Prince-Bishopric of Montenegro

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Prince-Bishopric of Montenegro

Flag Coat of arms
Old Montenegro and Brda region (1862)
Location of Montenegro in Europe, 19th century
Capital Cetinje
Languages Slavo-Serbian (written)
Religion Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Government Ecclesiastical principality (1696–1767, 1773–1852)
 -  1696–1735 Danilo I (first)
 -  1851-1852 Danilo II (last)
Legislature Assembly of Montenegro and the Hills
 -  Establishment 1696
 -  Secularisation to principality¹ 13 March 1852
 -  1851 5,475 km² (2,114 sq mi)
Currency Montenegrin perun (proposed)

Prince-Bishopric of Montenegro was аn ecclesiastical principality that existed from 1696 until 1852. It emerged from the Serbian Orthodox bishops of Cetinje, later metropolitans, who renounced Ottoman overlordship and transformed the parish of Cetinje to a Russian de facto protectorate, ruling as Metropolitans (vladika, also rendered "Prince-Bishop").[1][2][3] The history starts with Danilo Šćepčević, a bishop of Cetinje who united several clans of Montenegro into fighting the Ottoman Empire that had occupied most of southeastern Europe. Danilo was the first of the House of Petrović-Njegoš to occupy the office as Metropolitan of Cetinje until 1851, when Montenegro became a secular state (principality) under Danilo I Petrović-Njegoš. Also, it became a brief monarchy when it was temporary abolished 1767–1773, when impostor Little Stephen, posed as Russian Emperor and crowned himself Lord of Montenegro.


The state was virtually the Metropolitanate of Zeta under the supervision of the Petrović-Njegoš family. The name mostly used in historiography is "Metropolitanate of Cetinje" or "Cetinje Metropolitanate" (Цетињска митрополија).[4] The highest office-holder of the polity was the Metropolitan (Vladika, also rendered "Prince-Bishop"). Metropolitan Danilo I (1696-1735) called himself "Danil, Metropolitan of Cetinje, Njegoš, Duke of the Serb land" („Данил, владика цетињски, Његош, војеводич српској земљи...").[5][6] When Bjelopavlići and the rest of the Hills was joined into the state during the rule of Peter I, it was officially called "Black Mountain (Montenegro) and the Hills" (Црна Гора и Брда).[7]

Travers Twiss used the English term "Prince-Bishopric of Montenegro", for the first time, in 1861.[8]


Fall of Zeta[edit]

Further information: Zeta under the Crnojevići

Zeta became an Ottoman polity in 1498, when Ivan Crnojević became an Ottoman vassal. In 1514, it was established as a sanjak, by order of Sultan Bayezid II. The first sanjak-bey was Ivan's son Skenderbeg Crnojević, who had converted into Islam, and held office 1514–28.

Metropolitanate (non-hereditary)[edit]

By 1534, the last of the Crnojević family retired to Venice,[9] which later resulted in the Serbian Orthodox bishops of Cetinje becoming the spiritual and political leaders of the people in Zeta (which by now began to be known as Montenegro). Because of this, the title vladika (metropolitan) is also rendered "prince-bishop". The metropolitan consolidated the tribes and peasantry in the mountains. The metropolitans were elected by assemblies. According to Petar I Petrović-Njegoš: "The Vladika is an exemplary Montenegrin, as were the first Vladikas, and he cannot be but a born Montenegrin from one of the best Montenegrin families." Montenegrin historian Rovinski noted: "The Vladikas were true spiritual and popular leaders of the Montenegrin people. The Vladika was a guardian of the people's spiritual strength and self-awareness, based on faith and the tradition of heroism and glorious ancestors [...] the Vladikas governed not by brute force but by purely moral influence, persuasion and prayers. And they all recognized the supreme authority of the Faith and the Church in which the Vladikas and the people were one. It was a special kind of spiritual brotherhood".[10]

The institution of ecclesiastical rule and the individuals who occupied it through the centuries were key to Montenegro's independence, the Montenegrin national identity and unity, against the backdrop of tribal divisions. Surrounded by the Ottoman Empire, nestled in the highlands around the Mount Lovćen, Montenegro kept its sovereignty through the leadership of the metropolitan. The eparchy, having overcome the phase of a passive onlooker, took active, and even leading political role in the fight for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the 17th century, Montenegrins fought and won two important battles at Lješkopolje (1603 and 1613), under the leadership and command of Cetinje's metropolitan, Rufim Njeguš. This was the first time that the metropolitan had led and defeated the Ottomans.[11] The 17th century was a difficult period for the small, landlocked state, which was almost constantly at war with the Ottomans. Although Ottoman forces suffered many defeats in the hands of Montenegrins who not only kept their independence but progressively reasserted their sovereignty over neighboring territories, Cetinje itself was captured in 1623, in 1687, and again in 1712.[clarification needed] Three factors explain the failure of the Ottomans to subdue it completely:[citation needed]

  • the obdurate resistance of the population,
  • the inhospitable character of the terrain (in which a cynic may say that "a small army is beaten, a large one dies of starvation"), and
  • the adept use of diplomatic ties with Venice.

