The Statute of Vinodol from 1288

BC REVIEW No. 14 May 1978


The Statute of Vinodol from 1288 and the Poljica Statute from 1440 (published in the BC Review No. 11/12, March / June 1977) are two oldest surviving statutes written in the Croatian language. They provide a rare contemporary picture of the life and political conditions in this turbulent and much fought_over frontier land of medieval Europe. The Statute of Poljica, especially, abounds with interesting social detail. This Statute was at once the political constitution and legal code_book of a small self_governing principality and was continuously added to over the centuries. The Statute of Vinodol represented an agreement, a social contract of sorts, between the people of Vinodol and their new liege lords, the Princes of Krk, and contains important information about the feudal law in this area which had replaced the tribal customs of an earlier period.

In the famous 12th century chronicle Ljetopis Popa Dukljanina Vinodol is referred to as a border region of Croatia. There is a considerable disagreement among historians as to whether or not Vinodol was constituted as a separate county ( zupanija ) before A. D. 1102, i.e. before Croatia, having suffered a series of disastrous military defeats, was united with Hungary under the Hungarian monarch. Be this as it may, the Hungarian King claimed Vinodol as his possession, while the neighbouring island of Krk was occupied by Venice who installed there in A. D. 1117, or shortly thereafter, a certain Domnius as their vassal _ the founder of what was to become the powerful family of the Princes of Krk, later to become known under the name of Frankopani. The Krk Princes acquired Vinodol in 1225 and as their power grew, so their ties with Venice weakened, and they increasingly identified themselves with local interests and aspirations.

Vinodol, despite its limited natural resources and its relative poverty, or perhaps because of it, has always excelled in the vitality and intelligence of its people. A number of prominent personalities in Croatia’s history came from there, among them the celebrated miniature painter Juraj Julije Klovic ( 1498-1578), better known outside Croatia as Clovio, who was born at Grizane and was educated by the Pauline monks of Crikvenica and Ivan Mazuranic ( 1814-1890 ), author of the famous epic Smrt Smail_age Cengica ( Death of Smail_aga Cengic) and the politician chiefly responsible for the Freedom of the Press Act of 1875, granting the freedom of the press and the right of public assembly in Croatia, who was a native of Novi. In fact, several Mazuranices of the Vinodol stock made their name in literature, notably Ivana Brlic_Mazuranic ( 1874-1938), a granddaughter of Ivan, who gained an international reputation as a writer of stories for children. Two of her books have appeared in English translation. _ Croatian Tales of Long Ago

( London, 1924) and The Brave Adventures of a Shoemaker’s Boy (London, 1971).

The authors and copyists of both the Vinodol Statute ( Cf. articles 1 & 72 ) and the Statute of Poljica (Cf. Supplement No.4) call their language ‘Croatian’. There would be no need to specially mention this fact if it were not for the absurdities of modern Yugoslav politics in which linguistic problems are deliberately treated as political problems to be solved by political means, disregarding expert opinion and linguistic tradition. As recently as 1971_ nearly seven hundred years after the Statute of Vinodol and over five centuries after the Statute of Poljica _ in an act of unparalleled barbarism little noted by world public opinion, forty thousand copies of a new textbook of Croatian Orthography were seized and destroyed because it was thought politically undesirable that the Croats should preserve and develop the distinctive features of their own language. Books had been burned before, but this must have been the first time that a completely non_political work of linguistic scholarship was destroyed in this fashion.

When in 1976 I invited the young historian Alan Ferguson to translate the statute of Poljica for the BC Review, I knew that it would not be an easy task. The medieval text contains a number of obscurities which are not entirely cleared up in the available modern versions of the Statute. Nevertheless Ferguson has succeeded in producing a very good and very readable translation. A short stay in Poljica in the summer of 1976 as a guest of a well known Poljican family gave him an opportunity to find out of first hand about the loca1 history and traditions.

This stood him in good stead when, at my repeated urgings, he tackled the Statute of Vinodol. Although here too there were the inevitable difficulties owing to the obscurities in the text, he has completed his translation in a remarkably short time as well as producing a short historical introduction for it, and I am very grateful to him for thus making it possible to bring both these important medieval documents to the attention of English_speaking scholars and historians.

My thanks are also due to Christine E. Hill of the University College London who drew a mop of Vinodol specially for this issue, and to Christopher Cromarty for his help in processing some of the photographs.

Edo Pivcevic

Vinodol and Medieval Croatia

Alan Ferguson

Essentially, the compilation of the statute of Vinodol in 1288 represented an attempt formally to regulate rights and duties of the men of Vinodol, on the one hand, and their ‘Great Lords’, the princes of the nearby island of Krk, on the other. The association of mainland Vinodol and its insular lords had been established sixty_three years previously, in 1225, when King Andrija I of Croatia ( II of Hungary) issued a deed of covenant to Prince Vid II of Krk, granting him and his descendants ‘totam terram …. Wynodol et Modros’. The hinterland region of Modrus, to which reference is also made in the opening section of the Statute of Vinodol, had in fact already been granted to the princes of Krk in 1193. Their tenure of it was thereby confirmed.

The reason for King Andrija’s gratitude, expressed in the gift of land in 1225, was the readiness with which Prince Vid had sent a flotilla to assist the Croatians and Magyars in their crusade against the ‘heretical’ men of the Neretva, its estuary and the adjacent coastline earlier in that year. That the prince had done so no less to protect the interests of Venice, to which he had sworn loyalty and remained subject, than to counter heresy, was well appreciated by the king. It was not coincidental that apart from having embraced Bogomilism, which had roused Pope Honorius III to call for the crusade against them, the men of the Neretva were also a thorn in the side of Venice. Their piratical activities like those of the Kacic clan of Omis to the north, had proved a constant threat to Venetian merchantmen. In any event, the princes of Krk were seen by the king to be a strong potential ally who might be eased from allegiance to Venice by the grant of feudal lands.

The desired effect was achieved. In 1244 the Venetian Republic responded to the shift in gravitation of the princes’ loyalties towards the king of Croatia and Hungary by seizing the island of Krk. By then, however, the princes already had a firm foothold on the littoral. The determination of Andrija’s successor and son King Bela III (IV of Hungary) not to lose the favour of the princes in this strategically and economically important border region of his realm, led to his requesting the supply of no more than twenty armed soldiers and the provision of but two vessels (one sajka, one barka) in time of war. What makes the modesty of such a demand the more remarkable is that just two years earlier Bela had been forced to retreat to Dalmatia in the face of the near fatal Mongol invasion.

The turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was of especial significance for the history of medieval Croatia in that it witnessed the first formal association between mainland Croatia and the princes of Krk, who were subsequently to become the mighty noble family of the Frankopani.

A general survey of the period following 1102, in which year Croatia and Hungary were first linked in the person of a joint king of the Arpad dynasty, has already been given in this periodical (No 11/12, Vol. IV, 1977. pp. 4-6). To place against a more particular background the years in which the Vinodol_Frankopan connection was established and the Statute of Vinodol came into being, reference to the contemporary Croatian context is necessary.

In the thirteenth century, the division of Croatian territory which had been effected after the ‘Pacta conventa’ of 1102, remained valid. The lands between Mount Gvozd and the Adriatic, including Vinodol, and commonly referred to as ‘medieval Croatia’, enjoyed a degree of self_government; those between Gvozd and the River Drava, or ‘Slavonia’, the Magyar rulers had linked more directly to the Kingdom of Hungary. This distinction was maintained throughout

the life of the first Croato_Hungarian state, until the sixteenth century. The pace of feudalization in both regions was perceptibly increased in the thirteenth century with the implementation of new agricultural techniques, notably the rotation system, the development of mining, crafts, trade and the appearance of new urban settlements. This economic advance in its own turn accelerated social changes in the decline of the remnants of the patriarchal-tribal order. The formation of large feudal estates under both temporal and spiritual lords proceeded apace.

The creation of the dual Croato_Hungarian state had, moreover, fundamentally altered the political complexion of the Danubian and Dinaric lands. Its burgeoning economic life made the possession of Dalmatian towns, as trade outlets, a question of the first order. This was appreciated even during the reign of King Koloman (1095 [from 1102 King of Croatia and Hungary] _ 1116), who succeeded in obtaining the consent of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Komnen to his taking possession of them. The resultant competition with Venice was, as has been mentioned, still keen in the thirteenth century. It was in the conflict so engendered between Croato-Hungarian and Venetian interests, that noble families such as the princes of Krk first distinguished themselves. Later in the century, Miroslav Subic, zupan (Lord Lieutenant of the County) of Bribir, acquired that zupa as an exclusive feudal holding. Similarly, but inland, zupan Stjepan Babonic and his descendants won a hereditary right over the region between the Sava and Una, together with the title ‘princes of Blagaj’. Thus there developed in Croatia, including much of the littoral, a strong domestic feudal nobility with vassal duties towards the Crown and feudal rights over their villeins.

The dual kingdom suffered a setback and was seriously weakened in the early thirteenth century by internal disturbances and dynastic disputes. These reached a peak in 1217, while Andrija I (II), a king as ambitious and adventurous as he was myopic, was away leading crusading armies in the Holy Land. Disorder and disloyalty awaited him upon his return from a disastrous campaign. In his absence, the lot of lesser nobility, free peasantry and town dwellers alike had been made miserable by conflict between larger fief_holders. When his return brought no amelioration of their condition, in concert they imposed on the king the ‘Golden Bull’ (Bulla aurea) of 1222. Though not as rich a source of sociopolitical data as the Statute of Vinodol, the Bull represents a clear indication of political relations and the respective strengths of particular social classes in the kingdom at that time. Both lesser nobility and the military were to be represented, alongside the magnates, at annual assemblies. Their holdings could not be arbitrarily seized by the monarch and granted to the magnates.

The two decades following the proclamation of the Bull saw but slight reduction in social disorder. Bela III (IV) was still seeking to re_establish the royal prerogative at the expense of the magnates, when Central Europe succumbed to the Tartar invasion. Led by Batu_Khan, the Mongol hordes surged westward from the region of what are nowadays the Russian steppes around the river Volga. A section of them, under Khan Kadan, crossed the Carpathians, swamped Hungary, and routed Bela’s Magyar army in the battle of Mohi on the River Saj in 1241. In the following year the Pannonian Plain was ravaged and Bela was forced back as far as the Adriatic coastal towns. Rural settlements and unfortified places were especially hard hit by the onslaught. Croatia was spared further depredation only by the death in Asia of the supreme Khan Ogotai, after which the Mongols withdrew eastward.

The Mongol invasion put a halt to King Bela’s plans to quash the magnates’ resistance to the re_establishment of regal authority. More by necessity than by choice, his first priority was to revive the realm and fortify it against any renewed Mongol incursions. As citadels and fortresses had provided the best defense against the Tartars, King Bela instigated the erection of new ones and assisted the reconstruction of those damaged during hostilities. lt was at this time that such towns as Budim and Visegrad in Hungary, and Kalnik and Medvjedgrad in Croatia were fortified.

To revitalise the economy, Bela III (IV) took pains to develop urban life and encourage the establishment of new settlements. Towns were granted a number of considerable privilege, in order to attract foreign craftsmen and merchants. Freed of all obligations to feudal lords or monasteries on whose lands they might technically be situated, the ‘royal free towns’ enjoyed the right to elect their own town vijece or council and appoint magistrates to administer justice on their territory. Varazdin, Zagreb, Bihac, Samobor and other Croatian towns thus came to resemble free German imperial towns. Their populations were augmented, apart from foreigners, by minor nobility, free peasants and even serfs, displaced or for any reason in flight from their lord.

Outside the towns, however, the condition of the lesser nobility was in constant decline. The increasing influence of magnates was reflected in the tendency for lesser nobles to be forced to become their pseudo-vassals. Fortified places which did not enjoy the status of ‘royal free town’ but were in the hold of magnates, soon became the bases of a species of despotate. When dynastic disputes arose in the final decades of the century, the attitude of the magnates towards claimants was of axial importance. The attempts of presumptive or aspirant rulers to win the magnates’ favor by the grant of larger estates, together with serfs, led to a further accumulation of their wealth and influence, with a parallel waning of the king’s authority. The most striking example of this was during the reign of King Bela’s son, Andrija ‘The Venetian’ ( 1290-1301 ), when Pavle Subic and his descendants became hereditary bani or governors of Croatia. The influence of the Subici was so great that when the Arpad dynasty was extinguished and replaced in Croatia and Hungary by that of Anjou in 1301, Juraj Subic was not only prince of Bribir and banus of Croatia but practically independent ruler of the kingdom also.

In the light of these developments, the Statute of Vinodol acquires an extra dimension. While its primary and most obvious significance in a period not otherwise rich in documentation is as a source of socioeconomic data, it records the inception of a process which was central to and characteristic of medieval and early modern Croatian history: the ascendancy of princely families and their transformation into political factors on the national plane. The celebrated Zrinski-Frankopan conspiracy of 1671, intended to free Croatia from Austrian domination, represented at once the culmination and collapse of this process.

The Geography of the Vinodol Region
Frank Carter

The contemporary term for the Vinodol region refers to the Commune of Crikvenica. This is much smaller than the Vinodol area referred to in the past which covered a large part of the Rijeka hinterland and stretched as far south as Senj. It is necessary in this short article to set the scene as a backcloth to the Vinodol Statute of 1288 and to make a sequential and retrospective appraisal of changes in this area throughout time up to the nineteenth century. Such a task will involve the reconstruction of past environments in the Vinodol region from the first half of the thirteenth century, when it came into the possession of the Krk Princes ( 1225 ),1 until those mementous changes during the last century inflicted by the new railway age.

