Research Focus

Research Context - Late Medieval Dalmatia

Research on East Mediterranean urban communities and on Venice´s overseas empire has made considerable progress in recent years, and VISCOM was able to contribute its share to this development. The “Companion to Venetian history” edited by Eric Dursteler offers a fundamental essay of Benjamin Arbel who summarizes research on the Stato da mar in the 15th-18th century. Monique O´Connell´s book on “Men of empire” provides both a new conceptual frame within comparative Empire studies and a new analytical frame which encompasses both the Dalmatian and the Greek part of the overseas empire.

The VISCOM project focusing on Dalamtia is situated at the edge of several fields of research whose communication and scholarly exchange is currently intensified. Mediterranean studies, Late Medieval Balkan studies and Ottoman studies share a common space and period of interest. The divergent source material, limited linguistic competences and disciplinary traditions explain why they rather coexist than cooperate. However, scholars are currently intensifying their contacts and broadening approaches already chosen by scholars as Suraiya Faroqhi, Gilles Veinstein, Colin Imber or Nicolas Vatin who made use of both Ottoman and Western source material. Fresh interest is devoted to transnational approaches, to various forms of border crossing (studies of Egidio Ivetic and the research group of Drago Roksandić 200). Most of this research focuses on the Early Modern period (Arié Malz, Kornelija Jurin Starčević, Vesna Miović-Perić). Ella Natalie Rothman published a study on trans-imperial experiences in the vein of Monique O´Connell´s research on Venice as Empire. Eric Dursteler reconstructed the trajectories of women at the edge of the Venetian and the Ottoman world. Molly Greene launched a reassessment of religion as core element of identification in Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean.

Venice´s Stato da mar constitutes one of the backbones of Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean studies, but research still focuses on its Greek-speaking part, especially Crete and Cyprus. Venetian studies have not yet surmounted basic spatial fragmentation: research on the metropolis, its Italian hinterland and the overseas possessions is conducted almost independently and without major interfaces of contact and exchange. The 2013 conference on Venetian statehood, co-organized by VISCOM and published in 2015, tried to bridge these gaps, and thereby manifested a first step to unite the deeply fragmented research traditions that characterized Venetian studies so far. Generally speaking, East Mediterranean and Venetian studies haven in recent years taken up important discussion (empire studies, transnational history, gender aspects). However, the spatial and chronological interest of the Dalmatia project – Middle Ages, Eastern Adriatic – has remained rather in the shadow of a research frame that links Venice with the Greek-speaking world, virtually by-passing the Eastern Adriatic.

As outlined in the project application for VISCOM phase 1, several local monographs on Rab, Trogir, Šibenik and Zadar enriched the field of Late Medieval Dalmatian studies where this project is primarily rooted (Rab: Dušan Mlacović 2008; Trogir: Irena Benyovsky Latin 2009; Šibenik: Josip Kolanović 1995; Zadar: Tomislav Raukar 1977). Serđo Dokoza´s monograph on Korčula which appeared in the middle of the application period for phase 1 provides a thorough analysis of social and economic structures on Korčula until the beginning of Venetian rule. He thus adopts the same perspective as his predecessor Vinko Foretić whose monograph from 1940 privileged political history. Dokoza´s book is certainly closest to the interest of this project, however he does not venture into the Venetian period and the ensuing virtual explosion of archival evidence. The “Književni krug” in Split as main animator of scholarly interest in Late Medieval Dalmatia has recently published important collection of articles on art history (Josip Belamarić 2001) and history of law and justice (Ante Cvitanić 2002). Medieval Dalmatian history remains, despite the impressive archival resources, in the shadow of other regional interests of international Mediterranean studies. In Croatia itself, the research center of the Croatian Academy in Zadar has not yet obtained the same international radiation as its counterpart in Dubrovnik. Croatian Medieval and Early modern studies on Dalmatia (with the exception of Dubrovnik) still have a great potential for further development. Medieval studies continue to concentrate on the history of law and the interpretation of normative texts as city statutes which still convey social prestige and cultural capital (e.g. Cvitanić 2002). However, the implementation of statute law and the relevance of written law in legal practice are fields that have been so far less analyzed. Especially the rural areas in Dalmatia have been even less researched, whereas the rural space on the whole in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Ages recently started to attract international academic interest again.

