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Duklja Doclea or Diocleia (Greek: Διοκλεία, Diokleia[a]), was a Serbian medieval state with hereditary lands roughly encompassing the territories of present-day southeastern Montenegro, from Kotor on the west to the river Bojana on the east and to the sources of Zeta and Morača rivers on the north.

Duklja was at first a vassal of the Eastern Roman Empire until it became a part of the Serbian Principality in the 9th century, under the Vlastimirović dynasty. After the Byzantine annexation of Serbia in the late 10th century, Duklja remained under Byzantine rule until the 1040s, when the local lord Stefan Vojislav managed to achieve independence for most of the maritime region under his rule; Duklja emerged as the most powerful polity, ruled by the Vojislavljević dynasty.

In 1060, the Vojislavljevićs annexed Rascia (the hinterlands that would later be the nucleus of Serbia) and installed vassal rulers there.[1] With the death of Constantine Bodin, in 1101, a cadet branch of the dynasty succeeded in ruling Rascia independently, and in 1189 Duklja was incorporated in the latter – as a crown land of the Grand Principality of Serbia, subsequently referred to as Zeta, remaining so until the fall of the Serbian Empire. During the fall of the Serbian Empire, Zeta became independent in 1356 under the Balšić family, and again reincorporated to the Serbian Despotate from 1421 to 1427.


  • Name 1
  • Geography 2
  • History 3
    • Duklja in De Administrando Imperio 3.1
    • Early 3.2
    • Rise 3.3
    • Byzantine hegemony and Struggle for Independence (1020–1050) 3.4
    • Kingdom of Duklja (1053–1100) 3.5
    • Decline 3.6
    • Religious affairs 3.7
    • List of rulers 3.8
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
    • Sources 6.1


Doclea was originally the name of the Roman city on the site of modern Podgorica (Ribnica), built by Roman Emperor Diocletian, who hailed from this region of Roman Dalmatia. The Romanized Illyrian tribe known as Docleatae that inhabited the area derived their name from the city.[2] In later centuries, the Romans hypercorrected the name to Dioclea, wrongly guessing that an i had been lost due to vulgar speech patterns. Duklja is the later Slavic version of the name of this region, attributed to the principality under Byzantine suzerainty.


According to De Administrando Imperio (948–952), in chapter 35, Diokleia (Διοκλεία) included the "large, inhabited cities" of Gradetai, Nougrade, and Lontodokla.[3] Gradetai may have been Starigrad, Nougrad may have been Prevlaka, while the location of Lontodokla is uncertain.[3][4]

According to the later, somewhat dubious[5] source, Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, a ruler named Hvalimir who was alleged to be an ancestor of Jovan Vladimir (ca. 990–1016), held Zeta and its towns, and the following counties: Lusca (Luška), Podlugiae (Podlužje), Gorsca (Gorska), Cupelnich (Kupelnik), Obliquus (Oblik), Prapratna, Cermeniza (Crmnica) and Budua (Budva) with Cuceva (Kučevo) and Gripuli (Grbalj).[6]

Since the 12th century, the term Zeta began to replace the name Duklja.


Duklja in De Administrando Imperio

Duklja was settled by Slavs predominantly during the 7th century, although the area was subject to raids by Avars and Slavs from the 6th century. According to the 10th-century De Administrando Imperio, written by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, a second migration of Slavs into the Balkans occurred in c. 610–640 AD[7] Being a mountainous region, it perhaps served as an area of refuge for pre-Slavic populations.[8]

The De Administrando Imperio has been a widely used source in reconstructing the earliest histories of the South Slavic states. Porphyrogennetos wrote that Duklja had been made desolate by the Avars and "repopulated in the time of the Emperor Heraclius, just as were Croatia and Serbia" (i.e. in the first half of the 7th century).[9] While he clearly states that the neighboring principalities of Serbia, Zahumlje, Travunia and Pagania had been settled by the 'unbaptised Serbs', he mentions Duklja simply as having been settled by 'Slavs'. John V.A. Fine argues "given that Serbs settled in regions along its borders, presumably this would have also been a Serb region".[10] According to the Royal Frankish Annals (821–822), the rebellious Duke of Pannonia Ljudevit Posavski fled, during the Frankish invasion, from his seat in Sisak to the Serbs in western Bosnia, who controlled a great part of Dalmatia ("Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur").[11][12]

