The Serbian Origin of the Montenegrins
Source: The Serbian Question in the Balkans, Faculty of Geography, University of Belgrade, 1995, pages 157-168. Translated into English by Dusanka Hadzi-Jovancic.
In this paper we want to point to the continuity of the Montenegrin ethnic determination and the forming of the Serbian ethnic being of the Montenegrins in different periods of time.
The name Serbs is one of the old Slav tribal names. This is attested by the traces from Polablje, Velikopoljska, and Pomorje (the three provinces belonging to Poland today). As early as in the mid 10th century the Serbs on the Balkan peninsula were aware of their links with the Serbs living in the north of the Slav original homeland. Even the learned emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959) of Byzantium and his intellectual circle heard about the Serbs who had been brought from their homeland "White Serbia" by one of the sons of the ruler of the "unbaptised Serbs" in the time of Emperor Heraclius (610-640).
The Serbian name has been mentioned in these parts since 822. Then, it was recorded that Ljudevit, the ruler of Posavina (the Sava river basin), when he was attacked by the Frankish army from Italy fled from the town of Sisak "...to the Serbs who, people say, live in the greater part of Dalmatia." A century later, the Serbs were described by Porphyrogenitus as the landlords and inhabitants of the region between the town of Ras and the Pliva and Cetina rivers. According to Porphyrogenitus, in the mid 10th century, they settled in the regions which were said to be Serbian and which extended from the Cetina river to the Ibar river and the Bay of Kotor. In these regions lived the Neretljani, Zahumljani, Travunjani, and Konavljani that considered themselves to be Serbs, but there also lived the Serbs in the narrow sense who called their land "Baptised Serbia".
Under the Serbian name Porphyrogenitus understood all the cubes which constituted the State of Czaslav. The tribes were those of Bosnia, Rashani, Trebinje, Konavle, Duklja, Zahumlje, and Neretva. So, the first Serbian tribal gathering in our past took place in the times of the rule of Czaslav. In the mid 10th century, Czaslav's state was the first to bear the name 'Serbia'.
The territory of the Serbian ethnic area was delimited as quoted in the heralds by Constantine Porphyrogenitus from the mid 10th century and in the reports of the Duklja Chronicle from the 12th century. Based on these sources one can produce a better geographical division of our regions in the period from the 10th to 12th century. In the middle of the 10th century, the border between the Serbs and Croats followed the courses of the Cetina and Pliva rivers. From the Cetina river extended the lands of the Neretljani, the famous pirates who, as mentioned by Porphyrogenitus, were the descendants of the "unbaptised Serbs". The Zahumska archontia also extended from the Neretva river. The Trebinjska archontia extended from Kotor all the way to Dubrovnik and to Gacko in the north encompassing the whole of the left coast of the Bay of Kotor and Konavle. Duklja, which was more often called Zeta since the 12th century, covered the area from the Byzantine district of Durazzo, from Bar to Travunia. West from the Lake of Scutari and the town itself, the border continued along the Zeta river to the Piva river. In the 12th century, Prince Miroslav built the monastery to SS Peter and Paul, which served as the seat of the Humska eparchy from the mid 13th century.
It has already been mentioned that the first Serbian tribal gathering took place under Czaslav in the middle of the 10th century. He successfully consolidated his rule and Serbia with the aid of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who in his work De Administrando Imperio under the Serbian name encompassed the present Bosnia extending to the rivers of Pliva, Cetina, and Lijevna in the west. In the east the Serbian border (towards the Byzantine Empire) reached Ras and in the north Mt. Rudnik and possibly the Sava river. On the grounds of this, Porphyrogenitus mentioned that within the boundaries of Czaslav's state and under the Serbian name lived the Bosnians, Rashani, Trebinjci, Konavljani, Dukljani, Zahumci, and Neretljani. The same was pointed out by B. Grafenauer. He stated that Serbia from the mid 11th century, once and for all, united the regions of Raska, Duklja, and Travunia, and at times Zahumlje, Bosnia, and Neretljanska Principality were also pairs of this unified state organisation. Duklja was the centre of development only in the 11th century, while in the 12th century Raska (the Serbia of the time) once again became the mainstay of development; the centre of development then started shifting towards the Morava valley, the Danube river and Macedonia.
