History of Bosnia and Herzegovina Part I

The history of Bosnia and Herzegovina is characterized by the fact that various states have fought for influence over several centuries. The population consists of several ethnic groups, which have at times been at odds with each other.

Remains of an Illyrian wall in Stolac, Herzegovina

The area that is today Bosnia-Herzegovina was from the 12th century partly under Croatian, Serbian, Byzantine, Franconian or Hungarian rule. From the 1100s to the 1400s, Bosnia was a separate state governed by a ban (prince). In 1463, the country became subject to the Ottoman Empire until 1878, when it became part of Austria-Hungary. In 1918, Bosnia-Herzegovina entered the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (from 1929 called Yugoslavia). When Yugoslavia disbanded in 1992, war broke out between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. The Bosnia War ended in 1995.

Since 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been divided into a Serbian part (Republika Srpska) and a Croat-Bosnian part (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Early history

The oldest known population in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina is Illyrian and Illyrian Celtic tribes from around 200 BCE. These were subject to Roman rule from year 9 AD.

Most of Bosnia was part of the Roman province of Dalmatia, the northern part of Pannonia. The Romans built roads and mined gold, silver and lead.

From the 100th to the 500s, the area was invaded by Goths, Huns, Iranians and Avars. Slavic tribes came from the late 500s and absorbed the former population. The Croats and the Serbs annexed states west and east of Bosnia.

Until the end of the 1100s, Bosnia was partly under Croatian, Serbian, Byzantine, Franconian or Hungarian rule. Mostly Bosnia belonged to Croatia, while Hercegovina (Hum) was under Serbian princes. Bosnia, first mentioned by the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenetos in 958, was christened from the coast around 900 and after the schism in 1054 was considered Roman Catholic.

Battle of Kosovo Polka in 1389

Battle of Kosovo Polka in 1389. Here Bosnians and Serbs fought against the Ottoman Turks who invaded the Balkans. Painting by Adam Stefanović, 1870.

Own state

From the 1100s to the 1400s, Bosnia was a separate state governed by a ban (prince). With the ban of Kulin (1180-1204), the Bosnian medieval state was fortified. Under his rule, a struggle for ecclesiastical influence began in Bosnia between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church, which led the Bosnian church to gain an independent position.

Although Ban Kulin attempted to settle the dispute in 1204, the Bosnian church was accused of heresy by the pope. It is uncertain whether the Bosnian church was really dualistic ( Manic ), linked to the Bulgarian “bogomiles”, as has usually been claimed. Perhaps “the Bosnian Church”, which was a state church in Bosnia, was more of a monk’s order, isolated from the rest of the Catholic world. The many special Bosnian tombstones (stećci) with figures and inscriptions date from the 14th to 14th centuries.

After Ban Kulin’s death, the country was squeezed by Hungary. Ban Stefan Kotromanić (1322-1353) expanded the kingdom to include the coast between Split and Dubrovnik and took Hum (Hercegovina). He supported the Bosnian church, but in 1340 the pope sent Franciscan monks to Bosnia. The Franciscan monasteries became important centers for attempts to reinstate Catholicism.

Bosnia was now a feudal state with strong economy because of all the mineral deposits, including the silver mines in Srebrenica. Many Germans ( Saxons ) were associated with the quarries and Dubrovnik had a monopoly on trade.

Kotromanić’s successor Stevan Tvrtko (1353–1391) expanded the empire to the east at the expense of Serbia and took the entire Dalmatia coast (except Zadar and Dubrovnik). He founded the port city of Novi (today Herceg-Novi) on Kotor Bay. In 1377 he was crowned king. Bosnian forces joined forces with the Serbs in the Kosovo battle in 1389 against the Ottoman Turks who invaded the Balkans.

After Tvrtko’s death, the empire was weakened by rivalry between the Hungarians, the Turks and local great men. King Ostoja was supported by the Hungarians, King Tvrtko 2 by the Turks. In Hum reigned Stefan Vukšić, who in 1448 took the title herceg (‘duke’, hence the name Hercegovina). In 1459, the Bosnian king Stefan Tomašević forced the Bosnian church over to Catholicism. Bosnia was increasingly pressured by the Turks.


In 1875, a peasant uprising broke out in Herzegovina, which spread to Bosnia. During 1876 hundreds of villages were burned and thousands of farmers killed. The picture is an illustration of the rebels Bogdan Zimonjić, Mićo Ljubibratić, Stojan Kovačević and Pecija.

Turkish (Ottoman) rule

The Bosnian kingdom fell in 1463 when the last Bosnian king, Stefan Tomašević, was executed by the Turks. The northernmost areas were under Hungarian control until 1527. In 1482, the Turks captured Herzegovina. As the outpost of the Turks to the west, Bosnia faced constant wars between the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires. The administrative seat of the province (sandžak) Bosnia was Sarajevo (until 1553), Banja Luka (until 1639), Sarajevo again (until 1690) and since Travnik.

From 1580 all of Bosnia and Herzegovina were united. The Turkish military system was introduced. Until the middle of the 17th century, the Turks practiced “blood tax” (devşirme), boy children were brought to Istanbul in Turkish service and became Janits. In this way, many Bosnians received high records (such as pasja or vesir ) in the Ottoman Empire. The most well-known was the great vizier Mehmed Paša Sokolović (Sokolli) in the 16th century.

The Turks did not carry out forced Islam, yet many converted to Islam. By the end of the 16th century, the majority of the population were Muslims. The reason may be the weak position the church held before the conquest of the Turks and the rivalry between various churches. The privileged position of the Muslims, legally and financially, contributed to the transition to Islam. The cities of Bosnia became rich centers of Islamic culture, especially Sarajevo during the Gaza House revival in the 16th century. Oriental urban culture was characterized by architecture, art and literature.

As the Catholic Church was persecuted, the Orthodox gained relative freedom among the Turks. The Turks allowed many Orthodox from Herzegovina to settle in the border areas in the northwest after the Catholic population fled in the 16th century. Some were Serbs, but most were Romanian, nomadic Welsh, who were later assimilated to the Serbs. The Austrians, in turn, organized the military border (Vojna krajina) with Orthodox (Serbian) border soldiers as protection against the Turks.

In the 1700s and 1700s, the Turkish government was weakened by internal turmoil, rebellions against the tax burden and local sergeants’ resistance to the Sultan, and repeated wars with Austria and Venice. In 1697, the Austrian Prince Eugen of Savoia penetrated all the way to Sarajevo and burned the city.

At the Karlowitz peace in 1699, the Turks had to give the coastal areas back to Venice and Hungary to Austria. At the Passarowitz peace in 1718, the Turks had to surrender Bosnian territory in the north to the Austrians and in the south to Venice. After new wars with Austria, the Belgrade Treaty in 1739 established the northern border of Bosnia.

By the end of the 18th century, Austria and Russia had plans to divide the Balkans, and there were wars in the years 1788–1791. After the intermesho of Napoleon’s Illyrian provinces as the western border of Bosnia in 1809-1814, confrontation with Austria again came to characterize the 19th century. After 1815, Serbia began to consolidate as a state in the east and had ambitions to incorporate Bosnia.