Physically, the coasts of the Velebit mainland may be divided into two parts: from Rijeka to Novi a narrow, cliff_bordered limestone ridge rises sharply alongside the coast to altitudes of over 1,000 feet. Behind this, and parallel with it, a restricted zone of Tertiary Flysch beds forms a continuous depression of quite low relief, and beyond this inland, the main karst ranges rise above the depression on its eastern margins. Because of the greater fertility it is along this inner valley, rather than along the coast, that early settlement was concentrated; the gentle slopes of the depression were wooded or terraced, and widely cultivated. It is in the southern part that the depression is known as the Vinodol which runs out to the coast at Novi. In th~ north the depression is submerged below sea level, where it forms the conspicuous inlet of Bakar Bay. South of Novi, the coast becomes very barren and precipitous, with the Velebit Mountains towering to over 5,000 feet immediately above the sea. From Novi to Senj only one small inlet ( Zrnovnica ) breaks the continuity of the shore line, which has a peculiarly uninhabited and desolate appearance.

The Bora, that extremely cold, violent wind blowing from the north and north_east, is particularly intense below the Velebit Mountains during the winter months. Much of the coast affords only limited protection from the Bora, as around Bakar, where it blows with great severity and suddenness, or at Senj beneath Vratnik Pass which coincides with the same direction as the same direction as the wind, immediately inland the wind force usually affects vegetation, prohibiting tree growth, although vegetation is more abundant along the coastline, where the Bora is likely to be weaker. The Sirocco, a warm wind from the south east, like the Bora is essentially a winter wind in the northern Adriatic, although it blows with great fury through the Kraljevica Channel, penetration into the Vinodol Depression is limited by the littoral ridge, and even the inlet of Bakar Bay and Senj are protected from these southerly winds.

With a background so hostile to human settlement, one questions the suitability of the Vinodol region as a place of habitation, yet people have lived here since prehistoric times.2 The area provides an answer to man’s adaptability to his environment, to settle, to husband and to build towns, already in evidence during Roman times. By the thirteenth century the coastal area between Trsat and Novi was settled by people who had taken advantage of the favorable agricultural conditions found in the more sheltered parts. The most cultivatable and populated area was the Vinodol Depression, some 15 miles long, and running parallel to the coast. (See map on p. 5 ). Here small villages succeeded each other at close intervals, especially along the route which traversed the depression. The valley and its bordering slopes were intensively cultivated, the vine predominating – as the name Vinodol implies. A high, steep and sparsely populated ridge separated the Vinodol Depression from the less populated coastal strip, where fishing supplemented agricultural pursuits. The next stretch of coast from Novi to Senj, some 13 miles long, was one of the most scantily peopled sections of the littoral region, lacking most of the conditions conducive for habitation.

Survival in the Vinodol region was dependent on adequate agricultural production and close contact with the immediate hinterland. Two factors contributed to its success; favorable conditions in the Vinodol valley for growing agricultural crops, and a well organized exploitation of livestock rearing through periodic exchange with the hinterland. Evidence of agricultural production may be gleaned from the Vinodol Statute in which mention is made of wheat, hay, honey, vineyards, garden plots and ploughed land. Supporting documentary material from other sources confirm this agricultural activity 3 throughout the period under review to which other crops like flax may be added, together with fishing.4 Apart from the areas of fertile flysch arable land surrounding higher slopes contained much forest for timber exploitation, always in demand for building construction, shipbuilding and firewood by other settlements around the Adriatic shores. Finally, close contact was maintained between the backward shepherds or the hinterland (Gorski Kotar)and the settled coastal communities, as in other parts of the East Adriatic. Movement of livestock from the winter pastures along the coastal mountain slopes to the dolomitic and high alpine meadows in summer meant not only adequate supply of meat, wool, skins and other livestock products, for the local population, but availability of horses, oxen and other draught animals for transport and ploughing the arable land. Some idea of the agricultural situation in the Vinodol region during the French occupation ( 1809_1813 ) may be seen from Table 1.

Table 1. Agricultural Land Use in the Vinodol Region 1812.
Year Arable land, orchards, gardens, and vineyards – in hectares Meadows Cultivated area Pasture No. agricultural population per hectare of cultivated land
1812 2,281 1,520 3,801 1,520 2,100
Source: State Archives Zagreb, Acta Gallica 1812-13, Mairie de Novi.

Analysis of these figures5 has suggested that income from agriculture and stock rearing was already becoming too low to support the local population, and alternative sources of finance had to be obtained from transporting salt inland in exchange for goods needed on the coast, and possibly greater seasonal employment in other regions.

Handicrafts and industrial development appear to have played a very subservient role in the Vinodol economy. No evidence is forthcoming from the Vinodol Statute, but by the fifteenth century there was some trade in iron and metal goods, both on an import and export basis. The Frankopan rulers also obtained coal, iron and lye for bleaching through their harbour at Bakar, 6 and imported cloth, silk and other manufactured goods through Senj. Open hearth iron smelting was introduced into the high karstic hinterland by the Zrinski rulers in the seventeenth century ( Lic, 1638; Cabar, 1651 ), which led to a lively export of metal through Bakar harbor, in successful competition to Rijeka. In the eighteenth century, under Habsburg rule, Charles III encouraged the Temisvar trading company to establish a textile mill in Bakar, to offset loss of trade as a result of the new harbour at Kraljevica, built at the entrance to Bakar Bay in 1720. Finally, proximity to the sea had inevitably led to a shipbuilding industry, albeit mainly for local use and occasionally selling boats to Venetian merchants.

The evolution of urban settlements in the Vinodol region may be divided into two periods, the Later Middle Ages and the Early Modem era, with a watershed circa 1500 when the real impact of the Ottoman conquest was beginning to be felt throughout the Balkan peninsula. 7 During the Middle Ages the region found difficulty in maintaining permanent settlements except in the most favorable geographical areas, due to poor trade development and insufficient arable land. At the time of the Vinodol Statute the urban hierarchy was dominated by the coastal towns of Bakar, Novi and Senj, with the inland sites of Grobnik, Trsat, Hreljin, Drivenik, Grizane, Bribir and Ledenice of secondary importance. Each settlement was the centre of a commune, often defended by a castle, and responsible for a certain area of agreed territory. The urban society was clearly divided into the commoners (pucani) and the landed proprietors ( vlastela ), but as the Middle Ages progressed and trade connections grew, a merchant class also appeared within the urban complex.

The real key to the development of these towns was the number of privileges accorded them by the local rulers. For example, Bakar received important tax concessions and privileges in 1479 and 1489, 8 the town being the seat of the local feudal governor for Hreljin, Drivenik, Grizane, Bribir and Grobnik. In the fifteenth century, Bakar became an important commercial city, trading with Greece, Turkey and the Levant, and a centre of tunny fishing. This was the period when the town overtook Novi, formerly the main centre of Vinodol, in the urban hierarchy. Similarly, Senj, a popular residence of the Frankopan rulers (up to 1469), received privileges, like its town status in 1388, with a blossoming of trade as commercial mediator between the karstic hinterland and overseas areas.

Table 2. Population of the Vinodol Region 1170-1847
Year 1770 1796 1770-96 1770-96 1812 1847 1812-47 1812-47
No. of inhabitants 7,866 10,578 34.4% increase 13.2%. increase 10,400 16,409 54.3% increase 15.0%. increase
Source: see footnote 10

The invasion and subsequent conquest of Bosnia_Hercegovina by the Turks had its repercussions on Vinodol’s urbanization. The year 1527 saw the first Ottoman raids into the Vinodol region, especially around Bakar. The urban landscape changed with the construction of fortifications and castles (Bakar, 1530; Senj, 1558) not only against invasions from the land but also Venetian attacks by sea (Bakar, 1557, 1581, 1592, 1599, 1611, 1615 and 1616)9. Furthermore, local populations were swelled by refugees from inland (Uskoks ), especially in Bakar and Senj, and their piratical activities were a menace to Venetian and Turkish merchants alike for over seventy years.

The conclusion of the Uskok War (1617) and increasing Austrian control brought more stability to the Vinodol region and a resurgence of trade. A revival or livestock rearing in the immediate hinterland and arrival of cattle breeding colonists from northern Dalmatia, was accompanied by the founding of important ‘new’ towns like Kraljevica, and to a lesser extent Crikvenica. Visible progress was experienced in the Vinodol region from the beginning of the eighteenth century, thanks to the demand for wood and cattle products. In spite of trade wars between Vinodol and Rijeka over hinterland trade, commerce thrived attracting merchants from Venice and Italy (Benedetti , Michieli, Terzi, Carina) to construct warehouses in ports like Bakar and Senj, the latter having an estimated population of 2,500 inhabitants together with a further 4-5,000 in the surrounding area by 1700. The construction of new roads into the interior (e.g. the famous Karolina route from Karlovac to Rijeka and Bakar, 1726; and Josefina route from Karlovac to Senj, in 1832) led to the export of iron and livestock products through the Vinodol ports to the Italian harbours in exchange for cargoes or wine, olive oil, spices, cloth, salt and other manufactured goods.

In spite of a very profuse amount of information on settlement continuity in the Vinodol region throughout time, data on actual population only exist from the end of the eighteenth century. Relatively reliable sources about settlement date from 1770 followed by 1796, 1812-1813, and finally from the Senjsko-Modruska bishopric for 1847.10 Although the Vinodol region was subject to immigration over the centuries, the population appears to have varied little from the late Middle Ages until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Mirkovic has calculated the population for the whole of Vinodol at the time of the Statute to have been 5-6,000 inhabitants (compared with 3-4,000 in the contemporary region).11 Whatever the validity of such estimates, population growth in the Vinodol region during the nineteenth century entirely disturbed the ecological balance between crop husbandry and stock farming potential. As the century progressed this growth (1890: 21,911 inhab.) even began to endanger the maintenance of the region’s traditionally low standard of living; nor did Vinodol benefit from the advent or the steamship and railway transport, for they by-passed the Vinodol region in preference to the development of Rijeka and Trieste.

Thus, Vinodol was a victim of external influence. Throughout much of its history it had withstood interference from outsiders, be they Venetians or Turks, yet by the end of the nineteenth century the region found itself isolated from trade, for the new ports, like Trieste and Rijeka, were nearer to the newly developed Pannonian Plain and the West European capitals. Its success as an entrepot region lay in an earlier period when a certain combination of factors had contributed to the region’s development. Once this combination of factors was radically altered, then its position lost its impetus and ability to compete successfully declined. The Vinodol, like other areas along the Croatian coast, succeeded to a destiny shaped by factors far beyond her own control.


1. Vinodol was first mentioned in the Chronicle of the Priest from Dioclea in the twelfth century as a border area of the Croatian Kingdom, and also as a parish of the Split Synod in 1185. It is also mentioned in the deed of covenant of Andrija II to the Princes of Krk in 1225, but it is also possible that as part of the Modruska zupa, it was already under their control in 1193. See V. Koscak, ‘Polozaj Vinodola u hrvatskoj feudalnoj drzavi’ Historijski zbornik. Vol.XVI, Zagreb 1963, pp. 131-146.

2. S. Ljubic ‘Arheolosko iskopavanje u Bakru’ Vjesnik Hrvatskog Arheoloskog Drustva u Zagrebu, 1900, pp.159-165; J. Klemenc, ‘Senj u predhistorijsko i rimsko doba’, Zagreb 1940, pp. 10-21. I. Degmedzic, ‘Arheoloska istrazivanja u Senju’ Vjesnik za arheologiju i povijest dalmatinsku, Vol, LIII, Zagreb 1952, pp. 25-37.

3. State Archives, Zadar, 27 / V/ 1354, Split’s government ( Veliko Vijece ) decided to send a merchant to Senj to buy wheat for the commune, Liber Consiliorum, 1354, folder 36; State Archives Dubrovnik, 17 / V / 1382, wheat sent from Senj and region around Trieste to Ragusa, Consilium Minus, 7, folder 18; I. Marochino, ‘Iz pomorsko trgovacke historije Bakra. Rijecka Revija, No. 3-4, Rijeka 1953, pp.10-24; 8 / 111 / 1687, wheat sent from Senj to Novi (Hercegnovi ) via Ragusa, S. Ljubic: ‘O odnosajih medu republikom mletackom i dubrovackom od pocetka XVI stoljeca do njihove propasti’, Rad J. Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti, Knjiga 54, Zagreb, 1880, p. 68.

4. M. Mirkovic, Ekonomska historija Jugoslavije, Zagreb 1958. p. 127.

5. V. Rogic, ‘Vinodol: suvremena uslovljenost novih odnosa regionalne zonalnosti’, Geografski Glasnik, Vol. 30, Zagreb 1968, p. 116.

6. E. Laszowki, ‘lzbor isprava velikih feuda Zrinskih i Frankopana’ . Grada za gospodarsku povijest Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1951, p. 155; M. Barada, ‘Hrvatski vlasteoski feudalizam’, Zagreb, 1952, p. 27.

7. F .W . Carter; Urban Development in the Western Balkans 1200-1800′ in An Historical Geography of the Balkans, ed. F.W. Carter, New York, London, San Francisco, 1977, pp.147-195.

8. Prince Martin Frankopan gave Bakar various privileges which were confirmed by King Matija Korwin in 1479, and increased in number in 1489, Narodna Enciklopedija S.H.S., Vol. I, p.20.

