The beginnings of Croatian poetry coincided with the introduction of Christianity to the Croats in the ninth century, when the disciples of the missionaries Cyril and Methodius came to the South Slavic lands, bringing with them writings in Old Church Slavonic concerning church rituals. Unfortunately, most Croatian literary works of that period have been lost. The earliest extant Croatian poetry is contained in Misal Kneza Novaka (1368; the missal of Prince Novak), written in glagolitsa, a special alphabet devised by the missionaries on the basis of the local tongue. Numerous church songs from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries show a great variety of rhymed and unrhymed metrics—from seven to twelve syllables—but there are also songs in free verse. All of this poetic activity, limited though it was in subject matter and scope, constituted the necessary preparation for, and transition to, the blossoming of artistic literature in general, and poetry in particular, in cultural centers along the Adriatic coast from the second half of the fifteenth century to 1835.
The Croatian territories on the Adriatic coast escaped Turkish rule and, as a result, were able to develop in every respect. This was especially true of the Republic of Dubrovnik (Ragusa). Culturally, this area was under the direct influence of Italian Humanism and Petrarchan poetry. Many Croatian poets were educated in Italy and wrote for the most part, or exclusively, in Latin. More important, even though the general tenor and spirit of their poetry were unmistakably under the Italian influence, the Croatian poets of Dalmatia were able to give their poetry a native slant and color, not only in language and setting but also in their own understanding of the function and purpose of literature and poetry.