Author: Nadejda Dragova

Editor's Note: The bulgarian copy of "Il Regno degli Slavi" is owned by Damian Yakov and was donated to Sofia City Library. From the phototype edition are excerpted for N. Dragova's book two full-page engraved plates of warriors representing Slavo del Mar Germanico and Slavo del Illyrico, illustrations of two Slavic alphabets, numerous coats of arms, woodcut initials, head-pieces, and ornaments. Some translations are made according to the Russian prototype from 1723, ditto.


Biography of Mauro Orbini

Mauro Orbini (also Mavro Orbini, or Mauro Orbin; mid-16th century - 1614) was a writer, ideologue and historian from the Republic of Dubrovnik. His work "Realm of the Slavs" influenced Slavic ideology and historiography in the later centuries.

Orbini was born in Dubrovnik (now in Croatia), capital of the Republic of Dubrovnik, a Slavic Croat-populated merchant city-state on the eastern shore of the Adriatic sea. His family drew origin from the Bay of Kotor (Bosnia). After becoming a Benedictine monk, he lived for a while in the monastery on the island of Mljet, later in Ston, and in Hungary, where he was the abbot of the monastery in Bachka for a couple of years. Then he returned to Dubrovnik, where he spent the rest of his life.

Like most Dalmatian intellectuals of his time, he was familiar with the pan-Slavic ideology of Vinko Pribojevic. He made a very important contribution to that ideology by writing "Realm of the Slavs" in Italian, a historical/ideological book published in Pesaro in 1601. This uncritical history of the Slavs was translated into Russian by Teophan Prokopievich in 1723. From then on, the book exerted a significant influence on the ideas of Slavic peoples about themselves and on the European ideas on Slavs.

Like Pribojevic, Orbini unifies the Illyric and Slav mythic identities and interprets history from a pan-Slavic mythological position. Since Orbini lived on the very edge of the Croatian and Slavic free lands, he glorified the multitude of Slavic peoples (primarily Russians and Poles) to counteract the aggressiveness of the Germanic, Italian (Venice) and Turk empires.

Aside from its ideological background, Orbini's main work was used for a long time as one of the few sources for segments of late medieval history of the South Slavs, from Carinthia and Slovene Lands to Serbia and Bulgaria. Many historians learned their trade by verifying the information from Orbini's Realm. Even today's historiography is often uncertain about how much truth there is in some of his writings and claims. This fact is enough to describe Mavro Orbini as an influential historian.

Orbini's work "Realm of the Slavs" was also the main source used by Paisius of Hilendar to write his "Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya", the most influential work of early Bulgarian historiography, in 1762. He is referred to in the book as "a certain Mavrubir, a Latin", and is generally discredited despite being often cited.



Il Regno degli Slavi, hoggi corrottamente detti Schiavoni

Ragusan Benedictine monk Mauro Orbini wrote "Il Regno degli Slavi, hoggi corrottamente detti Schiavoni" (Pesaro, 1601). Its importance for southern Slav history and the suspicion they had for the Catholicism that runs through it can be found in other 18th-century works by southern Slav authors. Orbini is following the long established Adriatic tradition rather than the currents of thought linked to the Counter Reformation. His interest in the Slavs springs mainly from the work of Pribevo, who almost a century before him had, in "De origine successibusque Slavorum" (Venice, 1532) expressed many of these concepts that later inspired the Regno degli Slavi. By identifying the Slavs with the Goths, for example, the historiographical tradition takes the origin of a ‘race’ go back to the Flood and the descendants of Noah and his sons; the greatness of the Slavs has also been identified philologically with the term Slava (Glory) = Slavi (Glorious ones). These concepts were later to be taken up once more by Paisij Hilendarski as well as by Brankovic, Miošic and Rajic. Orbini’s work in particular was to be one of the most important sources for Paisij and Rajic.

Another characteristic feature of Orbini that would be continued by 18th-century Slav historians is pan-Slav glorification and the desire to create a past that would be considered important in comparison with that of other nations. This idea was brought to life by Orbini, as a consequence of the revaluation of the “barbarians” (in this instance the Slavs) that by this time were formed into “nations” aware of their role within Europe, from the work by Guagnino "Sarmatiae europeae descriptio". Mauro Orbini’s work was to gain importance and fame amongst Eastern and Western Slavs following the Russian edition of 1722 by Sava Vladislavic, "Kniga istoriografija pocatija imene, slavi i razširenija naroda slavijanskago".