9. Pomorska enciklopedija, Vol.I, Zagreb, 1961, p. 352.

10. State Archives, Zagreb, Acta Buccarana za XVIII i XIX stoljece, fasc. 60A; comparison may be made with I. Erceg, ‘Kmetsko feudalni odnosi na Komorskim imanjima u Vinodolu i Gorskom Kotaru neposredno prije Marijaterezijanske regulacije’, Zbornik radova Historijskog Instituta J, A., Zagreb, Vol. IV, 1961, pp. 289-348. – V. Batthiany, Uber das Ungarische Kustenland Pesth, 1805. in which a description of Vinodol is given for the year 1796. – State Archives, Zagreb, Acta Gallica op cit. – Shematismus Segniensis pro anno 1847, Zagreb.

11. M. Mirkovic, Ekonomska Historija Jugoslavije, op cit., p. 127; for Senj see G. Szabo, Srednjovjekovni gradovi u Hrvatskoj i Slavoniji, ( Matica Hrvatska ) Zagreb 1920. p. 196

The Social Structure of Vinodol

Miho Barada

In the year 1225 Vinodol gained a new ruler, the Princes of the island of Krk, later called Frankopani. What was formerly a royal principality (comitatus) became thereby a feudal fief. However the social structure of Vinodol changed only in the main owner of the means of production and powers and in the apparatus necessary for the maintenance of social relations and order in Vinodol. All the rights of the ruler and of his steward, until the 12th century the zupan (Lord Lieutenant of the County), and later the prince ( comes) passed to the new feudal ruler, the Frankopani. In all other respects the social life of Vinodol remained the same dominated by, and subjected to the changes of social development of the contemporary feudal period.

The Means of Production

The means of production in Vinodol depended on its geographical, littoral position and the morphology of its soil. In general Vinodol divides morphologically into three areas: the coastal, well-developed but rocky and infertile, fit for fishing and marine industry; the central area, which consists of karst-ringed fields of varying size, suitable for intensive Mediterranean agriculture; the third area, mountainous, with large forests and pastures in the hinterland, suitable for cattle-raising and timber. Since the main means of production in Vinodo1 were concentrated in the central area, this was also where the main centres of productive forces were to be found. This area was the most densely populated, containing the majority of settlements in Vinodol. Due to a well-developed coast-line with good harbours and havens and facilities for fishing, there had existed settlements, though more scattered, upon the coast from time immemorial, like the very ancient Trsat and Bakar , and later Novi, Crikvenica and others. Save for shepherds and woodcutters, a seasonal population, the mountainous area was uninhabited.

In the Vinodol Statute the details relating to the means of production are to be found under the general heading ‘blago’ and the more specific terms’ plough-land’, ‘vineyard,’, ‘gardens’ etc- The meaning of the term blago is clearly indicated in articles 34 and 51. Article 34 defines blago as ‘any property’, plough-land, vineyard, plot or garden’ and article 51 defines the term still more comprehensively as ‘all that is movable and immovable’, in other words all property – entirely in keeping with other old Croatian documents which, as is well known, call blago all that a person has or owns, all his movable and immovable possessions, or what the same Vinodol Statute (in an addendum) calls iminje (estate). Concerning specific means of production the Statute mentions firstly ‘land’ in the sense of arable land sown with corn or other crops. There were threshing floors for threshing the corn. Most certainly there were corn mills too, since there was plenty of suitable water to work them, and they are in fact often mentioned in other documents from Vinodol. That the Statute itself does not mention them suggests that they were not included in the relations between the Prince and his subjects, since by medieval law all water has the property of the King (regalia) or feudal lord. In addition to arable land, vineyards are also mentioned. These flourished upon terraced plots situated to catch the sun. There were also vegetable gardens and orchards. Other types of property which the Statute defines as posision included houses, hram, which designated a larger house and possibly also a shop, osik or cattle-stalls, and mosuna, a half-roofed shelter for cattle. The Statute makes no mention of either meadows or hay-fields, but since article 10 speaks of hay and hay-stacks, these certainly existed. Nor is there any mention of forests in which a large part of Vinodol, especially the mountainous areas, was covered. Nor does the Statute mention saw-mills, although according to other sources, these existed. Cattle-raising was a valuable branch of economy in Vinodol and large and small stock are regularly mentioned in the Statute. The coastal area of Vinodol was suitable for various types of fishing and for shipping generally. Thus the sea-faring part of the population certainly engaged in both, although the Statute says nothing of either. That there was shipping may be concluded from the fact that article 11 speaks of theft in pristanisce, that is in a constructed harbour containing transit goods, in addition to timber, timber structures and other timber products, Vinodol exported, generally by sea, large and small stock, wine, salted meat and fish, hides oil, (olives had grown there from earliest days ), wax

(article 8 mentions bees ), wool, rough cloth etc. It imported iron weapons, spices. luxury goods and all types of trade goods .


Clearly the means of production of Vinodol were both varied and considerable, but who owned these means of production? Whereas in the period of the zupans they belonged mainly to the crown, now their owner was the feudal lord. Every feud was linked to the possession of land with its natural products and rents. According to feudal law, the feudal lord was the owner of almost all the means of production. If some of them belonged to other people, then because they owned them from the days of the old zupanijas, arising from some ancient tribal rights, or through a gift by the King while the land was still in his possession, or from the time after the feud was created, for feudal lords often rewarded individuals for their services with gifts of land etc. The Frankopans, having received Vinodol as a feudal holding in 1225, became the sole owners of its means of production, all of which, till that time, had been the property of the King. Andrew II gave Gvido of Krk ‘ totam terram…Wynodol…cum pertinenciis et totis redditibus‘. The Frankopans became thereby the supreme lords and masters of the whole of Vinodol, of all the political and property rights, all incomes and everything which, by any right whatsoever, had belonged to that feudal unit. The new feudal prince was first and foremost the owner of all the blago (wealth ), that is of all the property, movable and immovable, from which he took a part (uceste) as his income. Thus article 34 prescribes severe punishment for anyone who should withhold anything from which the prince was entitled to receive a part ‘any property, or plough_land or some vineyard or some plot or garden to part of which the Lord Prince would have a right and if the other will not surrender it…’ According to article 34 the Prince received the natural rent from plough_lands, vineyards, gardens etc. That he was the ultimate owner of everything is shown by article 33. ‘If a man should be in possession of anything improperly acquired which is nobody’s and should accrue to the Court, irrespective of whether an official order or demand in respect of it had been made, and the Lord or his officer discover this … that is to say, if anyone in Vinodol retained anything whatsoever that remained without a legal inheritor, and which by this very fact belonged to the Prince, it would revert to the Prince without any further legal or other proceedings’. Article 5 gives the Prince the right of requisition of property from any member of the population, ‘… the stock albeit of villeins, plemeniti, priests or of any other men’. These articles provide the best illustration of the power that the feudal Prince Frankopan had in relation to the means of production in Vinodol. He was not only the main, but the supreme lord and master of everything. Of course, as is clear from what has been said, the feudal Lord of Vinodol was the entire family of the Princes of Krk, not any single member of it. Individual members ruled only temporarily and then only as representatives of the family as a whole.

Nevertheless since article 34 emphasises ‘… if over these possessions the Prince should have a right to a part …’ this would indicate that there were possessions and properties from which the Prince took no part and received no due or income as of right. These were in the main the properties of the various ecclesiastical establishments. Thus the second largest owner of the means of production in Vinodol was the Church with its many institutions. The Statute itself says nothing of the Church’s ownership of the means of production. This is understandable, since this topic was outside its frame of reference; its purpose being only to regulate the relations between the feudal Prince and his subjects in a narrow sense, while the Church and its subjects generally did not concern it. But the Church of course possessed its own means of production. An ancient and well-known canonical provision states that no church, chapel or altar may be built if beforehand not endowed with a beneficium or bequeathal, which in the Middle Ages regularly consisted of landed property known as nadarbina by which the institution and its appointed clerics were maintained. The Statute makes regular mention of churches, abbeys monasteries and confraternities. Also there is regular mention of the various kinds of clergy, of which we shall speak later. Since there existed such institutions and their clergy, clearly there also existed their beneficia of land and other property which are otherwise regularly mentioned in other documents from Vinodol.

There were also other owners of the means of production, such as plemeniti, merchants and others, but of this later.

The Subject Population

Apart from the Lord’s immediate family, his administrative personnel, court officers and servants, the population of Vinodol consisted of villeins, plemeniti, the clergy and others as may be seen in articles 5 and 75 of the Statute. According to article 5 the Prince or the Bishop may requisition ‘… the stock albeit of villeins, plemeniti , priests or any other man’. According to article 75 the Prince has full legal and executive power’ … as over plemeniti, so over churchmen and over villeins and all other men’ . In these two articles all the classes of the population of Vinodol are mentioned.

a. The Villeins

Numerically the strongest and socially the lowest category were the villeins. Feudal organisations saw the feud as consisting of two main components: the feudal Lord the main owner of the means of production encompassed in the feud, and his labour force the villeins, From 1225 Vinodol was a feud and consequently its main work force were the villeins. They are specifically mentioned in articles 5, 17, 25, 31, 36, 50, 54, 73 and 75, and obliquely referred to in many others.

But villeins did not only work the Lord’s lands; they also worked on the church estates in Vinodol. The Statute makes no direct mention of this since this was outside its province. According to the canon law, priests did not usually undertake the more arduous labours, and this refers in particular to the times and area in which villeins constituted the main work force; so the conclusion must be that villeins also worked ecclesiastical estates, especially since in a majority of cases such estates were gifts from kings and feudal lords and by the law of the day the villeins passed with the land to the new owner. That villeins laboured on church estates is confirmed by various other documents from Vinodol. On December 10, 1450 the Prince Martin Frankopan in reply to the complaint of the Pauline monks of Crikvenica alleging that the Markovici ‘… refused to serve the said church _ St Mary’s _ as do other villeins with transport and tithes and that they do not work in church vineyards as they ought to according to law’, ordered the Markovici ‘to give full and complete service as do other villeins of the church’. On 26 July 1460 Martin Frankopan presented these same Pauline monks of Crikvenica with a vineyard planted by a man called Bezicic together ‘with the service that he rendered to us’. On 7 January 1470 Martin Frankopan took from the church of St Mary at Novi the villein Jakov Cikulic ‘whom we had given them, and gave them another villein’ _ a man called Dminko, from St Vid _ ‘with all the service due from him’; in addition he gave them a Vlah ‘ … as their villein and as a shepherd with all and full service thereto appertaining’ . The final passage is important in that it shows that the ‘shepherds and ploughmen’ mentioned in article 66 belonged to the class of villeins.

Evidently the villeins were the most numerous class of the population in Vinodol. I have already shown that from the 8th to the 11th century the labour force on the estates of the Croatian rulers consisted of slaves and, after the 11th century, villeins. However, in the course of five centuries the economic and social status of the labour force on the royal estates in Croatia had changed considerably and since Vinodol until the year 1225 was a crown property inevitably its labour force participated in the general process of social improvement. In the Statute there is no trace of slaves, because in the 12th century they were already transformed into villeins. It is villeins _ these direct descendants of slaves _ that formed the basis of the labour force and the bulk of the non_noble population of Vinodol.

The economic and social position of the Vinodol villeins can be gleaned from a number of different articles of the Statute. Thus article 34 states ‘If a man holds any property, some plough_land or some vineyard or garden to part of which the Lord Prince would have a right … This refers to various branches of agriculture, but the point is that the products from the land are not enjoyed only by him that holds the land cares for it and works it, but others also, in this case the Prince. From all branch’s of the economy the Prince has a uceste, a share, an income, a rent. Since Vinodol was a feudal holding and the Prince the feudal lord, article 34 clearly relates only to villeins and not to some other class of population. At the time of the formulation of the Vinodol Statute villeins held and worked the Prince’s estates, sowed the fields set the vineyards and gardens and cared for them, as they also performed all other labour in the agriculture of Vinodol, rendering the Prince a defined tribute in kind. In addition, the serfs of Vinodol tended the cattle and rendered a share of these too. That they tended cattle is clear from article 5 of the Statute, which states that when the Prince or the Bishop travelled in Vinodol ‘… and either of them comes to a town, he may through the captain of that town have food taken and brought for himself and his retinue, cattle or smaller creatures which are to hand, the stock albeit of villeins …’ According to article 25 in the case of an affray between villeins the guilty party pays the Prince 40 soldin, ‘… but the one who is assaulted shall receive two wethers and the price of his treatment’. According to article 54, if a serf represented a plemeniti before the court and ‘without the permission of the court’ , he must pay a fine of bullock or 8 lira. It is clear that the villeins of Vinodol raised cattle and smaller creatures and were at least partly their owners.

Apart from land and cattle, which are explicitly mentioned in the Statute, villeins in Vinodol also had dwelling houses and farm buildings with the necessary appendages for both which are all characterised in article 34 generally as blago and posision. But none of these were genuine personal property of the Vinodol villeins, since the true owner of everything was the Prince who took his share from much of it. That the Statute does not expressly state what part of which products was due to the Prince does not alter this fact. The ancient custom in respect of the dues was unquestioned at the time of the writing of the statute and was thus not noted. This question , in fact, did not arise until much later, when feudalism was in decline, and was settled by the so_called ‘urbars’ in the 17th century. But even without the evidence of these later documents the feudal system as such and the term ‘villein’ that is linked with it imply a definite type of relations between the feudal lord and his subjects; the economic dependence of the latter upon the one whose land they worked and whose cattle they tended. Thus the Vinodol villein was not the complete owner of what he lived by Mainly he was a share_cropper. .

