The First Mention of Bosnia

The emergence of the Bosnian state is connected to the present-day central Bosnia, the area of the upper and middle course of the Bosna River, the Sarajevo and Visoko fields to the Zenica basin. The first mention of Bosnia as a politically organized space is found in the work of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in the mid-10th century, a work that was named “De administrando imperio” by the first publisher in 1611. This work was written in the period 948-952. In writing this work, the Byzantine emperor used various sources, and his knowledge of Bosnia was quite limited. In Chapter 32 of his work, at the end of the list of “kastra oikoumena” in Christianized Serbia, the Byzantine emperor mentions the “horion Bosna” and the church centers Katera and Desnik. In scholarly discussions, there are different interpretations of the term “horion,” but the prevailing opinion is that it refers to the term “land” or “small land.” All previous attempts to more precisely locate the cities of Katera and Desnik have not yielded sustainable results. According to the understanding of the Byzantine emperor, Bosnia, in this period and in a closer unknown context, acknowledged the supremacy of Serbia. From this interpretation, it follows that Bosnia had its own church organization, meaning that it was a separate political space – a state or principality. The acknowledgment of the supremacy of a stronger neighbor in the circumstances described by the Byzantine emperor is an undeniable fact. However, the establishment of church centers indicates the earlier independence of Bosnia.

The First Ruler of Bosnia

Information about the first ruler of the Bosnian state is shrouded in mystery and overshadowed by unreliable sources. They originate from a chronicle known as Gesta Reg(n)um Sclavorum (also known as the Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea and the Bar Genealogy), a work composed in the second half of the 12th century. This source mentions the first-known Bosnian knez (prince) by the name of Stjepan, who was appointed to power in Bosnia by the Dioclean king Bodin in the 1180s. Ragusan chroniclers, such as Mavro Orbini in his work Il regno de gli Slavi published in 1601 in Pesaro and Jakov Lukarević in the chronicle Copioso ristretto de gli annali di Ravsa published in Venice in 1605, also write about Stjepan. Orbini, in his work, refers to Stefan with the title of king and provides information about Stefan’s successors, his son Vukmir who succeeded him in power, and Vukmir’s successor Krešimir. According to the continuation of the story, Krešimir did not have male descendants, so he married his daughter to the Hungarian king. From that period onwards, Hungarian rulers were referred to as kings of Croatia and Bosnia. These details are based on information and genealogy that is challenging to trace from today’s perspective, making it difficult to compare this knowledge with other types of sources.

Ban Borić

The first-known Bosnian ban mentioned in diplomatic sources, whose rule can be roughly framed, and who marked a new period in Bosnian medieval history, was Ban Borić, found in sources from 1153-1163. The original information about Borić is provided by the Byzantine official John Cinnamus in his chronicle. He mentions that Ban Borić participated in a war against Byzantium on the side of the Hungarian king, which took place around Braničevo, and he clashed with the Byzantine army during that occasion. A charter of Ban Borić dated 1158/1159 has been preserved, in which he grants possessions on Mljet to the Benedictines of Lokrum. However, historiography has determined that this charter is a forgery. Ban Borić’s reign is documented in a document from the Hungarian king Andrew II in 1209. According to this document, with the permission of King Stefan IV, Ban Borić donated the village of Esdel (Zdelja) in Slavonia to the Templars for the salvation of his soul, and this donation was confirmed by King Bela III. Orbini, Lukarević, and Junije Rastić write about Ban Borić, but their accounts of the conflict between Borić and Ragusa are not accepted as credible in historiography. Historiography generally agrees that after the mention in 1163, Ban Borić likely died soon after.

Ban Kulin

A pivotal period in the Bosnian presence and recognition at the regional and European levels is represented by the rule of Ban Kulin, who, according to preserved sources, governed from 1180 to 1204. Although Kulin is not frequently mentioned in the sources, it was an era filled with significant changes that had far-reaching consequences. In addition to the presence of Hungarian rulers, Kulin pursued an independent policy and strongly controlled the state territory, achieving notable accomplishments on the international stage. Ban Kulin participated with his army in regional conflicts, his family established political marriages with neighbors, he recognized economic models of exchange and economic development, and he demonstrated political maturity in relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the last two characteristics of Kulin’s rule are among the most interesting events in the history of medieval Bosnia. Equally intriguing is the saying that has been preserved to this day, which speaks of Ban Kulin and the prosperous days of his rule.

