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 History of Seafaring in Croatia

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PostSubject: History of Seafaring in Croatia   Fri Oct 19, 2012 2:52 pm


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Due to geopolitical importance, Adriatic was always hard to guard. Croatians have realized that fact soon after coming to new homeland. They learn naval skills and become mediterranean people with naval tradition which will have long continuity. Croatians have kept their national identity despite being on a historical windward side, exposed to different pressures. Among other things, sea was source of energy, creativity, inspiration.
According to Langobardian writer Paulus Diaconus, in year 642. Croatians are present with multitude of ships under city of Sepont (now Manfredonia in south Italy). In Venetian texsts from second half of 7th century there are many mentions of problems Venetian Republic had with Croatian privateers; privateering was, at the time, important source of revenue for most or all countries. They also mention Croatians as successfull shipbuilders.

Since time of duke Vladislav (821. - 835.) sources mention strong navy. Thanks to naval power of Croatia, duke Mislav (835. - 845.) prevented Venetia from establishing control on east Adriatic. During duke Trpimir (845. - 864.) Croatians have penetrated to Furlania and Venice itself.
Strong Croatian Navy has successfully defended Croatian coast from Venice during duke Domagoj (864.-876.), and 866. Venetian doge Partezipazio has been forced to make peace.
Important problem of that time on Adriatic were Saracens. As a result, alliance has been signed between Roman (Byzantine) Empire, Venice and Croatia, which has been joined later by Pope and Franks; in 871. Croatian navy helps Frankish emperor Ludovic II. to free Bari from Saracen occupation.

During time of duke Branimir (879. - 892.), that is in time when Croatia becomes completely independent country, Croatian Navy continues to rise. That is time during which known battle in middle-Dalmatian aquatorium happens on 18th September 887. In that battle, Venetian douge Peter Candiano was killed. For next hundred years, Venetians will be paying tribute to Croatia for passage near Croatian coast.

In work of Constantine Porphyrogenetos "De administando imperio" he says that Croatia of Tomislav's age had 80 sagenes with 40 sailors each and 100 condures with 10 to 20 sailors each, not counting rowers. According to that, only Roman Empire had larger navy. He also says that Croatia of king Tomislav could raise 60 000 horsemen and 100 000 infantrymen (accuracy of these claims is disputed; I personally believe these numbers could be accurate, as Croatian army of that time was basically composed of all military-age males who could carry the sword - note by Picard). Time of Stjepan Držislav (969. - 996.) was marked with successfull naval trade and defense of sea lines, and domination of Croatia on eastern shore of Adriatic sea.
King of Croatia and Dalmatia Petar Krešimir IV. (1058. - 1074.) expanded his kingdom "on land and on sea". In his deed of donation to monastery of St. Krševan in Zadar, made in year 1069., it is written that he gives them island of Maun which is located "in our Dalmatian sea" ("in nostro dalmatico mari"). At same time mentioned is duke of royal navy Rusin, and title "duke" itself, carried only by very important persons in the kingdom, says about importance of navy.
In first year of Zvonimir's rule (1074. - 1089.) Normans enter the Adriatic Sea. In one battle with them, according to some sources, Croatian king himself has been captured, to be released only on Pope's insistence.

Normans took the cities on the eastern shore. It is only certain that Rab never fell.
From year 1082. to 1084. lasts alliance between Croatians and Normans, made under influence of Pope Gregor VII: Normans and Croatians together fight a series of battles against Byzantine-Venetian navy, with changing luck (For example, Venetian navy has been mauled in November of 1084. and August of 1085.). Unfortunately, with Zvonimir's death, political and military power of country enters steep decline, and shore is - except for Republic of Dubrovnik - taken first by Venetian Republic and then by Napoleon (1787). Power of Republic of Dubrovnik can be seen from naval power too. Republic in 1800 had 673 sailing ships including fishing ones, and 225 ships were larger vessels that sailed outside of territorial waters of Dubrovnik.

Total number of sailing ships with ocean capability was 230 ships. Republic had its consulates in over 80 cities. Then, in Dubrovnik were around 7 000 mariners, shipbuilders, ship owners and other members of maritime professions.
Time from 1806. to 1813. is time of French rule of marshall Marmont in Dalmatia and development of maritime trade.
After Napoleon came Austria, later Austro-Hungary, and on day 2. 11. 1818. first steam ship, Carolina, set sail on Adriatic sea. In early 1838., free steamship navigation was declared on Adriatic sea, with regular steam ship line Trieste-Mali Lošinj-Zadar-Šibenik-Split-Hvar-Korčula-Dubrovnik-Kotor. That year was marked by end of dominance of sailling ships and entrance of steam ships into war fleet.

Italian king Victor Emanuel II. declares war on Austria in June 1866. 20. September Austrian and Italian fleets met in a combat near Vis. With victory in that battle, Austria secures dominance on Adriatic sea.

In year 1869. Austrian frigatte "Donau", 2000 GRT with 350 crew members - all of them except higher officers from eastern coast of Adriatic sea - undertakes voyage around the world. Voyage was successfull, with ship leaving Pola in July and returning in March, after circumventing the globe. Ship's diary, written by crewmember Matija Politeo from Starigrad on island of Hvar has been preserved.
Time from 1911. to 1914. is extremely important for developement of the navy. In that era, its largest ships have been launched: dreadnoughts "Viribus Unitis", "Tegetthoff", "Prinz Eugen" and "Szent Istvan".

In year 1918. Austro-Hungary battlefleet was forced, on decree by emperor Karl, to surrender itself to delegates of National Committee from Zagreb and Local Council of National Committee in Pola. That day ship flew the Croatian flag. Unfortunately, Italian diversants sink the "Viribus Unitis" same day, along with 250 sailors and commander Janko Vukotić. Both commercial and war marine continue to develop under leadership of Croatian naval experts during Kingdom of SHS and both Yugoslavias; and since 1991., Croatian sailors no longer serve foreigners, but in Croatian Navy.
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