The Illyrians were the earliest known inhabitants of the area, coming in the late Iron Age. By 1000 BC, the Illyrian language and civilization had spread across the Balkans. Interaction between tribes was not always amicable — hill forts were the most frequent type of habitation – but unique Illyrian art forms such as amber and bronze jewelry developed. The Illyrians eventually formed a loose federation of tribes centered in what is today Macedonia and northern Albania. Around 400 BC, Maritime Greeks established coastal colonies on the grounds of several Illyrian towns. Following that, Hellenic civilization progressively expanded out from Greek centers, especially Bouthoe (Budva).
The Romans ultimately came after. The first impetus for the Roman invasion occurred in 228 BC, when the Greeks requested Roman protection against an Illyrian named Teuta. She escaped to Risan after being driven from her fortress by the Romans, who were drawn to the area by its natural riches. The Illyrians fought the Romans until Gentius, the last Illyrian monarch, was defeated in 168 BC. The Romans used this opening to completely integrate the Balkans into their provinces by 100 BC. They built fortifications, roads, and commercial routes from the Danube to the Aegean, hastening the Romanisation process. Outside of the cities, however, Illyrian culture remained dominant.
Dalmatia, which comprised what is now Montenegro, was founded by the Romans. Doclea, established about AD 100, was the most significant Roman town in this area. Archaeological discoveries from Doclea (such as gems and artwork) show that it was a vital node in a vast commerce network. Despite its vast trading networks, Rome was in decline by the early fourth century, when Emperor Diocletian partitioned the empire into two administrative parts. Invaders from the north and west were encroaching on Roman territory, thus the Roman Empire was officially divided in 395, with the western half maintaining Rome as capital and the eastern half becoming the Byzantine Empire, centered on Constantinople. Modern Montenegro is located on the fault line that separates these two entities. After the Ostrogoths swept across the Balkans and seized control of the formerly Roman-controlled areas, Emperor Justinian re-established Byzantine authority over the Balkans after 537 and brought Christianity with him.
In 1042, Duklja declared independence from the Byzantine Roman Empire. It extended its borders to neighboring Rascia and Bosnia during the following several decades, and it was also recognized as a monarchy. Its dominance began to wane towards the beginning of the 12th century. Several civil conflicts erupted after King Bodin’s death (in 1101 or 1108). As the nobles battled for the crown, the kingdom deteriorated until it was captured by Stefan Nemanja in 1186 and integrated into the Serbian realm as the province of Zeta. After the Serbian Empire fell apart in the second half of the 14th century, the Balis, the most powerful Zetan family, became Zeta’s sovereigns.
In 1421, Zeta was ceded to the Serbian Despotate, but in 1455, another noble family from Zeta, the Crnojevis, became the country’s sovereign rulers, making it the last free monarchy in the Balkans until falling to the Ottomans in 1496 and being added to the sanjakof Shkodr. During Crnojevi’s rule, Zeta was given its present name, Montenegro. Montenegro existed as a distinct independent sanjak from 1514 to 1528, while another form flourished between 1597 and 1614. The area of Old Herzegovina was also a component of Herzegovina’s Sanjak.
Fight against Ottoman rule and Metropolitanate
Montenegro established a unique kind of autonomy inside the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, allowing Montenegrin clans independence from certain constraints. Nonetheless, the Montenegrins were dissatisfied with Ottoman authority and staged several rebellions in the 17th century, culminating in the Ottomans’ loss in the Great Turkish War at the end of that century.
If the Turks arrived with 5,000 troops, the Montenegrins could resist the army; if the Turks gathered more than the Montenegrins could withstand, the Montenegrins would burn everything, withdraw further into the mountains, and let the enemy starve.
Montenegro was made up of regions ruled by warlike clans. Most clans had a chieftain (knez), who could not succeed his predecessor until he proved to be a good leader. Every year on July 12th, the grand assembly of Montenegrin clans (Zbor) was held at Cetinje, and any adult clansman may attend.
Montenegro developed into a theocracy headed by the Metropolitans, which thrived when the Petrovi-Njego became the customary prince-bishops (whose title was “Vladika of Montenegro”). Governors from the Venetian Republic meddled in Montenegrin affairs. The Austrian Empire took over the republic in 1797, and the governors were dissolved by Prince-Bishop Petar II in 1832. His forefather, Petar I, was instrumental in uniting Montenegro with the Highlands.
Principality of Montenegro
Throughout Nicholas I’s reign, the Principality was expanded many times during the Montenegrin-Turkish Wars, and it was granted independence in 1878. Diplomatic ties were established with the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Nicholas I. With the exception of minor border conflicts, diplomacy brought almost 30 years of peace between the two nations until Abdul Hamid II’s resignation.
