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Illyrians, Romans and Slavs

Signs of human civilisation in the Balkans date back to around 7000 B.C. Agriculture, pottery and copper objects led to the creation of small villages and by the end of the 4th millennium B.C. there was active trade with Eastern Europe.

600 BC the Illyrians settled in what is now Montenegro. They used iron objects on a large scale and traded intensively with the Greek city-states.

Around 400 B.C. the Celts invaded from the north, shortly followed by the Romans. In 9 AD the Illyrians were finally subdued by the Romans, although the whole area continued to be called Illyria.

After the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395, the Roman Empire broke up into two parts. Rome lost control over the eastern part, which became the Byzantine Empire. The western part remained Roman, but in the 5th and 6th centuries, the Romans were driven out by the Goths and Huns. Militarily, however, the area remained under control of the Avars and the Bulgars from Constantinople.

During the 6th century, Slavs from Poland and the Baltic Region entered the province of Provalis. They found Roman settlements in what are now places like Kotor, Budva, Ulciinj, Bar and Duklija. Gradually, they were converted to Christianity. Many current names of places, mountains and rivers in the Balkans still remind us of this Polish/Baltic period.

In 625, Emperor Heraclius formed an alliance with two strong Slavic tribes in the region, the Croats and the Serbs, who controlled the Dalmatian coast. The interior of Dalmatia became a refuge for refugee tribes who often lived in large family groups ('zadruge') headed by a patriarch or 'zupan'. Sometimes some of these zadruges would unite under a zupan who would then call himself king. The first Serbian mini state under the leadership of Vlastimir came into being in this way in about 850. They turned against the Bulgarian expansionism and recognised the Byzantine sovereignty over their territory. Michael, the Byzantine emperor, took immediate action and had the evangelist Cyril convert the Serbs to Christianity.

The kingdom of Duklija

After Vlastimir's death, a period of chaos followed until, in 1017, his nephew, Vojislav, founded the vassal state of Duklija. The name Duklija comes from an Illyrian tribe that once lived here. In 1042 Vlastimir defeated the Byzantines and Duklija became independent. In 1077, his son Mihailo ruled over an empire that included present-day Montenegro, Albania and Herzegovina. Pope Gregory VII recognised him as 'Sclavorum Regi', king of the Slavs.

However, the kingdom gradually weakened until in 1169 'zupan' Stefan Nemanja established a vassal state in the Raska region. His son Stefan Provencani became the first Serbian king in 1217. The dynasty gradually expanded until the ninth king, Stefan Dusan (1331-1355), ruled over a territory consisting of present-day Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and parts of Bosnia and Serbia.

Ottomans (Turks)

The Ottoman Empire gained a foothold on mainland Europe in 1354 and began to expand northwards. The Slavic leaders were very divided, sometimes working together with the Turks and then again with each other.

The Turks conquered Serbia in 1389 (Battle of Kosovo) and occupied Bosnia in 1463 and Herzegovina in 1483. The Crnojevic dynasty, which ruled present-day Montenegro at the time, moved the capital from Žabljak near Lake Skadar to Centinje in 1482 in order to better resist the Turkish attackers. From this time onwards, the area began to be known as Crna Gora and its own culture and traditions gradually developed. For tactical reasons, King Stefan formed an alliance with Venice.

Princely bishops

In 1516, an important constitutional change took place in Montenegro. The last representative of the Crnojevic dynasty married a Venetian and settled in Venice. He gave his succession to the prince-bishop ("vladika") of Cetinje. This link between church and state did provide stability. Meanwhile, the war with the Ottomans continued and although Centinje was plundered by the Turks in 1623, 1687 and 1712, it did not succeed in completely dominating the Montenegrins.

Because the Orthodox bishops had to observe celibacy, they had no natural successors. In 1696 Danilo won the right to choose his own successor. From that time onwards, the Petrovic clan was continuously in power. In 1712 Danilo achieved an important victory over the Turks at Carev Laz, an important landmark in the Montenegrin wars of independence. Danilo was also a successful diplomat, who among other things established friendly relations with Peter the Great of Russia. However, Danilo was far surpassed by Petar I Petrovic Njegoš, who succeeded him in 1782. He defeated the Turks in a series of battles, after which in 1799 the Ottoman Porte had had enough and recognised Montenegrin independence.

