Zeta (Montenegro) under the third Montenegrin dynasty, the Crnojevic (1427-1516)

Seal of the Crnojevic dynasty (front) (front) (58 Kb) BOTTOM (back) (59 Kb) Crnojevic dynasty seal

The Crnojevic dynasty began with two brothers Djuradj and Ljes (Aleksa) Djurasevic/Crnojevic, from the area around the Mount Lovcen in northern Zeta. But far more important roles in establishing this family's rule in Zeta were played by Stefan Crnojevic (1427-65) and his son Ivan Crnojevic (1465-90). Ivan's son Djuradj Crnojevic (1490-96) was the last ruler from this dynasty. Beginning with the Crnojevic dynasty, Zeta was more often referred to as Crna Gora or Montenegro.

The Crnojevic dynasty is important in Montenegrin history for at least three reasons.

First, the dynasty's rule is a historical link between the tradition of the independent states of Duklja and Zeta and the modern history of independent Montenegro. During their rule, the Crnojevics saw the powerful Ottoman armies easily crush all the neighboring countries. Serbia fell after the Kosovo battle in 1389, Bosnia in 1463, and Herzegovina in 1483. To prevent a similar fate for Montenegro, Ivan Crnojevic moved his capital from Zabljak on Lake Skadar into the highland valley of Lovcenski Dolac (precursor to the capital Cetinje) under Mount Lovcen in 1482. This event conventionally marks the beginning of the history of Montenegro and its capital, Cetinje, which was built around the Cetinje monastery.

Second, throughout the Crnojevic rule Montenegro remained independent, sustaining and extending what Montenegrins regarded as a precious tradition of sovereignty. And while the territory of Montenegro became smaller still relative to the earlier states of Duklja and Zeta, it solidified a national spirit of independence into an exceptional devotion to country and freedom.

Third, the Crnojevics are responsible for Montenegrins' claim of an unusual primacy in the cultural development of southern Europe: introducing the first printing press in southern Europe and in printing the first books in the region.

Stefan Crnojevic (1427-65) consolidated his power in Zeta and ruled for 38 years, until 1465. During his rule, he saw neighboring Serbia completely subordinated to Turkey soon after the death of Djuradj Brankovic. Under Stefan Crnojevic, Montenegro comprised the Lovcen area around Cetinje, Rijeka Crnojevica, the valley of the river Zeta and the tribes Bjelopavlici, Pjesivci, Malonsici, Piperi, Hoti and Klimenti. Stefan married Mara, a daughter of a prominent Albanian, Ivan Kastriot, whose son Djerdj Kastriot was better known by his Turkish name, Skenderbeg. In 1455, Stefan entered into an agreement with his ally Venice stipulating that Montenegro would recognize the nominal supremacy of Venice while maintaining its factual independence in virtually every respect. The agreement also stipulated that Montenegro would assist Venice militarily on specific occasions in exchange for an annual provision. But in all other respects, Stefan's rule in Montenegro was undisputed.

Ivan Crnojevic (1465-90), in contrast to his father, fought Venice in an attempt to capture the town of Kotor. He had some success, gaining increasing support from the local coastal tribes Grbljani and Pastrovici in his quest to assert control of Montenegro over Kotor Bay. But when the Turkish campaign in northern Albania and Bosnia convinced him that the main source of danger to his country was to the East, he sought rapprochement with Venice. He fought with Venice against Turkey in the war between these two countries that ended with the successful defense of Scutari against Ottoman attacks.

Monument to Ivan Crnojevic in Cetinje Monument to Ivan Crnojevic in Cetinje

But Ivan recognized that Turkey's power was overwhelming. To preserve his state and his independence, in 1482, he moved his capital from Zabljak on Lake Skadar to the mountainous area of Dolac, under Mount Lovcen. There he built the Orthodox Christian monastery around which the capital Cetinje emerged. This event marks the end of the history of Zeta and the beginning of the history of Montenegro, roughly coinciding with the rise to power of Djuradj Crnojevic.

Djuradj Crnojevic (1490-96), Ivan's elder son, was an educated ruler. He is most famous for a single historical act: he used the printing press brought to Cetinje by his father to print the first books in southeastern Europe, in 1493. The Crnojevic printing press marked the beginning of the printed word among the southern Slavs. The press operated from 1493 through 1496, turning out religious books of which five have been preserved: Oktoih prvoglasnik, Oktoih petoglasnik, Psaltir, Molitvenik and Cetvorojevandjelje. Djuradj managed the printing of the books, wrote prefaces and afterwords, and developed sophisticated tables of Psalms with the lunar calendar. The books from the Crnojevic press were printed in two colors, red and black, and were richly ornamented. They served as models for many of the subsequent books printed in cyrillic. The end of the 15th century and of Djuradj's rule mark the end of the Crnojevic dynasty.

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www.montenegro.org Last updated 24 April 1997