What the payments of the Vinodol villeins to the Prince were, the Statute does not say. But since Vinodol was in Croatia, the dues payed by the Vinodol villeins are likely to have been the same as those paid by the villeins in the other parts of the country. According to the evidence given in the case of the Vladika and others versus Jakov Subic from the year 1361, when Subic forced the Vladika and other landowners of Banjevac and Kacic to become his serfs, he demanded from them a quarter of the crops as well as other dues and services. Recently Dr. S. Antoljak has published a list of feudal holdings which Venice took over with the purchase of Zadar and the suzerainty rights to the rest of Dalmatia in 1409. This refers to the ancient Croatian feudal holdings which _ like Vrane, for example _ King Zvonimir set up in 1075 and which in the 12th century passed to the knights Templars, and later in 1312 to the knights of St John. The serfs on the holding of Vrane gave quartam et decimam partem omnium fructuum, that is to say a quarter plus a tenth which is equal to seven twentieths, nearly a half of all the crops, which included cattle. The serfs of Vinodol probably gave some similar amount. The feudal dues for the fief of Ljuba are described in rather more detail. The serfs gave a quarter plus a tenth of wine, corn and flax; of sheep and goats’ one tenth of the lambs and kids and, in addition, as honorantias each year three loaves of bread and a sausage or a shoulder of mutton at Christmas, three loaves and seven eggs at Easter and three loaves, one chicken and three quarts of wine on the feast of St Michael. In addition, the dwellers had to plough and sow four ‘gonjaj’ of land for the Lord, at his expense, that is they merely provided the labour force, to dig up two ‘gonjaj’ of vineyard, also at his expense, and to transport his corn and wine to and from the sea. Whoever owned a donkey had to deliver a load of fire_wood at Christmas. All fines were payable to the lord. For meat sold one soldin was paid for small cattle, two for larger, while a foreigner paid double. Since the feudal holdings of Vrane and Ljuba, like Vinodol, were both in Croatia, it is reasonable to assume that in all of them the internal system was much the same.


A good illustration of the position of the serfs in Vinodol is provided by article 32 according to which – entirely in the spirit of the feudal system _ the serf even on his deathbed could not dispose freely of his property.

Article 32 states: ‘ And daughters who survive their father and mother or sons, unless those daughters’ brethren be still alive, must be equipped or left their father’s or mother’s estate in order to perform such service as their father or mother would have had to fulfill to the court. Likewise if sons should have survived and died heirless.’ The main purpose here is to clarify the rights of inheritance of those descendants of serfs who could carry out ‘all services which their father and mother would have had to fulfill to the court (of the Lord)’. The term ‘service’ here, as in innumerable other Croatian documents, refers to the serfs’ dues which included labour as well as dues in kind. ‘Service’ is the equivalent of the Latin servitus, officium, ministerium etc. In other words, article 32 is concerned with the right of inheritance only in so far as it affects the serf’s ability to perform all the duties of serfdom. The Statute does not speak directly of the inheritance of male descendants since it is taken for granted that male descendants are capable in any case of carrying out their feudal duties as laid down by the general feudal law, that is the law concerning serfdom. Article 32 refers only to female descendants in cases where there is no direct male offspring. Thus the words ‘If these daughters have no brothers’ refer indirectly to the general law of inheritance of male descendants and indicate that daughters were merely facultative inheritors.

The regular inheritors were generally male and if these did not exist and there were females, then article 32 was applicable. This article envisages two different kinds of situation. First, if daughters are left without brothers after the death of their parents, they are to be given only their trousseau, while the rest of the estate reverts to the prince. The other possibility is that, after the death of their parents, the daughters inherit the entire estate. Th e first possibility is indicated by the words ‘… must be equipped’. Antun Mazuranic, the first publisher of the Statute, assumed that the term areditati came from the Italian ereditare _ to inherit. Other editors and translators have accepted this. Only Vladimir Mazuranic saw the difficulty presented by the reflexive form of the verb. Since ereditare is intransitive like the Croatian naslijediti, and areditati in the text is transitive, he considers that the reflexive particle se (imaju se areditati ) is really vse (all). But such interpretations are dubious not only because of the particle se but because if one accepts that areditati means to inherit, then the entire article is contradictory. For whereas the first part states ‘they must inherit everything’ (if we accept this interpretation), that is to say the daughters must be the inheritors of their father’s entire estate, the second part affirms that they have the right of inheritance only if they are able to fulfill all obligations due to the Prince, which means that they were only facultative inheritors. For this reason I would interpret this areditati differently. This word does not come from the Italian ereditare but from arredo_arredare, which means fernery Di arredo, to furnish with a trousseau. In Italian arredo, corredo means the trousseau which a bride takes as a dowry. If this be correct, the daughters of serfs in Vinodol were not necessarily the inheritors after their parents’ death, in the absence of direct male descendants; their inheritance depended rather on the will of their feudal lord. He could either give them a dowry and deprive them of the inheritance of their parents’ serf holding, or leave them on the holding if he considered that they, naturally together with the husband they would bring, could fully and regularly fulfill the duties owed to him. Lastly, article 32 taken as a whole clearly shows that serf estates in Vinodol were merely ‘household estates’, as was in the period of the old zupanijas.

Having thus clarified the basic principles governing inheritance of property among Vinodol serfs we are now in the position to deduce the relevant rules. Since a villein’s estate was merely a ‘household estate’ and was as a rule in the hands of male members of the family, it follows that after the death of the male who might be either father or grandfather, his serf property went first to the surviving widow, and after her death the property was passed on to the surviving sons or, if the sons were already dead, the grandsons. Thus the property of serfs, as far as was possible, remained in the hands of the male line. Only if there were no male descendants did the inheritance become facultative, that is to say, if the Prince should so wish, the property passed to the direct female line, i.e. to daughters or granddaughters. In the absence of such direct descendants the property passed to the Prince and never to the serf’s relatives, that is, never to a side issue of the serf’s family be it male or female; which confirms the fact the serf’s property pertained to the household and was not a family property in the strict sense. Such a law of inheritance in Vinodol was in direct contrast to the tribal laws of inheritance which, as showed earlier, were at the time still very much in force among the feudals and descendants of the former family clans. …

All this suggests that the Vinodol serf was not able freely to dispose with even the smallest amount of his property, movable or immovable. He was testandi incapax. And if he could not do with it as he wished on his deathbed, he was equally unable to do with it what he liked during his life_time, at least in regard to that part which might cause the loss of dues to the Prince; but of this the Vinodol Statute is silent. The Vinodol serf only partly owned the fruits from the land he worked. His economic freedom was severely restricted by a harsh system of feudal laws and customs.


Inevitably the low social position of the serf reflected his low economic situation. Not only that the serfs were the feudal lord’s labour force, subject to him and dependant upon him in every way, so that they were exposed to an ever increasing exploitation .in a variety of ways, but in other respects too they were completely subjected to the Prince and limited in their rights and freedoms. So, although the Vinodol villeins had long left the state of slavery, the Statute contains many signs of their class subjection and dependence on their lord which are reminiscent of their social position from the times of slavery. According to article 17 the serfs of Vinodol did not have the right of movement (liberae migrationes ), not even within the frontiers of Vinodol itself. ‘No villein or any commoner may lodge io a church or serve in an abbey or monastery or become a sacristan there without the consent of the Prince and the district.’ If a villein was not even allowed to settle on church property or take up service with the Church without the Prince’s permission, then clearly he was even less free to settle elsewhere. Article 16 points to the erstwhile position of slavery of Vinodol serfs: ‘No cleric of the principality may take holy orders without the permission of the Prince and the town in which he resides.’ This article reflects the ancient ecclesiastical-canonical practice according to which no slave may become a priest if beforehand his master had not liberated him. True, at the time of the Statute, there were no more slaves in Vinodol. The state of slavery had long since ceased to exist. Nevertheless the Prince, anxious to ensure that his labour force stays on his estates, kept some of his ancient rights: the serfs of Vinodol could not freely move without his permission, not even within Vinodol itself let alone outside its frontiers; nor could they become priests without his consent. That the term’ serf’ ( kmet ) in the Statute does not merely designate a subject or labourer of the feudal master, be the latter the Prince, the Church or any other, but a member of a lower social order, is shown, in addition to the evidence hitherto quoted, by article 31 which determines the punishment for the slaying of ‘a serf or one of serf descent’. Here the Statute makes no distinction with respect to class between the serfs in the narrow sense, i.e. those who worked the lord’s lands, and those who were ‘serfs by extraction’, that is those who no longer worked the lord’s lands, but did other work, such as craftsmen, traders and other such workers, yet still being descendants of serfs. In short, the term ‘kmet’ (serf or villein) in the Statute was a class term referring to people of low social status. Even priests who were the sons of serfs were regarded as members of the serf class.


Yet in a number of respects the serfs of Vinodol did enjoy equal rights with the non_serfs. Thus according to article 5 they are treated equally with all others as regards requisitioning of food by the Bishop or the Prince. Although not all serfs belonged to the Prince, nonetheless according to articles 73 and 75, the Prince alone had the right to judge them. This deviates from the general feudal practice, according to which serfs, juridically, were subject to those to whom they belonged. Article 73 states: ‘Summoners must be sworn and villeins must also be summoned before the Court’s bench, before the magistrate.’ Article 75: ‘In all penalties, guarantees and contracts the Lord Prince has the complete authority and power to judge as over plemeniti, so over churchmen and over villeins and over all other men, as above established’; that is to say, as laid down in the previous articles of the Statute. That the Prince retained in his hands every right of justice and punishment over all serfs, be they his or another’s, was characteristic of our feudal law. By the customary feudal law, the serfs were judged by their own feudal lord. However, according to a document dated 26 October 1450, when the Markovici, serfs of the Pauline monks, refused their services to the latter, the monks summoned them before the Prince who pronounced that the Markovici had to go on serving the monks as they had done in the past. In addition, the Prince ordered ‘all our officers that if at any time these said friars should complain to you that these serfs are refusing to serve them or have not rendered their dues, the said friars should be given the necessary aid so that they may punish them in accordance with this order with penalties and imprisonment’. In this case the Prince expressly permits that, if the Markovici should rebel again, the friars themselves may punish them. Although all the inhabitants of Vinodol, including the serfs, were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Prince, that is to say under the jurisdiction of his court of law, according to article 25 there was a special legal and punitive code for the serfs: ‘For striking, injuring and for an affray involving villeins the penalty is 40 soldin which the culprit must pay to the Prince and to the one who is assaulted two wethers and the cost of his treatment. And the same for the captain, constable and district crier, who are not herein subject to officials’ but to villein law and its penalties; and they are to be Judged according to villein law, so that enough is done for their injuries.’ According to this ,article there existed, though not in written form a special law for serfs, of which many traces can be found in articles 17, 31, 32, 34, 36, 50 and 54. Thus according to article 31: ‘If a man should kill a villein or one of that estate and be caught, he is to pay a fine or 100 lira to the victim’s kinsmen and to the victim’s town_district 2 lira. Of those 100 lira: if the victim had children, they must receive one half and his kinsmen the other half. The culprit pays that fine. If he flees, his kinsmen must pay one half of the fine and his heirs, should he have any, one half. But if he can be taken before the penalty is paid, or if or if an agreement has been reached, vengeance may be carried out on him, and his kinsmen are thereby freed.’ This article describes the legal action in the case of a serf being killed. Traces of the old legal customs relating to serfs are also clearly detectable in articles dealing with theft. According to articles 35 and 50 for the theft of anything which belongs to the Prince or his servants, and according to article 36 for stealing anything that belongs to the church, the payment is sevenfold. If anything be stolen from a serf, then, according to article 50, the indemnity they receive is only twice the value of the goods stolen. According to article 54 a serf could not represent a plemeniti nor a plemeniti a serf without the permission or the Prince’s court. According to article 34 a serf who has failed to pay a year’s dues to the Prince must pay a sevenfold indemnity. All this is a clear proof that in Vinodol too there was a special legal code for serfs.

This code which reflected their low and subordinate social position defined their rights and duties and their relations with their master, but of all this the Statute is silent; the code, although unwritten, remained in force as an age_old well_tried custom.

b. The Clergy

Closest to the serfs in class terms were the priests. According to the Statute the most senior ecclesiastical personage was the Archpriest (Arhiprvad), who was the representative of the Bishop for the whole of Vinodol and whose residence was in Bribir. Since the title of Arhiprvad (which comes from the Venetian archiprevede ) was in use when the Statute was written and points to a linguistic usage which goes much further back in history, clearly this office must have existed in Vinodol long before that time. And since there was such an office, i.e. since there was a head of the local Church, it follows that Vinodol was already in earlier times a separate ecclesiastical _ and hence also distinct political _ unit. Furthermore since the Archpriest’s official residence, according to the Statute, was in Bribir, it is clear that Bribir was the original ecclesiastical and hence also the economic, political and military centre of the whole of Vinodol. For what applied to the main representative of the Church, applied also to the lord lieutenant of the County, the so_called zupan, who also lived there. The town or Novi (Novigrad), as its name indicates, belonged to a more recent generation of settlements. It was probably built by the Princes of Krk who transferred the administration from Bribir to Novi. Novi thus became the new centre of the whole or Vinodol. later Novi was to become also the seat of the Archpriest, for according to a document dated 15 December 1445, Juraj, the parish priest of Novi ‘was the Archpriest of Vinodol’. According to the Statute there were parish priests in Novi, Hreljin, Bakar, Trsat and (Grobnik, while in Ledenice there was a prvad (presbyter ), certainly a parish priest and possibly also a deputy of the Archpriest. The Statute makes no mention of a parish priest for Grizane and Drvnik. Apart from the parish priests, there were ordinary clergymen which the Statute (in articles 3, 5, 15, 36 and 57) calls pop, popi. In addition, there were clerics and deacons who (in articles 1, 3 and 16) are called zakan / zakani. Articles 2, 17 and 36 mention monasteries (molstiri and opatije), but since at the time of the writing of the Statute there were no monasteries in Vinodol, these are probably later insertions, dating from a period after the arrival or the Pauline monks who founded a monastery in Crikvenica circa 1412, and another near Ospa by Novi in 1462, and the Franciscans Who founded a monastery at Trsat in 1431.

