Maritimus Ragusa
Dubrovnik History

Dubrovnik History

…On this occasion, we’ll say something more about  Dubrovnik Maritime History and it is primarily necessary to point out some facts from the past.
It has been ascertained that Dubrovnik had dealt with maritime affairs since IX. century. The eldest records on this matter date from XII. century. It is obvious, from these records, that maritime-trading affairs of Dubrovnik were highly developed on the Adriatic sea, from the city of Pisa to the city of Constantinopolis. In XII. century Dubrovnik was already important centre for trading affairs between countries of Balkan.
Since 1358, after outgrowing Venetian tutelage, coming under patronage of Hungarian –Croatian king and becoming sovereign republic, Dubrovnik has been dealing with maritime affairs even more despite of interference of Venice.

Maritime affairs and land trading of Dubrovnik had the most significant success under patronage of Turkish Empire. Therefore, Dubrovnik and its mercantile maritime were very important on the Mediterranean sea in 2nd half of XV. century.
Turkish conquering of eastern Mediterranean countries caused suspension of trading affairs between European countries and the East. In the meanwhile, Dubrovnik trading affairs between eastern and western Mediterranean coasts had their revival in XVI. century, enabling Dubrovnik to take over even more influence in intermediation in trading affairs between Balkan countries and Western Europe. Besides this, Dubrovnik was developing its maritime trading affairs worldwide. Dubrovnik had a strong mercantile marine which, at the time, took the 3rd place in the world. In last decades of XV. and during XVI. century , Dubrovnik was laying down good basis for its maritime affairs, on which it had been working on for centuries.
The most important factor in naval architecture is a shipyard. The old shipyard situated in port of Dubrovnik could not please the great demands of Dubrovnik maritime affairs of XVI.century. Therefore, in 1525. building of big public shipyard in Port Gruž has started. There were also some smaller shipyards in Lopud, Šipan, Slano, Orebić, Cavtat and Zaton and some other, less important, as well.
The work of shipbuilders in Dubrovnik was famous worldwide and some foreign writers in XVI. and XVII. century wrote in the most praising way about it. It was natural that the active maritime affairs brought to such quality in shipbuilding in Dubrovnik. Therefore, it was not unusual that the shipbuilding in “Ragusean way” was famous worldwide.

In XVI. century crew on Dubrovnik ships was recruited throughout entire territory of Republic of Dubrovnik. It is considered that Dubrovnik had about 5.000 merchant seamen in XVI century. In Republic statute from 1272. there were already written laws that were regulating shipowner – crew relationship. Maritime regulation („Ordo marinaritiae“) from 1535. was very important in this matter. The most important person on ship was a shipmaster (in XVI. Century Dubrovnik had about 250 shipmasters). After shipmaster, next person in range, was a scrivener. In XVI. century, only aristocrats of Dubrovnik were entitled to be scriveners. On the smallest ships there were 2-3 sailors and on big ships there were about 60 crew members.. On the largest Dubrovnik ship, contained of 110 wheels and built in Gruž in 1568., there were 140 seamen on board.

Dubrovnik merchant navy started its rising period in 1530. In period from 1530 to 1585 Dubrovnik had 180 ships containing total of 38000 wheels.
During XVI. century, Republic ships were holding maritime-trading connections between Dubrovnik and different foreign countries. Many Dubrovnik ships were hired by other states (mostly Spain). Dubrovnik ships were sailing on Mediterranean and Black sea, as well as on the Atlantic.
After a strong rise of Dubrovnik maritime in XVI century, XVII. century was the period of the fall. At the end of XVI. century already, and especially in XVII. century, French merchant navy and ships of western European countries were attending most maritime contracts on Mediterranean basin and therefore made a strong competition to Dubrovnik maritime. The fall of Dubrovnik maritime was greatly influenced by the earthquake which devastated Dubrovnik on September 6th 1667.
In XVII. century Dubrovnik had to put all its efforts into keeping its autonomy and fighting Venetian conquerors, who, on the other hand, spared no funds to destroy merchant maritime of Dubrovnik. Rivalry between Dubrovnik and Venice had been known a long time before, but in XVII. century their contacts toughened, and often escalated to stronger conflicts.
In XVII.century already, no larger ships than 300 wheels were built in Dubrovnik. In 2nd half of XVII century it got even worse, so their deadweight level was 200 wheels. In the middle of XVII.century Dubrovnik had 114 ships and their average deadweight was under 100 wheels. In period from 1650 – 1667. 80 ships were registered in Dubrovnik archive, and their total deadweight was 7000 wheels. From 1667-1701 certain taxes were paid for only 75 Dubrovnik ships with total deadweight of cca 6100 wheels. The biggest Dubrovnik ship which sailed from 1667-1710 had only 187 wheels.
In second half of XVII century, Dubrovnik ships maintained maritime and trading connections mostly with ports of Apulio and Abruzzo, as well as connections with Venice, ports of Albania, Levant and Greek Islets were kept. During the last years of XVII. century, Dubrovnik developed maritime and trading connections with Croatian coastal cities and specially with Croatia Littoral.
XVIII century was the period of many wars. People of Dubrovnik knew that the existence of the Republic depended on their neutrality, which they strongly supported and therefore were living mostly in peace throughout the XVIII. century.


In 2nd half of XVIII and in the beginning of XIX century, maritime affairs of Dubrovnik had considerable progress, but has never reached the level it had achieved in 2nd half of XVI century, when Dubrovnik fleet had been, as it is nowadays considered, equal to Venetian.
During the XVIII and in the beginning of XIX century, the Republic took many actions to upgrade and strengthen its maritime affairs. It is very important to mention publishing of maritime laws collection: Dubrovnik maritime edict that was legalized in 1745, and published in 1784. That edict was, considering its contest, the resumption of previous laws that were changed and complemented based on practice. Those were administrative-organization type regulations. Edict was mostly concerned of sailing outside Adriatic sea borders, setting norms in rights and obligations of seamen, shipowners and Dubrovnik consuls to merchant maritime.
Maritime department was founded again in 1745. as the public authority, and was dealing with maritime affairs, carrying out maritime policy, supervising merchant maritime. It was also discussing matters of employment of seamen and their work, and was therefore keeping the records of seamen on board on Dubrovnik ships.
From 1745 to1752. Dubrovnik had about 100 ships. About 1150 seamen was on board on these ships in the same period. In 1805 Dubrovnik had 278 ships with 3000 seamen on board.
French occupation completely and finally destroyed merchant maritime of Republic of Dubrovnik.