The Charter of Kulin Ban – Bosnia and Herzegovina’s “Birth Certificate”!

“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, Kulin Ban of Bosnia, promise you, Lord Krvaš and all citizens of Dubrovnik, that I shall remain your true friend, now and forevermore...”.

These are the opening words of the charter issued by Kulin Ban of Bosnia. It serves as BiH’s oldest state document, the oldest known written document for the South Slavs and the first known diplomatic document of its kind to be issued by a Bosnian ruler.

In this legal document, Kulin Ban addresses Lord Gervasius (Krvaš) of Dubrovnik in order to regulate trade with the city, which was Bosnia’s most important trading partner at the time.

Free trade throughout Bosnia

It allows Dubrovnikans to trade freely throughout Bosnia without having to pay taxes, guarantees their security and promises compensation for loss and damage.

It was written on August 29, 1189, a time when the Bosnian medieval state was expanding, gaining strength and organizing itself internally, all of which led Bosnian rulers to actively pursue relations with other states.

At the end of the 12th century, cities were being founded, developments were being made in banking and trading and the Mediterranean enjoyed trade links with mainland Europe, so such charters were a normal way for states to communicate.

The charter also testifies to a scribal office in the ban’s court and reflects the long tradition of literacy in Bosnia. Over the next two centuries, the charter would serve as a model for similar agreements.

The Charter of Kulin Ban is written in two languages: Latin, using Bosnian’s latinica script; and Bosančica, an old native script known as Bosnian Cyrillic. This makes it the first known document to be written using the country’s native language.

It was common for charters written in two languages to have four copies made, with both parties retaining two copies, so it is rather odd that Dubrovnik had three copies of this charter.

Two copies remain in Dubrovnik and the third, thought to be the original, was stolen in the 19th century and now resides in the museum at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.

Proof of the centuries long Bosnian statehood

The National Museum of BiH has asked that the charter be returned to BiH, but a definite response has yet to come from Russia, which maintains that it has a right to retain this unique witness to Slavic history.

A newer copy of the charter is on display at the National Museum and, should BiH manage to obtain the original, it will be kept in the most secure area of the museum, next to the famous Sarajevo Haggadah.

The Charter of Kulin Ban has tremendous symbolic value as BiH’s “birth certificate” and attests to the many centuries of Bosnian statehood.

Even after losing its independence in 1463, Bosnia enjoyed a high degree of autonomy under the Ottoman Empire.

BiH’s statehood was reaffirmed during WWII when the National Anti-fascist Council of the People’s Liberation of BiH (ZAVNOBIH) met in Mrkonjić Grad on November 25, 1943.

Changes made to the Former Yugoslavia’s constitution in the 1960s further solidified BiH’s status as a state and it again became a sovereign and internationally recognized state following the referendum on the independence of BiH, which was held on February 29 and March 1, 1992.