The social position of the Vinodol clergy as described in the Statute was typical or the general situation in that region. At a time when clergy, that privileged class of medieval society, dominated every aspect of social life, in Vinodol its position was subordinated rather than privileged. I have already drawn attention to the importance of articles 16 and 17 by which ‘no serf or commoner’ could become a priest without the permission of the Prince and the communal authorities indicating that the freedom to become a priest was limited. At a time when throughout the rest of Europe the so_called privilegium fori was in force, whereby a member of the Church not only enjoyed the legal protection of the Church but was entirely subject to its jurisdiction, in Vinodol none of this was applicable. Not the Canon Law but the articles 1, 2 and 3 of the Statute laid down what the priests of Vinodol were obliged to give to the Bishop. Moreover for those priests who committed some transgression _ ‘ if they should commit some misdeed or offence’ _ it was not left to the Bishop to freely decide the punishment in accordance with Canon Law, but the maximum fine was determined by article 3 of the Statute and ‘he ( the Bishop) may not collect a greater fine from those priests and deacons’. According to article 5, the priests were bound by the ius descensus not merely in relation to the Bishop, but also in relation to the Prince, just as were all other inhabitants of Vinodol. The low, subordinate status of the priests is illustrated most clearly by article 15 according to which ‘every priest is to keep watch in the town at night like any other man’. According to article 58 if an urban priest missed a day or service without good reason, he was not punished by the Bishop but by the Prince, and with a heavy fine at that: he paid a bullock of which the Prince received one half and the other the town district ‘in which the offence was committed’. According to article 36, theft of property belonging to a priest was punishable in the same way as theft of property belonging to a serf, and not like thefts of property belonging to the Prince or his servants or to Church establishments. This is yet another proof of the low social status of the clergy as individuals. Finally article 75 makes it quite clear that the clergy were entirely under the jurisdiction of the Prince and not of the Bishop.

All these decrees of the Statute, unusual though they were for the Middle Ages, were characteristic of the social position of the clergy in Vinodol. Clearly there must exist historical reasons for this. The idea that such anti_canonical decrees might have been imposed by force sometime during the twelfth or the thirteenth century is of course quite out of the question. They can be explained only as a surviving feature of the local tradition. Since according to the canons of the Church, everyone was free to become a priest except for slaves , who required the permission of their master, it may be assumed that the decrees mentioned above go back to the period when slavery still existed in Vinodol. … In my opinion, the reason for this ( survival of the earlier attitudes) may be sought in the relatively low level of education of the Vinodol clergy. It is well known that Krk, Cres, Senj and Vinodol, in other words the erstwhile Krajina, from the tenth century onwards were not only strongholds but also one of the breeding grounds of the Croatian ‘Glagolitic’ movement, whereas the establishment culture of the time was linked with the Latin writing and language which, despite the decrees of the Synod of Split in 1060, forbidding ordination of ‘Glagolitic’ priests unless they knew Latin, these priests neither knew nor learned. l As a rule, the education of ‘Glagolitic’ priests consisted in their being able to read the liturgical books written in Croatian Glagolitic Alphabet and very little else. This was the only difference between them and their native brethren, especially since they usually lived together with them, sharing households with their closest relatives. It is here that one must seek the causes for the unusual decrees in the Statute concerning priests, the decrees which contain very important clues as to the state of social development of Vinodol.

The Plemeniti

In articles 5, 54 and 75 the Vinodol Statute mentions the plemeniti (‘nobles’ ) as a separate class of the population. According to article 5 the Prince and the Bishop had the right to requisition cattle for food from all classes, including the ‘people of noble standing’.2 According to article 54 ‘a villein may not act as representative for a plemeniti, nor a plemeniti for a villein without the permission of the Prince’s court’. It is clear from this article that there was indeed a considerable difference in status between villeins and plemeniti in Vinodol, that the plemeniti constituted a separate social class. But of their rights and duties by which it would be possible to determine the true position of the plemeniti, the Statute says nothing. This is understandable since the Statute was concerned principally with the rights of the Prince in regard to the villeins and his relations with the villeins and not with the other classes. Consequently it is not surprising that the plemeniti of the Statute are differently interpreted by different commentators. According to Leontovic, they constituted an upper class in society but without special privileges. According to Jagic the difference between the serfs and the plemeniti was that the serfs worked the land of the Prince, while the plemeniti worked their own land, did not pay the Prince any dues and had the status of gentry. According to M. Kostrencic the plemeniti of Vinodol were the officials of the Prince. Grekov considers that they were an upper economic and political class, with their own land and serfs, and that the officials of the Prince’s court were included among them.

In Croatian medieval documents the term ‘plemenit’ is clear and well_defined. Until very late the term ‘plemenit’, in its widest sense, meant only those who were free. Originally ‘plemenit’ was anyone who belonged to a village community or tribe( ‘pleme’ ). And since such people were free from all fiscal burdens and legal dependence on any power outside their community, ‘free’ and ‘plemenit’ became synonymous, but not the terms ‘free’ and ‘noble’. Of the many examples I shall take only that of a document dated 26 September 1423, even though this document does not come from this part of Croatia. In the Croatian version of this document the words ‘of the plemeniti oppidum of Jastrebarsko’, and in the Latin version ‘liberi regii oppidi Jazterbarszka‘ occur twice; which shows that in our old documents the word ‘plemenit’ does not always denote a noble, as in later times, but rather a descendant of the original village community and generally a free man. Thus every man was ‘plemenit’ who owned the land he worked and paid for it no dues or rent. Such ‘plemeniti’ estates in Croatia either go back to the tribal period or are feudal in origin. All hereditary lands were ‘plemenit’, since they regularly remained in the family or tribe, and those who owned them were ‘plemeniti’ or ‘dedici’. But even the royal estates worked by serfs (terrae regales) could become ‘plemenit’. Often the King, as later also the feudals, made a gift of land to individuals for various services. If the King gave the land to the one who had hitherto worked that land for him, by this very gift the recepient who until that time had been in an inferior position now rose socially. Whereas before he was economically subordinate, now he became independent, from a serf he became a free man, a ‘plemenit’ and even a noble (plemic), It was no rare occurrence for one who was free or a ‘plemenit’ to forsake his land for a variety of reasons and seek service on the royal estates or those of other nobles. If the newcomer was given other land as his property, he would continue as a free man and a ‘plemenit’. If, on the other hand, he had to render dues from his newly acquired land to its owner, the land having remained the property of the king or feudal lord, he would suffer a social demotion and with time both he and certainly his descendants would become by virtue of their dependence socially as well as economically subordinate serfs.

1. In Croatia at that time there was a strong opposition to Latin liturgy, especially among the lower clergy. The Latin language was seen as a symbol of foreign domination and foreign influence and as a threat to the indigenous culture and traditions. Editor.

2. Since it is not quite clear whether these people did enjoy the full status of nobility ( Barada thinks they did not) we have retained here the Croatian term ‘plemeniti’. Editor.

All this was valid for the plemeniti of Vinodol. They were no more than the owners of their lands, for which they gave no dues to the Prince, and in this sense they were ‘nobles’. The one question is whether their ownership of land went back to an earlier tribal period or whether it was due to gifts by the king or feudal lord. On the whole, I am inclined to think that tribal origins may be discounted here. Although initially there were ‘dedici’ [tribal gentry] in Vinodol, like in the ‘rest of Croatia, the fact that Vinodol was a frontier region with an integrated system of defence, including a compulsory military service, caused a rapid desintegration of the tribal order in this area. Therefore the plemeniti of Vinodol were probably of feudal origin. From the twelfth century onwards it is generally possible to detect considerable differentiations in status among the serfs, due to the differing obligations and services to their lords. Of all obligations, the most important were military. In Hungary, in Croatian Panonia of that time, and in Croatia proper there emerged the class of the jobbagiones castri, that is urban serfs ( gradokmeti ). For the lands which they worked they gave no dues but were merely obliged to give military service to the king or their feudal lord, in addition to coming under their lord’s jurisdiction in legal matters. It is impossible to say with certainty when precisely the gradokmeti in Croatia first came into being, for there are no documents available, but it is possible that the oppidans of Trsat who slew Erich the Markgraf of Furlania ( Friuli ) in 799 ha d already this status. No doubt also it was the fear of the gradokmeti that was responsible for the surrender of Biograd on Sea to the Doge Peter Orseolo in A.D. 1000. It was gradokmeti who served as the milites of the zupan of Bribir Strezinja and who together with their zupan acted as witnesses to a land transaction in the second half of the eleventh century. More details relating to gradokmeti are to be found in the recently published documents from the land registry in Zadar. Among the subjects of the feudal lord of Vrane are the jobaggiones castri whom the document calls feudatarii. In return for quite sizeable portions of land they were obliged to serve as soldiers, with one or two horses. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the urban villeins rose steadily on the social scale, so that in Slavonia in the second half of the thirteenth century they acquired the full status of nobles. The lands which hitherto they were allowed to keep in return for military service, now became their own estates. Their military service

which earlier was simply a matter of their relations with their feudal lord, now became a public duty. Henceforth they served in the army not because of their obligations to their feudal lord, but because, as nobles it was incumbent upon them to do so.

That the plemeniti mentioned in the Statute were something similar to the private urban villeins of Slavonia is shown by later historical evidence from Vinodol. Thus Prince Stjepan Frankopan in a document dated 16th November 1457 gives and confirms to Zigmund, his chief official, in return for the latter’s faithful service from an early age, the gift of a house and garden in Grobnik ‘to be freely enjoyed by him and his descendants in perpetuity’ so that he might ‘be free from all service, great or small, and that he and his progeny need not enter any service, nor be liable to call for service or any other duty, great or small, by eternal law’. In the registry books relating to the Vinodol towns of Grobnik, Bakar, Hreljin, Divenik, Grizane and Bribir and originating from between 1610 and 1612, almost exactly the same definition of ‘plemeniti’ is given for each individual town: ‘Freemen, noble people’. In the case of Hreljin, Drivenik, Grizane and Bribir the term plemenitasi is used instead of plemeniti _ ‘those who have always been free and enjoy now the same freedom by the grace of the most gracious lord’, while for Bakar, Hreljin, Grizane and Bribir the latter description ends simply ‘by the lord’s grace’. These quotations, even though they come from a later period, confirm what was stressed earlier, viz. that the term ‘plemenit’ in Croatian old documents does not always designate the status or nobility, but often refers simply to the class of free_men. In Vinodol these free men were few in number. Lapasic, writing of Grobnik, says that there were only two ‘plemenit’ families dating from ancient times, and that Count Petar Zrinski created another three. The latter families included that of Francisko Frankulin who by an edict of 12 January 1653 was freed ‘from all dues, tribute and taxes, including grazing dues for cattle large and small and was made noble’. A list of the ancient free_men of Novigrad is appended to the Novljan charter and it is there stated of one Nikola Mudrovcic ‘… that he is a freeman from ancient times. His documents were burned when the town was burned. He is confirmed as a freeman now, since the relevant facts have been verified in the old register of nobles; therefore he is obliged to give the lord military service and to accompany the lord on horse_back or on foot whenever the lord leaves town’. Along with Mudrovcic another six names arc mentioned. In regard to the eighth person on the list the document declares: ‘He has always been a freeman who bears the standard before the lord or the army, when ordered to do so by the lord’ . Although all these sources stem from a later period, nevertheless since they all refer to ancient customs they bear out the information derived from the Zadar registry and confirm what I said earlier about the plemeniti of the Vinodol Statute, viz. that they were of feudal_military origin and in no sense nobility by birth. The plemeniti of the Vinodol Statute did not constitute a noble order but rather a social economic class and were somewhat similar to the first urban villeins of Slavonia, that is to say free_men, in the sense that they owed no serf_duties to the lord.

The gradokmeti (urban villeins) in Slavonia, as shown by the decisions of the Slavonian assembly recorded in a surviving document from 19 April 1273, succeeded not only to free themselves from all obligations, but also to extricate themselves from the jurisdiction of the feudal lords or royal zupans within whose boundaries their lands lay. They thus succeeded not only in gaining a better economic position, but in raising their own social status and, in effect, achieving full equality with the old noble families. Whereas formerly the gradokmeti went to war with their respective feudal lords, now, as nobles, they could accompany any of the great lords they wished (cum baronibus quibus voluerint). And, as the main symbol of their new freedom, they no longer came under the jurisdiction of their respective zupans and were judged only by the bonus who was soon to be replaced by the iudices nobiliurn. Such a status of nobility was never achieved by the plemeniti of Vinodol, Vrane, Novigrad or Ljuba. By article 5 of the Statute the Bishop and the Prince could freely requisition from the Vinodol plemeniti both large and small stock, as a rule against payment, but when on official business without payment. According to article 75 the Prince had power to try them and punish them. The plemeniti of Vinodol remained on the level on which the gradokmeti of Slavonia were before, or during the twelfth and the first half of the thirteenth century, at the latest; that is, they constituted a separate social class but not a noble order .

