviolability of the freedom and territory of the Republic.[60]

At the Congress of Vienna, 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, which became known as Austria-Hungary in 1867, 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 the Ghetaldi-Gundula, Gozze, Kaboga, Sorgo, Zlatarić, Zamagna, Pozza, Gradi and Bona.

Location of the Republic of Ragusa within present-day Croatia


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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 farmers (serfs, coloni and freemen). All effective power was concentrated in the hands of the 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 Major Council (Consilium maius, Maggior Consiglio, Velje vijeće), the Minor Council (Consilium minus, Minor Consiglio, Malo vijeće) (from 1238) and the Senate (Consilium rogatorum, Consiglio dei Pregadi, Vijeće umoljenih) from 1253. The head of the state was the Rector.

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

The Major Council 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 families had seat in it – Serrata del Maggior Consiglio Raguseo). It was the supreme governing and legislative body which (after 1358) elected other councils, officials and the Rector.

Every year, members of the Minor Council were elected by the Major Council. Together with the Rector, the 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, which had 45 members over 40 years of age, elected for one year also by the Major Council. First it had only consultative functions, later (during the 16th century) the Senate became the 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 – head of the state (Latin: comes, Italian: conte, Croatian: knez) was Venetian; but after 1358 the elected Rector (from 1358 nominal head of the state was known as Latin: rector, Italian: rettore, Croatian: knez) was always a person from the Republic of Ragusa chosen by the Major 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 from gaining absolute control, such as the Medici had done in Florence. 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 Minor Council, then a separate civil court and criminal court were established, leaving the Minor Council and the Senate only supreme appellate jurisdiction. Judges of the criminal and civil court were Ragusan patricians elected annually by the Major Council.

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

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. An inscription on the Council's offices read: Obliti privatorum publica curate (Manage the public affairs as if you had no private interests). 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 (Balkan 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.


See also: Ragusan nobility and List of Ragusans

The city was ruled by the aristocracy, and marriage between members of three different social classes was strictly forbidden. The Ragusan aristocracy[61] 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.

The Ragusan archives document, Speculum Maioris Consilii Rectores, lists all the persons that were involved in the Republic's government between September 1440 and January 1808. Of 4397 rectors elected, 2764 (63%) were from "old patrician" families: Gozze, Bona, Caboga, Cerva, Ghetaldi, Giorgi, Gradi, Pozza, Saraca, Sorgo, and Zamanya. An 1802 list of the republic's governing bodies showed that six of the eight Minor Council and 15 of the 20 Major Council members were from the same 11 families.

Because of the decrease of their numbers and lack of noble families in the neighborhood (the surroundings of Dubrovnik was under Ottoman control) the aristocracy became increasingly closely related, and marriages between relatives of the third and fourth degree were frequent.

Relations among the nobility

Ragusan clothing

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 a certain controversy arisen from the wars between Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France, which happened some 250 years previously. After the 1667 earthquake killed many nobles, some plebeians were introduced into the noble class. The "salamanquinos", those in favor of Spanish absolutism, did not treat these new nobles like equals; but the inclined "sorboneses", who sided with the French and to a certain liberalism, accepted them. Both sides retained their status and were seated together in the Council, but they did not maintain social relations and did not even greet each other in the streets; an inconvenient marriage between members of both groups was as striking as if it occurred between members of different classes. This social split was also reflected in the plebeians, who were divided into the rival brotherhoods of Saint Antony and Saint Lazarus, which were as unfriendly in their relations as the "salamanquinos" and "sorboneses".

Coat of arms

See also: Coat of arms of Dubrovnik

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 historian Nenad Vekarić 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 90,000 by 1500. 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.[62]

Languages and literature

Originally, Latin was used in official documents of the Republic. Italian came into use in the 1420s.[63] Both languages were used in official correspondence by the Republic.[64] The Republic was influenced by the Venetian language and the Tuscan dialect.[65]

The population spoke the local variant of the Shtokavian dialect, the same dialect upon which modern Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin and Serbian, are all based. Old Ragusan, a variant of Dalmatian that was spoken on the Dalmatian coast following the end of the Roman Empire, with elements of old Slavic vernacular, commonly referred to as ilirski (Illyrian), and Italian, were among the common languages.[63] Since it was mainly used in speech, it is poorly documented. Its use started declining in the 15th century.[65]