Abdul Hamid’s and Nicholas I’s political abilities had a significant impact on the mutually beneficial relations.
The state was modernized as a result, culminating in the drafting of a Constitution in 1905. However, political schisms developed between the ruling People’s Party, which backed the path of democracy and unification with Serbia, and the monarchist True People’s Party.
During this time, one of Montenegro’s most significant wins against the Ottomans happened at the Battle of Grahovac. Grand Duke Mirko Petrovi, Knjaz Danilo’s older brother, led an army of 7,500 soldiers to victory against the numerically stronger Ottomans, who had 15,000 troops, at Grahovac on May 1, 1858. The Montenegrin triumph was quickly memorialized in the music and literature of the South Slavs, particularly the Montenegrins of Vojvodina, which was then part of Austria-Hungary. As a result, the Great Powers were obliged to formally demarcate the boundaries between Montenegro and the Ottoman Empire, thus acknowledging Montenegro’s independence. The Ottoman Empire acknowledged Montenegro’s independence at the Treaty of Berlin in 1878.
The first Montenegrin constitution, known as the Danilo Code, was declared in 1855.
Kingdom of Montenegro (1910–1918)
Montenegro became a Kingdom in 1910, and as a result of the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913 (during which the Ottomans lost all Balkan land), a common border with Serbia was established, with Shkodr being awarded to a newly created Albania, despite the fact that the current capital city of Montenegro, Podgorica, was the old border between Albania and Yugoslavia.
Unification and Christmas Uprising
During World War I (1914–18), Montenegro was a member of the Allies. Montenegro was occupied by Austria-Hungary from 1916 until 1918. King Nicholas left the nation during the occupation, and a government-in-exile was established in Bordeaux. When the Allies conquered Montenegro, the Podgorica Assembly gathered and decided in November 1918 to merge the nation with the Kingdom of Serbia. During the Christmas Uprising, a section of the Montenegrin people known as the “Greens” revolted against the decision and battled against pro-unification troops known as the “Whites,” but were defeated. Until 1926, the Greens maintained a low-level insurgency.
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Montenegro was officially included into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1922, with the inclusion of the coastal regions surrounding Budva and the Bay of Kotor. In 1929, it was reorganized as part of a bigger Zeta Banate of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia that reached the Neretva River.
The Serb King Alexander I, Nicholas’ grandson, controlled the Yugoslav administration. Zeta Banovina was one of the Kingdom’s nine banovinas, which included modern-day Montenegro as well as portions of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.
World War II
Nazi Germany, the Kingdom of Italy, and other Axis allies invaded and conquered the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Montenegro was invaded by Italian troops, who created a puppet Kingdom of Montenegro.
The Montenegrin chapter of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia began planning for an insurrection in mid-July in May. The Communist Party and its Youth League organized 6,000 of its members into guerrilla warfare detachments. The second insurrection in Nazi-occupied Europe occurred in Montenegro on July 13, 1941. The first was earlier this year’s “February strike” in the Netherlands.
Surprisingly, the rebellion gained traction, and by the 20th of July, 32,000 men and women had joined the battle. Except for the coast and main cities (Podgorica, Cetinje, Pljevlja, and Niki), Montenegro was largely freed. In a month of combat, the Italian army lost 5,000 men killed, wounded, or prisoner. The insurgency continued until mid-August, when it was put down by a counter-offensive led by 67,000 Italian soldiers sent in from Albania. When confronted with fresh and overwhelming Italian troops, many of the fighters surrendered and went home. Nonetheless, guerilla warfare raged on until December.
Fighters who remained armed split into two groups. The majority of them went on to join the Yugoslav Partisans, a group made up of communists and others interested in active resistance. Those loyal to the Karaorevi family and opposed to communism became Chetniks and joined forces with Italians against the Partisans, including Arso Jovanovi, Sava Kovaevi, Svetozar Vukmanovi-Tempo, Milovan ilas, Peko Dapevi, Vlado Dapevi, Veljko Vlahovi, and Blao Jovanovi.
During the first part of 1942, war broke out between the Partisans and the Chetniks. Under pressure from Italians and Chetniks, the core of Montenegrin Partisans fled to Serbia and Bosnia, where they joined other Yugoslav Partisans. Throughout the conflict, fighting between Partisans and Chetniks raged. From mid-1942 until April 1943, Chetniks with Italian support ruled the majority of the nation. Montenegrin Chetniks were granted the designation of “anti-communist militia” and were provided with guns, ammunition, food rations, and money by Italy. The majority of them were sent to Mostar, where they fought against the Partisans in the Battle of Neretva, but were soundly defeated.
