Friday, 30 September 2016

Edo Pivčević - The Principality of Poljica, From its Mediaeval Inception to its Fall in 1807 - JCS 28-29


From its Mediaeval Inception to its Fall in 1807


Among the many European mediaeval principalities, which after centuries of varying fortune went under, one after another in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Croatian principality of Poljica (pronounced Pol'yeetsa), with its special brand of rural democracy, occupied a special, indeed unique position. Its most conspicuous feature was that throughout its long and eventful history, unlike any other of its sister states, it never developed an urban centres on its territory. Its economy almost exclusive) depended on animal farming and agriculture. Although its territory included a good stretch of Adriatic coastline, shipping never played a significant part in its economy. Nor was there a concentrated effort to develop fishing. The reason for this, no doubt, was part) due to the absence of good natural harbours, where ships and small craft could shelter from weather, but also partly to the fact that the steep mountain ranges made access to the coast difficult. All the same, there did not seem to be a great deal of interest in the sea.

However, what set Poljica even more apart from other European principalities was its political constitution, which was in category of its own. For although throughout the principality history, its social structure retained many distinctly feudal feature; the sheer complexity of its political organisation, the two species of nobility, the unusually large number of 'noble' families in proportion to the size of its population[1], with no single family ever gaining the position of dominance, and especially the intricate system of tribal and individual property ownership, made Poljica unlike any other community in feudal Europe.

In Poljica, it seems, there were no serfs in the more extreme sense of this term. Instead, there were bonded peasants, who were allowed to own property of their own, and could in principle leave their masters if they so wished, provided they surrendered their master's property. Moreover, it seems, it was accepted that the could leave their masters even without the latter's consent if the had been maltreated in any way.[2] There were also independent tenant farmers and free labourers and herdsmen; the last of these belonging mainly to the tiny minority of surviving Illyrian tribesmen, descended from the pre-Roman and pre-Slav population of Dalmatia, and occupying the bottom end of the social scale. Yet despite the social differences, a general consensus in important decisions was a statutory requirement. Thus a number of articles of the principality's statute begins with the significant phrase 'All the men of Poljica together have resolved ...' or words to this effect.[3] The prince had to be a nobleman, but his office was not hereditary and both the prince and the other main officials of the principality's government were elected to their respective offices for a one-year term only.


The territory of the principality - or, as local people often also called it, 'commune' or 'county'[4] - occupied an area of approximately 100 sq. miles of mountainous land just to the south of the town of split, between the rivers Žrnovnica and Cetina, and except for a relatively short stretch of the ragged open terrain to the northwest where its border was not marked by any distinctive natural features, physically it was a fairly enclosed, easily identifiably entity; which is, no doubt, why its name survives to this day as a geographic concept, even though administratively it has long been parcelled out and divided among neighbouring districts. The dominant physical feature of the area is the Mosor massif, which stretches along the whole length of the principality and whose highest peak rises to nearly 4,500 ft.

Complete article:

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Journal of Croatian Studies, XXVIII-XXIX, 1987-88 – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.

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