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The oldest Republic in the world is also the smallest one!

As it happens more often than we’d like to admit, we don’t really know how much of the history of this country is legend. But it’s fascinating to imagine that, in the IV century, a group of persecuted Christians founded a community and have been independent ever since!

An anonymous writer of Vita Sancti Marini (The Life of St Marino) in the XII century wrote that Demosthene, king of the Libernians, destroyed the walls of Rimini, a Roman city on the Adriatic sea, and that, in 257, Roman Emperor Diocletian decided to rebuild them. Among the stone cutters and other workers who came from all over Europe, there were two Christians coming from the island of Rab in Dalmatia (now part of Croatia): Marino and Leo. They were sent to Mt Titan to extract and process stone and stayed there about three years, then they separated. Marino spent more than twelve years in Rimini and came back to Mt Titan where he founded a small Christian community. It was said that Marino accomplished miracles. One of these deserves a mention: Verissimo, son of the widow Felicissima who was owner of the territory of Mt Titan, fell paralysed in his legs and arms. Felicissima, in her desperation, rushed to Marino to offer him anything he desired. Marino only asked for their conversion and baptism and a piece of land to rest upon. Felicissima accepted and donated Mt Titan to Marino and his descendants; Verissimo was healed and all fifty-three member of his family were converted to Christianity.

Most of this is definitely legend because there is no trace in history of a Demosthene, king of Libernians, and the Roman Emperor Diocletian was in power between 284 and 305, not in 257. There are also chances that this story of St Marino’s life was partially falsified for the purpose of defending the territorial ownership of the Monastery of St Marino from the attempts to claim it by the Bishop of Rimini.

Getting out from the legend, we may deduct St Marino was alive somewhere between VI and VII century: from a monk writing in 511 about a St Marino monastery to the promise signed in Quierzy (January 754) between Pepin The Short and Pope Stephen II where a Castellum Sancti Marini (Castle of San Marino) is clearly mentioned. There is also the Placito Feretrano: a parchment, dated 885, where the name of San Marino has a specific territorial reference.

Halfway between legend and history, the tradition tells that the Republic of San Marino was founded on September 3rd, 301, by Marino, a Dalmatian stone cutter, who was escaping the persecutions against Christians by Roman Emperor Diocletian. And, since then (apart from short periods), this small piece of land around Mt Titan, close to the famous touristic location of Rimini on the Italian side of the Adriatic sea, has managed to maintain its independence, with a few brief interruptions.

Probably, the most peculiar aspect of this Republic – a part from being independent for so long – is that it also managed to be “reasonably neutral” for all these centuries! Though the independence from the Papal States is difficult to date, we have more information about later threats: Napoleon was stopped by the diplomatic skills of Antonio Onofri and not only guaranteed the Independence of the small Republic but he offered to extend it territorially: the fear of potential retaliation made San Marino decline the offer…. Later, San Marino hosted a few refugees prosecuted for their support to the Italian unification by Garibaldi in the XIX century: the Republic was rewarded by accepting its request of not being incorporated in the newly built Italian state. The government of San Marino also conferred Honorary Citizenship to US President Abraham Lincoln. During World War I, San Marino remained fundamentally neutral, though this neutrality wasn’t accepted favourably by the Italians from one side and the Austro-Hungarians from the other. During World War II, though rules by a fascist party, San Marino remained neutral. The New York Times wrongly reported that it had declared war on the United Kingdom on September 17th 1940 and the San Marino Government had to then transmit a message to the British government confirming that they did not declare such war.

Apart from being the oldest Republic in the world, it is also the smallest one, with less than 62 sq. km. of territory. To be honest, since the South Pacific island of Nauru got independent in 1968, one could argue that San Marino lost the title of “smallest republic”, given that Nauru’s land covers a surface of 21 sq. km.; it has to be considered that Nauru’s jurisdiction covers a piece of Pacific Ocean, thousands of times larger than San Marino’s jurisdiction.

Member of the European Council since 1968 and of the United Nations since 1992, San Marino is not a member of the European Union: on October 20th 2013, a referendum has been organised about entering the European Union. The controversy on the adherence to EU is mainly related to the Republic being a tax heaven. Transparency in banking practices has now been introduced fully and, if the Republic’s prosperity after World War II was fuelled by these advantages, San Marino went on the “black list” because it didn’t adhere to the OCSE Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters and the Euro crisis begs the question on whether the exclusion from the EU is going to make the situation worse. The referendum results are null because 4,000 votes were missing for its results to be binding: out of 33,000 inhabitants, this number is not negligible….


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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Despre 29-Oct-2013, 16:09

    It’s interesting that some countries managed to stay outside the mainstream banking system, San Marino appearing to be one, and Guernsey another. It would not be totally surprising if later on one finds out that what currently is out of the mainstream banking system, e.g. parts of Africa, are attracted into it by creating debt as a result of a war. However a war with San Marino would be stupid since it begins on the territory of Italy. The year 257 in the article appears to be suspect, because once replaced with 28-33 years later it transforms the legend into quite a plausible story. So 257 are counted since when, since the birth or resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

    • Armando Gherardi 31-Oct-2013, 14:55

      You’re opening a can of worms with your question!
      Have a look at another posts about calendars here….
      My recollections from things that I have read in a remote past is that there has been a miscalculation in determining the year of Jesus Christ’s birth….
      However, apart from mistakes, AD 257 means from Jesus Christ’s birth.
      When I gather the proper details on this mistake in calculating the years, I’ll write a post!