D. Incomers

Article 5 mentions ‘all other kinds of people’ and article 75 ‘all other people’ as distinct from villeins, plemeniti and priests. There were publicans and traders in Vinodol as shown by the articles 43 and 44, and, in addition, most certainly there were seamen, craftsmen and others but they did not constitute a separate class. Those among them who belonged to the native population were either ‘villeins by birth’ or plemeniti, and were treated accordingly. Quite clearly among them there were foreigners (hospites ) too, but the Vinodol statute gives no details about these. They are referred to simply as ‘all other kinds of people’ in article 5 and ‘all other people’ in article 75.

From: Miho Barada, Hrvotski vlasteoski feudalizam

Zagreb 1952.

( It should be pointed out that the question of the social and political conditions in medieval Vinodol has aroused a great deal of controversy in recent Croatian historiography and Barada’s views should be seen as an important contribution to the discussion rather than as a final word on the matter. Editor. )

Vinodol Statute – A Legal


John Farrar

The relationship of law to society is always complex. This is true of modem mass societies. It is no less true of earlier societies and the difficulties are exaggerated by our lack of knowledge and our attempt to reconstruct the ancient world from fragments of old laws and legal documents. The motives for recording laws in such societies are not always explicable in terms of an increasing legal rationality and this is perhaps the case with the Vinodol Statute. The motivations behind its enactment were doubtless political.

The Method of Codification

The method of codification was a regular assembly in the presence of the Prince, of elders from each town who were knowledgeable in these customs. In their laws they were required to recall what had been handed down to them by oral tradition and this was recorded in writing. The assembly in fact included a number of clergy and the code covers a number of matters relating to ecclesiastical law.

The Structure and Content of the Statute

The structure of the code seems rather haphazard and at times, although this is by no means unusual, arbitrary. We are not pursuing a document of the comprehensiveness and elegance of Justinian’s work, nor a hybrid code of the later Byzantine period, but a simple working document of a small community facing change, but wishing to preserve the knowledge and customs of its past.

The first part of the code deals with ecclesiastical matters and seems to be mainly concerned to limit the powers of the church and particularly the bishop to exact excessive tribute .

Then follow various articles dealing with crime, which show a pronounced Slav character and differ from the severer penalties of Byzantine Roman Law. Thus theft is punishable by fine payable to the Prince. This is typical of Slavonic communities of the time when such fines were a valuable source of revenue.

Homicide of any of the Prince’s household is punishable by the death fine but not death itself. Homicide of a villein is punishable by a fine of less amount. A person accused of murder must produce 50 witnesses _ a rather absurd requirement.

The patterns of feudalism are already quite pronounced. The Prince is given a number of rights over the person and property of his villeins, including art. 16 which even prevents a man from entering the Church without his permission.

The essentially inferior position of women in such a society is clearly reflected in the Statute, although we see perhaps the glimmering of an early liberalisation in art. 18 which provides that a woman of good repute can be called as a witness if there are no other witnesses in matters among women, in cases of malediction or beating or injury. The wording is a little ambiguous since it is not entirely clear whether she can only be a witness in disputes between women. It is likely though that this was in fact the case. Art. 27 contains the amusing crime of maliciously removing a woman’s head scarf which almost suggests a Moslem attitude to the covering of women.

Rape is punishable by fine and there is an elaborate procedure in art. 56 to deal with an alleged rape or other sexual assault. The victim must try to produce 24 character witnesses which seems quite excessive. The question of litigants producing a large number of witnesses to order was one which the British Raj in India attempted to stamp out. One good witness is better than a legion of indifferent or mendacious ones.

Another pitfall in medieval society which particularly affects women and demonstrates their vulnerability is set out in art. 59. Older women ran the risk of being regarded as witches if they lived by themselves and became at all eccentric. This was punishable by fine, but an unfortunate woman who had not the wherewithal to pay the fine was to be burnt. Art. 59, however, provided for sexual equality in a sense. Men could also be charged and punished for the same offence, but warlocks generally were quite rare.

The political power of the Prince is seen in art. 57 which bans assemblies unless there is a man of the Prince’s present. In art. 70 the Prince has complete power over a traitor.

The Social and Historical Context

So much by way of summary of the main provisions of the code. Like all feudal documents it may be regarded as a primitive kind of social contract. The nature of the Vinodol society like that of medieval England is pyramidal or conical. At its base are the cultivators of the soil, the shepherds and the fishermen. At its apex is the Prince, and beyond him the Hungarian King. The cone is a low one, The number of landowners is small; the number of land_users large.

One of the most complete statements of the nature of the feudal relationship is contained in a letter of

1020 A.D. written by Fulbert, Bishop of Chartres. The duties of fealty, he says, are characterised by six things: what is harmless, safe, honourable, useful, easy and practicable. Harmless means that the vassal must not injure the law; safe means that he should keep the secrets of his lord’s defences; honourable means that he must not injure his lord’s justice; useful means that he should not injure his lord’s property; easy means that he should not put difficulties in the way of his lord; and practicable means that he should not make things impossible for his lord.

For his part, the lord should also act’ in the same manner in all these things and if he fails, he will be rightly regarded as guilty of bad faith’. Fulbert is often regarded as one of the first representatives of the intellectual renaissance of the West and his description aptly expresses the spirit of the Vinodol code and the society it represented.

Feudalism was not however an unchanging institution. The major changes came from within and consisted mainly of a gradual relaxation of the Prince’s rights. The Vinodol Statute is much earlier than most of the Poljica Statute and consequently bears less evidence of this change. The world of the Vinodol Statute is very much a Gemeinschaft_world, a close_knit organic society. The major economic and political challenge to the power of the feudal lord came in most societies from a middle class. This class appears to be small in the Vinodol community and this probably accounts for its relatively static character.

A Comparison with the Poljica Statute

Brief reference has been made so far to the Poljica Statute. Let us now attempt a more specific comparison. The Vinodol Statute represents a relatively clear feudal order. The Poljica Statute is more complex. At the time of the drafting of the original Poljica Statute, Poljica was not a standard kind of Slavonic society, nor was it a purely feudal one either. It was a primitive feudal system with two species of nobles arising from an earlier tribal organisation consisting of three tribes. There was, however, overall recognition of the suzerainty of the Doge of Venice. There was an elected prince chosen by an assembly. Indeed Poljica seems in this and certain other respects to have practiced a primitive kind of democracy. The structure of the code is rather like an archeological discovery of an ancient city revealing different strata representing different periods of historical development.

There were three significant features of the Poljica Statute which Paul Bowden and I identified in our earlier article (‘A Legal Commentary on the Poljica Statute’, BC Review, No. 11/12, Vol. IV, p.9, June 1977 ). These were the recognition of basic human rights, the rule of law and an early development of a concept of community personality and responsibility. The Vinodol Statute seems to lack all these features. It was possible to discover traces of earlier systems in the Poljica Statute. It is arguable that later Roman Law, Byzantine Law, Venetian Law and Slavonic custom all had some influence on drafting and content of the Poljica Statute. On the other hand, the Vinodol Statute probably represents the feudal modifications on an earlier variant of Slavonic custom and localised ecclesiastical law.

In our article on the Poljica Statute Paul Bowden and I concluded that it was the product of a traditional society taking its first tentative step towards legal rationality. The Vinodol Statute, on the other hand, is still at the traditional stage of legal development. The Statute is a record ( if what is said in the opening paragraph can be taken at its face value) not a code in the legal rational sense. It is a record of old custom modified by a feudal order.

It is difficult for modern minds to understand fully feudal society. As Eugen Ehrlich wrote in ‘Fundamental Principles of the Sociology of Law’ p. 32, we seek for a constitution of the feudal state ‘whereas the chief characteristic of the feudal state is the fact that it has no constitution but only agreements’; in other words, piece-meal social contracts. He added (p. 34) that in trying to understand the law of medieval society one must not confine oneself to the study of legal propositions. ‘Even at this period, the centre of gravity of the law lies in the inner order of the human associations.’ This proposition arguably applies to all law. It certainly is true of the Vinodol Statute. The inner order of human associations of medieval Vinodol eludes us. The Statute is probably only truly intelligible when it is taken as part of the whole of its contemporary social culture. Even our modern law is found puzzling for this reason not only by foreigners but also by lay people who do not perceive the whole. In the case of the Vinodol Statute clearly a great deal of historical spadework still has to be done before we can fully understand the significance of all its provisions.


from 1288

translated by ALAN FERGUSON

Translator’s note. The oldest known manuscript of the Vinodol Statute dates from the sixteenth century and is written, as the original was, in the Glagolitic orthography, When transliterated into modern latinica, however, its language is for the most part comprehensible to the Croatian speaker. Precise enumeration of the Statute’s 77 articles has been made possible by the presence in the manuscript of the letter ‘C’ indicating the opening of new articles, which have no other numerical designation.

The first edition of the Statute in modern script was prepared by Antun Mazuranic and published by him in the periodical Kolo (Zagreb, 1843, Vol. 3). Fifty years later Franjo Racki published essentially the same version in Monumenta historico-iuridica Slavorum meridionalium ( Vol. IV. Zagreb, 1890 ). A rendition in contemporary Croatian, together with the original transliterated text, is contained in Dr. Miho Barada’s Hrvatski vlasteoski feudalizam ( Zagreb, 1952) pp. 96_133. The present translation is based essentially on Barada’s modern version of the original text, and it relies largely on his explanatory footnotes and comments.

I am indebted to Edo Pivcevic who has made a number of corrections in the translation.

In the Name of God, Amen. In the year of Our Lord 1288, first year of the indiction, the sixth day of the month of January.

In the reign of King Ladislav, the most illustrious Hungarian King, in the sixteenth year of his rule, and during the time of the Great Lords Friedrich, Ivan, Leonard, Domnius, Bartul and Vid, Princes of Krk, Vinodol and Modrus.

Since men have oft deemed it meet for their old and tested laws to be safeguarded, each individual and every man of Vinadol, church and laymen alike, did gather all together in a desire to preserve intact those good laws of old which their elders did maintain inviolate. At the conclusion of the regularly held assembly in Novi Grad, in the presence of the Prince Leonard, the same as was above mentioned, there were chosen from each town of Vinodol elders, not all of them, but those who were known to be able the better to recall the laws of their fathers and what they had heard from their grandfathers. And they were solemnly ordered and commanded to record all the good and old tested laws of Vinodol which they could recollect or might have heard from their aforementioned fathers and grandfathers, so that errors might henceforth be avoided in those matters and that their offspring in time to come might be constant in those laws.

And those chosen to that end by those same men of Vinodol were: from Novi Grad, Crna, Lord Steward of all Vinodol and of the aforementioned Princes; Petar, the parish priest, and Vukonja Pribohna, the captain; Ranac Sarazin; Bogdan Vucinic; from Ledenic, Ratko, the presbyter, and Radoslav, priests; Dobrosa, the captain; from Bribir, Dragoslav, the archpresbyter, and Bogdan, the priest; Zlonomer, the captain; Jurislav Gradenic; From Grizan, Ljuban and Petar, priests; Domjan, the captain; Dunat and Dragoljub and Vidomir Vucic; from Drivenik, Dragoljub, the captain, and Mikula Dragoljub and Pribinig; from Hreljin, Raden, the parish priest and Ivanac, the captain; Zivina, the magistrate and Kliman Nedal; from Bakor, Krstiha, the parish priest and Grubina, the priest; Ivan, the captain; Derga Vucina and Nedrag; from Trsat, Vazmina, the parish priest and Nedrag, the captain; Dominik, the magistrate and Vieka; from Grobnik, Kirin, the parish priest and Slavan, the captain; and Domjan Kinovic, Paval and Slavina Vukodruzic. And all those here written did gather by the will of all and by the unanimous assent and decree of the assembly of the entire district of Vinodol … .(1) which are to be written below and which they heard from their elders.

1. First, that if any of the public churches in Vinodol is to be consecrated or any have been consecrated by the Lord Bishop in whose diocese the said church is, not more than 40 soldin in small Venetian coins, one dinner and one supper may be given for the said consecration, and that specifically by those who give that church to be consecrated. And the deacon, called malik (2) in Croatian or mazzarol in Italian, who attends the Bishop in that same church, is to receive for that same consecration not more than 15 balanza in small Venetian coins.

2. And: concerning the churches of abbeys, monasteries or the said public churches, the Lord Bishop may not request or take or demand more than the wardens of those same churches would of their own volition be prepared to give him.

3. And: concerning priests of the said district, that same Bishop may not order or take anything, but when he sends another or goes himself about the Principality, in each town of Vinodol to which he goes, the priests of that town must give him one dinner and one supper; they are not however in any way bound to take that dinner and that supper to him outside the boundaries of that town. And the said priests and deacons are not bound to do him any other service, unless one of them should have committed a misdeed or some offence for which he would have to pay a fine, when the Bishop may raise a fine of 40 Venetian soldin from the offenders; a greater fine he may not collect from those priests and deacons.

4. And: when the Lord Bishop is making a visitation, with the seven horses of his suite must go on eighth pack_horse.

5. And: if the Lord Prince of Vinodol or the said Bishop is making a circuit of the Principality of Vinodol and either of them comes to some town, he may through the captain of that town have food taken and brought for himself and his retinue, cattle or smaller creatures which are to hand, the stock albeit of villeins, of plemeniti (3), of priests or of any other men. Nonetheless, wherever he may be, the Lord Prince must pay for them, and may have his attendants take the nearest cattle to hand from the same town district or from any of the above mentioned men for himself and his family and for his entire court.