The presence of Croats has also been postulated. In DAI, Porphyrogennetos states that, after settling northern Dalmatia, a part of the Croats "split off and took control of Illyricum and Pannonia".[13] Ivo Banac proposed that the former referred to Duklja.[14] The dubious Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, compiled in 1298–1301 by a Cistercian monk in the service of Paul I Šubić of Bribir, refers to Croats in southern Dalmatia. If this is not mere Byzantine confusion over Serbs and Croats, it might allude to the existence of minor Croat tribes until the late 12th century.[15]

Scholars have debated at length as to the reliability of such sources. For example, Florin Curta, among others, suggested that the DAI was a political document, rather than a strictly historical one. It probably indicates that the coastal zhupanates were under the authority of the Serbian prince, Časlav Klonimirović, in the mid-10th century.[16]

Ultimately, the origins of Duklja are not known with certainty, for the literary evidence often rests on semi-legendary genealogies. Moreover, what actually constituted a people (gens) in the Middle Ages has been rigorously debated. There is no clear evidence that peoples known as Serbs or Croats migrated en masse as coherent nations.[17] Rather, some sort of group identity began to form within the Balkans from the late 7th century as Slavic notables formed a system of alliances. This coincides with the final demise of Avar hegemony over the western Balkans.[18] At the same time, the Byzantines had begun to re-establish some control in parts of the Balkans after the 7th century collapse of imperial control. The establishment of the Byzantine theme of Dyrrhachium facilitated diplomatic contacts between the East Romans and the Adriatic Sclaviniae.

Both, Florin Curta and John Fine, among other medievalists, have argued that ethnonyms such as Serb or a Croat were primarily political labels referring to a dux and his retinue of nobles, while on a lower level it also referred the mass of commoners who inhabited the territory under the (often nominal and transient) rule of such leaders. There is little evidence that a modern notion of nation-type ethnicity, and the values associated with it, existed in medieval societies.[19][20] Rather, for the general masses, identity was rooted primarily with one's own clan, village and region. As Fine states, "In this large region settled by Slavs, all of whom spoke the same language, certain political entities emerged, and that is all that they were, political entities".[21] Duklja was one such polity, and its subsequent history was closely intertwined with that of Serbia/Rascia and the Byzantine Empire, and as well as Rome and 'western' powers. Duklja is seen as one of the medieval Serb states[22][23][24] and was the political and cultural predecessor of modern Montenegro.


Little is known about Duklja prior to the 11th century. The main source on the history of early South Slavic states is De Administrando Imperio by Emperor Constantine VII (compiled before 952). The work mentions virtually nothing about Duklja apart from that it was settled by Slavs and was ruled by the Byzantine Emperors. It probably did not exist as an established, independent polity before the late 10th century. The Byzantines ruled over coastal cities such as Doclea, Bar, župa, (roughly, a county) ruled by local families.

Slav raids on Eastern Roman territory are mentioned in 518, and by the 580s they had conquered large areas referred to as Sclavinia (transl. Slavdom, from Sklavenoi).[25]

Duklja within confederacy of Slav principalities during the reign of Časlav Klonimirović, c. 950 AD

