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Life in Zeta

Crnojevic dynasty seal - Copyright © by Crnojevic dynasty seal - Copyright © by
Crnojevic dynasty seal

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the western Balkans, writes Roberts, throw up a "confusing succession of rulers and battles, of alliances and betrayals, of towns and hostages taken and surrendered." The reason for this is clear, that is that this period "was one of great and traumatic change" in the whole of the Balkans as the Ottomans advanced and consolidated their control:

Meanwhile, over roughly the same period, Venice was extending its control of the eastern shore of the Adriatic, an expansion that impacted directly on Zetan lands. As the fifteenth century progressed, little Zeta and its rulers were increasingly squeezed between two giants.

But there is another reason says Roberts that the history of this period relies on the story of battles and kings:

Although we know quite a lot about the principal families and something of the clergy, we can be sure of very little about the life of the common people. Books and written records were few, and excepting some of the monks and leading families, like Jelena Balšić and Djuradj Crnojević, illiteracy was the norm. The lives of ordinary people were hard, less because they tilled the soil - most were pastoralists who moved frequently with their flocks - than because the harsh terrain and uncertain weather meant that reliable food supplies were short and they often lacked enough to eat. To the precarious nature of daily life could be added the danger of raiding by bands of marauders, often soldiers from the Ottoman armies, whose activities gradually pushed the population into the less fertile and more mountainous areas. As central authority weakened, the tribe or clan increasingly stepped in to organize defence, administer justice and fulfil any number of other essential roles.

[pp: 99-100]

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

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