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A lot of people know that Dubrovnik used to be a city-state, but lack understanding what the term precisely means. Was Dubrovnik an independent country from Croatia? And if yes, how did it come under Croatian flag? What is a city state, and is this form of government still present in the world?

The answer is pretty straightforward, actually. As the very term’s name suggests, a city-state is a sovereign political entity centered on a single urban settlement. Literally, it is city which behaves as an independent country. Yet, contrary to the common belief, the borders of city-states don’t have to be framed inside the settlement’s territory. At the contrary, most city states spread their influence on the neighboring grounds, uniting the populace under the common name, law and cultural identity.

What is a City State

Probably the most known example of a city-state is ancient Rome. This single city spread its power so much that it became an empire ruling over several continents. And while we can’t describe the later Roman Empire with the term of city state, the fact that its residents were referred to as Romans still has some weight.

Dubrovnik had similar history as Rome. It functioned as an independent republic called Ragusa, formed in 14th century. It spread its influence to neighboring territories and islands, and became a notable power in Mediterranean matters. The Republic of Ragusa was known for its uniquely liberal laws and humanistic ideals. Dubrovnik city-state was one of the first governments in the world to annul slavery as barbaric practice, and was also the first country to recognize the independence of United States of America. It is also estimated that, in its peak years, Ragusa numbered over 30 000 residents, 5000 living behind the renowned city walls.

Surrounded by much more powerful nations, including Ottoman Empire, Dubrovnik often had to pay for its freedom through treaties and tributes. However, its independence was preserved for almost five centuries, before finally succumbing to Napoleon forces. As time passed by, Dubrovnik became Croatian territory, mainly because it always belonged to nation’s cultural identity.

While Republic of Ragusa is no more, several other city-states exist in modern world. The most popular ones are Monaco and Singapore.


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