USKOKS, or Uscocs. During the early years of the 16th century, the Turkish conquest of Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 Ed. J. R. Lumby, Rolls Series (1886), vol. ix. p. 147.
drove large numbers of the Christian inhabitants from their homes. A body of these Uskoks, as they were called, from a Serbo-Croatian word meaning " refugee," established itself in the Dalmatian fortress of Clissa, near Spalato, and thence waged continual war upon the Turks. Clissa, however, became untenable, and the Uskoks withdrew to Zengg, on the Croatian coast, where, in accordance with the Austrian system of planting colonies of defenders along the Military Frontier, they were welcomed by the Emperor Ferdinand I., and promised an annual subsidy in return for their services. Their new stronghold, screened by mountains and forests, was unassailable by cavalry or artillery, but admirably suited to the light-armed Uskoks, whose excellence lay in guerilla warfare. The Turks, on their side, organized a body of equally effective troops called Martelossi, for defence and reprisals. Thus, checked on land, and with their subsidy rarely paid, the Uskoks turned to piracy. Large galleys could not anchor in the bay of Zengg, which is shallow and exposed to sudden gales, so the Uskoks fitted out a fleet of swift boats, light enough to navigate the smallest creeks and inlets of the Illyrian shore, and easily sunk and recovered, if a temporary landing became necessary. With these they preyed upon the commerce of the Adriatic. Their ranks were soon swelled by outlaws from all nations, and by their own once peaceful neighbours, from Novi, Ottocac and other Croatian towns. After 1540, however, Venice, as mistress of the seas, guaranteed the safety of Turkish merchant vessels, and provided them with an escort of galleys. The Uskoks retaliated by ravaging the Venetian islands of Veglia, Arbe and Pago, and by using the Venetian territories in Dalmatia as an avenue of attack upon the Turks. Meanwhile the corsairs of Greece and Africa were free to raid the unprotected southern shores of Italy; and Venice was besieged with complaints from the Porte, the Vatican, the Viceroy of Naples and his sovereign, the king of Spain. An appeal to Austria met with little success, for the offences of the Uskoks were outweighed by their services against the Turks; while, if Minucci may be trusted, a share of their spoils, in silk, velvet and jewels, went to the ladies of the Archducal Court of Graz, where the matter was negotiated. From 1577 onwards, Venice endeavoured to crush the pirates without offending Austria, enlisting Albanians in place of their Dalmatian crews, who feared reprisals at home. For a time the Uskoks only ventured forth by night, in winter and stormy weather. In 1592 a Turkish army invaded Croatia, hoping to capture Zengg, but it was routed and dispersed in the following year. Austria being thus involved in war with Turkey, the Venetian Admiral Giovanni Bembo blockaded Trieste and Fiume, whither the pirates forwarded their booty for sale. They also erected two forts to command the passages from Zengg to the open sea. In 1602 a raid by the Uskoks upon Istria resulted in an agreement between Venice and Austria, and the despatch to Zengg of the energetic commissioner Rabatta with a strong bodyguard. All these measures, however, availed little. Rabatta was murdered, the fugitive Uskoks returned to Zengg and piracy was resumed, with varying fortunes, until 1615, when a grosser outrage than usual led to open war between Venice and Austria. By the treaty of peace concluded at Madrid, in 1617, it was arranged that the Uskoks should be disbanded, and their ships destroyed. The pirates and their families were, accordingly, transported to the interior of Croatia, where they gave their name to the Uskoken Gebirge, a group of mountains on the borders of Carniola. Their presence has also been traced near Monte Maggiore, in Istria, where such significant family names as Novlian (from Novi) , Ottocian (from Ottocac) and Clissan (from Clissa), were noted by Franceschi in 1879.
See Minuccio Minucci, Historic, degli Uscochi (Venice, 1603) ; enlarged by P. Sarpi, and translated into French as a supplement to Amelot de la Houssaye's Histoire du gouvernement de Venise (Amsterdam, 1705). Minucci was one of the Venetian envoys at Graz. See also the conciser narratives in C. de Franceschi's L' Istria, chap. 37 (Parenzo, 1879); and T. G. Jackson's Dalmatia, the Quarnero and Istria, chap. 27 (Oxford, 1887).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)