Principality of Zeta

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Principality of Zeta at the end of the 14th century Principality of Zeta.png
Principality of Zeta at the end of the 14th century

The Principality of Zeta (Serbian : Кнежевина Зета, romanized: Kneževina Zeta) is a historiographical name for a late medieval principality located in the southern parts of modern Montenegro and northern parts of modern Albania, around the Lake of Skadar. It was ruled by the families of Balšić, Lazarević, Branković and Crnojević in succession from the second half of the 14th century until Ottoman conquest at the very end of the 15th century. Previously, the same region of Zeta was a Serbian crown land, that had become self-governing after the fall of the Serbian Empire, when the Balšić family created a regional principality, sometime after 1360. [1]


Zeta under the Balšići

Zeta under the Serbian Despotate

Zeta under the Crnojevići

See also

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Balšić noble family

The Balšić was a noble family that ruled "Zeta and the coastlands", from 1362 to 1421, during and after the fall of the Serbian Empire. Balša, the founder, was a petty nobleman who held only one village during the rule of Emperor Dušan the Mighty, and only after the death of the emperor, his three sons gained power in Lower Zeta after acquiring the lands of gospodin Žarko under unclear circumstances, and they then expanded into Upper Zeta by murdering voivode and čelnik Đuraš Ilijić. Nevertheless, they were acknowledged as oblastni gospodari of Zeta in edicts of Emperor Uroš the Weak. After the death of Uroš (1371), the family feuded with the Mrnjavčevići, who controlled Macedonia. In 1421, Balša III, on his death, passed the rule of Zeta to his uncle, Despot Stefan the Tall.

Crnojević noble family

The Crnojević was a medieval noble family that held Zeta, or parts of it; a region north of Lake Skadar corresponding to southern Montenegro and northern Albania, from 1326 to 1362, then 1403 until 1515. Its progenitor Đuraš Ilijić, was the head of Upper Zeta in the Medieval Kingdom of Serbia and Empire, under Stefan Dečanski, Dušan the Mighty and Stefan Uroš V. Đuraš was killed in 1362 by the Balšić family, the holders of Lower Zeta ; Zeta was in the hands of the Balšići under nominal Imperial rule until 1421, when Serbian Despot Stefan Lazarević was given the province by Balša III (1403–1421). The family fought its rivals following the murder of Đuraš, and the Crnojevićs controlled Budva from 1392 until 1396, when Radič Crnojević was murdered by the Balšićs. They are mentioned again in 1403, as vassals of the Republic of Venice, taking power in their hereditary lands.

Đurađ I Balšić 14th century Lord of Zeta

Đurađ Balšić, also known as Đurađ I was the Lord of Zeta between 1362 and 13 January 1378. He was the eldest of the three sons of Balša I, and belonged to the Balšić family.

Balša II Lord of Lower Zeta

Balša Balšić, known in historiography as Balša II, was the Lord of Lower Zeta from 1378 to 1385. He managed to expand his borders towards the south; defeating the Albanian duke Karl Thopia.

Đurađ Stracimirović, or Đurađ II was the Serbian lord,Lord of Zeta from 1385 to 1403, as a member of the Balšić noble family. He was the son of Stracimir Balšić, and succeeded his paternal uncle Balša II in ruling Zeta. He reigned from 1386 up to 1389 in the still officially undissolved Serbian Empire in the form of a family alliance, then up to 1395 as an Ottoman vassal. He ruled until his death in 1403, when he was succeeded by his only son, Balša III. He is known in Serbian epic poetry as Strahinja Banović.

Lazarević dynasty

The Lazarević was a Serbian medieval royal family, which ruled Moravian Serbia and the Serbian Despotate.

Balša Stracimirović or Balša III was the fifth and last ruler of Zeta from the Balšić noble family, from April 1403 to April 1421. He was the son of Đurađ II and Jelena Lazarević.

Stefan Crnojević, known as Stefanica was the Lord of Zeta between 1451 and 1465. Until 1441, he was one of many governors in Zeta, which at that time was a province of the Serbian Despotate. He then aligned with Stefan Vukčić Kosača and remained his vassal until 1444 when he accepted Venetian suzerainty. In Venetian–held Lezhë, on 2 March 1444, Stefan and his sons forged an alliance with several noblemen from Albania, led by Skanderbeg, known as the League of Lezhë. In 1448 he returned under suzerainty of Serbian Despot Đurađ Branković. In 1451, Stefan took over the leadership of the Crnojevići and became the ruler of a large part of Zeta, hence Gospodar Zetski.