6. And: if anyone should commit robbery on the highway or anywhere else, he is to pay the Prince 50 lira.

7. And: if a man should break into o dwelling by night or steal something from it and if ‘Help’ be shouted, he is to pay the Prince 50 lira and twice the damage, Those who cry ‘Help’ are to be believed if they solemnly swear that they recognised that malefactor. Nonetheless, if no shout was raised, he has to pay but 40 soldin and restitution as abovesaid. And if he commits the misdeed by day, he is not bound to pay more than 40 soldin if his guilt can be established by a trustworthy witness.

8. And: if by night anyone should steal some animal from its stall or corn from the threshing floor or honey from a hive _ at a place where bees are kept _ he too is to pay the Prince 50 lira, if there was a cry of ‘Help’; and by day 40 soldin and as much by night if there was no cry, and twice the damage, as is written, and a cry is to be believed.

9. If there is litigation before the court involving assault or the theft of some thing and the plaintiff has no testimony against the accused and he is allowed to swear an oath, 25 character witnesses must swear for the defendant charged with robbery and 12 on account of the aforementioned theft, if in that theft damage was done and there was a cry of ‘Help’.

10. And: in cases of theft from a pen or the burning of wheat in the field or the taking of hay from a stack by night, only 6 must swear that he did not do it, And the defendant may not have a legal spokesman without the court’s assent, In any case it is for the one who is to toke the oath to find character witnesses as best he may. And if he may not have them, let him swear himself or as many times as they must swear.

11. And: if a man commits an act of violence in Vinodol harbour, he must pay the Prince fifty lira. If he commits theft there too, he pays 24 lira. If there are no eye_witnesses, he who denies the charge must swear together with 11 character witnesses, whether the deed was done by day or night.

12. And: if a man receives a person exiled from that Principality or gives him food, drink or any other aid or counsel, he must pay the Prince 50 lira.

13. And: if any brotherhood divides among its members what it has acquired, it is bound to pay the full tithe.

14. And: no zavez may be agreed on or exacted by men of the Principality among themselves nor may any public or private zagovor be concluded: half of the value of such a fine accrues to the town district in which it was done, and half to the lords.(4)

15. And: every priest is to keep night_watch in the town like any other man.

16. And: no cleric of the Principality may take holy orders without the permission of the Prince and the town in which he resides.

17. And: no villein or any commoner may lodge in a church or serve in an abbey or monastery or become a sacristan there without the consent of the Prince and the district.

18. And: a good woman of good repute called to bear witness is trustworthy, if there are no other witnesses, in matters among women, in cases of malediction or beating or injury .

19. And: no witness called as such may bear testimony unless he has first been questioned by the court officer; whoever does so is to pay 40 soldin to the Prince, and to him who would have suffered loss by his testimony let him pay as much in damages as the other would hove lost.

20. And: no one may call his wife to testify in his defence; in no matter relating to him may she be a credible witness.

21. And: if before the court in the palace one litigant says to the other: ‘Is it so or not?’ or makes a charge against him, the other is free to admit or deny it.

22. And: if a man appears before the court to bring a charge, he must appoint witnesses and prove it to be so.

23. And: for the guarding or protection of vineyards and ploughlands and threshing floors and other things, trustworthy guards are to be appointed. When damage is done before a guard, he is then to cry ‘Help’; except in the event of his taking some token from the miscreant, pointing him out to trustworthy witnesses or taking that token to the court before the offender is charged, or personally taking that same offender to the court.

24. And: any man may cry ‘Help’ if he sees another committing some misdeed, and in no way may he be punished for doing so.

25. And: for striking, injuring and for an affray involving villeins the penalty is 40 soldin, which the culprit must pay to the Prince, and to the one who is assaulted 2 wethers and the cost of his treatment. And the some for a captain, constable and district crier, who are not herein subject to officials’ but to villein law and its penalties; and they are to be judged according to villein law, so that enough is done for their injuries.

26. And: a captain and constable and district crier are not trustworthy in any matter arising during the term and relating to the competence of their office, but only one year after their term of office expires.

27. And: if a man should maliciously remove a woman’s headscarf or headcover, and this should be confirmed by three good men or women, if a complaint should be made on that account, he is to pay 50 lira; of this the Lord Prince is to receive 40 soldin and she who was so disgraced 48 lira. But if a woman should remove another woman’s headcover, as aforesaid, she is to pay 2 lira to the court and 2 sheep to the other woman. But if there should have been no good witnesses where the offence was committed, and the one against whom the accusation was made takes an oath denying the charge, he or she is to be acquitted.

28. And: if a man or woman speaks profanely or insults some other man or woman, and this can be confirmed by a worthy witness, either man or woman, if there were no other witnesses there, he is to pay the court 2 lira and the party to whom he spoke 2 lira.

29. And: if a man should kill one of the underprinces (5) or one of the Lord Prince’s household servants, or one of his attendants and then flee, and so not be taken, the Prince is to levy the death fine, that is, a monetary penalty, whichever and as much as he will, from the culprit’s tribe one half, for the tribe is bound to pay but one half, and from the culprit the other half. But if that culprit should be taken, that same Prince, or some other in his stead may avenge the misdeed as he pleases, without his tribe being in any way punished.

30. And: if a man should ambush and rob one of the said underprinces or an official or attendant, and this can be confirmed by worthy witnesses, he is to pay the Prince 50 lira. In like manner, if the other should be beaten or injured, for the hurt he must pay half. And if a part of the body of one of them should be severed or so mutilated that it could not be restored to its original state of health, he is to pay the penalty which the Prince will impose on him.

31. And: if a man should kill a villein or one of that estate and be caught, he is to pay a fine of 100 lira to the victim’s kinsmen and to the victim’s town-district 2 lira. Of those 100 lira: if the victim had children, they must receive one half, and his kinsmen the other half. The culprit pays that fine. If he flees, his kinsmen must pay one half of the fine and his heirs, should he have any, one half. But if he can be taken, before the penalty is paid, or if an agreement has been reached, vengeance may be carried out on him, and his kinsmen are thereby freed.

32. And daughters who survive their father and mother or sons. unless those daughters’ brethren be still alive, must be equipped or left their father’s or mother’s estate in order to perform such service as their father or mother would have had to fulfil to the court. Likewise if sons should hove survived and died heirless.

33. And: if a man should be in possession of anything improperly acquired which is nobody’s and hence should accrue to the court irrespective of whether an official order or demand in respect of it had been made, and the Lord

(Prince) or his officer discover this, that man must pay the Prince seven times his annual income from it, for as many years as he has been in possession of it, and a fine of 40 soldin for each year. And that property must still accrue to the Prince’s court.

34. And: if a man holds any property, some ploughland or some vineyard or plot or garden to part of which the Lord Prince would have a right, and if the other will not surrender it, he is to pay the abovesaid penalty or that part, if it can be proved that he was guilty.

35. And: if a man has stolen something from the Prince or his court or an under-prince or official of any of the aforementioned, he is to pay the fine to the Prince as above written concerning theft; and to the person from whom he stole, sevenfold.

36. And: villeins and priests are to have the same law for thefts among themselves. But if a man steals something from any church or monastery or abbey, he is to pay the fine which is paid for the theft of the Prince’s or the abovewritten officials’ things.

37. And: for no single theft committed by day or by night is the fine to be more than 40 soldin, unless there should have been the cry of ‘Help’ and it should have been in a town, and apart from the theft defined above. And also for any theft by day or night, the culprit must pay 40 soldin, which are to accrue to the town district in which the theft was committed.

38. And: where there is no charge there can be no penalty either. No one can be forced to bring a charge on any matter before the court or elsewhere, unless it is of his own volition. Whoever brings a charge must pursue it to its conclusion.

39. And: a charge brought outside the court can not carry a penalty of more than 6 lira, except for the aforesaid instances of assault.

40. And: no_one may be acquitted and no fine, great or small, imposed without the Prince’s assent, or unless a man of the Prince’s should do so at his command.

41. And: of those serving as magistrates. The judgements are invalid of those magistrates who, whenever an offence is committed, do not send a sealed summons to the culprit to appear before the court with that summons within three days and display it.

42. And: no keeper of the keys is to be considered trustworthy or to be believed concerning any goods worth more than 20 soldin which he claims to have given, presented or lent or in any other manner rendered to another from his vault, unless he should have trustworthy witnesses. Also, for that which is worth over 20 soldin he must swear on the Holy Gospel.

43. And: no publican is to be considered trustworthy or to be believed, without witnesses, for any credit he may have given of his own wine, except for less than 10 soldin; and a partner, that is one who sells another’s wine, up to 50 soldin. They must, moreover, swear an oath.

44. And: no merchant’s records are to be considered reliable without worthy witnesses but for individual debts of up to 50 lira. And for these also he must swear on the (holy) scriptures to confirm his merchant’s records.

45. And: no reward privately given for the discovery of some object, misdeed or other thing such as lands, vineyards or any other items for which a reward is usually given, or for finding large cattle, may exceed 40 soldin, and if a man gives more, he may not recover it; except when it seems to the Lord Prince that more should have been given to discover some misdeed or for some other thing which would clearly have accrued to that same Prince. Concerning those 40 soldin, he who claims to have given that reward and that it was demanded and received, must swear that he gave and promised to give it. He is bound to give the court but 5 soldin as a penalty for the other 40, and for each small animal, 2 soldin.

46. And: if a man declares that something has been improperly acquired in whole or in part as aforesaid, and can not prove this, he is to pay the same penalty as the accused party would have had to pay.

47. And: if a man should make a charge before the court or appoint witnesses, saying: ‘So_and_so knows this is so’ and the opposing party says: ‘But so_and_so knows it is not’, the witnesses of the former are accepted and those of the latter are rejected.

48. And: no court officer may accept more than 10 soldin for a major case; and a major case is for any matter worth more than 40 soldin; for a minor case, for 40 soldin or less, he may receive 5 soldin. Whoever acts contrary to this, pays one ox or 8 lira of which the Prince is to receive one half and the town in which it occurs the other half.

49. And: if, in the presence of a court officer, a stolen calf is found, he is to receive a pair of soles, and the creature is to belong to him whose it had previously been, and the right to litigation is as has been defined. Should it be taken dead but still whole, the officer must then have one quarter of it; if what is found is not complete, it is to belong to that same officer, and the man whose meat it was may have recourse to law.

50. And: if full_grown cattle are stolen, then discovered, the officer is to receive 5 soldin for each head, dead or alive. And for property worth 40 soldin or less he receives 2 soldin, and for more, 5 soldin. That same officer must certainly be taken from the court and with its consent. And it should be known that for stolen property a villein receives twice its value and the Prince’s court or its officials as abovewritten, sevenfold.

51. And: if a court officer is found guilty of an offence, all that is his, movable and immovable, accrues to the Prince. But if someone charges him before the court or elsewhere with being false, and can not substantiate this, he is to pay the Prince 40 soldin, and to that officer one ox or 10 lira. But if he is found guilty, he is to pay the aforesaid penalty and may no more be an officer of the court without the Prince’s consent, and the party against whom he spoke falsely, if he should have been sentenced, is to be acquitted or may have recourse to a counteraction concerning the initial case. It must certainly be established by three worthy witnesses that he acted falsely.

52. And: if a man be found a false witness, he pays the Prince one ox or 8 lira; and the party against whom he testified is to be acquitted of all culpability in any offence for which he might have been punished. Thereafter, the other may not bear witness without the court’s consent. But if he is accused of having been false and this can not be shown, the man who accused him but was unable to substantiate the charge, pays the Prince 2 lira, and to that witness an ox or 8 lira. And he must be shown to have been a false witness by three worthy men.

53. And: if a man proves a court officer or witnesses to have been false, neither of the latter has thereafter any further case on that account against hi s accuser or the witness, nor has any other in his stead. But if a man maintains that the officer or witness acted falsely and undertakes to prove this with witnesses, but those witnesses will not testify, or disagree with his accusation, he may not thereafter bring any case against them. Or, if a witness is brought before the court concerning some matter, and the other party would gainsay his testimony, this may be done if there are witnesses. If witnesses are brought against him or against his testimony and confirm what the complainant undertook to shew, against none of those witnesses may the other thereafter bring witnesses in a counteraction; nor may he or any other on account of that accusation or the testimony or in any other matter bring an action against him, he may not have recourse to law against any of them on any account.

54. And: no representative acting on behalf of a litigant may take more than 10 soldin for a major case, or 5 soldin for a minor one. A villein cannot represent a plemeniti or a plemeniti a villein without the permission of the Court. Those who break this rule are liable to pay a fine to the Prince of one ox, and the same to the person on whose behalf they acted, or 8 lira.

55. And: all stipulated penalties which the Prince himself may have agreed to or previously decreed, whether under public or private law, are to be his and must be paid to him.

56. And: if a man should commit rape on any woman, abusing her sexually or attempting to do so, he must pay 50 lira to the Prince, and to that woman also if no arrangement can be made with her in any way. Or if she has no witnesses to the said assault, she is to be believed; 24 character witnesses and the woman herself must certainly swear to the assault, placing their hand on the scriptures and touching them against him she has accused; that woman is to find her character witnesses as best , she can. If there are no character witnesses or she is unable to find so many, that woman is bound to swear in the place of those who are lacking. Those who do swear with her, or she herself after the first time, must touch the Bible with their hand and declare: on this I swear. And all her character witnesses must be women. And she who swears, and not her spokesman, must say: ‘Verily do I swear with this oath’, and she must swear as abovesaid. And if that some woman or any of her character witnesses should omit any of the abovesaid, he against whom she speaks is to be acquitted of the abovesaid sin.

