The beginning of the town of Dubrovnik is still a burning topic of discussion of many local and foreign historicists. Many date it in the 6th century, when Slavic tribes penetrated to the Adriatic Sea, then ruled by the Romans. Suppressed by the newcomers, Romans fled Epidaurus, the contemporary Cavtat into the 20-kilometer-away place called ‘Laus’, the contemporary Dubrovnik. Not long after that, the Slavs inhabited the northern part of ‘Laus’ and started a peaceful coexistence with the Romans. The result of that coexistence is the beginning of Dubrovnik.
‘Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro’ – ‘Freedom should not be sold, not even for all the riches of this world’, is, not at all surprisingly, the slogan which has been following both the town of Dubrovnik and the Dubrovnik Republic since the very beginning. Throughout history, Dubrovnik established itself as one of the most interesting and most attractive cities in the Mediterranean.
Faced with the threat of the Ottoman Empire from the east and the powerful Republic of Venice from the west, Dubrovnik, through its diplomatic endeavors and due to its geographical position, managed to find a way to become a trading center between Islam and Catholicism. According to the Council of Basel of the Roman-Catholic church in 1433, it became the only Christian country in the entire world allowed to trade with the Islamic countries. Through a papal license, it became a neutral diplomatic-trading zone in the conflict between Asia and Europe spreading through many centuries. While those gigantic forces of the East and the West were in mutual conflict, Dubrovnik acquired immense wealth in gold, silver, wheat, wool, and particularly salt thanks to its famous trading fleet. Salt was the very beginning of the trade connection of Dubrovnik with the rest of the world.
Shipbuilding flourished in the 16th, making the trading fleet of Dubrovnik the third fleet of the Mediterranean. The famous fleet of ‘Ragusae’ (the Latin name for Dubrovnik) had more than 200 than then biggest ships in Europe. A very prominent type of ship deserves special mention – ‘Karaka’, the replica of which sails even today, presenting the legendary naval past of Dubrovnik.
The society of Dubrovnik was in the beginning divided into three estates: the slaves, the commoners and the nobility. Slavery and slave trade were abolished as far back as 1417, significantly earlier than many larger countries of the world. This was followed by the period from the 15th to the 19th century, where the society was formed only from the commoners and the nobility, and the government was exclusively in the hands of the latter through three bodies: The Major and the Minor City Council, and the Senate. The primary task of the Major Council was the selection of the Republic’s officials, passing laws, solving state and legal issues, and was comprised of all the male participants of the patrician inhabitants older than 18. The Minor Council, comprised of 11 councilmen, was the executive body of both the Major Council and the Senate, when it comes to communal activities, organizing festivities, and advising the Rector. The Rector had a monthly term, which prohibited autocracy. Thus, the government was controlled by the Major Council and the Senate, the motto of who was ‘Obliti privatorum, non publica curate’ – ‘Disregard the personal, take care of the public’. Engraved in the marble of the Rector’s Palace, this saying was a daily reminder to the councilmen as to how important the decision they reach is. The governing bodies remained in place until the arrival of the French in 1808 when Napoleon abolished the Republic and thus the aristocracy.