Between the Cetina River and the Žrnovnica River, at the foot of the Mosor Mountain, to the north and south on small fields or “poljica”, the Republic of Poljica stood from the 11th century to the beginning of the 19th century, representing a European administrative and political phenomenon of its own kind.
Poljica spread over somewhat more than 250 square kilometres and today they are a mere historical and geographical term, but their geographical structure contains sites of remarkable beauty and rich historical background.
Presently, the inhabitants of Poljica cultivate vine, olives, fruit and vegetables as well as breed cattle.
In the beginning Poljica had 12 villages (katun), and today the people of Poljica live in 21 settlements.
Poljica are divided into Lower, Middle and Upper. The borders of Poljica were for the first time precisely defined in the Statute of 1482.
The range of damage to this relatively isolated area brought by the immigrations of the Avars and Slavs is not known, and neither is the one by preceding Byzantine- Gothic wars. But, it is certain that it served, in both cases, as a refuge to native inhabitants, which retreated to the old settlements on the hills away from the barbaric newcomers. The first reliable records on the immigrants have been kept in the documents and deeds of gift of Croatian rulers to the Archdiocese of Split (the Agreement from 839 by which Croatian Prince Mislav allows free maritime passage along the Croatian coastline to Petar Tradenik, the Doge of Venice).
After the murder of Croatian King Miroslav in 949, three brothers Krešimir, Tješimir and Elem fled Bosnia and settled on the territory of today’s village of Ostrvica. By cooperation and harmony, from the 11th to the 13th century their descendants managed to disengage the territory of Poljica from the Coastal Parish (with the centre in Klis) and they founded new Parish of Poljica with independent administration within the Croatian territory.
Since Poljica occupied an important geographical position, the territory was desired by nobles from the hinterland, rulers of Bosnia, people from the Neretva River Valley, the family of Kačić, the Chapter and the Commune of Split. Together with the onset of Ottoman raids it expedited the creation of the principality which by its autonomous organisation took stand and fought back feudal pretensions. Since Poljica were first of all a rural community, there was no stronger social differentiation so it did not come to the domination of clans and individuals. The events that took place in that area were portrayed in the Statute of Poljica.
The Statute of Poljica is a written collection of customary law on the internal organisation of the rural republic of Poljica and social relationships of its inhabitants in Bosančica script, that is in a particular version of Poljica – the Poljičica script. All areas of social political and economic life were regulated within 116 Articles. Considering the manner of regulation of socioeconomic relationships, the Statute of Poljica differs from any other medieval collection of legal regulations. Its particularity is that it forbids the abuse of individual subject law (vexation), and in collectivism it is followed by the formation of the famous solidarity of the people of Poljica among the fellow tribesmen.
Like Judith and Joan of Arc, the native of Poljica, Mila Gojsalić, which is not as famous in the world history, has contributed to the liberation of the small Republic of Poljica from the Turkish slavery by a brave sacrifice. On August 17, 1530 in one of even more frequent raids on the Christian Europe, the Ottomans occupied the small principality of Poljica intending to stay. But it was contrary to the nature of the courageous people of Poljica. Having built his central tent in Gatima, the Turkish general as usually demanded to get the fairest maiden from Poljica. When the Turk satisfied his lust and fell asleep alongside Mila, she sneaked out of the bed, ripped out a burning torch and threw it onto the tent containing gunpowder. A terrible explosion blew out Mila, the Turk and the centre of the camp. After that, Mila’s fellow tribesmen divided and beat the much stronger enemy.
Many Croatian writers and artists have made the courageous act of the young and beautiful maiden from Poljica immortal (Šenoa, Meštrović, Gotovac). The sacrifice of the young Croatian maiden from Poljica was a small representation of the great patriotism of her people, which, since the downfall of Croatian kings and princes in 1102, managed to keep the freedom, loyalty to the land, family, religion and old traditions throughout seven centuries. The people of Poljica presented a European phenomenon of its kind until the occupation by the army of Napoleon in 1805. Along the coast there were only two salt pans as important manufacturers of raw nutrition material, but the main base was located in Upper Poljica. In the embrace of the steep river bed of the Cetina River and the cliffs of the Mosor Mountain, they were unconquerable. Around 10 000 of them, when under any siege, took arms and defended, all of them. The young and the old. They constituted the administration of the republic sometime in the 11th century, approximately at the same time as Dubrovnik, but the government of Poljica was made of commoners instead of aristocracy and rich people.
The people of Poljica could not get rich on ships and trade; they lived literally from what they made. These mountain Croats were the toughest layer of their people. It is fascinating how they managed to keep the order among themselves and the republican system for centuries. Until 1439 they performed referendum through Glagolitic priests, which were the bearers of culture and literacy. The service was in Croatian because “everybody has to understand”.
The administration was constituted according to a firm law. The government with a prince in one-year mandate. The prince was elected each year on the day of St George (Sveti Jure), April 23 in their meeting places underneath Gradac. There was no serfdom, the judiciary power was separated from the legislative and the laws were recorded and amended throughout centuries in their authentic document called the Statute of Poljica.
Russian academician Grekov said in 1951 that Thomas More, a famous English politician and humanist, wrote his work Utopia in 1516 inspired by the life and the Statute of the people of Poljica.
The history of the people of Poljica is still not fully researched, but it undoubtedly conceals the secret of how the Croatian, with their natural intellect and patriotism as well as exceptional desire for fairness, contributed to the development of European civilisation, doing so even before some larger and more known nations. Even before the French who, in the name of their “revolutionary” ideas, freedom, fraternity and equality, brutally and without mercy broke the freedom-loving resistance of Poljica people in 1807, pillaged and burnt the villages, and the last prince of Poljica, Čović, fled to Petrograd on a Russian ship whence he never came back again.