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Pagania, Merania or Neretvia (the Narentine Frontier, Greek: , Italian: Narentani) was a land settled by the Serbian tribe of Narentines in an area of southern Dalmatia (modern day Republic of Croatia), west of the river Neretva (Narenta). The Romano-Byzantines named the region Pagania because the Narentines didn't accept Christianity in the time that all Serbs did.
De Administrando Imperio states:
- "From the river Orontius begins Pagania and stretches along as far as the river Zentina; it has three 'zhupanates', Rhastotza and Mokros and that of Dalen. Two of these 'zhupanates', viz., Rhastotza and that of Mokros, lie on the sea, and possess galleys; but that of Dalenos lies distant from the sea, and they live by agriculture.
- Neighbour to them are four islands, Meleta, Kourkoura, Bratza and Pharos, most fair and fertile, with deserted cities upon them and many olive-yards; on these they dwell and keep their flocks, from which they live.
- "[...] these same Serbs decided to depart to their own homes, and the emperor sent them off. [...] And since what is now Serbia and Pagania and the so-called country of the Zachlumoi and Terbounia and the country of the Kanalites were under the dominion of the emperor of the Romans, [...] therefore the emperor settled these same Serbs in these countries"
Pagania bordered Croatia (Dalmatia) to the west and spread eastwards from the river of Cetina. It was consisted out of three lesser Principalities: Makar, Rastik (from Imotski to Ljubuški) and Dalen (which is not on the coast). It also included the islands of Mljet, Korčula (which also has a city of the same name), Brač and Hvar. The main Narentine cities were Vrulja (Gornja Brela), Mokro (Makarska), Ostrog (near modern Zaostrog) and Lavćen (Gradac) or Slavineca; but by far the most important was the fortified Omiš in the later ages. At the east, Neretvia reached the river of Neretva, which faced Zachlumia.
The Adriatic coastland that the Serbs inhabited when they migrated to the Neretvian area rang 75 kilometers from the mouth of Neretva in the Adriatic Sea at the east to the City of Split at the west. It was 10-20 kilometers wide.
The Narentines were named by their land, Neretvia, which was named by its neighbouring river. Their secondary name, Pagans (and thus their land Pagania), the Romano-Byzantines gave them because they weren't christianized in the time when most Serbs were. The Latin name Merania, meaning the Coastland, was also used - and it gave the name for its denizens: Marians. The late version of the name is plainly Frontier, signifying the most western Serbian borderland, facing another realm.
Next to sailing, the Marians were professed in trading, growing olives, figs and vineyards. On the outskirts of Biokovo and Mosor and on the islands, they herded cattle and they were also tilling the fields to an extent. In the later medieval ages, Merania imported wheat and exported wine, solted fish, dry fruits, etc.
Their best expertise and the main income of the Pagans was piracy. The loot was split traditionally just as the catch of fish - one half goes to the provider of the ships and/or the organizer of the hunt (Prince or Archont) and the other half is split amongst the crewmembers. They were especially notorious for their slave-trade. The main type of vessel the Narentines used was the Slavic Sagena (Latin: "Sagitta", meaning: "arrow") from the beginning of the 9th century, a variation of the Scandinavian Viking Drakkar. It was a long, relatively shallow vessel that was specific for its high speed with a slender body, a sharp bow and a mast. It was manned by 40 crewmembers that were at the same time professional fighters. Other than this type of vessel, the Pagans used the Kondura; a ship similar to the Sagena, but a lot smaller, with a crew of 20 members. The Marians also used other types of vessels and barges.
The Principality (Archonty) of Neretvia was created by the descendants of the unbaptised Serbs that were given the corresponding lands to inhabit in the 630s, unsatisfied with their previous lands in Servia, in the Theme of Thessalonika. As they abandoned their lands in the central Balkans and migrated backwards across the river of Danube, the White Serbs under the Unknown Archont convinced Emperor Flavius Heraclius Augustus through their envoy - the Governor of Singidunum - to give them new lands. There, they rather quickly assimilated the local Romanized Latin populace which transferred to them the secret of shipbuilding that combined with the already rich practical Slavic experience. Unlike elsewhere in Dalmatia, the Latin citizenry didn't manage to maintain its culture in Pagania, as cities lost their fame quickly - like Narona at the mouth of Neretva, a city that didn't survive the Slavic invasions.
