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The Narentines (Greek: (Ν)αρεντάνοι - (N)arentanoi; Serbo-Croatian: Neretvani, Неретљани; Italian: Narentani, Narentini) was an ethnonym of a South Slavic tribe that occupied an area of southern Dalmatia west of the river Neretva or "Narenta". They were known for their piracy, so they are today known as the Neretva pirates. Some sources referred to their realm as Pagania (Паганија, Paganija) because they were pagan. The tribe ceased to be recognized after their Christianization in the 9th century, and particularly after the Venetian crackdown at the turn of the 10th century.
Another name for the polity was the Latin Merania, meaning "coastland", and Marians to denote the inhabitants. Another term used was Krajinjane, Craynenses, Cherenania.[clarification needed] Venetian sources refer to the people as "Narentine Slavs" (Narrentanos Sclavos). The chronicle of John the Deacon distinguishes between the Narentines and Dalmatian Croatia.
De Administrando Imperio by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (r. 913–959), says that "Pagani are descended from the unbaptized Serbs" and that "The Pagani are so called because they did not accept baptism at the time when all the Serbs were baptized."
It has been suggested that the label of "pirates" was applied by the victorious Venetians following the Battle at Cape Mika.
A strange republic of Servian pirates arose at the mouth of the Narenta. In the 10th century description of Dalmatia by Constantine Porphyrogenitus (De Administrando Imperio, pp. 29-37), this region is called Pagania, from the fact that its inhabitants had only accepted Christianity about 890, or 250 years later than the other Slavs. These Pagani, or Narentani defeated a Venetian fleet in 887, and for more than a century exacted tribute from Venice itself. In 998 they were finally crushed by the doge Pietro Orseolo II., who assumed the title duke of Dalmatia, though without prejudice to Byzantine suzerainty.—Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
According to DAI, Pagania consisted of three župas: Rhastotza, Mokros and Dalen. Rhastotza and Mokros lay by the coast, and had galleys, while Dalen was distant from the sea and was based on agriculture. The territory included the inhabited cities of Mokron, Beroullia, Ostrok and Slavinetza, and the fertile islands of Kourkra (or Kiker), Meleta (or Malozeatai, modern Mljet), Phara (modern Hvar) and Bratzis (modern Brač). The Pagani raised flocks on the islands. The islands in the vicinity, which were not part of Pagania, were Chora (modern Korčula), Iës (modern Vis) and Lastobon (modern Lastovo). Croatia was situated to the west, and Zachumlia to the east; Serbia was situated inland to the north, behind Pagania, Zachumlia, Travunia and Doclea, and bordered to Croatia on the rivers Tzentina and Chlebena.
The Adriatic coastland that the Narentians (Neretljani) inhabited ranged 75 kilometers from the mouth of Neretva in the Adriatic Sea at the east to the river Cetina at the west. It was 10-20 kilometers wide, and consisted of three smaller župas: Makar (Makarska), Rastik (from Imotski to Ljubuški) and Dalen (which is not on the coast). The main early Narentine cities were Vrulja (today Gornja Brela), Mokro (today Makarska), Ostroga (today Zaostrog) and Lavćen/Slavineca (today Gradac). The fortified city of Omiš was important in the later ages.
They operated off the Neretva Delta, a dense maze of reed beds, which provided ample shelter and cover for escape after pirate raids. Their secret village was established far enough upriver to avoid capture, as their small boats, the lađa, could navigate the narrow and shallow waters without fear of pursuit. No bridges connected Komin to the mainland and the village was (and remains) hidden from the open sea by the mountains of the Pelješac peninsula.
The Narentines fiercely opposed Christianity, seeing it as a means of oppression, and cherished their Slavic Paganism for a long time. They converted to Christianity about 890, or 250 years later than the other Slavs.
Next to sailing, the Narentines were proficient in trading, growing olives, figs and vineyards. On the outskirts of Biokovo and Mosor and on the islands, they herded cattle and also tilled the fields to some extent. In the later medieval ages, Merania imported wheat and exported wine, salted fish, dry fruits, etc.
The Narentines were experts at piracy, which was their main source of income. The loot was split traditionally as was 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 selling captives into slavery.
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 Narentines rulers were called Morstiks and Judges, although the Church refers to them as Kings. The titles of the nobility were typical Slavic titles: Župan, Treasure-keeper, Chaplain, Knight.
