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Balšić noble family

Country  Serbian Empire (1355–71)
 Republic of Venice
Serbian Despotate (1405–21)

(southern Montenegro, northern Albania)

Zeta and the coastlands
  • Scodra
  • Durazzo
  • Dulcigno
Titles gospodar (lord)
autokrator (self-ruler)
Founded before 1355, by Balša I
Final ruler Balša III (1403–1421)
Dissolution 1421 (possessions passed to Despot Stephen)
Ethnicity Serb

The Balšić (Serbian Cyrillic: Балшић, pl. Балшићи, Balšići) was a noble family that ruled "Zeta and the coastlands" (southern Montenegro and northern Albania), from 1362 to 1421, during and after the fall of the Serbian Empire. Balša, the founder, was a petty nobleman who held only one village during the rule of Emperor Dušan the Mighty (r. 1331-1355), and only after the death of the emperor, his three sons gained power in Lower Zeta after acquiring the lands of gospodin Žarko (fl. 1336-1360) under unclear circumstances, and they then expanded into Upper Zeta by murdering voivode and čelnik Đuraš Ilijić (r. 1326-1362†). Nevertheless, they were acknowledged as oblastni gospodari of Zeta in edicts of Emperor Uroš the Weak (r. 1355-1371). The family is known to have seized control through trickery, such as against the Dukagjini family, and many people were deported or murdered. After the death of Uroš (1371), the family feuded with the Mrnjavčevići, who controlled Macedonia. In 1421, Balša III, on his death, passed the rule of Zeta to his uncle, Despot Stephen "the Tall"' Lazarević.


  • History 1
    • Origin 1.1
    • Early history 1.2
  • Heads 2
  • Family tree 3
  • References 4
    • Sources 4.1
  • External links 5



The Balšić family was first mentioned in a charter of Emperor Stephen Uroš V of Serbia, dated 29 September 1360. Due to sources having nothing reliable to say about their ancestors, there has been speculation on their origin, which some deem unknown.[1][2] Apart from Mavro Orbini's tale, there are really no other accounts on their origin.[3] They have been theorized to be of Vlach, Albanian, Serbian, or French origin.[4] In oral tradition, they descended via Vuk Nemanjić.[5] There exist fragmental assertions that they descended from "Emperor Nemanja".[3]

Karl Hopf (1832-1873) considered "unquestionably part of the Serb tribe".[6] Ivan Stepanovich Yastrebov (1839–1894), Russian Consul in Shkodër and Prizren, when speaking of the Balšići, connect their name to the Roman town of Balletium (Baleč) located near modern Shkodër.[7] According to Čedomilj Mijatović (1842–1934), the Balšić family had ultimate origin in the House of Baux from Provence (south eastern France);[1] from that family sprung an Italian family (del Balzo), and from them the Balšići, and from them a Romanian family.[1] Vladimir Ćorović (1885-1941) said that, based on their name, they had Roman (Vlach) origin.[8] Giuseppe Gelcich theorized on the origin in his (1899)La Zedda e la dinastia dei Balšidi: studi storici documentati.[4] The theory asserting them as descendants of the Frankish nobleman Bertrand III of Baux, a companion of Charles d'Anjou is regarded as highly improbable.[9] Croatian ethnologist Milan Šufflay believed that they were of "Romanian" and "Vlach" origin.[6] German linguist Gustav Weigand (1860–1930) alleged a mixed Albanian-Aromanian origin after he noted that their family name was included in a list of early Albanian surnames in Romania.[9]

In modern scholarship John Fine,[10] Donald Nicol,[11] Peter Bartl[12] and Robert Elsie[13] view the origin of the Balšić family as Serbian, Edgar Hösch[14] and Plemen Tsvetkov[15] as Albanian, while Noel Malcolm supports a dual Serbo-Albanian identity.[9]

Early history

According to Mavro Orbini, Balša, the eponymous founder, was a petty nobleman that held only one village in the area of Lake Skadar during the rule of Emperor Dušan the Mighty (r. 1331-1355). Only after the death of the emperor, Balša and his three sons gained power in Lower Zeta after aqcuiring the lands of gospodin Žarko (fl. 1336-1360) and by murdering voivode and čelnik Đuraš Ilijić (r. 1326-1362†), the holders of Lower and Upper Zeta, respectively.[16] Balša dies the same year, and his sons, the Balšić brothers, continue in ruling the province spanning Podgorica, Budva, Bar and Skadar.[16]

The Balšići managed to elevate themselves from petty nobility to provincial lords.[17]


rough borders of the Serbian provincial lords during the fall of the Serbian Empire, 1373-1395 (Zeta in grey)

Zeta [Zoomed].

There were 5 rulers:

Family tree

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