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Original scientific paper

The origin and formation of Dubrovnik. additional considerations

Željko Rapanić

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After a long time, I am returning to the story of the origin and formation of Dubrovnik, relating it to the story of the demise of Salona and origin of Split. These two stories often allow me to compare Split (Spalatum) and Dubrovnik (Rausion) because of their similar development. I also attempt to show that, even though these events were always reported in both older and newer historiography, during the transition period from the 6th to the 7th century and during its rst decades in these Dalmatian, coastal Adriatic regions there were no mass robberies of “in nite masses of Avars and Slaves”, destruction, killing or similar atrocities which are usually used to mark that period. These conclusions were made based on the narrations of Constantine Porphyroge- nitus and the archdeacon Toma from Split. A closer reading of these sources can show a different course of the rst Slavic settlement, colonization of coastal Dalmatia, as well as the disappearance and formati- on of the aforementioned cities.
In the rst chapter (Purpose of discussion), I co- mment the opinions to date, emphasizing that the approach to a topic sometimes depends on the si- tuation in which the authors write. I have already mentioned some of their views in a report published on the occasion of archaeological exploration be- neath and around the Dubrovnik Cathedral. Here, I also refer to my own interpretations of the origin of Dubrovnik which are outlined during the same event. A detailed overview of the ndings was also presented by Ž. Perković in his multiple works on the regional development of Dubrovnik and its Ca- thedral and city churches.
Information about the origins of the city which can be found in the narrations of Emperor Porp- hyrogenitus, priest Duklja, archdeacon Toma and renaissance and later authors is relatively poor. Equally scarce is information about the origins of
Split when the narrations of the chronicler Toma are added to those described by the Emperor. The grap- hical representation of early mediaeval Dubrovnik Prospetto della città di Ragusa nel secolo XII, to which I have devoted a signi cant amount of atten- tion, can signi cantly supplement the impression of the written records in certain details. The drawing brings forth data which later writers could not see, although the author of the drawing somehow acqui- red this information and depicted it very well in the drawing. It must be emphasized that, with regard to Dubrovnik, the fact should nally be accepted that it did not originate on an island (or islet), as is still written to this day, but on a peninsula. At the base of its cliffs was most likely a prehistoric structure, and later, a bizantine castrum from which developed a city, an explainable formation and well interpreted name. These have often in historiography been obs- curum.
Dubrovnik is, along with Split, as I have written on several occasions in various instances, an exam- ple of one form of Adriatic development (by no me- ans exceptional or unique by European standards), which does not seek an unusual explanation for the creation of the city nor its origins. Archaeological ndings - the discovery of older churches beneath today’s Cathedral and the various structures around it, on the Bunić eld, beneath the Rector’s Palace and its surrounding area - have brought about seve- ral new ndings, but have also allowed for dilem- mas which should not be multiplied with unneces- sary conjectures.
In the second chapter (Scope of discussion), I cite several geographic landmarks of the area from Epidaur (Cavtat) to Ston, as well as the historical circumstances which have marked them from the prehistoric era to the nal centuries of the old world. However, medieval cities on the eastern Adriatic coast continue to exist in conditions of reduced pe- ripheral life, outside of the main routes and some German (Langobard and Franc) and, later, Slavic invasions of the Empire’s soil. Therefore, there are no written records about them after the transitio- nal period from the 6th and 7th centuries when Pope Gregory the Great mentions them in his correspon- dences with the bishops of Salona, Jader, Epidaur and Risan. He was attempting to resolve matters of congregational hierarchy, realizing and attempting to eliminate various moral deviations and obsoles- cence, which were signi cant and frequent in the Church during the 6th and 7th centuries. He wrote about it in his letters to Dalmatian bishops. Howe- ver, his correspondences with the Adriatic bishops were also related to the dangers that threatened them from the “barbarians” with which almost all dioce- san headquarters were faced in the entire Illyrian region and whose threats were very well known.
