Ban Kulin (1163 – 1204) was a powerful Bosnian Ban who ruled from 1180 to 1204 first as a vassal of the Byzantine Empire and then of the Kingdom of Hungary and finally as de facto independent of either power. He was originally appointed ban by Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. He had a son, Stevan, who succeeded him as Bosnian Ban. Kulin founded the House of Kulinić. Many consider him the father of the Bosnian State. He practiced a policy of religious freedom almost unique for his time. He also developed the economy. Stories and legends of Ban Kulin abound in Bosnian literature and folk-lore.
Long after Ban Kulin's time, in the late twentieth century, the ancient tradition of not merely tolerating diversity but of rejoicing in this proved an affront to the mono-religious way in which Bosnia's neighbors constructed their identities, which denied that a multi-religious state could thrive. This resulting in the Bosnian War which aimed to destroy this ancient heritage. Yet, as human society becomes more and more religiously and culturally pluralist, this legacy may have lessons to teach about how creative exchange between different cultures in society can lead to mutual enrichment. Only when what is of value is no longer seen as exclusive to any single tradition will efforts by some to dominate or to destroy others cease to divide person from person in the emerging global community. Ban Kulin enjoys iconic status in Bosnia as the founding father of Bosnian statehood.
Kulin came to prominence in Bosnia 1163 when the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus was in the process of conquering the Bosnian banate from the Hungarians, although it would not be until 1180 that he would place Kulin as his vassal as Ban.
War with the Byzantines
His rule is often remembered as Bosnia's golden age, and he is a common hero of Bosnian national folk tales. Bosnia was mostly at peace during his rule. However, in 1183, he led his troops, with the forces of the Kingdom of Hungary under King Bela, and with the Serbs led by Kulin's relative, Duke of All Serbia Stefan Nemanja against the Byzantines. For Ban Kulin, this was an act of treason. The cause of the war was the new imposer to the Imperial throne Andronicus Comnenus, who was not recognized as legitimate by the Hungarian crown. The united forces met little resistance in the eastern Serbian lands - the Greek squadrons were fighting among themselves as the local Byzantine commander Alexios Brannes supported the new Emperor, while Andronicus Lapardes opposed him. The latter deserted the Imperial Army and embarked on adventures on his own. Without difficulties, the Greeks were pushed out of the Valley of Morava and the allied forces penetrated all the way to Sophia, raiding Belgrade, Braničevo, Ravno, Niš and Sophia itself. When the Hungarians withdrew from the conflict, so Ban Kulin also stood down. In Kulin's times, the term Bosnia encompassed roughly the lands of Vrhbosna, Usora, Soli, the Lower Edges and Rama, which is approximately the geographical Bosnia of the twenty first century. As a result of this war, although still a "banate" and not a Kingdom, Bosnia was de facto an independent state. Effectively, Kulin found himself free from both Hungarian and Byzantine suzerainty. Three decades of peace followed except for the period between 1202 and 1204 when Kulin assisted the deposed legitimate Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanjić in his struggles against Vukan.
Christianity and religious pluralism
The Bogimils, a Christian Church, were expelled from Serbia by the Nemanyiden, so they settled and populated Bosnia, founding a unique Bosnian Church that spread and gained popularity during under Kulin's reign. The Dalmatian King of Zeta or Doclea Vukan Nemanjić reported the Ban to the Pope on January 8, 1199 for heresy, threatening retribution. It appears that Kulin Ban and his wife, as well as his sister - the widow of Prince Miroslav - abandoned Roman Catholicism in favor of Bogumilism together with ten thousand of their Christian subjects. Kulin also gave protection to the banished heretics from Split and Trogir - which Vukan reported to the Pope. The Pope wrote to King Emeric of Hungary to make Kulin prosecute the Bogumils or depose him. Kulin subsequently, on 8 April 1203, organized a congress in Bilino Polje which the Pope's emissaries attended - led by the Pope's legate for the Balkan peninsular, John de Kazemaris; where he officially declared his allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church and declared that he was none other than a true pious Roman Catholic Christian. He claimed that he didn't understand where Heresy existed in Bosnia and continued to practice what the Pope considered to be heresy. The Pope's emissaries traveled to Hungary with Kulin's son, confirming Kulin's loyalty to the Hungarian crown and the Catholic Church. Prince Vukan was enraged and complained to the Pope that he was, in fact, lying; he demanded that the Pope command the Hungarian King to exterminate the Bosnian heretics.
In practice, Kulin was tolerant of religious diversity. This tradition continued under subsequent bans. When Bosnia fell to the Ottoman Empire, it continued to be a place where different religions co-existed. It became a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution. A tradition developed in Bosnia, which had its roots in Kulin's period and in the period of Steven II of Bosnia, that refused to privilege one way to God over others became characteristic of how Bosnians understood the nature of their society as one in which "the right road lay in dialogue based on the acceptance of the faiths of all participants." Bosnians saw to their strength as one of unity in diversity. As their neighboring states in the Balkans developed understanding of national identity as loyalty to a single religion, the foundation was laid for future conflict in this region.
