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R. Kurelić
Daily Life on the Istrian Frontier
Living on a Borderland in the Sixteenth Century

approx. 250 p., 8 b/w ill., 3 b/w tables, 156 x 234 mm, 2018
ISBN: 978-2-503-55186-9
Languages: English
HardbackHardback
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The sixteenth century Istrian peninsula was a land divided between two great powers: Venice, a declining and decadent sea power jealously protecting its Adriatic Empire, and Austria in ascendancy with the Habsburg’s firm grasp of the Imperial Crown and the beginnings of hegemony in Central and Eastern Europe. The collision course seemed inevitable and two great wars were fought to determine whether the Serenissima’s maritime supremacy could be broken.

In the shadow of these great powers and their ceaseless maneuvering, the inhabitants of Istria had to live with malaria, plague, famine, banditry, war and each other. Sharing a common ethnic and cultural identity, the predominantly Slavic subjects in the rural hinterlands of Istria had to balance their everyday struggle for survival with political allegiances resulting from the presence of the frontier.

The microcosm of Istria was riddled with tensions and disputes over imprecise boundaries that failed to delineated vital forests and pastures, leading to frequent bouts of violence.  Yet, at the same time, the inhabitants of Istria worked and married across state boundaries, creating a complicated network of identities and producing a trove of everyday human stories.  This book brings to light the colorful mosaic of frontier life at the very end of the Middle Ages.
Robert Kurelić received his PhD in Medieval Studies from the Central European University in Budapest. He teaches medieval history at the “Juraj Dobrila” University in Pula, Croatia.
Table of Contents

1.         Introduction

In this chapter I describe the general political, demographic and economic circumstances in late medieval Istria and a short summary of the ambitions of Venice and Austria in the region. I also provide a brief summary of the War of the League of Cambrai (1508 – 1516) and the Uskok War (1615-1618) which form the approximate chronological delineation for the subject matter of the book. 

2.         Village Life on the Frontier

In this chapter I reconstruct an Austrian and Venetian frontier community focusing on their everyday livelihood, customs and beliefs. I look into their local networks of familial and spiritual kinship (godparents), their local autonomous government (elections and duties of their local representatives and judges), as well as rituals, festivities and the everyday discharge of duties surrounding these offices.  I also analyze the importance of the parish priest who, although catholic, preaches in Slavonic, writes in Glagolithic and has children of his own.  I also discuss the various cross-boundary marriage and business alliances which bring the inhabitants of the two powers together. 

3.         Local Powers 

In this chapter I look at the representatives of the two powers, the Captains and Podestas who rule the local population and discuss the challenges they face as they have to defend their princes’ jurisdictions and live together at the same time. By means of letters exchanged between these officials, castle inventories and courtly records I bring to light their conflicting roles as both mediators and soldiers who are, on account of the small size of the Peninsula, all well acquainted with one another. A further complication springs from the contrast between the Austrian and Venetian system of government, the former manorial-feudal and the latter oligarchic with offices held for a specified term.

4.         Migrants and Bandits 

In this chapter I analyze the complex problem of colonization of the severely depopulated peninsula. With large portions of the population fallen prey to raids, wars, famine and diseases, the two powers started a sort of arms race to repopulate their respective territories.  These newcomers came in two groups. The first were the regular settlers that integrated quickly, and the second were the Morlaks. They were refugees from Dalmatia fleeing the Ottoman onslaught who were very difficult to integrate. I analyze their mobile lifestyle, belief system, clannish/tribal organization, honor based justice and their alleged propensity for violence and criminal behavior. Criminal proceedings, complaints from local communities and letters from local officials describe in great detail the many offenses they were accused of. Another important segment I discuss is smuggling across state lines.

5.         Boundaries and Disputes

In this chapter I discuss the ever present dangers of frontier life with undefined boundaries. I look at the forests and pastures that were difficult to delineate and were coveted resources both for local inhabitants and their overlords. I analyze the anatomy of boundary disputes, the daily ritualistic types of behavior used to challenge the opponent’s claims and defend one’s own, and the often mellow responses of the captains and Podestas who were frequently prisoners of the desires and needs of their own subjects. I also shed new light on the daring raids and actions committed on both sides in order to safeguard the valuable water sources and pastures for their livestock. I bring a number of well detailed cases, witness testimonies and official letters that speak in great detail of the everyday dangers of living on the frontier and close to disputed boundaries.

6.         Conclusion

Interest Classification:
Modern History (1501 to the present)
Early modern history (1501-1800) : main subdisciplines
Social & economic history
Early modern history (1501-1800) : genres & specific topics
Urban history
Early modern European history (1501-1800) : local & regional history

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