Thomas the Archdeacon

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Page from Thomas' Historia Salonitana Toma1.JPG
Page from Thomas' Historia Salonitana

Thomas the Archdeacon (Latin : Thomas Archidiaconus; Italian : Tommaso Arcidiacono; Croatian : Toma Arhiđakon; c. 1200 – 8 May 1268), also known as Thomas of Split (Latin : Thomas Spalatensis, Hungarian : Spalatói Tamás), was a Roman Catholic cleric, historian and chronicler from Split. He is often referred to as one of the greatest sources in the historiography of Croatian lands. [1]

Italian language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire and, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to it of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a protected language in these countries. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.

Croatian language South Slavic language

Croatian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language used by Croats, principally in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina, and other neighboring countries. It is the official and literary standard of Croatia and one of the official languages of the European Union. Croatian is also one of the official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a recognized minority language in Serbia and neighboring countries.

Hungarian language language spoken in and around Hungary

Hungarian is a Uralic language of the Ugric branch spoken in Hungary and parts of several neighbouring countries. It is the official language of Hungary and one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. Outside Hungary it is also spoken by communities of Hungarians in the countries that today make up Slovakia, western Ukraine (Subcarpathia), central and western Romania (Transylvania), northern Serbia (Vojvodina), northern Croatia and northern Slovenia.



What is known about Thomas' life comes from his work, Historia Salonitana . He speaks of his life in the third person and very briefly, in the style of medieval literature genres. Thomas was born in Split at the beginning of the 13th century. It is not known whether he was of noble or common birth, but he represented the elite Roman culture that had survived from before the Slav migration, and he had a negative view of Slavs, often mistakenly conflating them in his chronicle with the Goths. [2] He was probably educated at the cathedral school in Split. Around 1222 he was sent to study at the University of Bologna. There he perfected skills (under, among others, Accursius) in law, rhetoric, gramathic and notary (ars dictandi and ars notaria). [3] He saw Saint Francis of Assisi in Bologna, a remarkable event which he mentioned in his work, describing the person of Saint Francis. [4] Upon returning to his hometown of Split he advanced fast in church hierarchy. He became notary official (ca. 1227), then (1230) the archdeacon (head of the body of canons). He described Mongol siege of Split (1242), Mongol customs and homeland, thus creating the first ethnological writings in local historiography. [5] In 1243 a body of canons chose Thomas to be archbishop of Split, however due to his views on Church autonomy in Split, commoners rebelled against him. Fearing for his life, he never occupied that function, and in the end resigned the honor. Because of that, in his work he wrote about future archbishops with bitterness. He died in Split on May 8, 1268. Today, his grave lies in the Church of St. Francis. [6]

Historia Salonitanorum atque Spalatinorum pontificum or the History of the Bishops of Salona and Split, commonly known simply as the Historia Salonitana, is a chronicle by Thomas the Archdeacon from the 13th century which contains significant information about the early history of the Croats.

Cathedral school

Cathedral schools began in the Early Middle Ages as centers of advanced education, some of them ultimately evolving into medieval universities. Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, they were complemented by the monastic schools. Some of these early cathedral schools, and more recent foundations, continued into modern times.

University of Bologna university in Bologna, Italy

The University of Bologna is a research university in Bologna, Italy. Founded in 1088 by an organised guild of students, it is the oldest university in the world, as well as one of the leading academic institutions in Italy and Europe. It is one of the most prestigious Italian universities, commonly ranking in the first places of national rankings.


Thomas was a stern advocate of medieval commune movement in Split. He wrote about Croatian nobles (and Hungarian kings in his time) in the hinterland of the city with great animosity, because they tried to crush the autonomy of the city. And conversely, he treated fairly those who respected the commune autonomy (Croatian kings, and later, Hungarian kings in the 12th century). In 1239 he organized new („latin“) administration in Split, bringing Gargane de Ascindis from Ancona, as the new Podestà. [7] He was also an advocate of Church autonomy within the city (in accordance with official Roman Church teaching) which excluded commoners and citizens from interfering in Church business (such as the election of the archbishop).

Medieval commune

Medieval communes in the European Middle Ages had sworn allegiances of mutual defense among the citizens of a town or city. These took many forms and varied widely in organization and makeup.

Split, Croatia City in Split-Dalmatia, Croatia

Split is the second-largest city of Croatia and the largest city of the region of Dalmatia, with about 350,000 people living in its urban area. It lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and is spread over a central peninsula and its surroundings. An intraregional transport hub and popular tourist destination, the city is linked to the Adriatic islands and the Apennine peninsula.