Accusations of Heresy

During Kulin’s rule, the first information emerged about a form of religious teaching that was not in line with the regulations of the Catholic Church. It involves accusations made by the Dioclean ruler Vukan, who in 1199 reported to Pope Innocent III that heresy was spreading in Bosnia, led by Ban Kulin and his family. He claimed that Kulin had misled about ten thousand people, whom he referred to as “christianorum.” Consequently, Vukan asked the pope to instruct the Hungarian king to exterminate them. These accusations were undoubtedly politically motivated and aimed at discrediting the Bosnian ban. The pope’s reaction occurred in October 1200 when he addressed King Emeric, stating that he had information that Ban Kulin had welcomed and protected a significant number of Patarenes expelled from Split and Trogir in his country. Considering this, Innocent III instructed the Hungarian king that if Kulin couldn’t rectify the situation, he should expel the Bosnian ban and the heretics from Bosnia. The continuation of events is followed in a letter from Pope Innocent III sent in November 1202 to his chaplain Ivan de Casamarisu and the Archbishop of Split, Bernard. In the letter from November 1202, the pope emphasized that Kulin had defended himself as a Catholic and had sent some of the accused to Rome to verify their faith. Simultaneously, he asked the pope to send someone to Bosnia to examine their faith and way of life. Innocent III entrusted this responsibility to chaplain Ivan and Archbishop Bernard, instructing them to investigate the matter and, if it turned out to be heresy, guide them onto the right path.

Bilino Polje Abjuration

The epilogue of denunciations of heresy and the conducted verifications by the representatives of the Roman Church are summarized in the statement of Christians from April 1203. According to this source, at the location Bolino Poilo near the Bosna River, representatives (priors) of those who called themselves Christians, in the presence of the chaplain Ivan de Casamaris, Ban Kulin, and the Ragusan Archdeacon Marin, swore allegiance to the detailed commands of the Roman Church. They renounced the heresy for which they were accused. The same oaths were repeated by two representatives in the presence of chaplain Casamaris, Ban Kulin’s son, and in Hungary before King Emeric. From the text of the statement in which the Christians renounce their previous actions and accept certain corrections, it is evident that Casamaris did not find the group of heretics that supposedly took refuge in Bosnia in previous years. Instead, a specific practice of the clergy in Bosnia was modeled, along with corrections to the standard religious life that was part of the official Roman Church. More striking corrections were related to a kind of Latinization of the Bosnian bishopric proposed by Casamaris in a letter to Innocent III.

Ban Stjepan

After the death of Ban Kulin, the title of ban is attributed to the relatively unknown Ban Stjepan. Information about his rule is preserved in three letters from Pope Gregory IX dated August 8, 1236. According to the first letter, the pope takes under his protection the Usora prince Sibislav, the son of the former Bosnian ban Stjepan. In the second document, Gregory IX extends his protection to Ancila, the widow of Ban Stjepan, and in the third document, the Pope requests the Archbishop of Esztergom not to allow any harassment of Ancila, the widow of Bosnian ban Stjepan. These pieces of information indicate that at the time of composing these documents, Stjepan was no longer alive. Historiography hypothesizes a connection between Ban Stjepan and Kulin’s son, who, during April 1203, was known to be staying with the Hungarian king Emeric alongside Bosnian ecclesiastical leaders. At that time, Kulin’s son, along with a delegation, pledged to the Hungarian king and the Archbishop of Kalocsa that they would not tolerate or defend heretics. Due to the lack of data, it is challenging to confirm whether Ban Stjepan mentioned in the letters from August 1236 was indeed Kulin’s son who succeeded his father and ruled Bosnia in the first two decades of the 13th century.