The clan system played an important role in the Serbian ethnic structure. Some of the clans replaced the previous names of the regions with their own names. Instead of the district of Vrsinje, Onogost or Prapratno there appealed Zupci, Niksici, Mrkojevici. There were many clan changes within the clan system. Tradition preserved these relationships to a certain extent, but they were confused and became legends.
Even sequences of clans of some old families were remembered. For example, in the Neretljanska kingdom lived the clan of Kacic. The Greeks even referred to it as "the people" whose loots reached back to the ancient times. Many historically authentic families originated from it, such as: Miosic, Zarkovic, Andrijasevic, Sipic, Petkovic, Bartulovic, and others. In the Trebinje region the Ljubibratic brotherhood was powerful. They were mentioned in the 14th century.
In the Montenegro of today this kind of life is preserved in the old tradition and with very well developed old relationships. In Katunska nahye, for example, there are large clan areas of Cetinjani, Njegusi, Ceklici, Bajice, Cuce, Ozrinici, Pjesivci, Zagarac, Kocani. The Cetinjani clan includes branches of Bajice, Humci, Donjokrajci, Jabucani, Ocinici, Ugma, Bjelosa. The Bajice clan consists of the brotherhoods of Martinovic, Borilovic, Tomanovic, Vuksanovic, Milosevic, Batricevic, and others. Other clan groupings, which are firmly held together by blood and heritage, are also subdivided in this way. When clan honour is at stake, they become one body and soul and guard the prestige of their community with all their might. Only the Ljesanska nahye is not subdivided into clans. The cause of this probably lies in the Turkish invasion which caused the old population to disperse taking with them their clan heritage. Traces of a clan organisation can also be found in the highlands of eastern Herzegovina, which is a part of Montenegro.
It is interesting to note that many Montenegrin clans derive their origin from some real or imaginary ancestor. They often connect themselves, whether they have real grounds or not, to the Nemanyich and the heroes of the Kosovo battle.
There is documentary evidence that the Montenegrins by their origin and affiliation were and remained Serbs throughout their history. The Byzantine sources described the inhabitants of Duklja, i.e. Zeta, as the Serbs and used the term "Serb" solely as an ethnic feature. The name of the population of Montenegro always had a constant feature which never changed since the arrival of the Slavs, regardless of historical changes and creations, and that feature was their ethnic name - Serbs, and their language - Serbian. Even when they called and declared themselves as Dukljani, and later as Zecani, and finally as Montenegrins (for some time some of them called themselves Brdjani/Highlanders/ and Herzegovinians), they always had another common name - Serbs, and declared themselves so.
For example, the Charter of King Milutin (14th century) to the Monastery of St. Nicholas on Vranjina bears witness to the fact that the term Serb was solely used in its ethnic sense. In the basin of Lake Scutari, where the estates of St. Nicholas monastery were situated, lived next to each other Serbs, Latins, Albanians, and Vlachs.
As we already know, Bozidar Vukovic of Podgorica lived and primed books in Venice in the 16th century. He was also active in the Orthodox Church commune and in the brotherhood of "St. George, the Greek", constituted by the Orthodox Greeks and Serbs. Bozidar Vukovic, as a prominent person, was the president of this commune. In the Brotherhood Register, when paying the membership fee, he was registered as "Bozidar of Vece, the Serb", and the same description was also found in all of the decisions that were passed by the Brotherhood under his presidency.
In 1514, the permit was issued to the Greek colony in Venice to build a church and among the four Orthodox members who were in charge of choosing and purchasing the land was "Andrija of Zeta, the Serb". As it can be seen, his nationality was defined in older to distinguish him from the other three members who were Orthodox Greeks.
Bishop Danilo (1670-1735), the founder of the Petrovic dynasty, left a note reading: "Danil, the Cetinje bishop Njegos, the prince of the Serbian land, hereby purchased this sacred Gospel with gold."[16,17] Bishop Vasilije Petrovic (1709-1766) always signed himself: "Serene metropolitan of Montenegro, Skenderia, the Littoral and of the Serbian throne."
Archbishop Vicko Zmajevic, in his address at the College of Venice, said of the people of his land: "The Serbian peoples of Montenegro and Grblja."
In 1702, a metropolitan Avramije of Russia sent a book as a gift "...to the monastery of Savina located in the Serbian country."
