Serb clans

Serb clans

Serb clans (Serbian: Српска племена, Serb tribes) is a general term referring to what are known as plemena (племена, tribes) and bratstva (братства, clan/brotherhood), traditional geo-political units of the Western Balkans (Montenegro and Herzegovina) that now richly attest social anthropology and family history (geneaology). The descendants of the clans are divided by regional and lately, national[A] affiliation. It has traditionally been viewed as an ethnic Serb tradition.[1]

The founders of the different clans have origin from the migrations following the fall of the Serbian Empire (e.g. Battle of Kosovo), when Serbs took refuge in the mountains and continued the feudal organization.[2] The clans served as a type of government during the Ottoman Empire's occupation of Montenegro.



English translations of terms 'Pleme' and 'Bratstvo' is very inconsistent, varying from source to source, therefore references to clans and tribes should be treated as only approximate.

Tribe (pleme)

Tribe (плeme, pleme plural: плeмeна, plemena) is a traditional territorial and political unit in Montenegro. The tribes are necessarily not kin as they only serve as a geopolitical unit.

The Plemena enjoyed especially large autonomy in the period from the second part of 15th century till the middle of 19th century. The first mention of a tribe was in the 13th century in Herzegovina. In fact most of the tribes in were formed in the period between the 13th and 15th centuries. Following the Ottoman occupation and dissolution of the Serbian Empire, the formation of tribes filled the gap with tribes forming local self-governing units.

In 1853 Danilo II Petrović Njegoš was elected the first secular ruler of modern Montenegro and the Highlands, becoming Knjaz (Prince) Danilo I. Subsequently, the role of the central state was gradually increased and plemena lost their political independence as well as influence. The territorial subdivision of Montenegro was based on territorial clan regions. During the 1960s, the Communist Yugoslav state reorganized the whole Yugoslavia territorially and Montenegro's opštine crossed former tribal borders. However, some old tribal borders still persist, for example, Plužine still reflects the tribal borders of Piva minus the village of Mala Crna Gora (Žabljak opština).

Clan (bratstvo)

Brotherhood (братство, bratstvo, plural: Братства, Вratstva) or Clan is a patrilineal kin group in Montenegro and Eastern Herzegovina. The Brotherhood traces its descendance from a particular male (in some cases also female) ancestor. Names of bratstva are derived from either names or profession of the ancestor. Bratstvo is an exogamous group,[3] as it is supposed to share the same blood. In most cases marriage inside a bratstvo is forbidden regardless of the biological distance between the would-be spouses. However, this is not the case with some larger bratstva who sometimes allow endogamous marriages if the between spouses is large enough.

Every clan had its assembly, with the heads of families having equal rights in speech and suffrage. In war, the bratstvenici are obliged to stand together. They greatly vary in size, ranging from 50 to 800 warriors (1893).[4]

Through time the bratstvo would split in smaller subdivisions and acquire separate names. Contemporary surnames usually come from these smaller units.

The clan members tend to guard their family history and many are able to recite the line of ancestors to the originator of the bratstvo. Reference information about origins and history of particular surnames (fractions of bratstva) may be found online [5] as well as in printed form [6]

Relationship between the two terms

Although it is sometimes suggested that plemena consist of bratstva, relationship between pleme and bratstvo is loose. At times of autonomy of plemena, bratstva usually lived concentrated in the same place for long time and therefore formed a part of the pleme. Different bratstva living on the territory of one pleme were often not related to each other. A new bratstvo could be established (and often was) if a stranger sought a refuge (usually because of conflict with Ottoman authorities or because of a blood feud) on the territory of a pleme. Local military force of a pleme consisted of units composed on the basis of local bratstvos. Bratstvo is a kin group, but pleme - territorial one.

Today representatives of different bratstva are dispersed not only throughout Montenegro but also globally. While bratstvo membership has remained comparatively important, membership to a pleme is becoming less and less important.



The founders of the different clans have origin from the migrations following the fall of the Serbian Empire (Battle of Kosovo), when Serbs took refuge in the mountains and continued the feudal organization.[2] Many of the mythological founders of the tribes were Serb royalty or nobility during the Serbian Empire or Serbian Despotate, for example Vojvoda Bogut (ancestor of the Njeguši/House of Petrović-Njegoš), Vasoje Nemanjić (founder of Vasojevići) and Gojko Mrnjavčević (founder of Kuči).