The use of Croatian in everyday speech increased in late 13th century, and in literary works in mid-15th century.[63] At the end of the 14th century, inhabitants of the republic were mostly native speakers of Croatian,[65] referred to by them as Croatian, Slavic, or Illyrian at the time.[66]

There is still some debate over whether Shtokavian or Chakavian was the oldest Slavic vernacular in Ragusa. The oldest Slavic documents and the earlier prose was Shtokavian, while 16th-century poetry was Chakavian.[67] The Cyrillic script in handwriting was sometimes used.[68][69][70]

When Ragusa was part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, between 1808 and 1810, Italian was still in official use. Croatian was normally spoken among lower classes, Italian among the upper. Ragusans were in general bilingual, speaking Croatian in common day-to-day duties and Italian in official occasions or mixing both.

Ragusan literature

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

Ragusan literature, in which Latin, Italian, and Croatian coexisted, blossomed in the 15th and 16th centuries.[71] According to Marcus Tanner:

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".[72]

Literary works of famous Ragusans were written in both Croatian and Italian. Among them are the works of writers Džore Držić (Giorgio Darsa), Marin Držić (Marino Darsa), Ivan Bunić Vučić (Giovanni Serafino Bona), Ignjat Đurđević (Ignazio Giorgi), Ivan Gundulić (Giovanni Gondola), Šišmundo (Šiško) Menčetić (Sigismondo Menze), and Dinko Ranjina (Domenico Ragnina).

The literature of Dubrovnik had a defining role in the development of modern Croatian, Dubrovnik Shtokavian dialect having been the basis for standardized Croatian.[73] Writers from the 16th to the 19th century (before the Age of Romantic National Awakenings) that were explicit in declaring themselves as Croats and their language as Croatian included Vladislav Menčetić, Dominko (Dinko) Zlatarić, Bernardin Pavlović, Mavro Vetranović, Nikola Nalješković, Junije Palmotić, Jakov Mikalja, Joakim Stulli, Marko Bruerović, Peter Ignaz Sorgo, Antun Sorkočević (1749–1826), and Franatica Sorkočević (1706–71).[citation needed]

There also were Ragusan authors of Morlachism, a primarily Italian and Venetian literary movement.[74]

Culture and ethnic groups

Dalmatia, a region originally inhabited by Illyrians and later Romanized, consisted of a group of coastal cities that, after the fall of the Roman empire, functioned much like independent states with extensive autonomy. These Dalmatian city-states were characterized by common Latin laws, Catholic religion, language, commerce, and political and administrative structures; their rural hinterland, however, was controlled by the Slavic tribes who arrived after 640 AD.[75] Among them was Ragusium (Ragusa in Italian and Dubrovnik in Croatian). The original native language of the Ragusans was a local dialect of Dalmatian, a Romance language.

Due to a number of factors, including the geographic and cultural proximity of the Italian civilization (separated only by the Adriatic sea and whose Italian language formed with Dalmatian a common group of Romance languages), the alliance with Ancona, the influence and heritage of Venice, Ragusa became an Italianized maritime republic: the Italian language came to be spoken by Ragusans and, after 1420, it was adopted by the Republic as an official language along with Latin; the city attracted numerous Italians, including merchants for trade and architects for building projects; and several noble and rich families took pride in being of Italian descent, whether it was real or invented tradition.[76][77][78][79]

As more and more Slavs moved into the city from the hinterland, a process of Slavicization began, and many Ragusans came to speak a local variant of the Shtokavian dialect, the same dialect upon which modern Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin and Serbian are all based. Hence, the Croatian identity of Ragusa developed.[80][81]

The history of Dubrovnik produced many bilingual poets and writers of the Republic of Ragusa, such as Savino de Bobali, Dinko Ranjina, and Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich, who wrote in both Croatian and Italian. The Italian element survived the fall of the Republic of Ragusa but faded away under Austrian rule: by 1900, 6.5% Ragusans were identified as Italians in contrast to 72.3% identified as Croatians.[82]


The Republic of Ragusa used various currencies over time and in a variety of systems, including the artiluc, perpera, dukat and libertine.

See also


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Further reading

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