The Principality of Montenegro (Књажевина Црнa Горa — Knjaževina Crna Gora in Serbian) was a former realm in Southeastern Europe that existed from March 13, 1852, to August 28, 1910. It was then proclaimed a kingdom by Nikola I, who then became king. The capital was Cetinje and the Montenegrin perper was used as state currency from 1906. The territory corresponded to the central area of modern Montenegro. It was a constitutional monarchy, but de facto absolutist.
The country’s name in most Western European languages reflects an adaptation of the Venetian Montenegro (Latin mons “mountain” + niger “black”), roughly “Mount Black” or “black mountain”. Many other languages, particularly nearby ones, use their own direct translation of the term “black mountain”. Examples are the Albanian name for the country, Mali i Zi, the Greek name Μαυροβούνιο, the Chinese name “黑山” (Hēishān), the Turkish name Karadağ, and the Arabic name الجبل الاسود (Aljabbal Alaswad), all meaning “Black Mountain”. All Slavic languages use slight variations on the Montenegrin name Crna Gora; examples include the Czech Černá Hora and the Polish Czarnogóra. Chechen and Ingush people call the country Ӏаьржаламанчоь (Ъärjalamanchö).
The name Crna Gora came to denote the majority of contemporary Montenegro only in the 15th century. Originally, it had referred to only a small strip of land under the rule of the Paštrovići, but the name eventually came to be used for the wider mountainous region after the Crnojević noble family took power in Upper Zeta. The aforementioned region became known as “Old Montenegro” (Stara Crna Gora) by the 19th century to distinguish it from the newly acquired territory of Brda (“the Highlands”). Montenegro further increased its size several times by the 20th century, as the result of wars against the Ottoman Empire, which saw the annexation of Old Herzegovina and parts of Metohija and southern Raška. Its borders have changed little since then, losing Metohija and gaining the Bay of Kotor.
The Illyrians were the first known people to inhabit the region, arriving during the late Iron Age. By 1000 BC, a common Illyrian language and culture had spread across much of the Balkans. Interaction amongst groups was not always friendly — hill forts were the most common form of settlement — but distinctive Illyrian art forms such as amber and bronze jewelry evolved. In time, the Illyrians established a loose federation of tribes centered in what is now Macedonia and northern Albania. Maritime Greeks created coastal colonies on the sites of some Illyrian settlements around 400 BC. Thereafter, Hellenic culture gradually spread out from Greek centers, particularly from Bouthoe (Budva).
The Romans eventually followed. The initial impetus for the Roman incursion came when, in 228 BC, the Greeks asked for Roman protection from an Illyrian, queen Teuta. She fled to Risan, forced from her stronghold by the Romans, who determined to stay in the region, attracted by its natural resources. The Illyrians continued to resist the Romans until 168 BC, when the last Illyrian king, Gentius, was defeated. The Romans capitalized on this entré to fully absorb the Balkans into their provinces by 100 BC. They established networks of forts, roads, and trade routes from the Danube to the Aegean, which further accelerated the process of Romanization. However, outside the towns, Illyrian culture remained dominant.
The Romans established the province of Dalmatia, which included what is now Montenegro. The most important Roman town in this region was Doclea, founded around AD 100. Archaeological finds from Doclea (e.g. jewels and artwork) indicate that it was a hub in a lively and extended trade network. Even with its extensive trade networks, Rome was in decline by the early fourth century, when Emperor Diocletian split the empire into two administrative halves. Invaders from north and west were encroaching on Roman territory, and in 395, the Roman Empire was formally split, the western half retaining Rome as capital and the eastern half, which eventually became the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople. Modern Montenegro lay on the dividing line between these two entities. After the Ostrogoths moved through the Balkans and took the previously Roman-controlled parts of the region, Emperor Justinian re-established Byzantine control of the Balkans after 537 and brought with him Christianity.
