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The Republic of Ragusa (Croatian: Dubrovačka Republika) was an aristocratic maritime republic centered on the city of Dubrovnik (Ragusa in Italian, German and Latin) in 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 Latin motto was "Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro", which 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 (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 Croatian name Dubrovnik is derived from the word dubrava, an oak grove;[5] by a folk etymology, the Turks changed 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 to Rausium, Rhagusium, Ragusium or Rausia (even Lavusa, Labusa, Raugia and Rachusa) and finally into Ragusa. 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.[7]


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 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

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 c. 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 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 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.

During its first centuries the city was under the rule of the Byzantine Empire.[9] The Saracens laid siege to the city in 866–67; 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.[11] 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.[12]

The city remained under Byzantine domination until 1204, with the exception of periods of Venetian (1000–1030) and later Norman (1081–1085, 1172, 1189–90) rule.[9] 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.[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 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 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]

When, in 1205, the Venetian Republic invaded Dalmatia with the forces of the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa was forced to pay a tribute and became a source of supplies for Venice such as 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 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.[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 (Stefan Uroš IV, r. 1331–1355), the two possessions were handed over to Ragusa.[19] In January 1348, the Black Death struck the city and decimated the urban population.[20]


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 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.[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. Trading with the Bosnian kingdom was at a peak, and the largest caravan trade between Podvisoki and Ragusa would happen in 1428. That year, on August 9, Vlachs committed to Ragusan lord Tomo Bunić, that they would deliver 600 horses with 1500 modius of salt. Delivery was meant for Dobrašin Veseoković, and Vlachs price was half of delivered salt. [23]

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.[24]

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 and usually allied with the Maritime Republic of Ancona.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]

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.[27]

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.[16]

With the great 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. 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, and Luca de Sorgo. The Ragusan aristocracy was also well represented at the Sorbonne University in Paris at this time.

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)[29] 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.

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 Otomans 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 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).

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.

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 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 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. In spite of stating that he intends 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.[30] 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).[31]. 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 can 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.[32]

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.[33] The next day, Lauriston demanded an impossible contribution of a million francs.[34]

This is what The Times in London reported about those events in its edition of 24 June 1806:

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).[36] 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 despatched 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.

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 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.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39] The Austrian Empire sent a force under General Todor Milutinović offering to help their Ragusan allies.[40] 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 to keep the gate to the east closed to the Ragusan forces and to let Austrian forces enter the City from the west, once the French garrison of 500 troops under General Joseph de Montrichard had surrendered.[41]

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.[42] []

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.[42] []

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.[43] 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.[44] 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 promises and guarantees inviolate liberty ("inviolatam libertatem") to the Republic, and the second in 1772, in which the Empress Maria Theresa promises protection and respect of the inviolability of the freedom and territory of the Republic.[45]

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, 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 the Ghetaldi-Gundula, Gozze, Kaboga, Sorgo, Zlatarić, Zamagna, Pozza, Gradi and Bona.


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 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.

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 was forbidden in 1416. The Republic was a staunch opponent of the Eastern Orthodox Church and only Roman Catholics could acquire Ragusan citizenship.

The city was ruled by the aristocracy, and marriage between members of three different social classes was strictly forbidden. The Ragusan aristocracy[46] 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.

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

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. 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.[47]

Languages and literature

The republic was a polyglottic society. 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 the Slavic vernacular (Serbo-Croatian or Croatian), which was also forbidden for use in senatorial debate. The aristocracy (gospari) slowly lost their Dalmatian language over the centuries.

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][48] 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.[49]

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.[50]

When Ragusa was part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, between 1808 and 1810, the Italian language 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, in which Latin, Italian and Croatian languages coexisted, blossomed in the 15th and 16th centuries.[51]

According to Graubard:

Literary works of famous Ragusans were written in both Croatian and Italian. Among them are the works of writers Džore Držić, Marin Držić, Ivan Bunić Vučić, Ignjat Đurđević, Ivan Gundulić, Šišmundo (Šiško) Menčetić, and Dinko Ranjina.

The Croatian language works from the Republic of Ragusa had a large role in the developing of Croatian literature and the modern Croatian language, Dubrovnik Shtokavian dialect having been basis for the Standard Croatian language. 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).

Ethnic groups

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.[53][54] 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. Vlachs, also named Morlachs were dwelling inside the walls of Ragusa but majority of them were shepherds, guards or carters living inside Dalmatia.

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][55]


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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