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1219: Between East and West

Church door, Stari Bar - Copyright © by Alan Grant
Church door, Stari Bar

In 395 the Emperor Theodosius divided the Roman Empire between east and west, a fault-line which Roberts writes, "would be maintained when in 1054, the church finally split into its Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic branches…The region that would one day become Montenegro was astride the cultural line: Kotor was incorporated within the Western Empire, while the Eastern Empire controlled future Montenegrin lands to the south and the east." The early seventh century saw another momentous change; the arrival of the Slavs. Eventually they were to give rise, in Raška, to the early Serbian entity, which was in turn intimately connected with those lands now in Montenegro, Duklja and Zeta. "By the beginning of the twelfth century," however "the focus of Serb power had shifted conclusively from Zeta to the rival state of Raška." It was what was to happen there which was to decisively shape the Balkans we know them today. In 1219, Sava, brother of the Nemanjić King Stefan, and now celebrated as St Sava, was able to "to secure a vital agreement with the Byzantine patriarch…"

The agreement granted the Serbian Church autocephalous status and Sava became its first archbishop. Thereupon King Stefan supported his brother and set about distancing himself from the Catholic Church. Dioceses were set up throughout Raška and in Zeta, where the bishop established his seat on the Prevlaka peninsula in the Gulf of Kotor. The inclusion of Zeta within the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church was of great significance for these lands. It not only helped to undermine the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, hitherto particularly strong in this part of the western Balkans, but also encouraged the inhabitants of Zeta to establish closer links with the Serbs of Raška and develop a sense of shared identity.

However, certain coastal cities still retained a large proportion of Catholics who continued to practice their faith alongside their Orthodox brothers. In Kotor, for example, the largely Catholic population was guaranteed many privileges, which were at times fiercely contested by another Catholic coastal city, Bar. And channels to the Catholic West were by no means entirely cut off. In the later Middle Ages an important land route ran along the shores of Lake Skadar, across the mountains of Montenegro to Peć and then through Kosovo to Niš. Called the Via di Zenta (a variation on the name Zeta), it was used by the Venetians and the Ragusans (inhabitants of present-day Dubrovnik) in their trading operations with Serbia and Bulgaria.

[pp: 43, 58 & 62-63]

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

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