In the third chapter (From castrum-fortress Ra- usion to the same name new city), I describe how during the Roman Empire, as well as during earli- er eras, the surrounding area of today’s Dubrovnik were settled similarly to the entire coastal region from Pelješac, across Ston and Slano, to Cavtat and the Kotor bay. At one of the appropriate locations, on a cliff above the sea and the area in its immediate vicinity, there was a prehistoric structure with an epichoric settlement in which was built a military camp – castrum, probably in mid 6th century, likely in the period of the Byzantine-Gothic wars. Mo- des of organizing and protecting navigation were implemented in many locations during Justinian’s occupation of the Adriatic and the con icts with the Goths. These locations provided magni cent views which stretched in vast expanses. They were built, of course, not only along the Adriatic coast, but along the coasts of the entire Mediterranean. Here, protection was needed from the eastern-gothic eet, while the northern coasts of Africa and western Me- diterranean required protection from the Vandals. It is because of its location that the former Illyrian structure Rausij also caught the eyes of imperial naval strategists and was, therefore, shaped into a fortress – castrum, a forti cation similar to many others along the eastern coast and the islands. That is precisely where, as well as on the neighboring islands, the privileged population of the city Epida- ur retreats during the time of the upcoming Slavic dangers. Similarly, the privileged from Salona re-
treats to the Emperor’s palace in and around which the city Spalatum develops. Of course, they also re- treat to the neighboring islands and their properties.
The recognition which Rausij acquired as a na- utical city within a relatively short time period – if narration and construction sources of the 10th and subsequent centuries can be trusted – was undou- btedly due to the Empire’s dedication to best equip this nautical station at the entrance of the eastern Adriatic coast. It was not only important because of its traf c, nautical and mercantile signi cance, but also because of its strategic value during war con icts with the Saracens who started their attacks around the year 840. Proof of this is the intervention of the Empirical eet during the Saracen siege of Rausij. Alone, without any tradition and signi cant external support, Rausij could not achieve much. It would continue to remain equal in importance to ot- her coastal and island military stations of that late- Antiquity and, later, early mediaeval era.
In the fourth chapter (Origins of Dubrovnik), I elaborate on my own previously declared statement that this was a special case of development: the Epi- daurites did not build the city, as Porphyrogenitus claims; rather, they assembled in a location which had been settled for several centuries. There, in the relative security of a military fortress, the immigra- ted social and religious structures created the nece- ssary conditions for a city and during the decades and centuries made it the way it is. In the process which lasted an entire century, the Byzantine for- tress gradually adapted to its new purpose; it was con gured into a new permanent residence.
I formerly held the belief that the formation of the city started during Justinian’s era, during the se- cond half of the 6th century. The 1980’s were a time of many explorations and ndings and, at that time, it was believed that an urban society was con gured and a large church was built, which the researchers then called the “Byzantine basilica”. I believed that that type of structure, still being researched at the time and lacking complete documentation, could very well have been built precisely during that peri- od and that it really can be attributed to Justinian’s rather than someone else’s era. The 7th and 8th centu- ries, as some assumed, were out of the question be- cause it was unknown who would have been able to invest in such a large structure in that early Middle Age era. Precisely that “basilica”, inadequately de- ned, steered me onto the wrong track about its origin and the setting/time in which it was supposedly built. Huge and appropriately “referenced” by rese- arch, it really could have been from Justinian’s era, especially since, the rst reference was to Poreč- Parentium and the bishop Euphrasius. Today, after Peković’s interpretations of the then discovered structure, as well as other archaeological discoveri- es in the city and Ničetić’s systematic descriptions of nautical circumstances which were important for the development of the city, I am inclined to fully abandon my previously expressed viewpoint.
I have dedicated a special paragraph in the four- th chapter to the old drawing Prospetto della città di Ragusa nel secolo XII – saved in several copies and versions - which supports the interpretation of the origin of the City, based on Porphyrogenitus’ narration. Although it has been publicized for a long time, the drawing has recently drawn attention aga- in. Ž. Peković has interpreted it with a recti cation, as well as written commentary in which he descri- bes the development of the city and coordinated it with the Emperor’s records. The author of the old drawing was very familiar with the area and sequ- ence of the castrum’s expansion. Peković showed where the rst church of St. Blaise was and how it was altered over time to form what is known today as the Cathedral.