Slavs began overrunning the Balkans in the 6th century. In 639 AD, Narona, until then a flourishing Roman city, was destroyed by a horde of Avars and Slavs. A few years later, Slavic tibes took control of the lower Neretva. The Slavs built a new town on the ruins of Narona, and erected a monument to their Slavic god Svetovid, on the ruins of Roman temples. Narentia became a stronghold for pagans in the Balkans, similarly to Baltic Slavs in Rügen (Roman Arkona). The Narentines remained pagan until 873, when Byzantine admiral Nicetas Ooryphas persuaded them to accept baptism. The Slavic god Svetovid (Vid) was transformed into the Christian saint Vitus.
The Narentine pirates started to improve their shipbuilding trades when the Arabs started to massively jeopardize the Eastern Roman Imperial waters. The Slavs became skilled shipbuilders and talented in the naval arts. As the original Illyrian population dwindled, the remaining Illyrians taught the Slavic people the traditional trade of the coast, becoming the only experts in navigation and buccaneering that the Slavic people have turned out.
Already by the middle of the 7th century – in 642 – the Slavs dispatched from the Dalmatian coast towards Italy 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 Narentines eased down again. One Narentine leader was baptised in the Republic of Venetia in 829, marking a Treaty between Merania and the Venetian Republic. However the felt no great need to faithfully observe the treaty: when Venice weakened they resurrected their old trade of piratical raiding. 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 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 South Slavs that took the initiative of fighting for themselves, but unlike other Slavs, these were strictly for the personal gain of looting. In the 9th century, the pirates destroyed the fortified settlement of Sipar (Istria), six miles north of Umag.
By the second half of the 9th century the Narentines had long been trying change their lifestyle from piracy 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 870. The Pagans 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. Pressed, the Pagans sent emissaries to the Emperor and requested baptising. The Byzantine Empire sent priests to Pagania and established a protectorate over the Slavs. They were baptized after 870. 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 could not resist reviving 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, which caused the Venetian Republic to renew the anti-Slavic alliance with Berengar of Italy on 7 May 888.
The Serbian monarchs, who saw the Narentine territories, among others, as legally parts of their realm, sought to incorporate Narentine within its borders. After the 893 friendship between the former enemies, Serbia and Bulgaria, Grand Prince Petar Gojniković of the Vlastimirović dynasty started to exert his influence over Pagania with full effect. Dyrrhachium's governor Leo Rhabdouchos came to the Narentine Frontier to seek allies and to gain support against the growing threat of the Bulgarians. He met with Grand Prince Petar on the coast of Merania, where the Serbian 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 installed his cousin Zaharije Pribislavljević in 920–923, but then tricked the nobility and annexed Serbia in 924–927.
In 927 Prince Časlav Klonimirović, the last of the Vlastimirović dynasty returned and rebuilt Serbia by 931, maintaining relations with the Byzantine Empire. After the death of Croatian King Krešimir in 945, civil war erupted over succession to the Croatian crown, and the Narentines took the islands of Kaza, Vis and Lastovo. They refused to give up piracy, which caused Doge Pietro III Candiano to lead a fleet of 33 Galleys against them in 948, attacking in two waves. Both military attempts 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 the Catepanate of Ras in its place, and the Narentines fell to Croatian influence. On 9 May 1000, Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo  decided to conquer the allied Croats and Narentines, protecting the interests of their trading colonies and the Dalmatian Romanized citizenry. Without difficulty, he struck the entire eastern Adriatic coastline - with only the Marians offering him some resistance. As a counterattack, the Narentines kidnapped 40 of Zadar's (Zara) foremost citizens and stole a transport of 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 (Spalato) 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. Lastovo and Korčula 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 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 Bulgarian Empire was destroyed by the Byzantines in 1018, the Neretvians were briefly annexed by the Byzantine Empire in the Theme of Arentanoi.
By the 12th century, the pirates of Omiš were known to conduct raids as far north as Zara and as far south as northern Albania, and organized under the local clan of Kačić. In 1167, the city of Cattaro (now called Kotor) was forced to pay tribute to knez Nikola Kačić of Omiš; a similar agreement was made with Ragusa (later Republic of Ragusa) in 1190.
In the early 13th century, Venice occupied Zara and Ragusa, but their trade was impacted by these pirates, so even they agreed to a signed truce in 1208. In 1258, the Kačić family received noble status from the King of Hungary Bela IV. Naval battles were recorded in 1274 and later, even after 1409 when Ladislaus of Naples sold Dalmatia to Venice, as the city of Omiš was occupied by the Venetians only in 1444.
- Fine, 2006, p. 39: "Venice continued having trouble with the Neretljani, sending ships against the Neretljani Slavs (Narrentanos Sclavos) in 887, as noted above, and also in 948. Having reached his own times, John the Deacon becomes aware of the term..."
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