In the 9th century, three Slavic principalities were located on the territory of Montenegro: Duklja, roughly corresponding to the southern half, Travunia, the west, and Rascia, the north. Duklja gained its independence from the Byzantine Roman Empire in 1042. Over the next few decades, it expanded its territory to neighboring Rascia and Bosnia, and also became recognized as a kingdom. Its power started declining at the beginning of the 12th century. After King Bodin’s death (in 1101 or 1108), several civil wars ensued. Duklja reached its zenith under Vojislav’s son, Mihailo (1046–81), and his grandson Constantine Bodin (1081–1101). By the 13th century, Zeta had replaced Duklja when referring to the realm. In the late 14th century, southern Montenegro (Zeta) came under the rule of the Balšić noble family, then the Crnojević noble family, and by the 15th century, Zeta was more often referred to as Crna Gora (monte negro in Venetian).
As the nobility fought for the throne, the kingdom was weakened, and by 1186, it was conquered by Stefan Nemanja and incorporated into the Serbian realm as a province named Zeta. After the Serbian Empire collapsed in the second half of the 14th century, the most powerful Zetan family, the Balšićs, became sovereigns of Zeta.
In 1421, Zeta was annexed to the Serbian Despotate, but after 1455, another noble family from Zeta, the Crnojevićs, became sovereign rulers of the country, making it the last free monarchy of the Balkans before it fell to the Ottomans in 1496, and got annexed to the sanjak of Shkodër. During the reign of Crnojevićs, Zeta became known under its current name — Montenegro. For a short time, Montenegro existed as a separate autonomous sanjak in 1514–1528, another version of which existed again between 1597 and 1614. Also, Old Herzegovina region was part of Sanjak of Herzegovina.
Large portions fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire from 1496 to 1878. In the 16th century, Montenegro developed a unique form of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire permitting Montenegrin clans freedom from certain restrictions. Nevertheless, the Montenegrins were disgruntled with Ottoman rule, and in the 17th century, raised numerous rebellions, which culminated in the defeat of the Ottomans in the Great Turkish War at the end of that century.
Montenegrin military strategy was simple but effective: if the Turks came with 5,000 soldiers, the Montenegrins were able to withstand the force; if the Turks mustered more than the Montenegrins could withstand, the Montenegrins would burn everything, retreat deeper into the mountains, and let the enemy starve.
Montenegro consisted of territories controlled by warlike clans. Most clans had a chieftain (knez), who was not permitted to assume the title unless he proved to be as worthy a leader as his predecessor. The great assembly of Montenegrin clans (Zbor) was held every year on July 12 in Cetinje, and any adult clansman could take part.
Parts of the territory were controlled by Republic of Venice and the First French Empire and Austria-Hungary, its successors. In 1515, Montenegro became a theocracy led by the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral, which flourished after the Petrović-Njegoš of Cetinje became the traditional prince-bishops (whose title was “Vladika of Montenegro”). However, the Venetian Republic introduced governors who meddled in Montenegrin politics. The republic was succeeded by the Austrian Empire in 1797, and the governors were abolished by Prince-Bishop Petar II in 1832. His predecessor Petar I contributed to the unification of Montenegro with the Highlands.
The Principality was formed on March 13, 1852, by Danilo I Petrović-Njegoš, when the latter, formerly known as Vladika Danilo II, decided to renounce to his ecclesiastical position as prince-bishop and married.
Danilo I used the Law of Petar I Petrović-Njegoš, as an inspiration for his own “General Law of the Land”, also called “Danilo I’s Code” (zakonik Danila prvog), proclaimed in 1855. The first Montenegrin constitution, Danilo’s Code was based on Montenegrin traditions and customs and it is considered to be the first national constitution in Montenegrin history. It also stated rules, protected privacy and banned warring on the Austrian Coast (Bay of Kotor). It also stated: Although there is no other nationality in this land except Serb nationality and no other religion except Eastern Orthodoxy, each foreigner and each person of different faith can live here and enjoy the same freedom and the same domestic right as Montenegrin or Highlander. After centuries of theocratic rule, this turned Montenegro into a secular principality.
In Danilo I’s Code, he explicitly states that he is the “knjaz (duke, prince) and gospodar (lord) of the Free Black Mountain (Montenegro) and the Hills” (Crna Gora and Brda). In 1870, Nikola had the title of “knjaz of Crna Gora and Brda” (књаз Црне Горе и Брда), while two years later, the state was called “knjaževina of Crna Gora” (Књажевина Црна Гора).