Montenegro and Russia versus Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1806 Montenegro and Russia defeated the French emperor Napoleon at Kotor. Montenegro then defeated Napoleon again at Cavtat and Herceg Novi. The Montenegrins also defeated Napoleon in the Bay of Kotor, but at the Congress of Vienna the Bay of Kotor was still allocated to Austria. This meant that Montenegro was still deprived of the much desired open road to the sea. Petar I died in 1830 and was succeeded by Petar II Petrovic Njegoš.

This Petar II is considered by everyone as the most important ruler of Montenegro and is actually the founder of present-day Montenegro. He organised a central government with a senate of 32 persons, the 'Guardia'. Furthermore, he established a police force, the 'Perjanici' and levied taxes.

Petar II died in 1851, but his nephew Danilo II was already engaged and succeeded him as 'gospodar', prince. In order to put an end to the succession fuss, he ensured separation of church and state. In 1860 he was murdered in Kotor and succeeded by the 19-year-old Nikola Petrovic, who had previously spent two years in Venice.

Prince Nikola Petrovic

Nikola and his wife had nine children in total and six of them married royal or aristocratic Europeans, such as Grand Duke Petar of Russia and King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. This provided important political connections but was not enough to keep the Turks at bay. After a series of wars and treaties Montenegro and Serbia together declared war on Turkey in 1876, Russia followed a year later.

Between 1876 and 1878 Nikola led the Montenegrin army to a number of victories over the Turks. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 confirmed the territorial gains, including the cities of Podgorica, Bar, Ulcinj and Nikšic. Montenegro almost doubled in area and the new borders were internationally recognised. An open road to the sea was now also a fact. Nikola was also a social reformer who introduced free primary education, post and telegraph offices, a network of roads and railways and freedom of the press. Italians in particular invested in the Montenegrin economy and a number of embassies were opened in Cetinje, including that of Great Britain, with whom Montenegro maintained good relations.

In 1910 Nikola was proclaimed king by the Montenegrin parliament. In 1912 the Balkan wars against Turkey started, but again Montenegro was successful, unfortunately at the cost of many victims. The Treaty of London gave Montenegro even more territory at the Albanian and Kosovar border.

First World War

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Montenegro immediately occupied the newly founded Albania and, together with Serbia, declared war on Austria. However, this turned out to be wrong because by the end of 1915 both countries were occupied by Austrian-German troops. King Nikola fled to Italy under the protection of his son-in-law, the King of Italy.

In 1918, King Petar of Serbia, also a son-in-law of Nikola, took advantage of the post-war chaos in Montenegro. Initially, the Serbs were welcomed as liberators and allies. The Montenegrins assumed that their government would be installed as part of the Confederation of Slavic States. Soon the intentions of the Serbs became clear: the Serbian army was simply an occupying army and Montenegro was annexed by Serbia.

The Montenegrins revolted against the occupiers on 7 January 1919 and this war lasted until 1926, after which the Allies promised that Montenegro would regain its freedom and independence. However, the promises were not kept and Montenegro became the only allied country that lost its freedom as a result of the First World War. A consequence of this was a wave of emigration to especially the United States. Meanwhile King Nikola had died in 1921 in Antibes, France.

The birth of Yugoslavia

Between the two world wars, Montenegro as an independent country completely disappeared from the European map when Yugoslavia came into being in 1929. The murder of King Alexander of Yugoslavia by a Croat in 1934 and his replacement by the regent Prince Paul, uncle of King Petar II, made little difference to the central regime in Belgrade. An effective programme of land reform turned Yugoslavia into a reasonably prosperous country of mainly small farmers.

Adolf Hitler's Germany, meanwhile, was the guiding light of the European economic revival. Hitler maintained close contacts with Yugoslavia, and in 1938 53% of Yugoslavian exports disappeared to Germany. After the 'Anschluss', Hitler's annexation of Austria, Yugoslavia tried to remain politically independent despite great pressure from the Germans to become part of the Axis countries. The invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Germans and of Albania by the Italians further increased the pressure on Yugoslavia, as did the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. In March 1941, Prince Paul nevertheless gave in and signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy.

