Zemunik Event

Croatian history is filled with wars and fights for homeland. Often those events are subject of stories and legends but, sometimes, they fall into oblivion. Only few years back I learned of one such event when I received a copy of an old booklet.

Cover of a 1929 booklet describing massacre in Zemunik
Booklet describing the events

The booklet was written by well known local writer Boško Desnica who was known for his work on preserving local heritage.

Zemunik in History

Zemunik is a small village near Zadar and it was an important fortress ever since the start of the Turkish invasion. The village is located in the fertile fields na archaeological evidence proves a very long continuity of life in this area. The village got its name after underground huts that people were living in back in the ancient times. Some writers also called these folks myrmidons after the ancient Greek tribe that lived underground. Of course, this simple folk had nothing to do with the brave warriors of Trojan times.

Graphic of Zemunik from 1600s
Zemunik in 1600s

Turkish Wars

Zemunik came under the Turkish rule in 1570. It was a great time for the village as it grew rapidly into an important outpost of the Ottoman rule in Dalmatia. Close to Venetian Zadar. It had a mosque and a large fortress protecting a local ruler.

In 1647, Venetian general Pisani was conducting a military operations in the vicinity of Zadar and got Zemunik under siege.

Morlach soldiers of the 17th century in the old graphic
Morlach soldiers of the 17th century

The siege was brought to the end only after the Venetians showed the old Halilbeg the arms and clothes of his dead son Durakbeg who went to get help. The old warrior did not see a way out and he surrendered. Venetian governor Foscolo did not keep his word and captured Halilbeg to send him to fortress in Brescia for the remaining nine years of his life.

Ottoman soldier of 17th century
Ottoman soldier of 17th century

Venice had a plan to divide their land in Dalmatia from the Turkish territories by creating a no-mans land by using scorchedearth method. As a result, Zemunik was nearly leveled never to recover. Once prosperous town was now completely abandoned.

The Peace

In 1669. the peace accord between the Turks and Venetians allowed Turks to return to the area. In 1671. the whole region of Ravni Kotari, near Zadar, belonged to Turks again. All the morlach families that moved into the region now had to move again. To the narrow coastal strip of Venetian Dalmatia. Not nearly as fertile as the planes of Ravni Kotari.

Marking the border between Turks and Venetians
Rocky mound marking the border between Turks and Venetians

Consequently, that led to the utmost poverty and discontent. As Venice did a pretty through job of implementing scorched-earth policy in the region, there were very few places worth returning for the Turks so they only came back to the major towns: Skradin, Obrovac, Ostrovica, Perušić Benkovački, Vrana. Places where a normal life could have been reestablished with small shops and crafts.
As the discontent and poverty of the Christian folks grew, they started getting into Turkish lands for pastures and farming. Since the population of the Turkish territories was very small , the Turkish lords gave permissions to Christians to work on their lands across the border. Some of these Christians came to Zemunik and built small huts in the ruins of this once prosperous town.

Zemunik Event

But, in the year 1682. the grandsons of former ruler Halilbeg, decided to rebuild Zemunik. Hasanbeg came to Zemunik with large entourage, waving flags and banners, beating drums. He immediately burned down Christian huts and started rebuilding the fortress of his ancestors. And then came September 17th 1682.

That did not sit well with Christian folks who had valid contracts for farming till next Đurđevdan. In the firce discussion that followed – as Hasanbeg did not care about the documents and contracts – one of the Christian negotiators got killed. Consequently, one Vuk Lukačina from Biograd was murdered and suddenly all hell broke loose. As a result, in the fighting that started, Hasanbeg and about 200 Turks were cut down.

Venetian warriors of 17th century
Venetian warriors of 17th century (Dalmatian morlacco soldier being second from the left)

The fragile peace was nearly over and Venetian commanders in Dalmatia did all they could to stop the further bloodshed. All army units and paramilitaries were placed on the highest state of alert.

The Damages

The Turks were furious and did not even listen to reports of the event. Turkish authorities demanded as many Christians as they lost of their own. Head for head. Plus, Venice had to pay money to the families that lost their kin in Zemunik. If the main Venetian negotiator was not able to to provide requested, he was to be imprisoned and, most likely, executed at Yedikule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yedikule_Fortress).

Finally, Venice and Turks came to agreement. Venice paid 225 000 golden coins to Turks for all damages and no one was executed. Probably the famous Venetian zecchino. The design of the Venetian gold ducat, or zecchino, remained unchanged for over 500 years, from its introduction in 1284 to the takeover of Venice by Napoleon in 1797. No other coin design has ever been produced over such a long historical period.
Hence, according to some calculations, today’s value of one zecchino would be cca 150 USD.

14th-17th ct Venetian zechino

Making the total paid in damages – 33 750 000 USD.

Since it is really hard to to get the exact value, this is most likely wrong calculation but still illustrates that the damages Venice had to pay were extremely high.
Ottomans left this part of Dalmatia for good in 1699. The military operations from the Second Siege of Vienna (1683) to the final peace treaty ( The Treaty of Karlowitz ) in 1699. marked the end of Turkish rule in Dalmatia. As a result, Zemunik never grew back to its former glory but this event, being one of the bloodiest acts of rebellion against the Turkish rule in Croatia, slowly faded. Like many times in the past, our ancestors had to brutally fight for freedom.