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The Frame of Freedom. The nobility of Dubrovnik between the Middle Ages and Humanism

Janeković Römer, Zdenka
The Frame of Freedom. The nobility of Dubrovnik between the Middle Ages and Humanism, Zagreb - Dubrovnik: Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, Zavod za povijesne znanosti u Dubrovniku, 2015 (monografija)

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The Frame of Freedom. The nobility of Dubrovnik between the Middle Ages and Humanism

Janeković Römer, Zdenka

Vrsta, podvrsta i kategorija knjige
Autorske knjige, monografija, znanstvena

Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, Zavod za povijesne znanosti u Dubrovniku

Zagreb - Dubrovnik




Ključne riječi
Dubrovnik; humanism; Renaissance; urban history

The fifteenth century saw the triumph of the Dubrovnik Republic and its aristocracy. From a small commune Dubrovnik had developed into a free Republic, winning an important position in the Mediterranean and Balkan trade. Having gained in size and economic strength, the nobility took a firm grip of the Republic’s wheel. This century witnessed increasing consciousness of the importance and power of the governmental apparatus. An efficient administration was consolidated, quite different from that of the medieval commune. Avoiding a clear cut from tradition, judicial and administrative reforms were undertaken, giving way to a strong social hierarchy. Increasing bureaucratic influence penetrated into all aspects of life. This brought politics into the focus of consideration, while everything else was subordinated to the political pragmatism. The remnants of the medieval worldview in which the worldly and unworldly constituted one and in which there existed a divine cosmic order were used in a new guise to promote the political model of the aristocratic republic. The citizenry had been deprived of the participation in power two centuries before, but it was not until the fifteenth century that the nobles enforced the regulations, customs and ideas that confirmed their hegemony. They succeeded in balancing the principles of hierarchy and legitimacy in the political order with the republican ideal of equality reduced to their own class. Political tensions were evident, but remained within the established framework, primarily in the domain of the competition for office and not as a confrontation with the aristocratic order. Restrictive social norms multiplied with the shaping of the aristocratic legal system. The city itself also conformed to the general political climate through symbolic programmes decorating the public buildings. The ceremonies marking the promulgation of new laws, execution of justice and public celebrations were visibly modified in order to further glorify the Republic and its optimates. By the end of the fifteenth century, the shaping of aristocracy, which had its roots in the crisis of the communal institutions, was completed. The features the Ragusan society then acquired persisted well until the end of the Republic. The structure of the government remained intact despite the oncoming signs of decay. From the long-term perspective, the decline of the Ragusan nobility lay in its exclusiveness and strict endogamy. This phenomenon, however, is of complex meaning, for at the same time the nobility’s homogeneity, supported by tradition and high birth rate, helped slow down the irreversible process of its decline. The heritage of concepts stemming from the centuries of its rise that provided the nobility with the foundations of power was, in the centuries of decay, upheld by legal means. Patrician solidarity and cooperation, political discipline and conservatism steered the city-state through the Renaissance and helped it survive until the nineteenth century, despite numerous impediments and an anachronic form of polity. In the fifteenth century, Dubrovnik and its nobility departed from the course which until then they had shared with the rest of Dalmatia. While step by step Dubrovnik was gaining high degree of independence and sovereignty, the autonomy of Dalmatian towns was brought into question. In the period between the Treaty of Zadar and the first decades of the fifteenth century, Dalmatian towns witnessed prosperity. The flourishing of economy and culture was accompanied by the maturing of the governmental and class structures. Venetian and Turkish threats in the fifteenth century affected the history of the Dalmatian towns. Contrary to the growing prosperity of the Dubrovnik Republic, they underwent tensions in both the social and political sphere. They became Venetian subjects, incorporated into Stato da Mar and the Venetian economic system. By subjugating Dalmatia, the Venetian authorities benefitted from the rivaling political aspirations of the local nobles and commoners. It was the nobility of the Dalmatian towns that suffered most from this change, as it was politically derogated and continued to live on the former glory. The new government did not revoke the administrative bodies and statutes, but stripped them of the political meaning. Losing its effective legislative and executive power, the noble councils merely retained their social significance as a symbol of class exclusivity. Institutions and governmental structure could not develop freely, and the nobility was doomed to a slow decay. By contrast, in the fifteenth century the Ragusan nobles took a firm grip of their Republic and strengthened the class positions. Political demands of the Ragusan non-nobles, or a rebellion even, were practically out of question. Dubrovnik’s republican state ideology managed to impose the city’s autonomy wrapped as a general ideal and thus reach social consensus. The closing of the council in the fourteenth century was the first step in the nobility’s consolidation, further reinforced by the Republic’s independence under the crown of St. Stephen. In its neighbourhood, Dubrovnik stood as a symbol of liberty and a true haven. Resti writes about the similarities between his small Republic and the great Venetian Republic, considering his homeland to be unjustly unknown and ignored. Although tiny, its aristocratic system was perfectly organized, like that of Venice. In his opinion, the Republic of Dubrovnik remained small because, surrounded by barbarians, its main concern was to preserve freedom. In the period marked by political turmoils, it was a state which enjoyed “civic harmony”, upholding the ideals of ancient Greece and the republican Rome, just