Prince Višeslav (fl. 768–814), the first known Serbian monarch by name, ruled the hereditary lands (Županias, "counties") of Neretva, Tara, Piva, Lim. He managed to unite several more provinces and tribes into what would become the Serbian Principality. Višeslav was succeeded by his son Radoslav and then Prosigoj, during which time "the Serbs inhabit the greater part of Dalmatia" (Royal Frankish Annals, 822[11][12]). Prince Vlastimir further united Serbian tribes against the growing threat of Bulgars,[26] his realm spanned over southwestern Serbia, much of Montenegro, eastern Herzegovina and southeastern Bosnia.[27] Prince Petar Gojniković defeated Tišemir of Bosnia, annexing the valley of Bosna.[28] He then expanded along the Neretva, annexing the Narentines, where he seems to have come into conflict with Michael Višević, a Bulgarian ally and the ruler of Zahumlje (with Trebinje and most of what would later be Duklja).[29] Michael Višević heard of the possible alliance between Serbia and the Byzantines, and warned Symeon.[29] Symeon defeats Petar[30] and in the following years there is a power struggle between the Bulgars and Byzantines over Serbian overlordship.[31] Prince Časlav Klonimirović ruled over a confederacy of statelets covering an expansive area, uniting the tribes of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Old Serbia and Montenegro (incorporated Pagania, Zahumlje, Travunia,[32] Konavle, Bosnia and "Rascia" into Serbia, ι Σερβλια).[33] He took over regions previously held by Michael, who disappears from sources in 925.[32] According to some sources, Časlav's 'state' was based from the hinterland of Kotor.[34]


Lead stamp of archont Petar (or Predimir) (9th century), a Byzantine viceroy; The Holy Virgin Mary with the Christ Child (left) and inscription in Greek "+ Petar archont of Dioklia AMIN" (right).

After Časlav died in ca 960, Rascia (the hinterland) was annexed by the Byzantines, and Serbia dissolved into several small zhupanates, and the mentions of the first dynasty end. A Peter, whose seal has been found, was the archon Diokleias probably in the turn of the 11th century. A Serbian diplomatic mission, possibly sent from Duklja, arrives in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and was recorded in a charter of the Great Lavra Monastery, written in 993.[35] In the 11th century, Jovan Vladimir emerged as ruler of the maritime zhupanates. With his court centered in Bar on the Adriatic coast, he had much of the Serbian Primorje ("maritime") under his control including Travunia and Zachlumia. His realm may have stretched west- and northwards to include some parts of the Zagorje (inland Serbia and Bosnia) as well. Vladimir's pre-eminent position over other Slavic nobles in the area explains why Emperor Basil approached him for an anti-Bulgarian alliance. With his hands tied by war in Anatolia, Emperor Basil required allies for his war against Tsar Samuel, who ruled a Bulgarian empire stretched over Macedonia. In retaliation, Samuel invaded Duklja in 1009, and pushed through Dalmatia up to the city of Zadar, incorporating Bosnia and Serbia into his realm. After defeating Vladimir, Samuel reinstated him as a vassal Prince. We do not know what Vladimir's connection was to the previous Serbian dynasty as much of what is written in the Chronicles of the Priest of Duklja about the genealogy of the Doclean rulers is mythological.[36]

Vladimir was murdered by Vladislav, Samuel's brother and successor, circa 1016 AD. The last prominent member of his family, his uncle Dragimir, was killed by some local citizens in Kotor in 1018. That same year, the Byzantines had defeated the Bulgarians, and in one masterful stroke re-took virtually the entire Balkans.

Byzantine hegemony and Struggle for Independence (1020–1050)

The Byzantine victory over the Bulgarians was a critical development in Balkan history. The Byzantines ruled most of the Balkans – Bulgaria, Serbia, Duklja, and Bosnia all fell back under Byzantine rule for the first time since the 6th century.

Short-lived as it was, Vladimir's influence in Balkan politics shifted the centre of Serbian rule from inland Serbia to the coast. This was a "renewed Serbian state centered on Duklja".[26] Over much of the 11th century, we hear very little about events from the interior. Central Serbia was probably under the jurisdiction of the strategos (governor) of Sirmium – Constantine Diogenes. Some historians suggest that Duklja was ruled directly by the strategos of Dyrrhachium, while others posit that a native prince (whose name has not survived) was allowed to remain, ruling as a Byzantine vassal. Either way, the Slavic nobility was under Byzantine control.

