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History of the Poljica Principality


Dalmatia, a region of the Republic of Croatia, was the ancestral homeland of the founding fathers of the Poljica Principality. Croatia's mountainous face (Dinaric Alps) turns to the Adriatic Sea, where Dalmatia's coast falls precipitously to an island strewn sea.

During the time of national rule, and halfway through the Middle Ages, two republics were formed within the framework of Croatian state territory - the Poljica Principality (Poljička Republika) and the Republic of Dubrovnik (Dubrovačka Republika). Each within their own distinctiveness, both were located on the Adriatic coast. 

In the early years, the only route by land from Dubrovnik to Split was through lower Poljica. Most countries wanted to rule Poljica so that they could dictate and dominate this important and strategic location.

The Poljica Principality was a unique phenomenon in Europe. It existed continuously for almost seven centuries, with its own very original legal system. One of the items of Poljica Statute is that "everybody has the right to live," contrary to many medieval European laws replete with punishments involving torture. 



The Poljica Statute is the most important monument of ancient heritage. Besides other relevant facts, it ensured Poljica's independence, sovereignty and unity through many centuries. Fighting continually for dear life, Poljica did not leave any traces of external brilliance-it has no aristocracy, princes, castles, or fortresses. Poljica was left the Statute, which reflects its pride, bravery, sweetness of freedom, and true rural democracy.

The Poljica Statute was written in Poljica's Bosnian alphabet in the ancient church of St. Klement in Sitno.

The oldest preserved manuscript of the Statute originates from 1515 and it is conserved in the Archive of The Croatian Academy of Science and Art, in Zagreb. It represents the third redaction of the Statute, composed around 1485. The second redaction of The Statute originates from 1440 and the original Croatian quotation from it is as follows:

"U ime Gospodina Boga Amen. Statut poljički isući statut iz staroga novi činimo na lita Gospodina Isukrsta 1440."

The term "isući" means excellent, and it is a translation of Latin word "eximius". Therefore, in the language of law, the term "isući" can be explained as an "authentic copy". The first redaction, according to V. Mošin, was written at the end of XI and the beginning of XII century, in the time when the peace agreement called "Pacta conventa" was signed between the Hungarian king Koloman and Croatian representatives (Miroslav Pera, Poljički statut, Književni krug, Split 1988.)


The first page of the Poljica Statute from 1440 (Archive of The Croatian Academy of
Sciences and Arts, Zagreb)


More recent redaction from 1665 has supplemented title (the original Croatian quotation):

"U ime Gospodina Boga Amen. Statut poljički isući statut iz staroga novi činimo na lita
Gospodina Isukrsta 1440., a sada pripišujemo na 1665 febrara na 10(I) u Poljici u carkvi
svetoga Klimenta pod Sitno".

Every law in the ancient Poljica Principality was unwritten at the beginning, and afterwards it was written in the Poljica Statute using Croatian cyrillic script (bosančica). That process was predominantly done by glagolitic priests from the church of St Clement. That church had great wealth in lands, and it could keep scribes and buy paper, which was very expensive in those days.

During Turk domination, glagolitic priests escaped from Poljica and found relief on the island of Brač, in the Blaca desert, in the famous glagolitic monastery where the last priest was don Niko Miličević.


The Great Seal of the Poljica Principality



The Small Seal of the Poljica Principality



The prevailing name for Poljica Principality today is the Republic of Poljica (Poljička Republika). As far as it is known, Poljica was named as a republic for the first time by an Italian travel writer, Alberto Fortis, in 1774. Poljica got their name from the small fields that were harvested in villages around the mountain Mosor, and which enabled its population to survive. These small fields are called "poljca" in Croatian, and that was preserved in the name of the area: Poljica. Legend has it that the Principality was founded by three sons of dethroned Croatian king Miroslav in the mid X century: Tješimir, Krešimir and Elem found shelter in the Poljica in 949 when their father was murdered by ban Pribina. They were considered as founders of the parish commune of Poljica. Each brother is credited to having occupied Upper, Middle and Lower Poljica during the mid XV century.


Map (detail) of the Poljica Principality (from "Poljički Zbornik", 1968.)