In the fth chapter (“The Byzantine cathedral” and the entity of the new city), I outline doubts abo- ut the argumentations of the beginning and creation as well as the growth and development of the city beneath the castrum, which have multiplied after the research conducted during the eighties. At that time, the attempt was to depict and prove the forma- tion of the city using the time of the construction of the “ rst cathedral” as a reference. The outlined vi- ewpoints were always based on the widely accepted conclusion about the ight of the Epidaurites from the Avars and Slaves and the destruction of their city. Today, I realize that the Cathedral in Rausij is not mentioned by neither Porphyrogenitus, nor Dukljanin, nor Miletius and, as I have already emp- hasized, it is also not drawn on the representation of the city from the 12th century, the Prospetto. In its place – which is a very important fact in support of Peković’s interpretation – is the church of St. Blai- se. It is a very valuable piece of information becau- se the Cathedral – had it represented importance in the memory of the residents – could not have been forgotten in the noting, writing or drawing of the main structures of any city during any time period. I, therefore, focus my attention on the imperial- Byzantine interest for the eastern coast which has shown itself in a special way after the abolition of the exarchate in Ravenna, the presence of the Fran- cs near the region of the northern Adriatic, and the Aachen agreement and division of politic interests between the Byzantine and Franc empires. Howe- ver the intrusions of the Saracenes in the middle of the century bring signi cant unrest to the Adriatic because they create a possible threat to all the re- gions of the two coasts, both eastern and western. Therefore, the empire’s political and military strate- gy immediately intervenes by guarding the nautical passages and the remaining outposts. The empirical eet, under the command of well-respected drunga- rios Nika Oria, takes actions so that, for example, Rausij could be liberated from Saracene siege (in 866), while at the same time reducing their aggre- ssion on the entire Adriatic and the important passa- ge from the south in Otrant, to the north in Istria and to Venice. That piece of information which is very important in Dubrovnik’s early history, has not, un- til now, been valued at all. After the Saracenes had been driven out of the area, trade and nautical traf c begins to develop, as well as cooperation with other nautical centers, which, at the time, had similar go- als and interests. With regard to the development of trade and nautical traf c, it is also signi cant to note the creation of capital. More speci cally, this perta- ins to the investors who can nance the expensive construction of ships which, in Italian regions, co- mmonly consisted of trade associations focused on the eastern Mediterranean. Conditions were created in Rausij for general advancement and internal con- solidation, as well as religious organization which could build new churches. Therefore, the economic factors give an advantage to “Peković’s St. Blaise” over “Stošić’s Byzantine basilica from the 7th and 8th centuries”. I will also add to this that the city was gradually being secured with more adequate walls
than those drawn on the Prospetto.
In conclusion, in only a few words, I will pre-
sent my opinion about the “atrocious robberies of the Avars and the Slaves”; of the destruction and conquest of cities from Epidaur to Salona; of the “in nite masses” which are from almost the be- ginning of Croatian historiography presented as the main culprits for the demise of the ancient world in western Illyria, even though, at least for now, there has been no reliable archaeological evidence whi- ch would witness their “massive” penetration and settlement of this region; neglecting every other reason for this degradation of a previous level of civilization. I therefore remain rm in my belief that cities fall because they are abandoned (Jader, for example, was not abandoned so it did not fall!), and not because they are conquered, destroyed and the inhabitants murdered. A detail from the Saloni- te Šulja crkva which the indigenous people re-built during the middle of the 7th century is an excellent, undeniable proof of that (note 119). The origin of Dubrovnik, far to the south of Salona, is another va- luable example of a peaceful settlement in a slightly different manner.
If I have contributed to the topic evident (or hid- den) in the title of this work with these extensive commentaries and personal re ections, considera- bly changing some of my previous views and expla- nations in the process, it will be a recognition of my efforts to shed light on a small part of early me- diaeval Croatia, speci cally the Dalmatian Adriatic history. So here I am, at the very end, with the wise thoughts of the Venerable Bede who said: Corrige te primum, qui rector sis aliorum. (Bedae Venerabi- lis Proverbia, Pat.Lat. vol. 90, col. 1094B).


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