In the 1030s, as Peter Delian in the late 1030s, worked in Vojislav's favour by diverting attention from Duklja. He used this to assert rule from his capital in Scutari, and extended his rule from Duklja to Travunia and a part of Zachlumia. He besieged the Byzantine city of Dyrrhachium and held the lands surrounding it.[39]

In 1042, another Byzantine attack was defeated. The Byzantines had sent a "coalition" of vassal Slavic chiefs to fight Voislav. The coalition consisted of the Župan of Bosnia, Knez (Prince) Ljutovid of Zachlumia and the Župan of Raska. Fine suggests that under Byzantine dominance, "Rascia" had in the 1040s emerged as yet another Serbian state (roughly centered on what is now southern Serbia and Kosovo.[39] Vojislav won a great victory against his attackers. He overthrew ljutovid and placed the region entirely under his control. Duklja was undoubtedly the leading Slavic state.[26]

Kingdom of Duklja (1053–1100)

Principality of Doclea (Duklja) half 11th century.

Vojislav probably died in 1043. Of his 5 sons, Mihailo (Michael) eventually secured rule by 1046. He was an apt diplomat, he fostered good relations with the Byzantines by marrying one of the Emperor's relatives,earning himself the title protostrator. He also entered diplomatic relations with the western powers by marrying one of his sons, Constantine Bodin, to the daughter of the Norman governor of Bari. Michael conquered Rascia from the Byzantines in the 1060s and assigned one of his sons, Petrislav as ruler. In 1072, he supported another Slav rebellion in Macedonia by sending a force led by his son Constantine Bodin. After initial success, The Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja claims that Bodin was proclaimed Tsar Peter III of Bulgaria. A Byzantine retaliation, however, resulted in Bodin's capture, only to be freed by Venetian mercenaries hired by his father.

Mihailo I of Duklja, the first recognized ruler of Duklja on a fresco in the Church of St. Michael in Ston: He was crowned King of Slavs and known as Ruler of Serbs and Tribals.
The Church of St. Mihailo in Ston from 1080, a foundation of King Mihailo Voislav.

At some point during his rule, Michael acquired the title of King. Most scholars place this date to 1077, when he received a legate from the Pope referring to him as the King of Slavs. However, Curta suggests that Michael may have been King as early as 1053, since he proclaimed himself 'King' sometime after receiving the protostrator title from the Emperor. However, formal recognition as King in medieval Europe required acknowledgement either from the Pope or the Byzantine Emperor. Either way, he was King by 1077.

When Michael died in 1081, he was succeeded by his son Constantine Bodin. The Normans attacked Croatian south Dalmatia, capturing Dyrrhachium and Ragusa. Bodin was expected to aid the Emperor at Dyrrhachium, instead he remained idle (possibly as part of a pre-conceived plan with the Normans) and watched the Byzantines get utterly defeated. During his early rule, energy spent consolidating his rule and meddling with Byzantine-Norman matters diverted Bodin's attention from other parts of his realm. The "Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja" notes that Bodin sent expedition into Bosnia and Rascia. Since his father, Michael, had already captured Raska earlier, it must have slipped out of Duklja's control. Bodin successfully marched against Raska and placed his cousins Vukan and Marko (the sons of Petrislav) as župans. He also captured Bosnia, and placed one of his courtiers, Stipan, to rule in his name. Although Bodin was recognised as 'King of Duklja and Dalmatia, there is no evidence to suggest that Bosnia, Zachlumia, Duklja and Rascia were incorporated into an integrated kingdom. Each region retained its own hereditary nobility, but were under the political and military sway of Duklja.[36]

1080 AD. The zenith of Dukljan power


By 1085 the Byzantines got the upper hand in their wars with the Normans, recapturing Dyrrachium and Ragusa. In 1090, they punished Bodin for his impudence, possibly capturing him for the second time, and not much is known about him subsequently until he dies in c. 1101. Raska, Zahumlje and Bosnia probably broke free from Dukljan vassalage.

