Dubrovnik was probably founded somewhere in the 7th century when the population of the nearby city of Epidaurus (Cavtat) fled to the little island because the Avars and Slavs were ravaging the Balkans. The island was in the 12th century connected with the mainland, thus forming what is today the ‘Old City’.
Dubrovnik (Latin “Ragusa”) was from its beginnings a semi-independent multicultural city commune with a mixed Roman-Slavic population. The inhabitants of Dubrovnik stood at the crossroads between West and Eastern Europe in politics, diplomacy and trade. The cornerstone of Dubrovnik’s wealth was trade and shipping. Dubrovnik sourced raw materials and ores from the Balkans and exported them to the West. It bought technical and luxury goods in the West and exported them to neighboring countries. They had good relations with the Byzantine Empire and with Italian cities like Florence, Ancona, Naples and especially Venice. In 1191, the city merchants were granted the right to trade freely in Byzantium. Dubrovnik had gotten similar privileges earlier in Serbia (1186.) and Bosnia (1189).
After the 4th Crusade and the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire, Dubrovnik came in Venice’s sphere of influence, which increased trade to the east and led to government reforms. In 1358, with the Peace of Zara (Zadar) Venice lost all the islands and cities on the eastern Adriatic coast and Dubrovnik recognized the authority of the Hungarian and Croatian king Louis I of Anjou with an annual tribute of 500 ducats. In the event of war they had to assist him at sea while he did not interfere in their internal affairs. It is at this time that Dubrovnik became a republic with its own statute.
In forms of government, the rule of law and state organisation, the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) reached very high standards for its time. In 1272. a fire department was established and articles for maritime law were created. In 1296. it was home to one of the first medieval sewer systems. Medical service and nursing homes were established at the beginning of the 14th century. In 1395. a marine insurance law was passed, the oldest in Europe. In 1416. Dubrovnik was the first state in Europe to abolish slavery, prohibiting the trade in slaves and the transport of slaves by ship.
During the Ottoman rule of the Balkans, Dubrovnik had to pay the Turks an annual tribute of 12 500 ducats for which they gained Ottoman protection as a favour. The Ottomans offered special trading rights for the Republic, which further linked common trade and good relations. The merchants of Dubrovnik also supplied Ottoman cities, which gave them special privileges in the empire. The merchant ships of Dubrovnik were allowed to sail freely into the Black Sea, which was forbidden to all other non-Ottoman ships. They established trade posts throughout the Ottoman Empire; in Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Belgrade, Sofia, Bucharest, Sarajevo and other cities on the Balkan peninsula. At the same time, they also established trading in Italy (Venice, Ancona, Florence, Syracuse, Messina and Palermo), Asia Minor (Smyrna, Bursa) and Egypt (Alexandria, Cairo).
In the 15th and 16th century Dubrovnik was at the height of its political and economic power. Its “karaka” ships traveled all over the Mediterranean, and also to Atlantic and Indian ocean.
The Republic survived many difficult periods mainly through smart politics and diplomacy but it eventually lost its independence when Napoleon’s troops arrived in 1806.
Today Dubrovnik is a very popular tourist destination (especially its medieval walls and the old town) and a nice setting for movie industry…