During the German operation Schwartz against the Partisans in May and June 1943, the Germans disarmed a significant number of Chetniks without fighting, fearing that they might turn against them if the Allies invaded the Balkans. Following Italy’s surrender in September 1943, Partisans managed to seize control of much of Montenegro for a short period of time, but Montenegro was quickly recaptured by German troops, and intense combat raged throughout late 1943 and 1944. The Partisans seized Montenegro in December 1944.
Montenegro within Socialist Yugoslavia
The Yugoslav Partisans liberated Montenegro, along with the rest of Yugoslavia, in 1944.
Montenegro joined the communist Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as one of its six component countries (SFRY). Its capital, Podgorica, was renamed Titograd after President Josip Broz Tito. Following the war, Yugoslavia’s infrastructure was restored, industrialisation started, and the University of Montenegro was founded. More autonomy was created until 1974, when the Socialist Republic of Montenegro adopted a new constitution.
Dissolution of Socialist Yugoslavia and forming of FR Yugoslavia
Following the collapse of the SFRY in 1992, Montenegro and Serbia formed a smaller Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The turnout in the referendum on staying in Yugoslavia in 1992 was 66 percent, with 96 percent of the ballots cast in favor of federation with Serbia. The Muslim, Albanian, and Catholic minority, as well as pro-independence Montenegrins, boycotted the vote. Opponents alleged that the poll was held under anti-democratic circumstances, with extensive propaganda in favor of a pro-federation result from the state-controlled media. There is no unbiased assessment on the referendum’s fairness since it was unmonitored, unlike in 2006 when European Union monitors were present.
During the Bosnian and Croatian Wars of 1991–1995, Montenegrin police and military personnel supported Serbian soldiers in assaults on Dubrovnik, Croatia. These operations, intended at gaining additional territory, were marked by a continuous pattern of large-scale human rights abuses.
General Pavle Strugar of Montenegro was condemned for his role in the bombing of Dubrovnik. Bosnian refugees were apprehended by Montenegrin police and taken to Serb camps in Foa, where they were tortured and murdered.
Milo ukanovi’s administration broke relations between Montenegro and its ally Serbia, headed by Slobodan Miloevi, in 1996. Montenegro established its own economic strategy and accepted the German Deutsche Mark as its currency, later adopting the Euro, although not being a member of the Eurozone currency union. Following administrations maintained pro-independence measures, and despite political changes in Belgrade, political tensions with Serbia remained. NATO troops attacked Montenegrin targets during Operation Allied Force in 1999, although the scope of these strikes was extremely restricted in terms of both time and territory impacted.
Serbia and Montenegro signed a new agreement for ongoing cooperation in 2002 and began talks over the future status of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As a consequence of the Belgrade Agreement, the nation was transformed into a more decentralized state union known as Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. The Belgrade Agreement also included a clause that would postpone any future vote on Montenegro’s independence for at least three years.
On May 21, 2006, a vote on Montenegrin independence determined the future of the union between Montenegro and Serbia. A total of 419,240 votes were cast, accounting for 86.5 percent of the electorate. 230,661 votes (55.5 percent) were cast in favor of independence, while 185,002 votes (44.5 percent) were cast in opposition. This barely above the 55 percent level required by the European Union to recognize the vote. According to the election commission, the 55% threshold was barely crossed by 2,300 votes. Serbia, European Union member nations, and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council all recognized Montenegro’s independence.
The 2006 referendum was monitored by five international observer missions, led by an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/ODIHR team, and a total of around 3,000 observers (including domestic observers from CDT (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CLRAE), and the Europe Union (EU) (IROM). The IROM “evaluated conformity of the referendum process with OSCE commitments, Council of Europe commitments, other international norms for democratic election procedures, and local law,” according to its preliminary assessment. Furthermore, the study said that the competitive pre-referendum atmosphere was characterized by a vigorous and usually peaceful campaign, and that “no complaints of infringement on basic civil and political rights were received.”
The Montenegrin Parliament proclaimed Montenegro’s independence on June 3, 2006, officially validating the referendum outcome. Serbia did not raise any objections to the statement.
On July 12, 2011, the Montenegrin Parliament approved the Law on the Status of the Descendants of the Petrovi Njego Dynasty, which restored the Royal House of Montenegro and acknowledged restricted symbolic responsibilities within the republic’s constitutional framework.
A coup attempt was made in October 2016 by twenty individuals, including some Russian nationalists; the coup was foiled.