From 1519 until 1696 the position of vladika was an elective one, but in the latter year Metropolitan Danilo I Petrović-Njegoš was elected to the position with the significant novelty of being able to nominate his own successor. Although Orthodox clergy in general are permitted to marry, bishops are required to be celibate; consequently, Danilo passed his office to his nephew-founding a tradition that lasted until 1852.


Metropolitans of the Petrović-Njegoš family[edit]

Danilo I of Montenegro

During the reign of Danilo two important changes occurred in the wider European context of Montenegro: the expansion of the Ottoman state was gradually reversed, and Montenegro found in the Russian Empire a powerful new patron to replace the declining Venice. The replacement of Venice by Russia was especially significant, since it brought financial aid (after Danilo visited Peter the Great in 1715), modest territorial gain, and, in 1789, formal recognition by the Ottoman Porte of Montenegro's independence as a state under Petar I Petrović Njegoš.

Metropolitan Danilo was succeeded by Metropolitan Sava and Metropolitan Vasilije. Sava was predominantly occupied with clerical duties and did not enjoy as much charisma among tribal heads as his predecessor did. However, he managed to keep good relations with Russia, and to get considerable help from Peter the Great's successor empress Elizabeth. During his trip to Russia his deputy Vasilije Petrović gained considerable respect among the tribes by giving support to those who at that time were attacked by the Ottomans. He was as much hated by the Venetians as he was by the Ottomans. Vasilije was also active in trying to solicit Russian support for Montenegro. For that purpose he traveled to Russia three times, where he also died in 1766. He also wrote one of the earliest historical books on Montenegro, History of Montenegro.

Reign of impostor Šćepan Mali[edit]

Further information: Šćepan Mali

In 1766, a person known as Šćepan Mali ("Stephen the Little") appeared in Montenegro, rumoured to be Russian Emperor Peter III, who in fact had been assassinated in 1762. Having affection for Russia, the Montenegrins accepted him as their Emperor (1768). Metropolitan Sava had told the people that Šćepan was an ordinary crook, but the people believed him instead. Following this event Šćepan put Sava under house arrest in the Stanjevići monastery. Šćepan was very cruel and thus both respected and feared. After realizing how much respect he commanded, and that only he could keep Montenegrins together, Russian diplomat Dolgoruki abandoned his efforts to discredit Šćepan, even giving him financial support. In 1771 Šćepan founded the permanent court composed of the most respected clan chiefs, and stubbornly insisted on respect of the court's decision.

The importance of Šćepan's personality in uniting Montenegrins was realized soon after his assassination conducted by order of Kara Mahmud Bushati, the pasha of Scutari. Montenegrin tribes once again engaged into blood feuding among themselves. Bushati tried to seize the opportunity and attacked Kuči with 30,000 troops. For the first time since Metropolitan Danilo, the Kuči were helped by Piperi and Bjelopavlići, and defeated the Ottomans twice in two years.[12][page needed]

Reign of Petar I[edit]

After Šćepan's death, gubernadur (title created by Metropolitan Danilo to appease Venetians) Jovan Radonjić, with Venetian and Austrian help, tried to impose himself as the new ruler. However, after the death of Sava (1781), the Montenegrin chiefs chose archimandrite Petar Petrović, who was a nephew of Metropolitan Vasilije, as successor.

Petar I assumed the leadership of Montenegro at a very young age and during most difficult times. He ruled almost half a century, from 1782 to 1830. Petar I was a wise bishop and a great military commander who won many crucial victories against the Ottomans, including at Martinići and Krusi in 1796. With these victories, Petar I liberated and consolidated control over the Highlands (Brda) that had been the focus of constant warfare, and also strengthened bonds with the Bay of Kotor, and consequently the aim to expand into the southern Adriatic coast.

In 1806, as French Emperor Napoleon advanced toward the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, aided by several Russian battalions and a fleet of Dmitry Senyavin, went to war against the invading French forces. Undefeated in Europe, Napoleon's army was however forced to withdraw after defeats at Cavtat and at Herceg-Novi. In 1807, the Russian–French treaty ceded the Bay to France. The peace lasted less than seven years; in 1813, the Montenegrin army, with ammunition support from Russia and Britain, liberated the Bay from the French. An assembly held in Dobrota resolved to unite the Bay of Kotor with Montenegro. But at the Congress of Vienna, with Russian consent, the Bay was instead granted to Austria. In 1820, to the north of Montenegro, the Morača tribe won a major battle against an Ottoman force from Bosnia.

During his long rule, Petar strengthened the state by uniting the often quarreling tribes, consolidating his control over Montenegrin lands, and introducing the first laws in Montenegro. He had unquestioned moral authority strengthened by his military successes. His rule prepared Montenegro for the subsequent introduction of modern institutions of the state: taxes, schools and larger commercial enterprises. When he died, he was by popular sentiment proclaimed a saint.

Reign of Petar II[edit]

Following the death of Petar I, his 17-year old nephew, Rade Petrović became Metropolitan Petar II. By historian and literary consensus, Petar II, commonly called "Njegoš", was the most impressive of the Prince-Bishops, having laid the foundation of the modern Montenegrin state and the subsequent Kingdom of Montenegro. He was the most acclaimed Montenegrin poet.