District of Branković

The District of Branković or Vuk's Land was one of the short lived semi-independent states that emerged from the collapse of the Serbian Empire in 1371, following the death of the last Emperor Uroš the Weak (1346-1371). The founder of this realm was Vuk Branković, the son of sebastokrator Branko Mladenović who governed Ohrid under Stefan Dušan the Mighty (1331-1346). Through Vuk's marriage with Mara, the daughter of Moravian Serbia's Prince Lazar, he was given substantial lands to govern in Kosovo.

Zeta under the Balšići

Zeta was one of the medieval polities that existed between 1356 and 1421, whose territory encompassed parts of present-day Montenegro and northern Albania, ruled by the Balšić family.

Fall of the Serbian Empire

The fall of the Serbian Empire was a decades-long process in the late 14th century. Following the death of childless Emperor Stefan Uroš V in 1371, the Empire was left without an heir and the magnates, velikaši, obtained the rule of its provinces and districts, continuing their offices as independent with titles such as gospodin, and despot, given to them during the Empire. This period is known as the dissolution or the beginning of the fall of the Serbian Empire.

Zeta under the Crnojevići

Zeta was one of the South Slavic medieval polities that existed between 1356 and 1496, whose territory encompassed parts of present-day Montenegro and northern Albania. The Crnojević noble family ruled the Zeta from 1451 until 1496. The state included parts of modern Montenegro and parts of modern Albania.

Second Scutari War

The Second Scutari War was an armed conflict in 1419–1426 between Zeta (1419–1421) and then the Serbian Despotate (1421–1423) on the one side and the Venetian Republic on the other, over Scutari and other former possessions of Zeta captured by Venice.

Jelena Lazarević, also known, by marriages, as Jelena Balšić Hranić or Jelena Balšić or Jelena Kosača, was a medieval Serbian princess, daughter of Prince Lazar of Serbia and Princess Milica Nemanjic. She had a very strong personality and significantly influenced the way her husbands, first Đurađ II Balšić and second Sandalj Hranić Kosača, and her son Balša III governed their realms. Jelena encouraged them to resist Venetian encroachment on territory belonging to Zeta, the medieval Serbian state ruled by Đurađ II and then by Balša III after Đurađ II's death. She is also known as a writer in epistolary literature, particularly her correspondence with Nikon of Jerusalem, a monk in the Gorica monastery on Lake Skadar (Montenegro). Her three epistles are part of the Gorički zbornik, a medieval manuscript collection.

Stefan Balšić, known as Stefan Maramonte, was a Zetan nobleman. He was the son of Konstantin Balšić and Helena Thopia. After Konstantin's death (1402), Helena entered the Republic of Venice and then lived with her sister Maria. Since Maria was married to Phillip Maramonte, the Venetians and Ragusans often referred to Stefan Balšić with the name Maramonte. He was initially a close associate to Zetan lord Balša III, being his vassal. Balša III and Stefan fought against the Republic of Venice, and Stefan helped in the administration of the land as co-ruler with Balša III, he did however not succeed Balša III. Balša III, who died on 28 April 1421, had decided to pass the rule of Zeta to his uncle, the Serbian Despot Stefan Lazarević. When the Second Scutari War between Venice and Despot Stefan began, he [...]. Stefan left Apulia in the summer of 1426, seeking to take Zeta. During the 1427–28 conflict, Maramonte went to the Ottoman court where he sought the support of Sultan Murad II for his appointment as the Lord of Zeta. There, he met Skanderbeg, who was a hostage at the Ottoman court. Maramonte married Vlajka Kastrioti, the sister of Skanderbeg. Supported by the Ottomans, Maramonte, accompanied by Gojčin Crnojević and Little Tanush, plundered the region around Scutari and Ulcinj, and attacked Drivast in 1429, but failed to capture it. Since his attempts failed, Maramonte surrendered to the Venetians and served as their military officer in the campaigns in Flanders and Lombardia.


  1. Ćirković 2004, p. 77.