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Thomas the Archdeacon

Thomas the Archdeacon (Croatian: Toma Arhiđakon) (c. 1200 – 8 May 1268) was a Roman Catholic cleric, historian and chronicler from Split, often referred to as one of the greatest figures in Croatian historiography.[1]


What is known about Thomas' life comes from his work, Historia Salonitana. He speaks of his life in the third person and very briefly, in the style of medieval literature genres. Thomas was born in Split at the beginning of the 13th century. It is not known whether he was of noble or common birth. He was probably educated at the cathedral school in Split. Around 1222 he was sent to study at the University of Bologna. There he perfected skills (under, among others, Accursius) in law, rhetoric, gramathic and notary (ars dictandi and ars notaria).[2] He saw Saint Francis of Assisi in Bologna, a remarkable event which he mentioned in his work, describing the person of Saint Francis.[3] Upon returning to his hometown of Split he advanced fast in church hierarchy. He became notary official (c. 1227), then (1230) the archdeacon (head of the body of canons). He described Mongol siege of Split (1242), Mongol customs and homeland, thus creating first ethnological writings in Croatian historiography.[4] In 1243. body of canons chose Thomas to be archbishop of Split. But, because of his views on Church autonomy in Split, commoners rebelled against him. Fearing for his life, he never occupied that function, and in the end resigned the honor. Because of that, in his work he wrote about future archbishops with bitterness. He died in Split on eight of May 1268. Today, his grave lies in the Church of St. Francis.[5]


Thomas was a stern advocate of medieval commune movement in Split. He wrote about Croatian nobles (and Hungarian kings in his time) in the hinterland of the city with great animosity, because they tried to crush the autonomy of the city. And conversely, he treated fairly those who respected the commune autonomy (Croatian kings, and later, Hungarian kings in 12th century). In 1239 he organized new („latin“) administration in Split, bringing Gargane de Ascindis from Ancona, as the new Podestà.[6] He was also advocate of Church autonomy within city (in accordance with official Roman Church teaching) which excluded commoners and citizens from interferring in Church business (such as the election of archbishop).


Thomas' only work is the Historia Salonitana, the history of archibishops of Salona and Split written in Latin.[7] The work itself is combining three medieval history genres – historia, chronica and memoriale. Eventually, his work outgrows narrow theme of archbishops, and becomes outstanding literary achievement which encompasses whole of Croatian medieval period up to 13th century. Because of Thomas' original research in archbisphoric archive in Split, he brings facts and news from documents today unknown to contemporary historians. His work is therefore not only of great literally value, but also of historical value for Croatian history.[8]


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