Zeta (Duklja) under the second Montenegrin dynasty, the Balsic (1356-1427)

Balsic dynasty coat of arms Balsic dynasty coat of arms (84 Kb)

After the death of the Serbian tzar Dusan Nemanjic in 1355, his kingdom started to crumble. In Zeta, the new Balsic dynasty — named after its founder Balsa I — reasserted Zeta’s independence around 1360. The Balsics are mentioned as rulers of Zeta in a letter from the Serbian tzar Uros to Dubrovnik in 1360, and in 1368 documents in Venice refer to the Balsics as “those who became independent from the Serbian ruler.” The Balsic dynasty first ruled Lower (southern) Zeta from its seat in Skodra, but later extended its rule to Higher (northern) Zeta. The Balsics were Catholics, which suggests that the strong, even dominant, influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Montenegro continued through the early 15th century.

Balsa had three sons: Stracimir, Djuradj and Balsa II. Djuradj I, considered the most influential Balsic, enlarged and consolidated Zeta’s renewed power and took Prizren (a town in present-day Kosovo). Djuradj I and neighboring rulers were in constant conflict with the Herzegovinian ruler Nikola Altomanovic, who took or laid claims to the territory of their countries. A powerful coalition — Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic of Serbia, Ban Tvrtko I of Bosnia, King Djuradj I Balsic of Zeta, Prince Nikola Gorjanski and King Ludovik I of Hungary (with non-military support from Dubrovnik) — defeated Nikola Altomanovic and his army in 1373. Ban Tvrtko and Prince Lazar took most of Altomanovic’s land, and the Balsics took the towns of Trebinje, Konavle and Dracevica. Later dispute over these towns led to a war between Djuradj I Balsic and Ban Tvrtko.

Zeta’s consolidated territory included much of the land of the former Duklja and some of southern Raska, but Herzegovina was largely under the control of Altomanovic and then of the Bosnian Ban Tvrtko. So Zeta occupied roughly the southern half of the former state of Duklja. Under the rule of Djuradj I, Zeta was a well-organized state. It had a two-tier court system, a treasury managed by an official well-versed in commerce, and regional officials appointed by the king. The coastal towns, ruled by princes appointed by the king, continued to enjoy their traditional autonomy. Under Djuradj I, Balsic Zeta also had its own currency — the dinar.

Following Djuradj’s death in 1378, Balsa II, the third son of Balsa I, rose to power. He made an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the town of Kotor. He died in a battle against the Turks in 1385.

The successor of Balsa II, Djuradj II Balsic (1385-1403), ruled Zeta and northern Albania from his seat in the coastal town of Ulcinium. His mother was Milica Mrnjavcevic, a sister of Prince Vukasin of Serbia. He married Jelena, daughter of Prince Lazar of Serbia. Djuradj II saw parts of his kingdom eroded by local feudal rulers asserting sovereignty over their fiefs, leaving him only a narrow territory around Lake Skadar and his seat in Ulcinium. He was involved in conflict with Ban Tvrtko of Bosnia over Kotor. But in 1389, he set his conflict with Tvrtko aside and sent his troops with Tvrtko’s to help Prince Lazar of Serbia meet the Turkish army at the battle of Kosovo.

In 1403, Djuradj II’s 17-year old son, Balsa III, inherited the rule of Zeta. During the early years of his rule, his main advisor was his mother, Jelena, a sister of the then ruler of Serbia, Stefan Lazarevic. Jelena worked hard to strengthen the family bond between Balsa III and his uncle Stefan Lazarevic. During his rule, Balsa III worked to maintain a delicate balance of power in Zeta, which had become a focal point in the struggle for supremacy between the great powers of that time, Turkey and Venice. But over time he strengthened his ties to Raska and his uncle Stefan Lazarevic.

In 1419, Balsa III launched an unsuccessful war against Venice in an attempt to recapture the coast. In 1421, before his death and under the influence of his mother, Jelena, he passed the rule of Zeta to Stefan Lazarevic, who then passed it to his son, Djuradj Brankovic. This year (1421) marked the end of the Balsic dynasty. The next thirty years were a period of turmoil and rivalry for power in Zeta. From this period emerged the third Montenegrin dynasty, the Djurasevic family of the Crnojevic clan.

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www.montenegro.org Last updated on 24 April 1997