In 1788, Ivan Radonjic, the governor of Montenegro, wrote to the Russian Empress Catarrhina II stating: "All of us, Serbs Montenegrins, plead for your imperial mercy ..."
In 1789 he wrote for the second rime to the Empress of Russia: "Now, all of us Serbs from Montenegro, Herzegovina, Banjani, Drobnjaci, Kuci, Piperi, Bjelopavlici, Zeta, Klimenti, Vasojevici, Bratonozici, Pec, Kosovo, Prizren, Arbania, Macedonia belong to your Excellency and pray that you, as our kind mother, send over Prince Sofronije Jugovic."
It is evident from the documents that the Montenegrins declared themselves as Serbs both historically and ethnically. The term Serb meant religious and national affiliation, particularly so after the adoption of Christianity in the 9th century. Then, on the whole of their ethnic area, the Serbs gradually became part of the Christian culture in the Mediterranean and acquired new elements in building and developing their own civilisation. Closely linked with Christianity were the Slavic, i.e. Serbian literacy and the beginnings of the Slavic and Serbian literature. Since then till the 13th century, almost all the Serbs except those living in Zeta and the Littoral entered the sphere of East Byzantine culture. Parallel with religious and national components the principle of language and ethnic unity as a criterion of nationality gradually appeared from the time of Dositey Obradovic, and the same was our forward in Montenegro by Petar II Petrovic Njegos and King Nicholas.
The State and Church were firmly linked in the Middle Ages, while under the Turks the links between the Church and the people were strong. This was fully expressed in Montenegro. The Serbian state being subdued to the Turkish rule, the Church came into the limelight and started playing the role of the state as much as it was possible in such circumstances for in some matters the Serbian Church was in the forefront. For a very long time, the Church dignitaries led the people in the battles against the Turks. The Church was a single integral institution with a rich state tradition, its roots reaching back to the times of the Nemanyich, Balsic, and Crnojevic families. Therefore, it was qualified to lead the people. Moreover, one may say that the authority of the Cetinje Metropolitanate arose from the Church authority which developed in the times of the Nemanyich, Balsic, and Crnojevic. This can be recognised as an important integrating factor in the building of the ethnic consciousness and the unity of religious and national affiliations. For instance in 1757, Jovan Stefanov Balevic pointed out that "...all the inhabitants of Montenegro come from the Slav-Serbian people and Orthodox-Eastern righteous confession." Balevic enumerated among the adherents of the "Orthodox Serbian people" the clans of Kuci, Bratonozici, Vasojevici, Piperi, Rovcani, Moracani, Bjelopavlici. The Montenegrins expressed their Serbian national consciousness in all stages of their development, and also when joining the common Yugoslav state.
Apart from the historical documents mentioned above for illustration purposes, the Serbian ethnic consciousness of the Montenegrins is also strengthened by some objects from the Montenegrin popular culture that originated in "the minds of the people". These are, among other objects, the Montenegrin cap and the Montenegrin ceremonial costume. In addition to this are the flag, the coat of arms, and the national anthem.
The Montenegrin man's cap was introduced by the bishop and ruler Petar II Petrovic Njegos when he gave it: as a gift to some of the clan leaders to wear it as the mark of their Serbian identity. It carries a historical message. The flat portion of the cap is made of red fabric and it has a black wrapper around it. Back in 1903, Andrija Jovicevic noted down the symbolic meaning of the cap: the black wrapper expresses the mourning over the Serbian disaster at Kosovo; the golden unbound part of the cap (at the forehead) expresses the doomed Serbs who shed blood and are still shedding it; the portion bound by the golden braid expresses Montenegro, the hearth of the Serbian freedom which soaked in the blood of its people and of their enemies, but still stands upright; the small star... (within the braid) expresses the sun that shines upon and warms the cold hearts of the dead brothers.[33,34,35] The eyelets with the cross within the braid (since the cap with the sun symbol was worn only by the ruler) designate Montenegro, the land of the free, under the rule of bishops, i.e. the dynasty of the homeland.