Alexander the Macedonian and the Slavs

Mauro Orbini, in his book "Kingdom of the Slavs" (1601), wrote about the presence of the "Slavs" during the period of Alexander the Great, even as a part of his army. In this book, Orbini published a document, which represents a Charter, that was sent to the "Slavs" by Alexander the Great as a gesture of gratitude for taking part in Alexander's battles. It is important to note that Alexander's biographer Quintus Curtius Rufus also wrote that the Veneti were a part of the Macedonian army.

In the book Orbini says:

“This Privilege, as we have said, was found after so many centuries in Constantinople by certain Julio Baldasar, a royal secretary. So, the name that is mentioned here - Slavs, calls these Agrians well-known and famous, and that is exactly what the word “Slavs” or “Slovenes” means.

The town of Agria situated in Dakia was founded by these Agrians who lived (according to Stephan the Byzantine) in the areas between the mountains Emos and Rodopies, near Macedonia. Macedonia however, was continually colonized by the Slavic nation and new-comers from Tyre, even though some thought that the Macedonians belonged to the society of the Greeks. To oppose them, for instance, is the opinion of Stephan the Byzantine about Alexander the Macedonian, who very clearly differs the language of the Macedonians from the language of the Greeks.

The renowned Croatian historian from XVI century Vinko Pribichevich, in his book "About the Origin and the Adventures of Slavs" (Venice, 1532) asserts that ancient Macedonians are "Slavs". Middle-age Croatian reformists H. Lucich, D. Zatarich, I. Gundulich, J. Palmotich and others, also shared this belief and they all considered Alexander the Great a Slav.



Rare book by one of the founders of modern Croatian historiography

University of Toronto Libraries has acquired an exceptional first edition of Mauro Orbini's Il regno degli Slavi [Realm of the Slavs], the first comprehensive survey of South Slavic history and an early contribution to Pan-Slavism. The purchase was made possible through the generosity of John and Anne Zdunic.

The author of the book, Mauro Orbini (ca. 1550-1614), was born in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The area at the time was part of Venetian Dalmatia and Dubrovnik (Ragusa) enjoyed the privileges of an autonomous city-republic. Straddled between Western and Eastern Europe — Rome and Byzantium — and populated by an ethnic mix of Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, and Slavs, Orbini's Dalmatia in the 16th century was experiencing its cultural golden age. Orbini, after entering the Benedictine order, spent most of his life in various monasteries of the region. A short appointment as abbot of a monastery in Bachka, in Hungary, and occasional visits to archives in Italy were the only occasions on which he left Dalmatia. Following a dispute with fellow monks at the monastery on the island of Mljet, he was sequestered from 1604 to 1606 in the monastery on the island of Šipan. During his stay there, Orbini wrote his "Zrcalo duhovno" (Spiritual Mirror), an adapted translation of the Italian work by Frate Angello Elli da Milano, "Specchio spirtual del principio, e fine della vita humana" (1598). This work, translated into what Orbini called "dubrovacki" (the language of Dubrovnik) is an important milestone in the development of the Croatian literary language.

"Il regno degli Slavi" (Pesaro, 1601) however, remains Orbini's principal achievement. He wrote it to bright to light the history and past glories of the Slavs, writing about their origins, the history of the kings of Dalmatia, and the medieval history of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Hercegovina, and Bulgaria. The work gained greater importance among the Orthodox South Slavs when Tsar Peter the Great commissioned Sava Vladislavic to translate it from Italian into Russian. The abridged translated version was published in St. Petersburg in 1722, and was an important influence on Russian Balkan policies and on national consciousness among Serbs in the 18th century. Orbini's book was also for a long time the authoritative source for the study of late medieval South Slavic history, particularly the history of the Croats, Serbs, and Bulgars, and contributed to the formation of future historians from those nations and the ideological concept of Pan-Slavism.

The copy purchased by University of Toronto Library is handsome 473-page folio bound in 18th-century speckled calf gilt and includes two full-page engraved plates of warriors representing Slavo del Mar Germanico and Slavo del Illyrico. Further illustrations consist of two Slavic alphabets, numerous coats of arms, woodcut initials, head-pieces, and ornaments.