In 1854, an Austrian Post Office, operated by Österreichischer Lloyd, was opened in Antivari, then in the Ottoman Empire, now known as Bar; this office was closed in 1878 when the town was returned to Montenegro. The stamps used during this period were the issues for Austrian Offices in the Ottoman Empire.
Grand Duke Mirko Petrović, elder brother of Danilo I, led a strong army of 7,500 and won a crucial battle against the Turks (army of between 7,000 and 13,000) at Grahovac on May 1, 1858. The Turkish forces were routed. This victory forced the Great Powers to officially demarcate the borders between Montenegro and Ottoman Turkey, de facto recognizing Montenegro’s centuries-long independence. Montenegro gained Grahovo, Rudine, Nikšić, more than half of Drobnjaci, Tušina, Uskoci, Lipovo, Upper Vasojevići, and part of Kuči and Dodoši. The glory of the Montenegrins was soon immortalized in songs and literature of all South Slavs.
After the assassination of Knjaz Danilo on August 13, 1860, Knjaz Nikola I, the nephew of Knjaz Danilo, became the next ruler of Montenegro. Nikola sent aid to the Serb rebels in the Herzegovina Uprising (1875–78), and then led a war against the Ottomans, the Montenegrin–Ottoman War (1876–78). The advancement of Russian forces toward Turkey forced Turkey to sign a peace treaty on March 3, 1878, recognizing the independence of Montenegro, as well as Romania and Serbia, and also increased Montenegro’s territory from 4,405 km² to 9,475 km². Montenegro also gained the towns of Nikšić, Kolašin, Spuž, Podgorica, Žabljak, Bar, as well as access to the sea. This was the Great Powers’ official demarcation between Montenegro and the Ottoman Empire, de facto recognizing Montenegro’s independence; Montenegro was recognized by the Ottoman Empire at the Treaty of Berlin (1878). Under the rule of Nikola I, diplomatic relations were established with the Ottoman Empire. Minor border skirmishes excepted, diplomacy ushered in approximately 30 years of peace between the two states until the deposition of Abdul Hamid II.
The first stamps to be issued by Montenegro were in 1874 which coincided with the opening of the first post office for public use (Scott #1-7). The design of the stamps had a bust of Prince Nicholas. These saw additional printings in 1879 (Scott #8-14) and 1893 (Scott #15-21) In 1893, seven different values of the existing stamps were overprinted to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of introduction of printing into Montenegro (Scott #22-31). In 1896, a range of 12 stamps were issued for the bicentenary of the Petrovich Niegush dynasty (Scott #45-56). In 1902, a new currency was introduced which led to new stamps with a new design and a new bust of Prince Nicholas (Scott #57-65).
The political skills of Abdul Hamid and Nikola I played a major role on the mutually amicable relations. Modernization of the state followed, culminating with the draft of a Constitution in 1905. However, political rifts emerged between the parliamentary People’s Party that supported the process of democratization and union with Serbia and those of the True People’s Party who were monarchist.
On the 50th anniversary of the reign of Prince Nicholas, in 1910, he was crowned King of Montenegro and the principality was proclaimed a kingdom. The Kingdom of Montenegro (Краљевина Црнa Горa — Kraljevina Crna Gora in Serbian) was proclaimed in Cetinje on August 28, 1910.
The last stamps issued by the Kingdom of Montenegro were released on April 1, 1913, a definitive series featuring the bust of King Nicholas (Scott #99-110).
Montenegro joined the First Balkan War in 1912, hoping to win a share in the last Ottoman-controlled areas of Rumelia. Montenegro did make further territorial gains by splitting Sandžak with Serbia on May 30, 1913. The Montenegrins had to abandon the newly captured city of İşkodra (Skadar in Serbian, modern-day Shkodër) to the new state of Albania in May 1913, at the insistence of the Great Powers, despite the Montenegrins having invested 10,000 lives into the capture of the town (April 1913) from the Ottoman-Albanian forces of Esad Pasha. Essad Pasha made a deal to surrender the town to the Montenegrins in exchange for Montenegro supporting his claims in Central Albania. However, as Shkodër and the surroundings had a large ethnic Albanian majority, the area went to the state of Albania instead.
When the Second Balkan War broke out in June 1913, Serbia fought against Bulgaria, and King Nicholas sided with Serbia.