In Italy, mainly in Venice and Padova, there is a clear fresh interest in Dalmatian history and current research has distanced itself clearly from older interpretations of Italian historiography. Scholars as Gherardo Ortalli and Ermanno Orlando, collaborator of VISCOM, published extensively on urban statutes and history of law. Egidio Ivetic has concentrated recently on assessing conceptually Venetian rule in the Eastern Adriatic.

Medieval Balkan studies, another point of reference of the Dalmatia project, as such do virtually not exist. Regional research is organized along national fault lines, and international, i.e. extra-regional, contributions have become very scarce in recent years. Even where scholars in the post-Yugoslav area communicate, they do hardly establish common research frames (contrary to specialists of Early modern and contemporary history). Regional Ottoman studies reflect this tendency of introspection, but scholars as Markus Koller (University of Bochum) offer alternative and complementary perspectives on the topic. Nevertheless, VISCOM greatly benefits from a considerable number of detailed regional and local research as the publication of the defter of the fortress of Klis, an essential source for studying the rural hinterland of Split or the published defter of the Hercegovina which also provides basic evidence for studying pastoral communities (Spaho/Aličić/Zlatar 2007, Aličić 1985).

The microhistorical approach adopted by the Dalmatia project tries to do justice to this particular research environment – it reflects most recent trends in the field (Dursteler 2011, Janeković Römer 2008) and aims at ascertaining the degree of cross-border interaction at the fringe of Venetian and Balkan/Ottoman worlds in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The project contributed to these developments by organizing two major international conferences in cooperation with the leading research institution in the field, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. The 2006 conference (published in 2009) focused on Venice´s relations with the so-called Western Balkans and comprised several important papers on Dalmatia (Ortalli/Schmitt 2009). The second conference in March 2013, an important scholarly cornerstone of this project in the first phase of VISCOM, aimed at assessing various historiographical concepts as “composite state”, “Empire” and “Commonwealth” that have been put forward for shaping a theoretical frame for Venetian statehood. The Project Leader also co-edited a volume on “Venezia and Dalmazia” which grew out of an initiative of the Centro Tedesco di studi veneziani to bring together Croatian and Italian specialist for Dalmatian history (Israel/Schmitt 2013). In 2013, he organized a conference on The Ottoman Conquest of the Balkan – research problems and debates which brought together Balkan Medievalists, Byzantinists and Ottomanists. The conference aimed at discussing competing concepts as “conquest”, “invasion”, “integration” or “incorporation” and at providing a common platform for disciplines whose research discourses are still rather separated. The conference, although not realized in the direct frame of VISCOM, constitutes a kind of missing link between the focal points of this project parts on the one hand, and Ottoman and Medieval Balkan studies on the other. It can thus be considered a part of this team's research strategy. Both conferences focussed on the semantics of key terms central to this project. Since it is situated at the fringe of Venetian/East Mediterranean and Balkan/Ottoman studies, it is essential that this project establish a structured communication with both research fields and to clarify its central concepts with both specialists of Mediterranean and Balkan/Ottoman studies. The structure of "Society, Statehood and Religion in Late Medieval Dalmatia", which combines the analysis of maritime and continental case studies reflects this double anchorage. The microhistorical approach of the Dalmatia offers added value and underscores the macrohistorical approaches of existing scholarship.

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Illustration: Le Royaume de Dalmacie (detail), ca. 1690 (Sammlung Ryhiner, ZB Bern, ZB Ryh 6408-5)

Last Update: 26.09.16