Miroslav, Prince of Hum

In the last decades of the 12th century, Serbia was ruled by Grand Zhupan Stefan Nemanja, with the assistance of his brothers, Stracimir and Miroslav. Stracimir was the Prince of Gradac, present-day Čačak, while Miroslav ruled the Hum region, a large part of which was in the territory of present-day Herzegovina. Bosnia was ruled, perhaps as a Hungarian vassal state – but still rather independently – by Ban Kulin. The position of the Hum principality was the most favourable: it was protected from its more dangerous neighbours by other Serbian lands, whose rulers demonstrated great diplomatic wisdom and military skill. Miroslav, the Prince of Hum, was the brother of the Grand Zhupan of Raška, Stefan Nemanja, and the brother-in-law of Ban Kulin, since he was married to his sister.

Oštećeni portret humskog kneza Miroslava
Damaged ktetor’s portrait of Miroslav, Prince of Hum.
Oštećeni portret humskog kneza Miroslava. Rekonstrukcija A. Deroka
Portrait of Miroslav, Prince of Hum. Reconstruction by A. Deroko.

The four rulers mentioned probably participated in the joint military operations of Hungary and Serbia against the Eastern Roman Empire (subsequently named Byzantium) in 1183, during which Belgrade, Braničevo, Ravno, Niš and Serdica (Sofia) were ruthlessly devastated. In that period, Serbia expanded in all directions and, among other things, strengthened its authority over the Coast.

Mapa Srbije iz XII veka
Map of Serbia from the 12th century.

It seems that in 1184 and 1185, the brothers took steps concerning a siege of Dubrovnik, which had been left without the support of the Rhomaean Empire. In a battle at sea, on August 17, 1184, the more experienced Dubrovnik fleet prevailed over that of Miroslav. The following year, he was better prepared and appeared beneath the walls of Dubrovnik on July 1, with a massive army equipped with siege catapults. A week later, while the people of Dubrovnik were at prayers in the Church of the Martyrs Peter, Andrew and Lawrence, it seems that Miroslav received information about their connections with the Normans, who were just preparing a major military campaign against the Eastern Roman Empire. He ordered that all war machines be burned, and he retreated. 

In 1186, on September 27, Nemanja and Miroslav, in their own name and that of Stracimir, signed a peace agreement with Dubrovnik in the presence of envoys of the Norman king, whereby all disputed issues were relegated to oblivion, Dubrovnik’s territory was recognised, and its people were granted the freedom to trade in the land of the three brothers, and vice-versa.

Potpisi Stefana Nemanje i kneza Miroslava
Signatures of the Grand Zhupan Nemanja and Prince Miroslav, on a peace treaty with Dubrovnik from September 27, 1186.

In 1189/1190, the brothers once again ventured into very lively diplomatic and military activities: they made moves which they believed would prove fruitful in the future, and adjusted their plans, very quickly and successfully, to the sudden changes in the balance of power. During the meeting in Niš of Nemanja and Stracimir with the German emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, who was passing through Serbia with his crusaders in 1189, they agreed for Miroslav’s son Toljen to marry the daughter of Berthold IV of Andechs, the Margrave of Istria and the titular Herzog of Croatia. Toljen was to have received his bride in Istria on the next Đurđevdan (St. George’s Day), but as Barbarossa drowned in 1190, apparently the arrangement was not fulfilled. Nemanja had failed to persuade Barbarossa to execute a combined attack on Constantinople but, taking advantage of the latter’s campaign, he and the brothers succeeded in significantly expanding the territory of their state. However, the Eastern Roman Empire soon restored its might and began preparing to reclaim what it had lost. Perhaps, this was why Prince Miroslav signed an accord with Dubrovnik on June 17, 1190, to secure asylum for himself and his people, in case of need.

We do not exactly know what relations were like between Miroslav and Nemanja, but Miroslav did have a large degree of independence. Proof of this lies in what follows.

In August 1180, Archbishop Raynerius, an Italian from Tuscany, went to the coast between Split and Omiš to resolve some issues regarding church holdings there. The local nobility, the Kačić family, perceived his arrival as a violation of their inherited rights. After a fierce quarrel, they stoned the archbishop and then fled to Miroslav for protection, who took them in. Furthermore, Miroslav refused to allow the papal legate, Subdeacon Tebald, into his land, and the latter placed an anathema on Miroslav.

A year later, on July 7, 1181, Pope Alexander III wrote a letter to Miroslav, informing him that he was denying him his blessing for refusing to receive the papal legate he had dispatched and a letter requesting Miroslav to return the archbishop’s money, and for not allowing an inflow of clergy into the vacated cathedrals; and he advised him not to touch the (Catholic) church or its personnel. And so, the Pope had directly addressed Miroslav, who had taken a number of very resolute steps on his own. It is interesting that the Pope did not send the letter. It is kept to this day in the Vatican Archive. However, a day earlier, on July 6, he sent a letter to Hungarian King Bela III, requesting him, among other things, to force Miroslav to pay the tax and submit. The end of this dispute is not known because Alexander III died a few weeks later.

Miroslav was the first Serb nobleman to possess a Cyrillic seal, while Nemanja’s seal was in Greek, the official alphabet of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Pečat kneza Miroslava. Rekonstrukcija - A. Palavestra
Reconstruction of Miroslav’s seal – A. Palavestra. 

According to a transcript of Nemanja’s Charter to Split, which is presumed to date from 1191/1192, we find that Nemanja’s son, Rastko, subsequently known as St. Sava, was in Hum, in the capacity of ruler or co-ruler. At the time, he was only 16-17 years old. Rastko likely came into contact with the Miroslav Gospel in some way, either by being present while it was being made or seeing it in its finished form. It is also possible that it was from Hum that Rastko fled to Mount Athos.

We have learned a little more about the year of Miroslav’s death from a letter by Nemanja’s son Vukan, from 1199. In the letter addressed to Pope Innocent III, Vukan accuses Ban Kulin of permitting, allegedly under the influence of his wife and his sister, the wife of the late Miroslav, the spread of the Patarene heresy (Bogomilism) in his land. Miroslav’s name is not encountered at the time of the attack by Hungarian Herzog Andrew on Hum in 1198. He probably died before that. Perhaps his death was the immediate occasion for the Hungarian attack. If we accept that Miroslav was older than Nemanja and that he was alive at the time of Nemanja’s abdication, in 1196, then he lived for at least 84 years.