During World War I, Montenegro allied itself with the Triple Entente, in line with King Nicholas’ pro-Serbian policy. Accordingly, Austria-Hungary occupied Montenegro from January 15, 1916 to October 1918. During the occupation, King Nicholas fled the country and a government-in-exile was set up in Bordeaux. Austro-Hungarian Military Post stamps were overprinted MONTENEGRO and issued in 1917 (Scott #1N1-1N4). Four stamps were produced but only two were actually used. The general public, however, used stamps of Austria during the occupation.
In the Christmas Uprising, a part of the Montenegrin population known as the “Greens” rebelled against the decision and fought against the pro-unification forces, the Whites, but were defeated. The Greens continued low-level insurgency until 1926.
On July 20, 1917, the signing of the Corfu Declaration foreshadowed the unification of Montenegro with Serbia. On November 26, 1918, Podgorica Assembly, an elected body claiming to represent Montenegrin people, unanimously adopted a resolution deposing king Nicholas I (who was still in exile) and unifying Montenegro with Serbia. Upon this event Nicholas I, who had previously supported unification with Serbia into a greater state with his dynasty playing the pivotal role, switched to promoting Montenegrin nationalism and opposing the union with Serbia, a position he maintained until his death in France in 1921. Three days later, on December 1, 1918, it was merged into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
In 1922, Montenegro formally became the Oblast of Cetinje in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, with the addition of the coastal areas around Budva and Bay of Kotor. In a further restructuring in 1929, it became a part of a larger Zeta Banate of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia that reached the Neretva River.
Nicholas’s grandson, the Serb King Alexander I, dominated the Yugoslav government. Zeta Banovina was one of nine banovinas which formed the kingdom; it consisted of the present-day Montenegro and parts of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.
In April 1941, during World War II, Nazi Germany, the Kingdom of Italy, and other Axis allies attacked and occupied the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The occupying forces considered turning the Italian governorate of Montenegro into a puppet kingdom, but nothing came of these plans.
In May, the Montenegrin branch of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia started preparations for an uprising planned for mid-July. The Communist Party and its Youth League organised 6,000 of its members into detachments prepared for guerrilla warfare. The first armed uprising in Nazi-occupied Europe happened on July 13, 1941, in Montenegro. Unexpectedly, the uprising took hold, and by July 20, 32,000 men and women had joined the fight. Except for the coast and major towns (Podgorica, Cetinje, Pljevlja, and Nikšić), which were besieged, Montenegro was mostly liberated. In a month of fighting, the Italian army suffered 5,000 dead, wounded, and captured. The uprising lasted until mid-August, when it was suppressed by a counter-offensive of 67,000 Italian troops brought in from Albania. Faced with new and overwhelming Italian forces, many of the fighters laid down their arms and returned home. Nevertheless, intense guerrilla fighting lasted until December.
Fighters who remained under arms fractured into two groups. Most of them went on to join the Yugoslav Partisans, consisting of communists and those inclined towards active resistance. Those loyal to the Karađorđević dynasty and opposing communism went on to become Chetniks, and turned to collaboration with Italians against the Partisans.
War broke out between Partisans and Chetniks during the first half of 1942. Pressured by Italians and Chetniks, the core of the Montenegrin Partisans went to Serbia and Bosnia, where they joined with other Yugoslav Partisans. Fighting between Partisans and Chetniks continued through the war. Chetniks with Italian backing controlled most of the country from mid-1942 to April 1943. Montenegrin Chetniks received the status of “anti-communist militia” and received weapons, ammunition, food rations, and money from Italy. Most of them were moved to Mostar, where they fought in the Battle of Neretva against the Partisans, but were dealt a heavy defeat.
During the German operation Schwartz against the Partisans in May and June 1943, Germans disarmed large number of Chetniks without fighting, as they feared they would turn against them in case of an Allied invasion of the Balkans. After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, Partisans managed to take hold of most of Montenegro for a brief time, but Montenegro was soon occupied by German forces, and fierce fighting continued during late 1943 and entire 1944. Montenegro was liberated by the Partisans in December 1944.