Death and succession
At the end of his rule, in 1204, a certain Cotroman the German arrived to Bosnia, descendant of Cotroman the Goth from Ban Borić's time. He settled permanently in Bosnia and is to become the founder of the House of Kotromanić. Ban Kulin died in 1204 - he was succeeded by his son, Stevan. When Ban Kulin died, the Bosnian principality "included the lands at the upper flows of the Bosna (the district of Usora) and farther east to the mouth of the Drina." To the West, the principality "was bulging into purely Croat areas and was simultaneously developing a pronounced regional character." 
The Charter of Kulin is a symbolic birth certificate of Bosnian statehood, as it is the first written document that talks of Bosnian borders (between the rivers of Drina, Sava and Una) and of the elements of the Bosnian state: its ruler, throne and political organization. It also noted Bosnia's population - "Bosnianians." The Charter was a trade agreement between Bosnia and Republic of Dubrovnik and was written in the Bosancica Old Bosnian language. This encouraged trade and established peaceful relations between the two states. Kulin is credited with opening up many important trade routes.
Marriage and Children
Kulin's sister married the brother of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian Prince Miroslav of Zachlumia in Rascia and Kulin himself had two sons:
- Stevan, the following Ban of Bosnia
- a son that went with the Pope's emissaries in 1203 to explain heresy accusations against Kulin
Ban Kulin is such a famous figure in Bosnia that the phrase "talk of Ban Kukin" is a synonym for saying "in the remote past." He was, say the Bosnian people, "a favorite of the fairies" so that during his rule "plum trees always groaned with fruit and the yellow corn fields never ceased to wave in the fertile plains." According to one writer, Bosnia enjoyed a prosperity unheard of since Roman Times under Kulin. Bosnia's history continued to be one of constant threat from more powerful neighbors. Later, Bosnia was a pawn in imperial games between the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then part of Yugoslavia. In finally achieving independence, even though neighboring states tried to prevent this, Ben Kulin's time was represented as the earliest period of statehood. He enjoys iconic status.
It has been argued that the spirit of not merely tolerating diversity but of rejoicing in this, originally nurtured by Kulin, proved an affront to the mono-religious way in which Bosnia's neighbors constructed their identities, which denied that a multi-religious state could thrive. Long after Kulin's reign, this resulted in the Bosnian War, which aimed to destroy this ancient heritage. Yet, as human society becomes more and more religiously and culturally pluralist, this legacy may have lessons to teach about how creative exchange between different cultures in society can lead to mutual enrichment. Only when what is of value is no longer seen as exclusive to any single tradition will efforts by some to dominate or to destroy others cease to divide person from person in the emerging global community. Mahmutćehajić, a former Vice-President of Bosnia and scholar, referring to Ban Kulin's period of "historical pluralism" writes that
"Bosnia is the only European country that has been based throughout its existence upon a unity of religious diversity that was vital for the peace and stability of the world of the past." He continues that in the face of external threats to this unity, the Bosnian people have consistently defended their right to "different sacred paths."
under Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus's
- Bans ruled as vassal dukes or princes.
- Noel Malcolm. 1996. Bosnia: a short history. (Washington Square, NY: New York University Press. ISBN 9780814755617), 15.
- Rusmir Mahmutćehajić. 2000. The denial of Bosnia. (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 9780271020303), 120.
- Ivo Banac. 1984. The National Question in Yugoslavia: origins, history, politics. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801416750), 39.
- Rusmir Mahmutćehajić. 2003. Sarajevo essays: politics, ideology, and tradition. (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791456378), 252.
- Malcolm, 1996, 14.
- Emile de Laveleye, and Mary Thorpe, (translator). 1887. The Balkan Peninsula. (New York, NY: Putnam & Sons.), 79.
- Mahmutćehajić, 2003, 5-6.
- Banac, Ivo. The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0801416750.
- de Laveleye, Emile, and Mary Thorpe, translator. The Balkan Peninsula. New York, NY: Putnam & Sons, 1887.
- Judah, Tim. The Serbs: history, myth, and the destruction of Yugoslavia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0300071139.
- Malcolm, Noel. Bosnia: A Short History. Washington Square, NY: New York University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0814755617.
- Lovrenović, Ivan. Bosnia: A Cultural History. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0814751794.
- Mahmutćehajić, Rusmir. The Denial of Bosnia. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0271020303.
- Mahmutćehajić, Rusmir. Sarajevo Essays: Politics, Ideology, and Tradition. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0791456378.
- Vidović, Mirko. Ban Kulin i Krstjanska Bosna. (Hrvatski iranski korjeni, 4.) Sarajevo, BA: Hrvatsko kulturno društvo Napredak, 2001.
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