-Click on the Map for full image -


Poljica is divided into three areas or zones: Upper Poljica (Zagorska) which lies behind Mosor, is farthest from the Adriatic Sea and is in the hinterland of Mosor; Middle Poljica (Završka), the largest part of Poljica (50%) extends from the Žrnovnica River to the Cetina River at Zadvarje; Lower Poljica (Primorska), built on the remnants of the ancient Greek colony Eqetium, which extends along the sea from Omiš to the village of Stobreč. The area of Poljica covers about 250 square km. 



"Arrival of the Croats on Adriatic Sea" by Oton Iveković


At the beginning of the VII century, the Croats migrated from the north behind the Carpat mountains to the coast of the Adriatic sea. At that time, they settled in the region of Poljica where remnants of the Illyrians and Romans have been found. As a people, the Croats were well organized. In the IX century (during the time of Prince Mislav) Croatia was so powerful at the sea that she imposed her rule over the Adriatic.

In time, Hungarian-Croatian kings assumed rule over Croatia. Shortly thereafter, inhabitants of Split took advantage of the newly developed situation by receiving endowments from those kings in which villages of Poljica were assigned to them.



St. George's church, XIII century A.D.


The Croatian state was divided into districts and the districts into parishes. To avoid Hungarian-Croatian kings assigning their own men to Poljica districts, the people of Poljica organized and founded the "parish commune" where they could live according to their own laws. In the center of the Principality, on the stone hill Gradac, the people of Poljica built the church dedicated to St. George and they gathered around the church at the beginning of the XIII century and formed their own county-principality. The parish commune was divided into twelve villages ("katuna’s"), which they named after twelve larger villages of Poljica:


UPPER POLJICA (Gornja Poljica): Dolac Donji and Gornje Polje

MIDDLE POLJICA (Srednja Poljica): Kostanje, Zvečanje, Čišla, Gata, Dubrava, Sitno and Srinjine

LOWER POLJICA (Donja Poljica): Duće, Jesenice and Podstrana


Five of the twelve "katuns" were greatly populated by free peasants from Split origin, and are therefore called free peasant composite villages. The other composite villages were populated by descendants of the three brothers (noted to be founders of Poljica). Each of the twelve villages elected an elder, or little duke, to serve as leader. The little dukes of free peasant composite villages did not share the same rights as little dukes of the other villages-they could vote, but not be elected to the government of Poljica due to their ties with Split.




Every "katun", early on St. George day (23rd of April), had been electing its representative, and after religious ceremony, they were coming down with the people at Gradac, and they were electing the great Prince and three judges, for the period of one year. The newly founded Poljica county inherited old prefeudal Croatian laws from the Klis county, and it soon added some new laws, based on mutual agreement and the decision of Poljica population which were gathered at the election place of the new great Prince of Poljica. The most important laws were those about buying and selling of land and those about pasture. All these laws were unwritten at the beginning, and afterwards they were written in Poljica Statute using Croatian cyrillic script.



The Winged Lion of Venice


During XIV century two Croatians from northern Croatia, Juraj Rajčić and Juraj Dražojević, represented Poljica in political conflict with the city of Split. They did it very well and they were invited, together with their families, to settle in Poljica. They accepted the invitation, and local people named them royal "vlastela", creating difference between them and local noblemen, known as "didići". Vlastela continued to represent Poljica in foreign affairs, and one of their successes was that Bosnian kings, when they gained control over Poljica and Split (for a short period), didn’t join the marine part of Poljica with Split. They had similar success when Venice occupied Split (1420) and Poljica (1444). 

To be free of Bosnian rule, Poljica put itself under Venetian protection (this political act has been confirmed). Poljica having kept its own government and internal autonomy, came under Venetian protectorate, recognized its sovereign command, paid tribute and provided soldiers.



A view of Omiš from the Monument of Mile Gojsalić-by Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović


In 1500, the autonomy of Poljica and the freedom of its people entered a new and difficult period as the Turks arrived at their borders. This was the beginning of a long, persistent and bloody fight of the people of Poljica against the Turks. When Turks began to approach Poljica, the people of Poljica abandoned their old flag with the Moon and the Rising star, and accepted the new one, with St George killing a dragon. During XVI and XVII century Poljičani were in continuos conflict with Turks. This brutal conflict between the Turks and Poljičani lasted, with some interruption, until the end of the XVII century.

