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"Tsar" Šćepan Mali (Stephen the Little) (? - 22 September 1773) was a ruler of Montenegro from 1767 until his death in 1773. He seized the throne by falsely representing himself as the Russian Tsar Peter III.
During Christmas fasting in 1766, after the rumors spread by captain M. Tanović, in Montenegro appeared, supposedly, the Russian tzar Peter III, who was believed to had been murdered by the lovers of Catherine II in 1762. Having affection for Russia, Montenegrins accepted the newcomer as their new tzar (1768) under the name of Stephen the Little (Šćepan Mali). Vladika Sava conveyed to people Russian message that Šćepan is an ordinary crook, but the people believed the tzar rather than Sava. Following this event Šćepan the Little put Sava under house arrest in Stanjevići monastery.
Metropolitan Sava II wrote "The land has been silenced" and that all of Montenegro was under Šćepan Mali. When Šćepan Mali ruled Montenegro, he began to behave like an absolute ruler.
The Ottoman Empire was afraid of the fact that a Russian Tsar was in the Balkans. In May 1768, the sultan ordered an expedition to be made in Montenegro. A few months later, they sent 50,000 Ottoman forces to Montenegro to capture Šćepan Mali, but were unable to do so, they were decisively defeated 10-20 kilometers south of Cetinje.
Soon after, Šćepan began to heavily modernize the army, he used the style of Peter the Great's infantry, while due to a short supply of horses, he had no cavalry. The new green uniforms were donated by the Russian government from its old 1720s stock supplies.
The Russian Government sent Prince Georgiy Dolgorukov to Montenegro to gain control of Montenegro and eliminate Šćepan Mali. In August 1769, he arrived in Montenegro but was unable to capture Šćepan Mali. As the Montenegrin people, upon hearing from Šćepan himself that he was not Tsar Peter III, were shocked, they went over the shock and proclaimed him now as Tsar Šćepan I. Šćepan the Little was very cruel but respected and feared man during his reign. After realizing how much respect he commands, and that only him can keep Montenegrins together, Russian diplomat Dolgoruki abandoned his efforts to discredit Scepan giving him even financial support. In 1771 Šćepan founded the permanent court composed of most respected clan leaders, and stubbornly insisted on respect of the courts decision.
In 1770, the Venetians, an ally of the Ottoman Empire, sent a 10.000-strong force to Dubrovnik to group and battle with Šćepan Mali, the armies met at Kotor, in total there were 500 Venetians wounded and some 350 killed, and the Montenegrins officially won with much lower casualties, while the retreat of the Venetians was secured by Šćepan himself for 10.000 gold coins paid by the Venetians and all their weapons and 4 cannons surrendered. This was the first and only time for Montenegro to use westernised tactics of warfare (e.g. line infantry and such ) in the 18th century.
In 1772 Šćepan was given a rank of Lieutenant-General of the Russian Imperial Army, an Order of Saint Vladimir 2nd class and a hussar's uniform as a gift from Catherine the Great. He was one of the first recipients of the medal.
Šćepan Mali was killed while sleeping on late-night 22 September 1773 by his barber, whose family was captured by the Turkish pasha and he was threatened with their safety and lives, his name is still unknown.
The importance of Šćepan personality in uniting Montenegrins was realized soon after his assassination conducted by order of vizier of Skadar, Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija. Montenegrin tribes once again engaged into blood feuding among themselves. Mahmut-Pasha Bushatlija tried to seize the opportunity and attacked Kuči with 30 000 troops. For the first time since Vladika Danilo, Kuči were helped by Piperi and Bjelopavlići, and defeated Turks twice in two years.
- Istorijski leksion Crne Gore: Per - Ž ISBN 86-7706-169-X
- (Jagos Jovanovic, Stvaranje Crnogorske drzave i razvoj Crnogorske nacionalnosti, 1947, Obod-Cetinje).
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