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The Eagle's Nest of Freedom?

Sultan Bayezid ll - Copyright © by Monument to Ivan Crnojević in Cetinje - Copyright © by
Sultan Bayezid ll

Montenegro during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is, for historians, writes Roberts, "the proverbial backwater". Yet this is an important period for an understanding of "the emergence of the small theocratic state that Montenegro was to become in the course of the eighteenth century." In 1503 the Venetians, "signed a peace treaty with Sultan Bayezid ll under which they formally recognized Ottoman authority over all Crnojević lands." [See Page 8, The Foundation of Cetinje] By 1513 Montenegro had become a sanjak in its own right "under the control of Skanderbeg (not to be confused with Skanderbeg, the Albanian hero who fought the Ottomans), Ivan Crnojević's Islamicised youngest son." This was a small barren territory, "roughly no more than 30 by 60 km in extent", however as Roberts argues, "it derived a paradoxical benefit from its unpromising geography:

To begin with, its proximity to the Venetian-controlled coast provided an important yet easily defensible gateway to the non-Ottoman world. Moreover, an area so mountainous and infertile was scarcely worth the trouble of subduing and holding it, a fact its inhabitants were quick to exploit. Therein lies the historical importance of the 'Under Lovćen' region. Although in the sixteenth century it was not the 'eagle's nest of freedom' romantic historians and mythmakers later proclaimed it to be, this rocky heartland already provided a kernel of separateness from which the future independent principality of Montenegro would grow….

The Ottomans may at first have believed that their appointment of Skanderbeg as ruler of the former Crnojević lands would significantly assist their occupation of the region. Not only might his Crnojević background help to conciliate the fractious Montenegrin tribesmen, but to the Venetians it could even, and for the same reason, represent him as continuing the rule of their former allies. Skanderbeg did indeed play a skilful hand in dealings with his neighbours, but his treatment of the native Montenegrins was harsh. In the lands they had previously overrun the Ottomans had built garrison towns and fortresses such as those at Podgorica and Medun, outposts from which they now attempted to control their new and less easily secured territories. But success was not always guaranteed or, when it came, necessarily lasting. When almost a century and a half later, the Turkish traveler and writer Evlija Çelebi broke his journey at 'the merciless fortress of Podgorica, which is at the extreme frontier', he admired the size and structure of the fortress and noted that its seven hundred 'doughty ghazis' were occupied in 'battling day and night' against their enemies, among whom he numbered not only the population of Kotor but also 'the Albanian [sic] infidels of…Kelmendi and Montenegro.'

[pp: 103, 105-107]

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

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