like Venice. Strict social hierarchy and patrician government affected all realms of social life, attitudes and mentality of all the strata. A state based on hierarchy was modelled, in which order was not attained through the balance of power among the ranks but through a silent social consensus that vested the power in the nobility as the only appropriate representatives of the community. The patriciate’s contribution to the Republic’s heritage was manifold. The rise of the nobility meant the rise of the Republic, the pride of its political excellence and tradition being incorporated into the class pride. The commoners could not act through the state institutions, but their contribution to the Republic’s development proved equally valuable. They, too, were influenced by a strong tradition aimed at the preservation of the republican traditions, although they managed to create a platform for Dubrovnik’s new historical opportunity. Since an individual cannot be fully determined by his class status, the model that juxtaposed the elite based on descent and power with the elite based on wealth was unable to provide a comprehensive interpretation of the social relations. Despite social differences, the urban way of life resulted in a strong feeling of cohesion and interrelatedness between the ranks. In sum, it produced a heritage that needs to be deconstructed and consciously incorporated into the present. By the end of the Middle Ages and later, until the fall of the Republic, the social hierarchy may be said to have determined everyone’s way of life. It affected the citizens’ daily life and restricted their prospects. Patrician lifestyle displayed class status to a greater extent than the lifestyle of non-nobles, for power and preservation of hierarchy were their duties. An individual had to fulfil certain requirements in order to keep the status he had earned by birth. The noblemen were, in an Aristotelian view, the only free citizens in the true sense, but at the same time were prisoners of their own class rules. An example of such rigid social determinism could not be easily found anywhere in Europe of the time. Ragusan ideology accounted this determined framework of patrician lifestyle by sentiment, loyalty, duty and myth. Independence was the first meaning of liberty, the protection of which remained the main responsibility of those born to rule. A society that rested on the sense of duty accepted individual achievements, though cautiously and conditionally. Spiritual retreat and isolation were not allowed as one’s life choice, but only in terms of short retirement from office. An ideal of common liberty marked the borders of individual freedom. The notion of power can be variously defined—it could mean authority and domination, but could equally be interpreted as a possibility to do what one pleases. How much does the power of the Ragusan nobility correspond to such a meaning of this notion? Must an individual “be imprisoned by the fate in which he can hardly participate, overpowered by the structures and processes”? Doesn’t an individual create history as well, his own history prior to all, and then common history? Ragusan nobility answered this question in conformity with their values. They made the best of their legendary diplomatic expertise and compromise in order to meet the patrician demands and preserve the space of their own individuality at the same time. Social and political organization of Dubrovnik, alongside the limitations of patrician life interfered with the development of individuality. The latter found free expression in art, notably in literature, while other activities were characterized by common interests. Balance was found in faith, spirituality, art and in nature. Duty and freedom abided each in its own realm, since an Arcadian city was built next to the walled one. The symbolism of the strive for the personal freedom sneaked into the very heart of government, above the entrance of the Rector’s Palace, in the image of Venus and Mars with Cupid. Through their daughter Harmonia, they fitted into the mythological universe of Dubrovnik. The mother and adoptive father of Aeneas, progenitors of the Julian dynasty and protectors of the Roman people, thus extended their protection over the Epidaurians and Ragusans. The god of war and goddess of love, symbols of harmony and power, were among the favoured motifs of the early Renaissance. This representation of love bears many meanings, contradictions even. Venus and Mars symbolize the worldly and the divine, spiritual and sensual, chastity, beauty and love, courage, truth and harmony. Being of Julian descent, they symbolize statehood, sovereignty and authority, while as lovers they stand for personal choice and freedom. In the Dubrovnik relief depicting the couple as worldly beautiful and sensual, an apparent consciousness underlies their overall symbolism. Their representation reveals a contradictory characterization of Dubrovnik’s society: community’s interests as opposed to those of an individual. Juxtaposed in the story of Venus and Mars, these extremes eventually reconcile and marry. Destructive Martial urge is harnessed by the love and beauty of Venus. These two cosmic powers give birth to Harmonia, accord, which the Renaissance society of Dubrovnik aimed to give life at whatever the cost. Passionately embraced above the entrance to the Rector’s Palace, Hesiod’s lovers unite the symbolism of authority, virtue, harmony and liberty into a unique and inextricable bond embodied in the Republic. The end of the Middle Ages and the emergence of a new era coincided with Dubrovnik’s achievement of independence and consolidation of its administrative system. The Republic proved fertile ground for new humanistic ideas which were applied most consciously in the building of the state, or class ideology. Fifteenth century witnessed the maturing, zenith, and blending of the traditional and the new. It was a time marked by contradictory values welded into a unique quality: medieval spirituality juxtaposed to worldliness of Humanism, the continuity of the state and continual threat to its security, contradictions of the interclass relations and the integrity of the social consensus, the nobility in blood and the nobility in spirit, equality among the noblemen and the differences resulting from wealth and office honours, commerce dependent and yet reproachful about it, luxury and impoverishment, sensuality and spirituality in literature, villas and the city walls, an open and a closed city.