A long rivalry had existed between the Montenegrin metropolitans from the Petrović family and the Radonjić family, a leading clan which had long vied for power against the Petrović's authority. This rivalry culminated in Petar II's era, though he came out victorious from this challenge and strengthened his grip on power by expelling many members of the Radonjić family from Montenegro.

In domestic affairs, Petar II was a reformer. He introduced the first taxes in 1833 against stiff opposition from many Montenegrins whose strong sense of individual and tribal freedom was fundamentally in conflict with the notion of mandatory payments to the central authority. He created a formal central government consisting of three bodies, the Senate, the Guardia and the Perjaniks. The Senate consisted of 12 representatives from the most influential Montenegrin families and performed executive and judicial as well as legislative functions of government. The 32-member Guardia traveled through the country as agents of the Senate, adjudicating disputes and otherwise administering law and order. The Perjaniks were a police force, reporting both to the Senate and directly to the Metropolitan.

Before his death in 1851, Petar II named his nephew Danilo as his successor. He assigned him a tutor and sent him to Vienna, from where he continued his education in Russia. According to some historians Petar II most likely prepared Danilo to be a secular leader. However, when Petar II died, the Senate, under influence of Djordjije Petrović (the wealthiest Montenegrin at the time), proclaimed Petar II's elder brother Pero as Prince and not Metropolitan. Nevertheless, in a brief struggle for power, Pero, who commanded the support of the Senate, lost to the much younger Danilo who had more support among the people. In 1852, Danilo proclaimed a secular Principality of Montenegro with himself as Prince and formally abolished ecclesiastical rule.[13]


In Danilo I's Code, dated to 1855, he explicitly states that he is the "knjaz (duke, prince) and gospodar (lord) of the Free Black Mountain (Montenegro) and the Hills".[14]

List of rulers[edit]

Part of a series on the
History of Montenegro
Coat of arms of Montenegro
Middle Ages and early modern
Modern and contemporary
Montenegro portal
Petrović-Njegoš Metropolitans of Cetinje
Metropolitan of Cetinje (not Petrović-Njegoš)
Petrović-Njegoš Metropolitans of Cetinje

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Victoria Clark, Why angels fall: a journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo, p. 93
  2. ^ Robert Bideleux, Ian Jeffries, A history of eastern Europe: crisis and change, p. 86
  3. ^ Anthony Trollope, Saint Pauls, Volume 5, p. 430
  4. ^ Milija Stanišić (2005). Dubinski slojevi trinaestojulskog ustanka u Crnoj Gori. Istorijski institut Crne Gore. p. 114. Као што смо претходно казали, стицајем историјских и друштвених околности Цетињска митрополија је постала не само духовни него и политички центар Црне Горе, Брда и негдашњег Зетског приморја. Заједно са главарским ... 
  5. ^ Matica srpska, Lingvistička sekcija (1974). Zbornik za filologiju i lingvistiku, Volume 17, Issues 1-2. Novi Sad: Matica srpska. p. 84. Данил, митрополит Скендерије u Приморја (1715. г.),28 Данил, владика цетински Његош, војеводич српској земљи (1732. г.). 
  6. ^ Velibor V. Džomić (2006). Pravoslavlje u Crnoj Gori. Svetigora. То се види не само по његовом познатом потпису „Данил Владика Цетињски Његош, војеводич Српској земљи" (Запис 1732. г.) него и из цјелокупког његовог дјелања као митрополита и господара. Занимљиво је у том контексту да ... 
  7. ^ Etnografski institut (Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti) (1952). Posebna izdanja, Volumes 4-8. Naučno delo. p. 101. Када, за владе Петра I, црногорсксу држави приступе Б^елопавлиЬи, па после и остала Брда, онда je, званично, „Црна Гора и Брда" 
  8. ^ Travers Twiss (1861). The law of nations considered as independent political Communities. University Press. pp. 95–. 
  9. ^ (J.Jovanovic,1948, Stvaranje Crnogorske Drzave i Razvoj Crnogorske Nacionalnosti, 1948, Cetinje, p. 54-55).
  10. ^ Rovinski (1989). Crna Gora u proslosti i sadasnjosti. Cetinje. pp. 352–3. 
  11. ^ (D. Zivkovic, Istorija Crnogorskog Naroda, Cetinje, 1989)[page needed]
  12. ^ Jovanovic, Jagos (1947). Stvaranje Crnogorske drzave i razvoj Crnogorske nacionalnosti. Cetinje: Obod. 
  13. ^ Jovanovic 1947, p. 233
  14. ^ Stvaranje, 7–12. Obod. 1984. p. 1422. Црне Горе и Брда историјска стварност коЈа се не може занема- рити, што се види из назива Законика Данила I, донесеног 1855. године који гласи: „ЗАКОНИК ДАНИЛА I КЊАЗА И ГОСПОДАРА СЛОБОДНЕ ЦРНЕ ГОРЕ И БРДА". 

External links[edit]