Ban Matej Ninoslav

Ban Matej Ninoslav is first mentioned in sources in 1233 as a Hungarian vassal and Catholic who renounced the heretical teachings of his predecessors. His rule was marked by religious conflicts, attempts to Latinize the Bosnian bishopric, a crusade led by the Hungarian herzog Coloman under the banner of the Roman Curia, the beginning of the construction of the cathedral church, and the relocation of the Bosnian bishopric to Đakovo. Despite being under strong Hungarian-Roman pressure for an entire decade, Ninoslav consistently managed to maintain control over at least part of Bosnia. In the spring of 1240, Ninoslav visited Ragusa with a group of his nobles, and the invasion of the Tatars into Hungary in the spring of 1241 greatly aided Ninoslav in restoring his rule throughout Bosnia. During 1243, Ninoslav participated in the conflict between Trogir and Split, and he, along with his army and the people of Split, besieged the city of Klis. Afterward, he returned to Bosnia, leaving his prince in Split. The next information about Ban Ninoslav is found in King Béla IV’s charter from July 1244, according to which the ban accepted Hungarian supremacy with complete autonomy in the internal governance of the state. Ban Ninoslav is mentioned for the last time in sources in 1249 when he issued a charter to the Ragusans granting freedoms identical in content to the charter from 1240. The circumstances under which his rule ended are not well known due to a lack of sources.

Crusade against Bosnia

The resistance of the Bosnian nobility and other factors against the Latinization of the Bosnian bishopric led to the deterioration of relations between Bosnia and Rome. The interruption in the succession of local bishops in the Slavic service, along with the severing of ties between Ragusa and the Bosnian bishopric, proved to be a fateful move. Already in February 1234, the Pope hinted at a crusade against heretics in Bosnia, and a few months later, he allowed Bishop Ivan to grant indulgences to those who went against these heretics. The culmination of religious relations intertwined with political ambitions occurred in early 1238 when the Pope took direct jurisdiction over the Bosnian bishopric. Parallel to these activities, Herzog Coloman launched a military attack on the Bosnian state. Pope Gregory IX praised his successes in suppressing heretics and heretical teachings in his letters from December 1238. To achieve more significant results in this crusade, the Pope sought to motivate neighboring church dignitaries to send additional crusaders and money to Bosnia to eradicate the local heresy. A crusader army, likely led by Herzog Coloman, was probably in Bosnia at the beginning of 1238. These military campaigns did not achieve significant success, as evident from the Pope’s letter at the end of 1239, in which he continued to call for battles in Bosnia. Ban Ninoslav evidently did not participate in these conflicts; he held onto one part of Bosnia, likely the part mentioned by Pope Gregory IX at the end of 1238 when he wrote to Bishop Ponsa about the need to fight against the remaining heretics.

 Relocation of the Bosnian Bishopric to Đakovo

The displacement of the Bosnian bishopric to Đakovo on the territory of Hungary represents one of the significant events in the history of medieval Bosnia. As various attempts in the 1230s, such as the Latinization of the Bosnian bishopric, appointing foreigners as bishops in Bosnia, and an open crusade against the Bosnian ruler, nobility, and heretics, yielded no results, the Roman Curia took direct jurisdiction over the Bosnian bishopric in early 1238. Subsequently, in 1247, they agreed that all future actions against Bosnia would be directed with the approval of Hungary. In this way, the Pope sought to motivate King Béla IV and the Archbishop of Kalocsa for further efforts to suppress religious practice in Bosnia. Simultaneously with these events, jurisdiction over the Bosnian bishopric was confirmed to the Archbishop of Kalocsa. It reflected the ambitions of Hungarian rulers to establish patronage rights over the Bosnian bishopric and the Bosnian rulers whom they sought to turn into their vassals. The ultimate result of Hungarian pressure and the demonstration of the envisioned right to Bosnia was the relocation of the Bosnian bishopric to Đakovo within the territory of Hungary. With this, the relations between Bosnia and the Roman Curia were completely severed, and the main obstacle to their development in the coming centuries became the Hungarian kings. This relocation likely occurred between August 1247 and May 1252.