LITTLE HISTORICAL CURIOSITY How Dubrovnik Became the Inspiration for This French Word

It is interesting how one French word got indirectly connected to Dubrovnik. Although its meaning thankfully has nothing to do with Dubrovnik itself, it derives from the old name for our lovely town. How that happened and what it means, Mr. Ante I. Curać explains in an interesting historical story.

“In 1806, on the orders of Napoleon, General Molitor left three regiments (about 1,700 soldiers) from Udine for Dalmatia and the Bay of Kotor, because those two regions belonged to the French Empire according to the Treaty of Bratislava. However, the Russian army under the command of Admiral Sinjavin entered Boka, which was contrary to the signed document. From February to early July, General Molitor marched through Lika, Zadar, Split, Hvar and Ston to Dubrovnik, dispersing the Montenegrin army besieging the city from the mainland, as well as the Russian navy besieging it and bombing it from the sea.

Slovenia, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik and Boka then entered the Illyrian province, as part of the Italian and French empires, respectively. Marshal Marmont (1774-1852) was appointed governor after his merit in governing the new province and received the title of Duc de Ragusa. ‘Raguse’ was the French name for Dubrovnik at the time.

Marmont was a great friend of Napoleon, thanks to whom he advanced from officer to marshal in a very short time as an exceptionally brave soldier and strategist.

But in early April 1814, after a series of defeats Napoleon suffered by the Austria-Russia-Prussia alliance, when Paris itself was found in a hostile environment, as head of Napoleon’s General Staff, Marmont commanded the troops to surrender to the alliance. Napoleon, furious at this betrayal, said: ‘I made him a marshal and a duke, and he vilely betrayed me!’

This shameful move by Marshal Marmont was described by 19th-century French writers Edmond Rostand and Paul Adam who, in their plays, included the word ragusade = betrayal, raguser = traitor, as an allusion to the act of Duc de Ragusa = Duke of Dubrovnik.

The new term was accepted by the French Academy and entered the dictionary as a synonym for betrayal, or rather high treason,” wrote Curać.