The Dubrovnik Republic, the Venetians and the Ottomans – How Did It Work?

Lauren Simmonds

You probably know about the Dubrovnik Republic, but just how did it all stay so peaceful?

The marauding Ottomans weren’t known for being particularly soft souls, Dubrovnik’s (then Ragusa) geographical position was quite the weakness back in those days owing to the proximity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire. Not to mention the proximity of Venice with all its jealousy and rivalry as a major sea trading port. To say it was difficult to ”keep the neighbours happy” would be quite the understatement, as the Venetians and the Ottomans were hardly friendly faces you could ask for a bag of sugar from, but Dubrovnik, then an entirely autonomous, independent republic, managed to keep the peace to a degree through its famed diplomacy. Being friendly with those such as the Venetians and the Ottomans, the latter having a particularly unpleasant reputation, even yielded economic success.

Back in 1205 (because we all remember those days, don’t we?) Dalmatia was invaded by a seemingly eternally vindictive Venice with the forces of the Fourth Crusade. Despite the obviously jealous notions from Venice, the significant friction that existed between Venice and Zadar was not so much of an issue in Dubrovnik, purely because Dubrovnik had not become a concerning rival to Venice as a trade carrier, yet. But that would alter.

Using force and a complete lack of the diplomacy for which Ragusa was celebrated, Venice succeeded and Ragusa was made to become a supply and goods source for the Venetians, as well as pay a monetary sum which seemed to conveniently grow over time. Ragusa was then transformed into the Venetian’s southern Adriatic naval base. Owing to Dubrovnik’s lack of ”competition” in Venice’s eyes when it came to threats to East-West trade relations, the Republic managed to use its diplomatic skill to negotiate and retain a large portion of its original independence, but tensions gradually ran high as the rules became stricter and the tributes grew in size, and many of those in the government of the Republic grew tired of paying, and so the plotting began.

Despite general dissatisfaction and internal plotting, it wasn’t until 1358 that Ragusa gained full independence from the Venetians, and the entire thing only came about owing to force by the Treaty of Zadar, which forced Venice to abandon its claim to Dalmatia and withdraw. They did so quickly. Hungary, of all nations, was to become a more than valuable friend during these times. Ragusa went on to accept leadership of King Louis I, under the condition that it was loose. Visegrad saw the agreement ”signed and sealed” and Dubrovnik recognised the sovereignity of Hungary. 

The unexpected ally came with the fact that owing to the fact that the Kingdom of Hungary was by no means a naval power, meaning much less conflict of interest and general friction took place when compared to that experienced with Venice. Dubrovnik, owing to the mild ways of King Louis I, was all but left to its own devices, it gradually claimed more territory, crawling all the way up to Peljesac, as well down to Konavle in the south. The autonomous Dubrovnik Republic and the Kingdom of Hungary got along like a house on fire when compared with the tumultuous relationship with the Venetians, and the connection was far from a sour one.

Then the Ottomans showed up.

For anyone with a bit of knowledge about history, it doesn’t really need to be said that the Ottomans weren’t known for being the friendliest of people and certainly didn’t do things by halves. Known for their lack of, let’s say, ”human resource skills”, the Ottomans were not to be met down a dark alley or on a bad day. Going around conquering everything by force, it was entirely expected that Dubrovnik’s days as a Republic were all but over. 

1458 rolled around and the Dubrovnik Republic signed a treaty with the Ottomans, officially rendering it as a tributary to the Sultan, contracted to deliver the tribute on the 1st of November every year via an ambassador, directly to Constantinople. At first glance, it was an unenviable and unfavourable position that the city had found itself in with Venice not so long ago, but, as they say – needs must. The Ottomans were not the type of people you upset, but negotiations could be handled by the talented Dubrovnik diplomats who were entirely modern minded and forward thinking, even by today’s standards.

Dubrovnik was the handler of trade on the Adriatic for the Ottomans and with that came many socio-economic benefits, including tax exemptions for Ragusan merchants, customs duty cuts, and the ability to enter into various locations that were otherwise unavailable to non-Ottoman trade, such as the Black Sea. Naturally, Dubrovnik came under the wings of their protection some years later, but in order to be protected, more money was required. Upon sealing the deal, Dubrovnik was free to make treaties with other powers that shared the same economic goals as the Empire, and in exchange for relative independence plus the protection of the then almighty Ottomans, it was a small price to pay in the eyes of the governing bodies.

The Ottomans viewed Dubrovnik as a port of enormous significance to their own goals and shared trade and perhaps the most karmic of it all in the eyes of the Ragusans, Dubrovnik was protected entirely by the Ottoman Empire when it came to potential problems with Venice, which was growing increasingly uncomfortable with Dubrovnik’s success.

The 15th century saw Dubrovnik become one of Venice’s main rivals alongside other European nations such as England. Despite various jealousy-fueled attempts to damage Dubrovnik and its incredible diplomacy and amicable trade relationships, it remained that way until the eventual decline and demise of the Republic.


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