Second World War and the Partisans

The people reacted with great indignation and, with the help of the air force, a non-violent coup ensued. Regent Prince Paul was exiled and he was temporarily succeeded by King Petar II. But within a month Germany invaded and Petar fled to London with his government in exile. Then Yugoslavia was divided between Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. Most of Montenegro came into the hands of the Italians, the rest was administered by the Italian regime in Albania. A feeble attempt by Italy to install a puppet-monarchy in Montenegro did not last long.

Three different military factions with their own interests bothered the Italians. The autonomous Croatia under Ante Pavelic and his Ustaša movement applied a policy of racial cleansing that cost the lives of millions of Jews, Gypsies and Serbs. The remainder of the Royal Yugoslav Army hid in rural areas of Yugoslavia and formed the Chetniks under Dragoljub Mihailovic. The third and most important military guerrilla force were the Partisans led by Josip Broz, better known by his war name Tito. Tito's ultimate goal was to establish a communist state in post-war Yugoslavia.

Conflicting interests eventually brought the three groups into conflict with each other, especially the Ustaša and the Partisans. The British, of course, supported the entire Yugoslav resistance against the Axis countries, but initially instinctively focused on the royalist Chetniks. They soon realised, however, that only Tito's Partisans were offering effective resistance and both the British and the Americans then placed themselves squarely behind Tito and his Partisans.

Montenegro's relatively isolated location and mountainous interior, together with the strength of the local sections of the Communist Party, made for an ideal combat zone. In 1943, Italy surrendered and the situation became more favourable for the Partisans as the Italians left many weapons and ammunition behind. In the summer of 1944, the end of the war came in sight. Tito met Churchill in Naples and then flew on to Moscow. There, plans were made for the liberation of Yugoslavia and in October, with the help of the Soviets, Belgrade was liberated and soon afterwards the rest of the country.

Tito becomes president

The Partisans now held all the power with the help of an 800,000-strong army, an effective government and no occupying forces. In November 1945, 90% of the electorate voted in favour of a new constitution that formed the basis for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Power lay entirely with the communists and the secret service (the UDBA) ensured that there was no serious opposition.

More or less as a reward for the resistance, Montenegro became one of the six republics of the new Yugoslavia and was allocated a strip of land along the Dalmatian coast. Yugoslavia was at that time not only the strongest Balkan country, but also the most influential country in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia expected the Soviet Union to help with some border disputes (Italy and Austria), but also to provide economic aid. It also expected recognition for its heroic resistance to the Germans, but the opposite happened. In 1948, Yugoslav and Bulgarian diplomats were called to Moscow, where they were scolded for their independent political stance towards the Soviet Union. Bulgaria gave in, but President Tito wrote a famous letter to the Russian leader Stalin explaining that there were different paths to socialism. By 1949, Eastern and Western Europe had been divided by an 'Iron Curtain' and Yugoslavia had been expelled from the communist Eastern Bloc because of its independent stance.

Yugoslavia falls apart after Tito's death

Under Tito, the economy of Yugoslavia did well, particularly because of the boom in tourism. Importantly, he was also a unifying figure, holding the country and its various population groups together. The six republics had a certain degree of autonomy, but profited to varying degrees from the economic and social progress. Montenegro developed the least.

After Tito's death in May 1980, Yugoslavia began to fall apart. Foreign debts and ethnic tensions rose and in 1991 Slovenia and Croatia, followed by Macedonia, withdrew from the Federation. The situation in Croatia was very serious due to the revival of Ustaša nationalism and the constant repression of the Serbian minority in the country. In May 1992, a United Nations army was installed in Croatia, but by then more than 200,000 Serbs had left. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Muslims and the Croat population also wanted to withdraw from the federation; the Serbs did not. This contradiction culminated in a black period, with civil war, war crimes and a great deal of bloodshed. In 1992, Bosnia's independence was recognised.

At that time there were still two republics left: Montenegro and Serbia proclaimed the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 27 April 1992. Each had its own president, legislation and sovereignty over matters that were not part of the federal government.

The Milosevic years

Slobodan Milosevic, who was President of Serbia for ten years, became President of the Federation in 1997. He continued the policy of restricting the rights of the ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo region, which had lost its autonomy seven years earlier. However, the Kosovo Liberation Army became increasingly active and strong. In March 1998, the Yugoslav army undertook a counter-offensive which virtually eliminated the Kosovo army.