The ceremonial costume that became a symbol of the Montenegrin ethnic community was created by Petar II Petrovic Njegos, who also liked to wear it himself. When worn by Njegos the costume was described in elaborate detail: "He wore a red waistcoat, hemmed with gold; the shirt sleeves which could be seen under the sleeveless jacket were of the finest linen...; he had the weapon belt tied around his waist and the brown girdle with two guns and the long dagger stuck into it. The wide blue panes and knee socks...the fine socks and black leather shoes completed his attire.[36,37] So, the red waistcoat, the blue panes, and the white knee socks symbolised the Serbian tricolour flag by which the Montenegrins have undoubtedly confirmed their ethnic being since the times of Dushan until the present day. The tricolour flag void of any ideological symbols and the flag with the cross (the cross in the red field) serving as war banner are inherent to the Montenegrin ethnic being as they are to the Serbian. That is why the flag should flutter as a symbol of the dearly paid freedom.
In the early stage of its existence, Montenegro introduced and adopted the coat of arms as the identification of the state and the continuity of the Serbian Nemanyich and Kosovo tradition (the Balsic, Crnojevic, Petrovic families).[38,39] The coat of arms of the Balsici was characteristic of the wolfs head on the top. The coat of arms of the Crnojevici, and of the medieval Serbia whose tradition was preserved and guarded by the Montenegrins under the Turks, had a two-headed eagle over whose breast a lion on the plate was added in the 18th century as the symbol of the Petrovic Njegos family. The Montenegrin chiefs also had their own coats of arms to identify their ranks and the standing in the clan and in the state. From 1854, there were the coats of arms of the Montenegrin senators (gilded two-headed eagle), captains (similar to the senators' coat of arms), prince's bodyguards (silver). From the times of Danilo I (1851-1860) we know of the coat of arms of the bodyguards and centurions (company commanders) which was similar to that of the prince's bodyguards. At the time of King Nicholas I (1860-1918), all of the senior clerks had their coats of arms to distinguish themselves: senators, brigadiers, commanders, captains (military and clan), lieutenants, second lieutenants, sergeants, bodyguards, staff members, flag bearers. The coat of arms of the Principality of Montenegro is described in art. 38 of the Montenegrin Constitution: "The coat of arms of the Principality of Montenegro is a two-headed white eagle with the imperial crown above the eagle heads, the imperial scepter in its right claw and the globe in its left. On the eagle's breast is the lion on the crimson shield." The shield of the coat of arms of the Principality of Montenegro lying on the eagle's breast has a green field at the bottom and a golden lion at a stance to the right in the blue field on top.
The national anthem of Montenegro which was chosen by the people is an ode to the Serbian nationality. The anthem of the Montenegrin state, the song "There, There...." was written by King Nicholas. It would be blasphemy not to accept this song as the identification of the Montenegrin state in the past epochs. It is about the capital of Prizren, Dushan's empire and the Montenegrin guarding of the Serbian ethnic being over the span of several centuries.
The Serbian ethnic consciousness of the Montenegrin people through epochs is embodied in the rich oral popular art. For this occasion, the Kosovo legend can serve as a proof; in Montenegro (the Serbian nationality possibly originated in Montenegro) this legend was applied in forming and developing some of the virtues, such as: courage, honour, dignity, boldness, brotherly love, and above all, love of the homeland, and patriotism which (contrary to some other environments) has never withered in Montenegro. Owing to their Serbian origin, over the centuries in Montenegro grew up the real characters of "the pride and the heart of Obilic". Among them were: Bishop Danilo, Vuk Micunovic, Captain Batric, Nikac of Rovine, Marko Miljanov, and many others from Bajo Pivljanin of Vrtijeljka to Sava Kovacevic of Sutjeska. This makes it easier for us to understand the words of the poem "The Battle at Mojkovac in 1915" by Radovan Becirovic, which Serdar Janko Vukotic addressed to the army:
Do not fear brave soldiers,
When speaking of the Serbian origin of the Montenegrins, one should always have in mind that Cetinje has been "the Serbian mirror", the Montenegro of Mount Lovcen, the Littoral, and the Highlands have been the cradle of the purest Serbs, and "Mount Lovcen our sacred altar to which we are all sworn."
"The spirit of Obilic" became an integral part of the Montenegrin life. The main characters in the Kosovo legend (Lazar, Milos, Bosko Jugovic, Mother of the Jugovic brothers, Kosovka Djevojka /the girl of Kosovo/, Kosancic, Toplica, Relja of Pazar, and others) served as models for the young generations, "prematurely harvested" for centuries, as Njegos said, teaching them how to serve the homeland and tell good from evil. In this way, the historical flow was marked by the deeds of glorious heroes and the ideal of Montenegro was shaped. The best witness to the Serbian ethnic origin of the Montenegrins is Ljuba Nenadovic.
