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The Beginning of History

Fresco in Stari Bar - Copyright © by Alan Grant
Fresco in Stari Bar

"There is no fixed line at which Montenegrin history can be said to begin," writes Roberts, but what of its famous name, full of foreboding? That, at least we can talk about with more certainty.

The name Montenegro - the Black Mountain - (Crna Gora in the language that used to be called Serbo-Croatian) - has a timeless ring to it, but this is deceptive. According to the Montenegrin historian Šerbo Rastoder, the name was first mentioned in a papal epistle of 1053 in which the Latin Monte nigro referred to an area within the medieval state of Duklja, while Cyrillic sources mention it for the first time in 1276. Yet the name was only brought into common use by Venetian sailors in the late fourteenth century when it applied to Mount Lovćen and the surrounding mountainous hinterland of the Gulf of Kotor (Ital. Cattaro, Serb. Boka Kotorska), a spectacular drowned river canyon (invariably referred to as a fjord) set deep into the Adriatic coast and for centuries the principal gateway into Montenegro. At the time Montenegro was not a country but simply a wild region, yet its identity had been recognized, as had its enduring if quasi-mythical link with another South Slav state, former Raška, later medieval Serbia.

[p. 2]

Realm of the Black Mountain: A History of Montenegro. 2007. [C.Hurst & Co]

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