57. And: there may be no assembly, public or private, in a town or elsewhere, on any business which comes under the district’s competence, unless there is a man of the Prince’s there; and if they should act contrary to this, they lose all their property, and it is to accrue to the abovesaid Prince.

58. And: every priest having a town church must celebrate mass and other holy offices daily, unless he should be prevented by a just impediment. If he does contrary to this, he forfeits one ox; and half passes to the Prince, the other half to the town district in which it was done.

59, And: if any woman is found to be a witch, and this can be proved by trustworthy testimony, for the first offence 100 lira are paid to the Prince, or if she has not the wherewithal to pay, she is to be burned. If a woman is found a witch a second time, the Lord Prince is to punish her as is his will. An d if a man is taken in that sin, he too is to suffer that some penalty.

60. And: if a man should wish to accuse another of some malfeasance before the court, or of some other punishable act or some other deed, he must address the court thus: ‘I accuse that man before thee with such a deed’, or ‘I say to thee that that man did do such a deed’. No other method of accusation or denunciation is valid. But if a man should make an accusation against another before the court and not be able to prove it, he is to pay to the court the penalty which he who was accused would have had to pay, and the accused is to be acquitted.

61. And: a charge brought outside the court is valid and may be made before the Lord Prince and before any of his officials and before a captain and also before his wife if the captain should not be there.

62. And: if any man should plant fire in a building or dwelling or another’s stall, for committing arson a first time he is to pay a fine of 100 lira to the court and to the man against whom he acted, restitution, or he is to undergo corporal punishment if he has not the wherewithal to pay; if he commits arson a second time, he pays with his life. If one or several persons are burned to death in the fire and the malefactor can not be taken, the death fine as abovesaid is to be paid for each victim.

63. And: henceforth no one may seek settlement of a debt incurred for the court’s needs from those in charge of the court or from any of its officials unless it is sought during the last year before retirement from office.

64. And: if a man exhibits own blood maliciously spilt by another, that blood is credible evidence. Nonetheless, he must swear, together with character witnesses, if there were no eyewitnesses there.

65. And: court officers and summoners are to be trustworthy unless they are found false.

66. And: outside a town, shepherds and ploughmen and other men of good repute, each of them, that is, are trustworthy as witnesses whether in cases of robbery, of assault or of any other malfeasance.

67. And: father may stand witness for son, son and daughter for father; and brother and sister for sister, provided each abides separately and their estate is not jointly held.

68. And: if there are no eyewitnesses to a murder, the accused must clear himself by finding but fifty character witnesses as best he can. If there are no character witnesses, he must himself swear that many times, or just for those that are lacking.

69. And: if a man should be called to swear on oath concerning another’s character, he may be properly exempted, if he so wishes, if it is in a minor case, when they are assembled at the customary place where oaths are taken. And there the defendant may, if he is prepared, swear as many times as he needs. Nonetheless, a man of the court must be present. But all the others, the character witnesses, he may discharge without any reward.

70. And: if any man be found a traitor to a rightful Lord Prince, that same Lord Prince has complete authority over him and over his estate, and may have vengeance on him as he will.

71,. And: if I find a robber doing damage by night, damaging my property, that is, and I am unable to take him alive or recognise him, if I would know what punishable offence he has committed and kill him, I may not be punished in any way and no one may institute or conduct proceedings against me.

72. And: the testimony of an emissary is not acceptable in any litigation if he is not under oath, unless he has been sent by the court, which emissary so charged is in Croatian coiled ‘arsal’.

73. And: summoners must be sworn. And villeins also must be summoned before the court of justice, before the magistrate.

74. And: if those sentenced to pay a fine have not the means to pay the abovesaid fines and penalties, the Lord Prince is free to order corporal punishment should he will it.

75. And: in all penalties, guarantees and contracts the Lord Prince has the complete authority and power to judge as over plemeniti, so over churchmen and over villeins and over all other men, as above established.

76. And: thus have these laws been above written, and all the abovesaid elders, chosen from the said districts of Vinodol, have declared and confirmed, establishing and citing the old and tested laws of Vinodol have they confirmed, that their grandfathers and their fathers and all their forbears did ever live according to them.

77. And: to commemorate this in the future, and for public testimony, that same district of Vinodol has commanded that the text now be recorded and that one such copy of it be kept in every town.

Done in Novi Grad, in the hall of the aforenamed Princes, in the year, month, day, indiction as said.


(1) Words have been omitted from the original here; probably their sense is: ‘and recorded’ or ‘and compiled laws’ .

(2) Crosier

(3) For the meaning of ‘plemeniti’ see Barada’s comments on page 22 ff. Editor

(4) zavez or zagovor (Lat. poena condicionata): a predetermined fine covering a contract and payable by either contracting party not fulfilling its obligations.

(5) Lat. vicecomes, appointed representative of the Prince.

* * * * *

And: if it happens that in or before the court. any man should bring a case against another concerning some estate, that is, a vineyard or land or building plot or any property, and he declares that he purchased that property from a certain man, whom he must there name; or declares that the property was given to him or endowed or pledged or bequeathed to commemorate a departed soul, and there are present living witnesses to it, as the law requires, those witnesses of his are trustworthy. But if there are no living witnesses and he cites deceased witnesses who had said to those now living that it was so done before them, the surviving witnesses are trustworthy; nevertheless, an oath must be taken according to the law of the town to the effect that it did so happen before those original witnesses, as above said. And he must not be molested in future, but is to be left to freely and peaceably enjoy and hold that property.


( What follows below is a translated extract from a French article entitled ‘Le Glagolisme Croate’ by the Croatian medievalist Vjekoslav Stefanic. Ed. )

It was mainly Dalmatia, north Croatian littoral and Istria that were the homeground of Croatian Glagolism. In these areas the Glagolitic culture for centuries successfully resisted the attacks by its Latin enemies who consisted mainly of the remaining Roman population in the coastal towns and the senior clergy, whereas in other Croatian regions it disappeared very quickly _ as early as the 12th century. The setting up of the bishopric at Zagreb in 1095 seems to have dealt it a mortal blow in those regions, for the Latin liturgy was soon introduced everywhere. The political rulers of Croatian nationality for a variety of political reasons did not wish to publicly support the Croatian ‘Glagolitic’ priests. By contrast the various foreign powers who succeeded each other in the Glagolitic regions of Istria and Dalmatia, including Venice, were not interested in such matters. All that was important to them was that the local population fulfilled their obligations as their subjects. The Roman Catholic Church who through the Popes Adrian II and John VIII initially gave official approval for the use of the Slavonic liturgy of St Cyril and St Methodius, did not always take the same view on the subject. In fact, it often tried to suppress the Glagolitic liturgy in Croatia, or at least to put difficulties in its way. However the priests of Dalmatia and Istria supported by the local population who remained loyal to them steadfastly defended their rights and the Church hierarchy was forced to tolerate them, to legalise their work, and, eventually ( from the 17th century onwards ), to accept the responsibility for helping them with liturgical books.

Throughout history the area in which Glagolitic liturgy was practiced remained fairly limited in size. In addition, because of its position close to the frontier, it found itself parcelled out among several different powers: Venice, Germany, Croatia_Hungary, Turkey. Nevertheless in this area there evolved a distinct type of civilisation which stood out like an island in the uniform sea of European Latin Christianity and remained untouched by either Humanism or Renaissance. It even resisted for a long time the influence of Croatia’s own Renaissance literature which flourished in Dalmatian towns and which used Latin script.

When in the first decades of the 19th century the movement for Croatian national and cultural re_awakening got under way there began a new era for Croatian Glagolism as well. Interest in the Glagolitic tradition increased considerably, stimulated by the romantic and popular enthusiasm for the nation’s history and also by the growing scientific interest in Slavic philology. However it was clear that as far as ordinary usage was concerned the Glagolitic script suffered a total defeat. This was due above all to the increasing secularisation of public life and to the fact that the Latin alphabet and the stokavic dialect eventually prevailed in literature. Glagolism was brought to a standstill, that is it remained confined to the Church; and from 1927 onwards the Glagolitic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet even in ecclesiastical use. [Since Vatican II the old language of the Glagolitic liturgical books has been abandoned along with Latin in favour of modern vernacular – Translator .]

On the ‘Glagolitic territory’ the Church services were conducted in the Slav language but in accordance with the Roman rite, since the Glagolitic priests were invariably Roman Catholics ( the Protestant movement of the 16th century was merely a passing phenomenon ). Originally the liturgical books were written ( and later printed) in Old Church Slavonic, but this language drew progressively closer to the spoken Croatian of everyday life ( the cakavic version) and this is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘Old Croatian’.

The Glagolitic ecclesiastical books ( missals, breviaries etc. ) have in part survived until the present day in parchment manuscripts that are now kept in various libraries throughout Europe ( Rome, Paris, Vienna, London, Zagreb etc. ). When the printing press was invented the Croatian Glagolitic priests made extensive use of the new technique to produce the books they needed until the Council of Trent gave the Church authorities the exclusive right to publish liturgical books. The very first Glagolitic _ and at the same time Croatian _ printed book was a Roman Missal printed in Venice [ or, according to some, in Kosinj, Croatia] in 1483. It was followed by a Breviary printed also in Venice in 1493. Very soon however, the Croatian Glagolitic priests decided to set up a printing press in their own country despite the difficult conditions in Croatia at that time due to the Turkish invasion. This was how in 1493 the first Croatian printing works came into being in Senj. The first book _ a Roman Missal _ was produced there in 1494; this was followed by a whole series of Glagolitic books, until the press closed down in 1508. In 1530 Bishop Simun B. Kozicic, a native of Zadar, founded a second printing works in Rijeka where he produced several Glagolitic books. In later times Glagolitic books were often published in Venice and in Rome where the office of the Propaganda Fide looked after the needs of the Glagolitic priests. Another Glagolitic press was in operation between 1560-1564 in Tubingen in Germany and several books were produced there, including the first Croatian Bible, with the aim of propagating Protestantism in Croatia. In more recent times there was a Glagolitic press on the island of Krk, the heart of the palaeo_slavic liturgical tradition, which was still in use in 1901.

However the Croatian Glagolitic script was not merely a liturgical script. Moreover Glagolitic was not used only by priests for their own purposes, but was used in daily transactions in both public and private life; indeed the Glagolitic priests knew no other form of writing. It was in Glagolitic that the authorities, the princes, above all the Frankopans of Krk, published their charters and laws; for example, the Statute of Vinodol from 1288, the Statute of Krk from the 16th and 17th centuries. the Statute of Kastav, the Statute of Veprinac and an Istrian document called ‘razvod’ relating to the demarcation between the local communities, dating from the 14th century. The Glagolitic script was used by lawyers from the earliest times right up to the 19th century for drafting legal documents, of which a number of volumes have been preserved. These documents originate mainly from the Kvarner islands, the northern Croatian coast and Istria. Parish priests wrote their entries in the parish registers of births and marriages in the Glagolitic script, and it was not until after the fall of Venice that registers began to be kept in Latin or Italian. Glagolitic priests corresponded with their Bishops, who were usually Italian, in , Glagolitic, and there is even evidence to prove that they used Glagolitic when addressing themselves to the Holy See.

Numerous inscriptions on churches, tombs and monuments along the north Croatian coast, in Istria and Dalmatia were written in Glagolitic. One of the most important surviving inscriptions is that of Baska, on the island of Krk, which dates from 1100 AD. This is the oldest surviving document in which the Croatian ( as distinct from the Latin) word for ‘Croatian’ ( hrvatski) is explicitly used in the text. In it the Benedictine Abbot Drziha reports that the ‘Croatian King Zvonimir’ _ who probably visited the island _ made a gift of land to his order for the construction of a church near Baska.

Since the Glagolitic movement remained confined to a relatively small area it was”hardly capable of producing an extensive literature or establishing Glagolitic schools of larger significance. The Bishops, who were usually foreigners, regarded the Glagolitic priests as uneducated because they knew no Latin, and they exerted pressure on them to attend Latin schools, never seriously considering the idea of opening special schools in which these priests could be trained for their vocation in their own language and liturgy. It was not until the 18th century that a Glagolitic seminary was established in Zadar, followed by others at Kopar, Krk and Omis. All this, however, came too late to yield any appreciable results. Surrounded by the pressures of modern progress Glagolitic was destined to disappear.

Nevertheless the Glagolitic priests over the centuries succeeded in accumulating a corpus of literature, consisting mainly of translations, which was necessary to meet their requirements. Modest as these results may appear, it is difficult not to look at them with admiration if one bears in mind the unfavourable circumstances in which the Glagolitic priests worked. In addition to the liturgical literature already mentioned, these priests, in the period up to the 16th century, managed to add to their stock of books a series of other translations from the theological literature of the Christian West. These were little compendia, lucidarii, pastoral and moral manuals, collections of sermons, almanacs that were both moralising and entertaining in content and included apocryphal, legendary and poetic material. Until the 18th century all this was disseminated through handwritten copies. After the 16th century this inventory of books was enriched by catechisms, new and longer volumes of religious meditations, school manuals etc. Spiritual poetry and religious drama which flourished particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries played the central role in the Glagolitic areas, spreading gradually to other Croatian regions, especially southern Dalmatia. In fact it is argued by some that not only the religious drama but nearly all the Croatian religious literature in Latin characters during the Middle Ages and the subsequent period either directly or indirectly originated in the Glagolitic areas and hence that it was in these areas, long before Dubrovnik, that Croatian literature first came into being.