King Stjepan Držislav ruled Croatia from year 969. to 996/997.
He was on good terms with Byzantium and its ally in the 40-year war against the Bulgarian emperor Samuel.
After the death of his father Mihajlo Krešimir II, instead of young Držislav, his mother Jelena ruled as regent until her death in 976. Around 960. the great prefect Časlav (who united the counties of Raška, Duklja, Pagania, Zahumlje and Travunja) died without a real heir, and in 971. Serbia becomes a vassal province of the Byzantine Empire (except Duklja where Ivan Vladimir, Časlav’s cousin, ruled at the end of the 10th century). However it seems that most of Bosnia was still within the domain of the Croatian king.
In order to strengthen allied relations as much as possible, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II. ceded to Držislav the administration of Dalmatian cities and most of the islands. He also acknowledged his royal title and endowed him with royal insignias: crown, scepter, cloak and golden apple, and decorated him with the title of imperial “eparch and patrician”. On that occasion, Držislav added the Christian name Stjepan to his name, and he officially bears the title „King of Croatia and Dalmatia“.
In a few years, the Bulgarian tsar Samuel (980.-1014.) managed to expand his rule to the west (to Serbia, eastern Bosnia and to nowdays Vojvodina), as well as to a part of the Adriatic coast in Dalmatia south of the river Cetina. Also he temporarily conquered counties of Travunja, Zahumlje and Pagania. This made him a dangerous neighbor of the Croatian state. Between 986. and 989. Samuel invaded Croatia all the way to Zadar and devastated it, but failed to conquer it, which shows that during the reign of Mihajlo Krešimir II. and Stjepan Držislav had already managed to recover well from the consequences of earlier dynastic conflicts, and also retained its influence in Bosnia and Pannonian Croatia. During these wars, Samuel persecuted his own relatives, who often sought refuge in Croatia. King Držislav received them hospitably and settled 15 of them in the suburbs of the town of Klis. As these Bulgarian fugitives belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, on the advice of the Archbishop of Split Martin, they gathered in 994. money for the construction of the church of St. Mihajlo in Solin.
The long period of peace in the 10th century between the Croats and Venice encouraged the development of trade between cities on the Adriatic. Yet Venice benefited more from this. Led by the new doge Peter II. Orseolo they re-established good relations with Byzantium and the Holy Roman empire, and in 996. decided to stop paying to Croats the “usual tribute” („solitus census“) for free navigation on the Adriatic. Shortly afterwards, the conflict at sea between Venice and Croatia resumed.
Stjepan Držislav had three sons: Svetoslav Suronja, Krešimir and Gojslav. Towards the end of his life, sometime around 990., he proclaimed his eldest son Svetoslav as viceroy and his successor. Despite this, after the king’s death in 996. or 997. a dynastic conflict between the brothers erupted. This will push Croatia into a civil war that will tear and weaken the country in the coming decades…