Ancona city and seaport in central Italy

Ancona is a city and a seaport in the Marche region in central Italy, with a population of around 101,997 as of 2015. Ancona is the capital of the province of Ancona and of the region. The city is located 280 km (170 mi) northeast of Rome, on the Adriatic Sea, between the slopes of the two extremities of the promontory of Monte Conero, Monte Astagno and Monte Guasco.


Thomas' only work is the Historia Salonitana, the history of the archbishops of Salona and Split written in Latin. [8] The work itself is combining three medieval history genres – historia, chronica and memoriale. Eventually, his work outgrows the narrow theme of archbishops, and becomes an outstanding literary achievement which encompasses the whole of the Croatian medieval period up to the 13th century. Because of Thomas' original research in the archbisphoric's archive in Split, he brings facts and news from documents today unknown to contemporary historians. His work is therefore not only of great literally value, but also of historical value for Croatian history. [9]

Salona ancient city on the Dalmatian coast

Salona was an ancient city and the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. The name Salona preserves the language of the early inhabitants of this area whom the Romans called the Dalmatae, considered to be part of a larger group called the Illyrians. Salona is situated in today's town of Solin, right next to Split, in modern-day Croatia.

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  1. Radoslav Katičić: "Toma Arhiđakon i njegovo djelo" in Toma Arhiđakon: Historia Salonitana, Split, 2007.
  2. Fine (Jr), John V. A. (2006). When Ethnicity Did Not Matter in the Balkans: A Study of Identity in Pre-Nationalist Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  3. Katičić: "Toma Arhiđakon i njegovo djelo", 2007, p. 338.
  4. Eodem anno in die assumptionis dei genitricis, cum essem Bononie in studio, uidi sanctum Franciscum predicantem in platea ante palatium publicum, ubi tota pene civitas convenerat. Fuit autem exordium sermonis eius: angeli, homines, demones. De his enim tribus spiritibus rationalibus ita bene et discrete proposuit, ut multis litteratis, qui aderant, fieret admirationi non modice sermo hominis ydiote; nec tamen ipse modum predicantis tenuit, sed quasi concionantis. Tota uero uerborum eius discurrebat materies ad extinguendas inimicitias et ad pacis federa reformanda. Sordidus erat habitus, persona contemtibilis, et facies indecora. Sed tantum deus uerbis illius contulit efficatiam, ut multe tribus nobilium, inter quas antiquarum inimicitarium furor immanis multa sanguinis effusione fuerat debachatus, ad pacis consilium reducenteretur. Erga ipsum uero tam magna erat reuerentia hominum et deutio, ut uiri et mulieres in eum cateruatim ruerent, satagentes vel fimbriam eius tangere , aut aliquid de paniculis eius auferre. Historia Salonitana, p. 134.
  5. James Ross Sweeney: "Thomas of Spalato and the Mongols: a Thirteenth Century Dalmatian Views of Mongol Customs." Florilegium 4 (1982): 156 – 183.
  6. On his tombstone are engraved the following words: Doctrinam, Christe, docet archidiaconus iste; Thomas, hanc tenuit, moribus et docuit; Mundum sperne, fuge viciu(m), carnem preme, luge; pro vite fruge, lubrica lucra fuge. Spalatemque dedit ortu(m), quo vita recedit. Dum mors succedit vite, mea gl(ori)a cedit. Hic me vermis edit, sic iuri mortis obedit; corpus quod ledit , a(n)i(m)amque qui sibi credit. A. D. MCCLXVIII. mense madii octavo die intrante. Tomislav Raukar: Hrvatsko srednjovjekovlje Zagreb, 2007.
  7. Katičić: "Toma arhiđakon i njegovo djelo", 2007.
  8. The work is available in several translations (Croatian, Russian etc.) The English translation is available from 2006: Thomae Archidiaconi Spalatensis / Archdeacon Thomas of Split, Historia Salonitanorum atque Spalatinorum pontificum / History of the bishops of Salona and Split. Latin text by Olga Perić, edited, translated and annotated by Damir Karbić, Mirjana Matijević-Sokol and James Ross Sweeney. Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 2006, (Central European medieval texts, vol. 4).
  9. See Franjo Rački: Ocjena starijih izvora za hrvatsku i srbsku poviest srednjega vieka" Književnik I (1864) 358 – 388. and Stéphane Gioanni, The bishops of Salona (2nd–7th century) in the Historia Salonitana by Thomas the Archdeacon (13th century) : history and hagiography, in Écrire l’histoire des évêques et des papes, Fr. Bougard and M. Sot (edd.), Brepols, 2009, pp. 243–263