Germany had established the Protectorate of Montenegro in 1941 and the issuing of stamps resumed until 1944. After 1944, Montenegro became one of the six constituent republics of the communist Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) with no separate stamp issues. Its capital became Podgorica, renamed Titograd in honour of President Josip Broz Tito. After the war, the infrastructure of Yugoslavia was rebuilt, industrialization began, and the University of Montenegro was established. Greater autonomy was established until the Socialist Republic of Montenegro ratified a new constitution in 1974
After the dissolution of the SFRY in 1992, Montenegro remained part of a smaller Federal Republic of Yugoslavia along with Serbia. In the referendum on remaining in Yugoslavia in 1992, the turnout was 66%, with 96% of the votes cast in favor of the federation with Serbia. The referendum was boycotted by the Muslim, Albanian, and Catholic minorities, as well as the pro-independence Montenegrins. The opponents claimed that the poll was organized under anti-democratic conditions with widespread propaganda from the state-controlled media in favor of a pro-federation vote. No impartial report on the fairness of the referendum was made, as it was unmonitored, unlike in 2006 when European Union observers were present.
During the 1991–1995 Bosnian War and Croatian War, Montenegrin police and military forces joined Serbian troops in the attacks on Dubrovnik, Croatia. These operations, aimed at acquiring more territory, were characterized by a consistent pattern of large-scale violations of human rights.
Montenegrin General Pavle Strugar was convicted for his part in the bombing of Dubrovnik. Bosnian refugees were arrested by Montenegrin police and transported to Serb camps in Foča, where they were subjected to systematic torture and executed.
In 1996, Milo Đukanović’s government severed ties between Montenegro and its partner Serbia, which was led by Slobodan Milošević. Montenegro formed its own economic policy and adopted the German Deutsche Mark as its currency and subsequently adopted the euro, although not part of the Eurozone currency union. Subsequent governments pursued pro-independence policies, and political tensions with Serbia simmered despite the political changes in Belgrade. Targets in Montenegro were bombed by NATO forces during Operation Allied Force in 1999, although the extent of these attacks was very limited in both time and area affected.
In 2002, Serbia and Montenegro came to a new agreement for continued cooperation and entered into negotiations regarding the future status of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This resulted in Belgrade Agreement, which saw the country’s transformation into a more decentralized state union named Serbia and Montenegro on February 4, 2003. The Belgrade Agreement also contained a provision delaying any future referendum on the independence of Montenegro for at least three years.
Each section of the country maintained and operated their own postal service, each having their own currency. The first stamps by Serbia & Montenegro were released on September 15, 2003 (Scott #120-121) with Euro denominations. These were used solely within Montenegro and thus listed in the Scott catalogue under “Montenegro.” Stamps inscribed with dinar denominations were issued for use in Serbia while those in both dinar and Euros were intended for use in either region. These are found in the Scott catalogue under “Serbia.”
The status of the union between Montenegro and Serbia was decided by a referendum on Montenegrin independence on May 21, 2006. A total of 419,240 votes were cast, representing 86.5% of the total electorate; 230,661 votes (55.5%) were for independence and 185,002 votes (44.5%) were against. This narrowly surpassed the 55% threshold needed to validate the referendum under the rules set by the European Union. According to the electoral commission, the 55% threshold was passed by only 2,300 votes. Serbia, the member-states of the European Union, and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council all recognized Montenegro’s independence.
The 2006 referendum was monitored by five international observer missions, headed by an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/ODIHR team, and around 3,000 observers in total (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 European Parliament (EP) to form an International Referendum Observation Mission (IROM). The IROM—in its preliminary report—”assessed compliance of the referendum process with OSCE commitments, Council of Europe commitments, other international standards for democratic electoral processes, and domestic legislation.” Furthermore, the report stated that the competitive pre-referendum environment was marked by an active and generally peaceful campaign and that “there were no reports of restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights.”
On June 3, 2006, the Montenegrin Parliament declared the independence of Montenegro, formally confirming the result of the referendum. Serbia did not object to the declaration. The country again resumed issuing its own stamps with a pair promoting tourism released on July 5, 2006 (Scott #143-144).
Scott #J19 is actually the only Montenegrin stamp currently in my collection. It is a postage due stamp released in 1907. The 5-para red brown stamp was printed by typography and perforated 13×13½.