With Bodin gone, his Norman wife, Jaquinta (Jakvinta), feared that Bodin's nephew, Branislav, would try to seize power before her young children could take the throne. She ordered the arrest of Branislav and his family and Branislav died in captivity, while his other 6 brothers and sons found asylum in Ragusa. Thus in the haste to claim the throne, seeds of family hatred were planted among the extended family. After Bodin died, his half-brother Dobroslav II gained the throne of Duklja. Seeing a weak Duklja, the Byzantines started to meddle, sending Kočopar, one of Branislav's exiled brothers to capture the throne. He managed to get assistance from Vukan of Raska, and together they beat Dobroslav. However, there was a falling out between Kočopar and Vukan. Vukan drove out Kočopar, who then died in exile. The Doclean nobles then elected a Vladimir, yet another relative, who ruled in peace as a Byzantine vassal. But Jaquinta had not given up. After Vladimir died, she had Dobroslav II (who was still in jail) castrated and blinded in case he were to gain the throne, thus securing the throne for her son Đurađ (George), c. 1114–18. She had gained support from an anti-Byzantine faction of nobles. Branislav's family again fled to Byzantine safety, this time in Dyrrhachium. There they gained support from the Byzantines, who ousted Đurađ and imprisoned Jaquinta. Grubeša, one of Branislav's sons, was placed on the throne in 1118. He ruled peacefully until 1125. Đurađ had fled to Rascia, and secured the support of the new Rascian Grand Župan, Uroš, believed to be the nephew of Vukan. Uroš was aligned with the Hungarians, and was anti-Byzantine. He invaded Duklja and placed Đurađ back on the throne. Yet another Byzantine intervention ousted Đurađ for the second time, capturing him, and he died in captivity. Gradinja, one of Grubeša's brothers was then placed as King, the last ruler to hold such a title in Duklja. He died a natural death in 1146, and was succeeded by his son Radoslav. Radoslav only bore the title Knez (Prince).

Duklja's long internecine strife was devastating for its status, as it was reduced back to a Principality dependent on Byzantine support, and was increasingly losing territory to Raska. By the time of Radoslav's reign as prince, he only held a small strip of land on the Dukljan coast (From Kotor to Ulcinj). By 1166, much of Duklja was occupied by Rascia, and in 1186, Stefan Nemanja annexed Duklja in its entirety after defeating the last Doclean prince – Mihailo (Radoslav's successor, and Nemanya's nephew).

Religious affairs

In the 10th century, following the Synod of Split, Split gained jurisdiction over much of the Croatian-Dalmatian coast, except southern regions (including most of Duklja), which were under the Archbisphopric of Dyrrhachium. However, Split's pre-eminent position was soon challenged by other cities vying for metropolinate status – Bar and Dubrovnik (Ragusa). The East-West Schism would soon have a great impact upon Serbia, not only religiously, but also politically. Since Serbia was positioned at the border zone between Roman and Constantinopolitan jurisdiction, Serb rulers tried to exploit this rivalry to their advantage.

The Slavs who lived along the southern Dalmatian coast fell under the religious jurisdiction of Rome, via the Archbishops of Split, Bar and Ragusa. The rest, in the hinterland stretching to Serbia, were under the Patriarch of Constantinople via the Archbishops of Ohrid, Sirmium and Dyrrhachium. King Mihailo's prerogative was to establish an autocephalous Slavic Church – an independent state requires an independent church. For political reasons, he turned to Rome, since at the time he was in less than amicable relations with Byzantium. Michael presumed that the Pope would jump at the chance to expand his jurisdiction in southern Dalmatia, but Michael's wish was not easily forthcoming. Although some studies have stated that his request to raise Bar to an Archbishopric was granted in 1067, it seems that the cited bull is not authentic.