20th century

The Montenegrin clans were an important institution in Montenegro throughout its modern history and state creation. Every tribe had its Chief, and they collectively composed a "Gathering" (Збор, Zbor). The elders remained influential political figures up to the incorporation of Montenegro into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Later - Kingdom of Yugoslavia) in 1918. Before the collective unification of Montenegro under the House of Petrović-Njegoš, the Gathering of the Elders was the sole governing body in Montenegro.

In 1904 Prince Nikola Petrović reordered Montenegro into "captaincies", each organized on a tribal level. Every nahija (compare with Nahiya) had its own Elder (from the corresponding tribe). The tribal assemblies were attended regularly by all grown men from the corresponding clan. The "General Montenegrin Assembly" was the highest political body and a mediator between the Montenegrin people and the Ottoman authorities. It was composed of chiefs of all tribes in Montenegro.

A list of tribes and clans

Jovan Cvijić (1865–1927) has enlisted 21 plemena on the territory of the Old Montenegro, 7 plemena in the Highlands , 16 in Eastern Herzegovina and 2 on the Montenegrin coast. The list below contains also many groups which should be classified as bratstva. Note that the territory of contemporary Montenegro consists of several historic regions (Old Montenegro, Highlands and the Coast) as well as territories that were added to Montenegro comparatively recently (e.g., parts of what used to be Austrian Herzegovina). Old Montenegro in turn used to be divided into four districts (nahija). None of these regions and districts are reflected in official territorial division of contemporary Montenegro.

Tribes of Old Montenegro

  • Riječka nahija
    • Ceklin
    • Ljubotinj
    • Dobrsko Selo
    • Kosjeri
    • Građani
  • Katunska nahija (Katun province)
  • Lješanska nahija
    • Drazevina
    • Gradac
    • Buronje
  • Crmnička nahija (Crmnica)
    • Podgor
    • Sotonići
    • Dupilo
    • Brčeli
    • Gluhi Do
    • Limljani
    • Boljevići

Highland tribes

(Seven Brda)

Tribes and clans of the Coastland

Tribes and clans of East Herzegovina

  • Grahovo
  • Rudine
    • Bijele Nikšićke Rudine
    • Oputne Rudine
      • Bilećke Rudine
    • Banjani
  • Lukovo
  • Nikšićka Župa
  • Gornje Polje
  • Drobnjaci
    • Uskoci
    • Jezera
    • Korito Drobnjačko
    • Šaranci
    • Lukovo
  • Pivljani or Piva
    • Planina
    • Župa
  • Gacko
    • Gornje Gacko (Golija i Duga)
    • Donje Gacko
  • Zupci

Dispersed ancestral clans and tribes

As corporate groups below mentioned used to exist in history and some people still trace their descent from them.

  • Maleševci
  • Panjkovići
  • Prijedojevići
  • Trebješani (Nikšići)
  • Ljubibratici
  • Miloradovići-Hrabreni
  • Ugrenovići
  • Bobani
  • Pilatovci
  • Mrđenovići
  • Veljovići


  1. ^ It has traditionally been viewed as an ethnic Serb tradition.[1]. The modern issue of nationality in Montenegro is ambiguous as in most cases it depends merely on declaration (see Demographic history of Montenegro), therefore, both terms; "Serb Clans" and "Montenegrin Clans" can be found concurrently depending on political views. Since the independence of Montenegro, some Montenegrin writers have dismissed the Serb origin of the tribes, although historical and geneaological sources speak against this.
  1. ^ a b Who are the Slavs?: A contribution to race psychology, page 155, 210
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Psychiatry, page 498: "The bratstvo is an exogamous unit"
  4. ^ The development of the Athenian constitution by George Willis Botsford, 1893, pages 18-19
  5. ^
  6. ^ Miljanić, Vukota, and Akim Miljanić. Prezimena U Crnoj Gori. Beograd: Beogradska Knjiga, 2002


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