Of historical interest are a number of deleted names, and sometimes of longer passages, a result of the expurgation by the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church. Among the thirteen names that were cited by Orbini on the Index Liborum Prohibitorum [List of Prohibited Books], and that have been expurgated from the text of Il regno degli Slavi are Byzantine Greek scholar Laonicus Chalcondyles (c. 1423-1490); and a number of German scholars: historian Johannes Thurmayr [Aventinus] (1477-1534); cartographer, cosmographer, and Hebraist Sebastian Münster (1488-1552); humanist and Protestant reformer Kaspar Hedio (1494-1552); poet and classical scholar George Fabricius (1516-1571); historian Hans Löwenklau [Leunclavius] (1533-1593); and theologian David Chytraeus (1531-1600). For the most part those censored from the text by the Inquisition were either Byzantinists, sympathetic with the Humanists, or adherents to Lutherism. Orbini's work itself was placed on the Vatican's index of prohibited books in 1603 by order of Pope Clement VIII.



Kingdom of the Slavs by Mauro Orbini, phototype edition

In 1601 the book "Kingdom of the Slavs" was published in the Italian city of Pesaro. Its author was a historian from Dubrovnik, Mauro Orbini, a Benedictine monk from the Holy Virgin Monastery in the island of Mlet. In the preface to the 474-page book, he wrote: “… so led by a sense of duty to my Slav origin, I voluntarily took up the difficult task of showing the beginnings and the destiny of the Slav people by compiling writings by various authors, to be able to demonstrate how glorious and strong that tribe actually was.”

The book provided a wealth of historical facts with the message that the past of the Slav peoples was a territory from European history. Another strong point he made is that the Slavonic Glagolitic alphabet was at the root of Slavic identity and unity. In 1762 the Bulgarian monk Paissi of Hilendar from Mount Athos wrote a book that played an exceptional role for the Bulgarian national revival while the nation was under Ottoman rule, "Slav-Bulgarian History". One of the sources Paissi used extensively was Mauro Orbini’s work. Today, four hundred years after the release of "Kingdom of the Slavs", interest in the book has not subsided, due to the idea about European unity that it conveys.

Recently the Sofia City Library hosted the premiere of the deluxe phototype edition of "Kingdom of the Slavs", released by Damian Yakov. Italy’s Ambassador to Sofia Stefano Benazzo honored the event.

Prof. Dr Nadezhda Dragova, specialist in Balkan studies, literary theory and culture studies, has consulted the phototype edition of "Kingdom of the Slavs". For many years she has been involved in a research program, Quarter Millennium of Slav-Bulgarian History.

“Mauro Orbini was very popular among Bulgarian opinion leaders during the National Revival. In the afterword to his history Paissi wrote how he traveled to Austria to look for sources for his work and came across the Orbini book. In 1980s a group of Bulgarian scholars including Ivan Duychev, Kroumka Sharova, Vassilka Tapkova and I founded an editorial board on Bulgaria's Foreign Historians. We placed Mauro Orbini and his book at No. 1 in this chart. Since then I have been keen to give a more in-depth presentation of this noteworthy historian to the Bulgarian audience.

I’d rather call them insights. In the sphere where I work, findings are out there waiting for us to notice them. In this case they were two. In the first place, Mauro Orbini visited Sofia while collecting material. He described in detail the relics of Serbian King Stefan Uros II Milutin, and the relics are kept at St. Nedelya Church in Sofia. The stay of Orbini in Sofia was possible because commercial caravans from Dubrovnik made stopovers here. My other insight concerns the image of the lion as a Bulgarian coat-of-arms. Roman cardinal and historian Caesar Baronius (18 c.) wrote that the Bulgarians had chosen the lion as a state symbol, because they were very brave. Both Orbini and Paissi repeated that claim. I found out that the only surviving coin from the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) has a lion cut on it in a natural posture — walking. The lion presented by Orbini is more like a dancing lion. I looked for an original and found it on a coin from the time of Tsar Ivan Shishman (1371-1395). It depicts a rampant lion fighting against the Ottoman invaders.”

The 400th death anniversary of Mauro Orbini is due in October 2010. By then his book will be translated into Bulgarian. The creative team of its phototype edition including publishers, translators and consultants jointly with the Sofia City Library, has initiated Orbini anniversary celebrations across Europe. This will be a token of Bulgarian gratitude to Mauro Orbini whose work was key to one of Bulgaria’s most important written monuments, "Slav-Bulgarian History" by Paissi of Hilendar.



Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above.

(i). Title page of Mauro Orbini's "Kingdom of the Slavs" (1601, in Latin) and Coat-of-Arms on the Bulgarian part starting from p. 398.



Copyright © 2010 by the author.