In 1089, Constantine Bodin managed to raise the bishopric of Bar to an Archbishopric, by supporting the pope against an antipope. The suffragan bishops were to be: Kotor, Ulcinj, Svač, Skadar, Drivast, Pula, Ras, Bosnia and Trebinje.[40] In obtaining its promotion, it acquired a much larger diocese, including territory that earlier had not been under the pope – territories of the metropolitan of Durazzo and Archbishop of Ochrid, two sees that recognized the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.[40] The Bar Archbishopric's new territory were merely theoretical – the pope's edict could only affect the churches that recognized Rome.[40] Making Rascia a suffragan to Bar had little meaning, as most of its churches were under Constantinople, and there is no evidence of Vukan changing adherence to Rome.[40] Durazzo and Ochrid may have suffered minimal territorial losses along the coast, Duklja was briefly a subject to Rome, however inland Duklja was not affected, and along with much of Duklja's coast (like most of Kotor) was to retain its loyalty to Orthodoxy.[40]

List of rulers

After Mihailo, the region became part of Rascia, under the Vojislavljević- and then Nemanjić dynasty. At times, a royal title including "Duklja" was adopted, however, "of the Maritime lands" was mostly used throughout the Middle Ages.

See also


  1. ^ The corresponding demonym appearing in De administrando imperio is Διοκλητιανοί, "Diocletians".


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Moravcsik (1967, pp. 137, 153)
  8. ^ Fine, 1991, p. 37
  9. ^ Moravscik, 1967, p. 165
  10. ^ Fine, 1991, p. 53
  11. ^ a b Eginhartus de vita et gestis Caroli Magni, p. 192: footnote J10
  12. ^ a b Serbian studies, Volumes 2–3, p. 29
  13. ^ Moravscik, 1967, p. 143
  14. ^
  15. ^ Fine (2006, pp. 63–4)
  16. ^ Curta (2006, p. 210)
  17. ^ Curta (2006, p 141, footnote 64) The argument gains weight in light of Hew Evans' remarks about the absence of any archaeological evidence pertaining to the migration of any group into present-day Croatia between c.650 and c. 800
  18. ^ Whittow (1996, p. 263) "The Croats and Serbs have also been seen as rebels who broke away from the Avars to set up their own states in the 620s with the blessing of Emperor Heraklios. But the only evidence is an anachronistic story preserved in De Administrando Imperio which seems to have been invented in the late 9th or early 10th century to give historical precedent to current Byzantine policies."
  19. ^ Fine (2006, p. 2)
  20. ^ Curta (2006, p. 141) "some have concluded that the "Croat" refer not to ethnic identity, but to an elite"
  21. ^ Fine, 2006, p. 31
  22. ^ Hupchik, 2002, p. 54: "Jovan Vladimir, who ruled a renewed Serb state centered on Zeta (present-day Montenegro)"
  23. ^ The New Cambridge Medieval History, IV. 1024– 1198. Part II. Page 136. "In 1018 when Basil II conquered Bulgaria a number of Serbian principalities also fell under Byzantine rule. These included Raska.., Duklja.., Tribenje..., Zahumlje.., and Bosnia
  24. ^ Stephenson, 2003, pp. 42–43: Ljutovid's claim to be strategos not only of Zahumlje, but all Serbia suggests that he had been courted by the Emperor and awarded nominal rights over neighboring lands, including Duklja"
  25. ^ "Slavyane v rannem srednevekovie" Valentin V. Sedov, Archaeological institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1995, p. (Russian)
  26. ^ a b c Hupchik, p.
  27. ^
  28. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 148
  29. ^ a b Fine, 1991, p. 149
  30. ^ Fine, 1991, p. 150
  31. ^ Fine, 1991, p. 141
  32. ^ a b The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, p. 209
  33. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 160
  34. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  35. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, pp. 273–5.
  36. ^ a b Fine
  37. ^ Kekaumenos, ed Litavrin, 170–2
  38. ^ a b Fine, p. 202
  39. ^ a b Fine, 1991, pp. 203, 206–207
  40. ^ a b c d e Fine, 1991, p. 223


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