One particular battle with the Turks must be cited.  In 1530 herzegovian sandzak Ahmetbeg ferociously attacked Poljica with 10000 soldiers. As the Turks were encamped in Gata, the people of Poljica, though less in number, defeated their army with the heroic and noble efforts of Mile Gojsalić - a young girl from Poljica. That night Mile Gojsalić seduced Ahmetbeg and lighted gunpowder in the camp. She was killed together with a great number of Turk soldiers, and her sacrifice helped the people of Poljica to defeat the confused and surprised army. With this act, Mile Gojsalić became a legend of courage, love and sacrifice, not only for the people of Poljica, but also for Croatia. She is remembered much like the Old Testament's Judith and France's Joanne d'Arc.

The last and most severe invasion in Upper Poljica occurred on the 4th of July, 1686. Under the leadership of a young priest, Juraj Pezelj, the people of Poljica fiercely resisted the Turks and sent them fleeing. In the uprising, exceptional courage was shown by two young girls, Mare Žuljević and Bare Leksić.


St. Peter's Church in Priko, X century A.D.


Poljica Principality was finally liberated from Turks in 1699, and life in Poljica was improving. In 1725 Poljica had more than 6000 inhabitants. The churches were built and the literacy rate was growing. The Poljica Glagolithic seminary in Priko, near the mouth of the Cetina river and beside the old St. Peter's church, had important role in that process. The seminary was opened in 1750.



In 1797, the authority of Venice fell in Dalmatia, and Austria took over. Austria prohibited the right of assembly, freedom of gathering and deliberation without permission of higher authority. The leadership was not for long, as the French would enter the political and war scene.



In 1805, Austria ceded Dalmatia to Napoleon with the peace treaty in Požun on December 26th. The people of Poljica wanted to maintain their self-rule, like they had under Hungarian-Croatian kings, Venice, Austria and the Ottoman Empire. But the Frenchmen ordered mobilization in Poljica, which was unacceptable for Poljica, because they never served in foreign armies. The Russian navy, which was stationed on the Adriatic, offered their help. On the 4th of June 1807 Poljica defenders attacked French troops in Duce. The Poljica resistance was destroyed by marshal Marmont. On the 10th of June 1807 the French governor for Dalmatia declared that 600 years old Poljica Principality was abolished. 

When marshal Marmont was passing through Poljica with his troops, he learned about Poljica laws and government structure. In a book with his memories he wrote:

"Poljica (...) are easily defended. The loneliness of these lands, and natural resources are
such that the people were free, and even Venetians gave them privileges. They did not
pay any taxes, they had their own government, they were electing their leaders and they
didn’t have to recruit their soldiers or sailors. The wish to take away these privileges
from them was the reason of their discontent. Surely, the look on this small country
speaks in favor of their way of government. There is nothing so neat and regular as their
farming, and nothing more beautiful than their villages."



After France was defeated in 1815, the Poljica Principality remained under Austrian government until the World War I, and it never gained previous administrative and political structure. In 1912, the desire for freedom was so deeply rooted in the people of Poljica that they organized all the territory of the one-time Republic of Poljica into municipalities with their administration in Priko. In 1945, the Poljica Principality was abolished by communist authority of former Yugoslavia, and its region divided between the communes of Split and Omiš. The Principality never retrieved the local self-rule that it had during many centuries.  However, consciousness and pride about its existence throughout history is present in the hearts of the people of Poljica. As of 1971, Poljica's population was estimated at 14,137 and was rapidly increasing in Lower Poljica due to general migration of the population and tourism.



Today, the following villages represent the area that historically belonged to the Poljica Principality (Poljička Republika):

Omiš municipality: Gata, Čišla, Ostrvica, Zvečanje, Smolonje, Studenci, Kostanje, Podgrađe, Kreševo, Blato na Cetini, Seoca, Trnbusi, Dolac gornji, Dolac donji, Srijane, Nova sela, Putišić, Dubrava, Tugare, Naklice.

Šestanovac municipality: Katuni, Šestanovac.

Zadvarje municipality: Zadvarje, Žeževica, Grabovac, Dundići.

Dugi Rat municipality: Duće, Dugi Rat, Jesenice.



Source: "Sitno, our home" (see "History") , and other sources.


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