The Slav population have been living continually on the territory of Montenegro of today since the arrival of the Slavs to the Balkan peninsula in the 7th century. In the course of the early Middle Ages the Slavs were forming their identity within the boundaries of the Serbian medieval state of Zeta. After the Turkish onslaught they accepted and developed Kosovo tradition, became the guardians of the Serbian ethnic identity and carried on Serbian tradition. The awareness of belonging to the Serbian people was guarded by the Montenegrins even during the rule of the local masters (Balsici, Crnojevici). From the 17th century, when the Montenegrins liberated themselves from the Turkish oppression, the Montenegro of Mount Lovcen under the Petrovic-Njegos dynasty developed and lasted for almost two and a half centuries. Within these boundaries and in the Montenegrin Highlands there was a distinct subdivision into brotherhoods and clans that cherished the feeling of belonging to the Serbian ethnic being. This consciousness was burdened with the remnants of the clan-tribal tradition (territorial connections, blood kinship, blood feuds, warrior-defensive-liberation spirit). The Montenegrin ceremonial costume symbolising the Serbian tricolour flag and the cap are the expression and synthesis of the historical and cultural heritage of the Balkan ethnic communities. For this reason, the separation (to which the efforts of the Vatican, Austria, Hungary, the Comintern are directed) of the "Montenegrin nation" from its organic source, from the Serbian ethnic awareness is conceived to wily break up the Serbian core and its ethnic area. Even the many century long Montenegrin state is abused though it has never been disputed to be the Serbian since the symbols of such state have always been the Serbian. In this sense the Montenegrin men and women have been the incarnation of the warranted and dignified pride in the Serbian nation.
The Montenegrins have always felt as Serbs and as Montenegrins. If they said they were Montenegrins, it did not mean that they were not Serbs. They felt as Serbs regardless of the issue. Chiefs, rulers, folk singers, writers, journalists, scientists, men of the world, peasants, they all declared themselves as Serbs. In fact, it was recorded so in the documents and laws of the Montenegrin state and even in the address by Njegos in which he pleaded to "...the skies above Montenegro to clear, the lightnings and thunders to go away, and safeguard the entire Serbian people from destruction, all of them from the Danube to the blue sea." That is the reason why one should be on guard against "home evil" personified in some Montenegrin publishers of Njegos' short poems. They simply erased his verses in which the Serbs were mentioned. But in spite of this Comintern-Vatican undertaking, the Serbian popular poetry, formed throughout centuries as a part of the Montenegrin ethnic being, cannot easily be plucked up from the cultural heritage of the Serbian ethnic being of the Montenegrins.
 Sima Cirkovic, "Srbi,"
/The Serbs/ Enciklopedija Jugoslavije, 7 (Zagreb: JLZ, 1968).
Cubrilovic, Vasa. 'Novi vek - opsti pogled na razvoj drustva u Crnoj Gori,"
/New Era - The Development of the Montenegrin Society/ CANU, Naucni
skupovi, 15, Odeljenje drustvenih nauka, 7, Titograd, 1987, pp.47.62.
Dr Petar Vlahovic is Professor of Ethnology of the Yugoslav Peoples and Ethnogenesis, and of Ethnic and Biophysical Anthropology at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. He is the member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade. In addition to numerous studies and articles, he has published books Brodarevo i njegova okolina /Brodarevo and its Surroundings/ (1968), U vrtlogu zivota - prilozi etnickoj i istorijskoj antropologiji - /In the Maelstrom of Life - Contributions to Ethnic and Historical Anthropology - / (1978), Na zivotnim raskrsnicama - prilozi proucavanju etnickih procesa - /At the Crossings of Life - Contributions to the Study of Ethnic Processes - / (1987), Narodi i etnicke zajednice sveta /Peoples and Ethnic Groups of the World/ (1984), Obicaji verovanja i praznoverice naroda Jugoslavije /Customs, Beliefs and Superstitions of the Yugoslav Peoples/ (1972), Zivot i obicaji naroda Kine /The Life and Customs of the People of China (1973), and Pisci nase etnologije i antropologije/The Writers of our Ethnology and Anthropology/ (1987).
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