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HRZZ-IP-2013-11-5106 - Transformacije kolektivnih i individualnih identiteta u Dubrovačkoj Republici od kasnog srednjeg vijeka do 19. stoljeća (COLINDA) (Vekarić, Nenad, HRZZ - 2013-11) ( POIROT)

Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti


Avatar Url Zdenka Janeković-Römer (autor)

Citiraj ovu publikaciju

Janeković Römer, Zdenka
The Frame of Freedom. The nobility of Dubrovnik between the Middle Ages and Humanism, Zagreb - Dubrovnik: Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, Zavod za povijesne znanosti u Dubrovniku, 2015 (monografija)
Janeković Römer, Z. (2015) The Frame of Freedom. The nobility of Dubrovnik between the Middle Ages and Humanism. Zagreb - Dubrovnik, Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, Zavod za povijesne znanosti u Dubrovniku.
@book{book, author = {Janekovi\'{c} R\"{o}mer, Z.}, year = {2015}, pages = {692}, keywords = {Dubrovnik, humanism, Renaissance, urban history}, isbn = {978-953-347-000-9}, title = {The Frame of Freedom. The nobility of Dubrovnik between the Middle Ages and Humanism}, keyword = {Dubrovnik, humanism, Renaissance, urban history}, publisher = {Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, Zavod za povijesne znanosti u Dubrovniku}, publisherplace = {Zagreb - Dubrovnik} }

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