The Slavic Narentine pirates have started to improve their shipbuilding trades when the Arabs started to massively jeopardize the Eastern Roman Imperial waters. The old fierce pirateering Illyrian tradition and their famous resistance against the Romans was relived. The Ancient Slavs were skilled shipbuilders and talented in the naval arts. Already by the middle of the 7th century - in 642 - the Slavs dispatched from the dalmatian coast towards Italia and invaded Siponto at the Gulf of Monte Gargano. Afterwards, raids in the Adriatic increased rapidly, until Slavs became the most fearsome threat to safe travelling.
In 827-828, when the majority of the Venetian naval power was campaigning in the Sicilian waters, the Narentines took more liberty in their raiding quests; but after the Venetian Navy returned, the Marians eased down again. One Narentine leader was baptised in the Republic of Venetia in 829, marking a Treaty between Merania and the Venetian Republic. Although, not feeling any excessive vow of loyalty - as soon as the times in the Adriatic or in Venetia got worse - they resurrected their old trade, thus braking the treaty. When the Narentines raided and slaughtered several Venetian traders returning from the Duchy of Benevento in southern Italia in 834/835, the Venetians were petrified. It is because of this that the new Venetian Doge, Pietro Tradonico led a large fleet against these Slavic pirates across the Adriatic in 839. To divide and conquer them, the Venetians made peace with Neretvia's traditional allies, the Croats of Dalmatia under Duke Mislav and with some of the Marian tribes led by Prince Družak (Drosaico, Marianorum judice). The Venetian offensive was launched again in 840 against the Narentine Prince Ljudislav, but met little success. Doge Pietro had lost more than 100 men on this campaign and had to return infamously to Venetia.
These Dalmatian Slavs utilized the moment of Venetian weakness when the Arabs were heavily attacking them, and took more and more daring military attempts against the Venetians. In 846, they breached to Venice itself and robbed the neighbouring lagoon city of Caorle. After numerous successful military attempts; self-conscience, freedom and tribalism gained ever more strength in Neretvia. The Marians were the first Serbs that took the initiative of fighting for themselves, but unlike other Slavs, these were strictly for the personal gains and guaranteed attaining of the loot.
The Narentines have for long by the second half of the 9th century been trying to remove their pirateering habits and change their lifestyle completely. Despite that, the Narentines kidnapped the Roman Bishop's emissaries that were returning from the Ecclesiastical Council in Constantinople in the middle of March of 870. The Pagans have for long resisted the influences of Christianity, until Eastern Roman Emperor Basil I of the Macedonian dynasty finally pacified them with a naval military attempt, after which he reunified the whole of Dalmatia under Imperial Byzantine rule and Constantinople. Pressed, the Pagans sent emissaries to the Emperor and requested baptising. The Byzantine Empire sent Priests to Pagania and put its Slavs under its protectorate.
The Arab mariners raided Narentine Brač in 872. The Arabs continued to dominate the Adriatic seas until the Byzantines pushed the Saracens out of it and the surrounding regions. As soon as the Imperial Navy abandoned the waters of the Adriatic, the Pagans couldn't resist to once more relive their old habits - which caused a Venetian military offensive against them in 886. Venetia's Doge Pietro I Candiano himself went with 12 Galleys to invade Neretvia's waters in 887 and sank 5 Narentine ships in the Port of Mokro. After he landed his forces near Mokro, he chased the Marians, advancing deeper inland. On 18 September 887, the Narentines rushed against him and decisively defeated him. In the battle, Doge Pietro I himself lost his life. This caused the Venetian Republic to renew the anti-Slavic alliance with King Berengar of Italy on 7 May 888.
Rascia's Princes have long wore the titles Grand Princes, seeing the Narentine territories, among others, as legally parts of their realm. After the 893 friendship between the former enemies, Rascia and Bulgaria, Grand Prince Petar Gojniković of the House of Vlastimirović started to exert his Rascian influence over Pagania with full effect. Dyrrhachium's Commander Lav Ravduh came to the Narentine Frontier to seek allies and to gain the Serbs against the growing Bulgarians. He met with Grand Prince Petar of Gojnik on the coast of Merania, where the Rascian ruler negotiated an alliance with the Byzantines.
