Who Was Tomislav of Croatia?

A statue of Tomislav of Croatia in Zagreb, Croatia.
A statue of Tomislav of Croatia in Zagreb, Croatia.

Tomislav of Croatia is historically proclaimed to be the first ever Croatian king. This is of major significance because, as it turns out, he was the first Croatian ruler to use the title rex (latin for king) and also to unite the Croatian people under a single state.

There is plenty of confusion surrounding this prominent figure, ranging from his lineage, supposed frequent and bold victories against the Hungarians to his rather mysterious death. This isn’t a very surprising fact considering that his rule was set in a period of time from when the historical data can’t be verifiable in plenty of cases. Some might argue that this is how the very best mythological tales are created – with few known facts and plenty of imagination.

Early Life and Ruling

Tomislav ruled over Croatian people from approximately 910 to 928, being a duke through most of it. He is thought to come from the Trpimirović dynasty, however, this is also something that cannot be stated as a fact. The self-proclaimed king of Croatia and Dalmatia is also celebrated for his victorious battles against the Hungarians, but, again, there are documents noting frequent and successful Hungarian break-ins from 914 to 921. Interestingly enough, even the famous Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, which specifically mentions Tomislav to have fought Hungarians and won many times, is by some, still not proof beyond doubt as there are many unknowns surrounding the creation of The Chronicle as well.

But how did he end up being king in the first place? Well, having had created a strong alliance with the Byzantine emperor around 925 proved to be extremely favorable for Tomislav, as the great relationship resulted in a joint war against the Bulgarians. It is worth noting that he wasn’t the one to provide his allegiance for free, as many in those times weren’t. The Byzantine ruler gave Tomislav the reign of all the cities in Dalmatia as a Strategist, along with the title of a consul to soften him to accept the offer to be an ally. And it clearly worked.

End of Life

Not only did Tomislav win the battle against the Bulgarian ruler Simeon, but he also made sure to get on the good side of Serbian dukes who also had Bulgarians pinned down as the enemies. Croatia served as a hiding spot for Serbian soldiers, which is why the Bulgarians initiated the aforementioned war in the first place. Tomislav went from duke to king after his victory and was even granted the title by the pope.

Following the death of the Bulgarian ruler, Emperor Simeon, in 927, King Tomislav signed a treaty with Bulgaria which restored the long-awaited peace on this territory. Tomislav didn’t live much longer after the treaty was signed, although, as you might have suspected, there are no records that explain how he might have died or even where he was buried.

As unclear as the facts around Tomislav of Croatia may be, today, the first Croatian king lives on statues, monuments, banknotes and even as a name of a city (Tomislavgrad, Bosnia).


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