NATO tried in vain to mediate, and in March 1999 a series of air raids by the alliance began on Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and the autonomous region of Vojvodina. Milosevic, however, refused to make any concessions and forced some 800,000 Kosovars to leave for Bosnia, Albania and Macedonia. NATO then deployed the KFOR troops (Kosovo Forces) and Kosovo became a protectorate of the United Nations. Montenegro increasingly distanced itself from Milosevic's Kosovo policy and hosted more than 100,000 refugees. In October 2000, Milosevic was deposed and replaced as federal president by Vojislav Kostunica. He called parliamentary elections and installed an interim government of national unity.

Montenegro in the 21st century

The April 2001 parliamentary elections were narrowly won by a pro-secession coalition, led by socialist President Milo Djukanovic. He promised the Montenegrins to hold a referendum on independence in 2002. However, this did not happen for the time being because a loose union was created in March 2002 under the name Serbia and Montenegro. It was agreed that Montenegro could not hold a referendum until 2006.

This construction came about under pressure from the European Union, which did not want a further fragmentation of the Balkans and did not consider an independent Montenegro viable. After approval by both parliaments, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia came to an end on 4 February 2003.

On 25 November 2002, President Djukanovic resigned and became Prime Minister the next day. He succeeded Filip Vujanovic, who had been elected president of the parliament a few weeks earlier and had been a sort of interim president for a few weeks. The presidential elections in 2003 were won by Vujanovic in the third round. After the parliamentary elections of 10 September 2006, Željko Šturanovic was elected prime minister by the parliament.

In early 2005, Prime Minister Djukanovic made it clear that Montenegro would separate from the Union and declare independence within a year. A week earlier, Djukanovic had already proposed to the Serbs that Serbia and Montenegro be divided into two independent states. Serbia, of course, immediately rejected this proposal.

On 21 May 2006, Montenegrins were allowed to vote and the next day the Independent Electoral Council announced that 55.4% of voters had said 'yes' to Montenegro becoming an independent country. The turnout was around 87%, making it the highest turnout ever. On 3 June 2006 at 20.00 hours the independence of Montenegro was proclaimed and the confederation Serbia and Montenegro ceased to exist.

On 22 June 2006 Montenegro became a member of the United Nations and on 11 May 2007 the country joined the Council of Europe. In February 2008 Milo Djukanovic became the prime minister of Montenegro for the fifth term and in March 2009 his party won the elections with an overwhelming majority. In December 2009 Montenegro joins the Schengen agreement.

Montenegro is expected to get the status of candidate-member state. The EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs have decided this on 14 December 2010. The decision still has to be ratified by the heads of government of the EU countries. It is expected that they will agree. Montenegro could then be a full-fledged EU-member in four or five years. Filip Vujanovic is currently president of Montenegro. In December 2010 Djukanovic resigns, his successor is Igor Luksic. In April 2012 Montenegro becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation. Djukanovic becomes the prime minister of Montenegro for the seventh time after the elections in November 2012. In January, the EU says that Montenegro is well on its way to EU membership. Filip Vujanovic is narrowly re-elected president in April 2013. In December 2015, NATO asks Montenegro to become a member. Russia reacts indignantly, saying that expansion of NATO will lead to countermeasures. In November 2016, Dusko Markovic becomes the new prime minister. In June 2017, Montenegro becomes a member of NATO. Milo Djukanovic was sworn in as president in May 2018 after winning the April 2018 presidential election. After the parliamentary elections, Zdravko KrivoKapic becomes Prime Minister in December 2020.

Dritan Abazovic took over as prime minister of Montenegro in April 2022. He heads the United Reform Action party and previously served as deputy prime minister in the cabinet of Zdravko Krivokapic from 2020 until 2022. In August 2022, parliament passed a motion of no confidence in his government. He remains in power as a caretaker prime minister pending the formation of a new government.


Detrez, R. / Servië-Montenegro : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur, milieu
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen ; Novib

Naklada Ljevak

Rellie, A. / Montenegro
Bradt Travel Guides

Schuman, M.A. / Serbia and Montenegro
Facts On File

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info