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The Republic of Poljica or duchy (Croatian: Polji?ka republika, in older form Polji?ka kne?ija) was an autonomous community which existed in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period in central Dalmatia, near modern-day Omi?, Croatia.
It was organized as a "peasants' republic" and is best known because of the Poljica Statute, first written in 1440.
The name poljica stems from the word polje for "field", karst polje in particular, a common geographic feature in the area. The Poljica region was first titled a "republic" by the Venetian writer Alberto Fortis in 1774. It was also known as Poglizza (in Italian).
Poljica is best known for the eponymous statute from the 15th century. It was first written in 1440, revised in 1485, 1515, 1665, and on several occasions up to the 19th century, growing to 116 articles. It is today kept in Omi?'s museum. This document contains a description of the Poljica common law and its system of government, and is one of the most important Croatian historical legal statutes (together with the Vinodol codex of 1288), written in a mixture of Chakavian and Shtokavian dialects, and in Cyrillic (the name appears in the annex of the Statute of Poljica from 1655) (polji?ica and polji?ka azbukvica).
A number of other documents dated from the 12th to 17th century regarding the republic have been preserved, such as Polji?ki molitvenik (1614) and Statut polji?ke bratov?tine Sv.Kuzme i Damjana (1619).
The territories of the Republic of Poljica lay chiefly within the south-easterly curve made by the river Cetina before it enters the Adriatic at Omi?. They also comprised the fastnesses of the Mosor mountain (1,370 m or 4,500 feet) and the fertile strip of coast from Omi? to Stobre?, 16 km (10 mi) W.N.W.
Poljica is divided into three zones: Upper Poljica (Zagorska), behind Mosor, is farthest from the Adriatic Sea and is in the hinterland of Mosor; Middle Poljica (Zavrska), the largest part of Poljica (50%) extends from the ?rnovnica River to the Cetina River at Zadvarje; Lower Poljica (Primorska), built on the remnants of the ancient Greek colony Eqetium, which extends along the sea from Omi? to the village of Stobre?.
The people of Poljica organized and founded the "parish commune" where they could live according to their own laws. The parish commune was divided into twelve villages (katuni), which they named after twelve larger villages of Poljica:
Five of the twelve villages were greatly populated by free peasants from Split origin, and are therefore called free peasant composite villages. The other composite villages were populated by descendants of the three brothers (noted to be founders of Poljica). Each of the twelve villages elected an elder, or little duke (knez), to serve as leader. The little dukes of free peasant composite villages did not share the same rights as little dukes of the other villages--they could vote, but not be elected to the government of Poljica due to their ties with Split.
Documents dating back to the 15th century mention three brothers as founders of the parish commune of Poljica. According to tradition, Ti?imir, Kre?imir and Elem, sons of King Miroslav of Croatia, escaped from Bosnia to Poljica. Each brother is credited to having occupied Upper, Middle and Lower Poljica during the mid 15th century.
The inhabitants lived in scattered villages, twelve of them, each ruled by its count, and all together ruled by the supreme count. These officers, with the three judges, were always of noble birth, though elected by the whole body of citizens. There were two orders of nobles: "vlastela" were the nobles that came from other parts of Kingdom of Croatia-Hungary. Because both noble groups were Croats, and to distinguish them from "didi?i", at first they got nickname "ugri?i?i", after the fact that they came from the areas under control of Hungary. "Didi?i" were the original nobles, and according to legends, the descendants of King Miroslav of Croatia. Didi?i were "koljenovi?i", and they have rights on lands ("didovina"). Vlastela could become the part of "polji?ki stol", but they needed the confirmation of the assembly of Poljica nobles. The descendants of the office holders were allowed to use titles of duke and count. Below these ranked the commoners and the serfs. At a very early date the warlike highlanders of Poljica became the friends and allies of the Omi? corsairs, who were thus enabled to harass the seaborne trade of their neighbors without fear of a sudden attack by land.
Omi? received a charter from Andrew II of Hungary in 1207, and remained under the nominal protection of Hungary until 1444, when both Omi? and Poljica accepted the suzerainty of Venice, while retaining their internal freedom.
The occupation of Bosnia as well as by the Ottoman Empire gravely impacted the Republic of Poljica. Notable battles were fought by the local forces against the Turks in 1530 and 1686, and in both occasions the Ottoman army was repelled. A local young woman by the name of Mila Gojsali? became a heroine after sacrificing herself for the good of the Poljica community in one of the conflicts with the Turks—she infiltrated the Turkish camp and blew up the munitions stockpile. A statue of Mila Gojsali? by Ivan Me?trovi? stands in Poljica overlooking the mouth of Cetina, and the story was also made into a theatre play.
After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Poljica was taken over by Austria. The population of Poljica numbered 6,566 in 1806. In the following year, however, the republic incurred the enmity of Napoleon by rendering aid to the Russians and Montenegrins in Dalmatia, and it was invaded by French troops, who plundered its villages, massacred its inhabitants, and finally deprived it of independence.
After the Napoleonic era, Poljica was absorbed by Austria.
Poljica area were also important to Croatian national renaissance on Croatian South, because the votes from Poljica contributed a lot to the victory of the People's Party (Narodna stranka, the Croatian unionist party) in 1882 on the elections in Split county, bringing the pro-Croat forces on ruling level.
It since passed to Yugoslavia, and in 1912, the Poljica region was reconstituted as a single municipality. In 1945, it was split again between several municipalities, and remained that way until the present day, when the villages are part of Croatian municipalities of Omi?, Podstrana, Dugi Rat and Split. Today this area of around 250 km2 (97 sq mi) is inhabited by around 20,000 people.
Recently the republic was "re-established" as a cultural organization. The reigning prince (veliki knez) is Petar Rodi?.
The title of the rulers of the Principality of Poljica was ?upan (count) at first, later changing to knez (prince) and finally veliki knez (grand prince).