In 917 Grand Prince Petar was tricked, and the Bulgarians installed his cousin, Pavle Branović of the same dynasty. As Pavle denied the suzerainty of the Bulgarian Czardom, Tsar Simeon deposed him because of this and implanted his brother-by-uncle Zaharije Pribislavljević in 920-923. With the Bulgarian destruction of the Rascian realm by trickery in 924, stateless anarchy under Bulgarian occupation came, with an extent of Croatian influence being present.
In 927 Prince Časlav Klonimirović, the last of the Vlastimirović dynasty returned and rebuilt Serbia by 931, maintaining relations with the suzeiran Byzantine Empire. Around this time, the Narentine Frontier had a Serbian character. After the death of Croatia's King Krešimir in 945, civil war erupted for the Croatian crown's succession, and the Narentine Serbs took the islands of Kaza, Vis and Lastovo during Prince Časlav's expansions. The Narentines served as the most fearsome Serb warriors. They stubbornly did not give up their old habits towards piracy, which caused Venetian Doge Pietro III Candiano to lead a fleet of 33 Galleys against them in 948, attacking twice; in two waves. Both military attempts have utterly failed to put an end to the Narentine domination of the Adriatic, and ever since the second, the Venetians were forced to pay taxes to the Marians for safe passage through the Adriatic Sea. In 960 the Serbian realm collapsed and the Byzantines created their own Theme of Serbia in its place. In the following periods of time, varying Croatian influence was present in the Narentine lands.
On 9 May 1000 during the Spring, Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo decided to subject the allied Croats and Narentines, protecting the interests of their trading colonies and the Dalmatian Romanized citizery. Without difficulties, he stroked the entire eastern Adriatic coastline - with only the Marians offering him some resistance. As a counterattack, the Narentines kidnapped 40 of Zadar's first-graded citizens and stole a transportation loaded by goods from Apulia. On their way home, Venetian Doge Peter II dispatched 10 ships that surprised them between Lastovo and Kača and took them as prisoners to Trogir. Narentine emissaries came to the Doge's temporary residence at Split to beg for the release of the prisoners. They guaranteed that the Marian Prince himself will show up with his men and renounce the old rights to tax the Venetians for free passage. All prisoners were allowed to return to their homes, except for 6 Narentines that were kept as hostages. The Pagans eased down, except for Lastovo and Korčula that continued to oppose the Venetians. Korčula was conquered by Doge Peter II and Lastovo fell too after long bloody fights. As Lastovo was very infamous in the Venetian world for being a pirate haven, the Doge ordered the Lastovo city to be evacuated in order to be razed. After the denizens of Lastovo soundly refused to concur, the Venetians attacked the City. It was seized and entirely razed to the ground by the Venetian forces.
As soon as the slavic Czardom from Macedonia was destroyed by the Byzantines in 1018, the Neretvians accepted Byzantine rule together with the Croatians.
Since the first half of the 12th century, the Narentine land became simply known as the Frontier and was completely absorbed into the neighbouring superior Zachlumia and the unified Serbian state. Croatia attempted to conquer the region in the late 13th and early 14th century, but failed eventually. It has remained as a part of the Serbian Hum until Zahumlje's conquest by the Bosnian Ban Stephen II Kotromanic in 1322-1326 with the exception of Omiš, which was seized by the Hungarians.
- History of Serbia
- History of Croatia
- History of Dalmatia
- History of the Republic of Venice
- The forgotten Serbian tribe - the Narentines by Marko Aleksić
- Ćorović, Vladimir (2005). ИЛУСТРОВАНА ИСТОРИЈА СРБА, Book I, Politika.
- Ćorović, Vladimir (2005). ИЛУСТРОВАНА ИСТОРИЈА СРБА, Book II, Politika.
- Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos, ca. 950, De Administrando Imperio, ed. Gy. Moravcsik, trans. R.J.H. Jenkins, rev. ed., Washington, Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1967.