Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

History of Bosnia and Herzegovina

This is the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. See also the history of Yugoslavia, history of Europe, and history of present-day nations and states.

Bosnia is inhabited at least since neolithic. In the early Bronze Age, the peaceful population of neolithic was replaced by more warlike tribes known as the Illyres. In the year 168 BC the land of Illyres became the Roman Province of Illyria. In year 10, following a four-year rebellion of Illyres, Illyria was divided and a thin northern strip of today's Bosnia became part of the new province Pannonia, while the rest of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of Dalmatia. Both of the provinces were later included in the Western Roman Empire (following events from the years 337 and 395 when the Empire split).

The Romans lost control of Dalmatia in 455 to the Ostrogoths, and the area was inhabited by Slavs in the 7th century.

Table of contents
1 Middle Ages
2 Ottoman era
3 19th and 20th century
4 External links

Middle Ages

The first mention of the name "Bosnia" is in the De Administrando Imperio of Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus ca. 950 in which the region of "Bosona" (Βοσωνα) around Vrhbosna (today's Sarajevo) is described as "a small state" (χοριον). In the early Middle Ages, the term Bosnia described rougly the territory between modern cities of Sarajevo and Zenica, including present locations of these cities. Later this term spread to cover most of what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Around 925, Bosnia was briefly ruled by Tomislav, the king of Croatia. In 1083, Bosnia was conquered by the rival state of Duklja (later known as Zeta), but this rule lasted for only 8 years before independence was restored.

All of Bosnia came under Hungarian rule in 1137 when the king adopted the title "rex Ramae", referring to Rama, a region of Herzegovina.

At the same time, the southern parts of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina were separate small duchies of Zahumlje and Travunija-Konavli, sometimes ruled by particularly influential dukes but never powerful enough to form a larger, independent state. Their territories were spread over parts of today's Southern Dalmatia and Montenegro, but mostly over Herzegovina.

Bosnian Christian Hval's Miscellany, ca. 1400
The religion of the original Slavic population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was mixed: there were Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but also many were Krstjani ("Christians"), an indigenous Bosnian Church. This early protestant church was accused by the Catholic and Orthodox authorities of being a dualist heresy and linked to the Bogomils (Patarens). Several important rulers of Bosnia were Krstjani, but they would often renounce their confession or even perform conversions in return for military or other support from the Holy See.

Beginning with the reign of ban Borić in 1154, Bosnia was an independent banovina. The second ban, Kulin, issued the first written Bosnian document written in the native language in 1189.

The Kulin Ban charter, 1189

Excerpt of charter of Ban Stefan II to Dubrovnik from 1333.
(From slike/1333.GIF at [1]; Franz Miklosich, Monumenta Serbica, Vienna 1858, p. 105-109)
да имамо и дрьжимо до конца свиета непомачно. и за то
ставлю я (господинь) бань Стефань свою златѹ печать, да
ѥ веровано, сваки да знаѥеть и види истинѹ. а томѹи сѹ .д̄.
повелле..а.. двие латинсци а дви срьпсцие, а све сѹ печа-
тене златиеми печати: двие ста повелле ѹ господина бана
Стефана а двие повелле ѹ Дѹбровници. а то ѥ писано подь
English translation:
to have and hold to the end of the world moveless. And for that
have put I (lord) ban Stefan my golden seal, to
be believed, everyone to know and see the truth. And to that are IV
charters..a.. two Latin and two Serbian, and all are sea-
led with golden seals: two are charters in lord ban
Stefan and two charters in Dubrovnik. And that is written under
Of 60 words in the excerpt:
  • 29 (48.3%) are completely the same in contemporary Serbian
  • 15 (25%) differ only in slightly changed sound of a letter (usually through iotation, or loss or it, or by transfer of "ou" to "u")
  • 8 (13.3%) differ in one phonem
  • 8 (13.3%) differ more but are fully recognisable.
There is not a single word in this excerpt that is not understandable by any Serbian language speaker of today. Notice that the same pretty much goes for speakers of any of the other two official languages, Bosnian and Croatian.

By the mid-14th century, Bosnia reached a peak under ban Tvrtko Kotromanić who came into power in 1353. Tvrtko made Bosnia an independent state and is thought (by some historians) to have been initially crowned in Mili near today's Sarajevo. He went on to claim not only Bosnia, but the surrounding lands as well:

Stephanus Tvrtko I's full title listed subject peoples and geographical dependencies, following the Byzantine norm. At the peak of his power, he was King of Serbs and Croats, Bosnia, Hum, Usora, Soli, Dalmatia, Donji Kraji etc.

After the death of Tvrtko I, the power of the Bosnian state slowly faded away. Finally, under the king Stjepan Tomašević Bosnia "fell with a whisper" (šaptom pala) in 1463 and became the westernmost province of the Ottoman Empire.

During most of the Middle Ages, Herzegovina was known as Hum (Zahumlje), which passed from Bosnian, to Zetan rule before coming under the Nemanjić Rascian rule. In 1435/1448, it asserted its independence under a Duke (Herceg) Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, and adopted the name "Hercegovina". The state fell to the Turks in 1482.

Ottoman era

The arrival of the Ottoman Turks marked a new era in Bosnian history. The Turks created the pašaluk of Bosnia and the sandŽak of Herzegovina. The Turks introduced a "spahi" system which revamped and probably set back the development of agriculture.

All of the Krstjani believers eventually converted to either Orthodoxy, Catholicism or Islam. There are conflicting claims on the exact ratios or whether or how much of it was voluntary or not.

During the Ottoman period, many Christian children were forcibly separated from their families and raised to be members of the Yeni Çeri (new troops) and became Muslims. This practice was known as the devşirme or blood tax.

The Turkish incursion also caused a large migration of Orthodox Serbs from Herzegovina into parts of Bosnia. The influx of immigrants from the Belgrade pašaluk (and from Wallachia) also increased.

The Turks often waged wars against the Habsburgs which made the country even poorer and caused mass depopulation and migrations. In 1875, a rebellion broke out in Herzegovina and spread to Bosnia and Bulgaria, which started a series of events that would mark the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans.

With the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, Austria-Hungary took control of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878. The Orthodox Serbs and Muslims united to try and prevent the entry of Austrian troops. The last traces of rebellion were squashed by 1882. The Austrian troops, on the other hand, were welcomed by the Catholics who would thrive under the Austrian occupation.

19th and 20th century

Nationalistic movements in this region started in the 19th century. The Orthodox Serbs were the most nationally organized. The Catholics sided mostly with the Croats from neighbouring Austro-Hungarian province of Croatia-Slavonia. The Bosnian Muslims were ethnically claimed by both Croats and Serbs and although some did opt for Serbdom (Osman Đikić, Šukrija Kurtović) or Croatdom, most were undecided and still clung to the memory of the Ottoman golden age, preferring the designation of Turks.

World War I began after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The Serb nationalist organization Mlada Bosna organized the attack, and of all the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip had the most success.

Following the Great War, Bosnia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It was given to Nazi-puppet Croatia in World War II. Bosnia and Herzegovina became a republic of Yugoslavia in 1945, when the country was re-organized as a communist federal state under Josip Broz Tito.

Yugoslavia's unraveling was hastened by the rise of nationalism: Bosniaks led by Alija Izetbegović, Serbs led by Slobodan Milošević and Croats led by Franjo Tuđman. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the only Yugoslav Republic where there was no majority of a single ethnicity, and its capital Sarajevo was the prime example of inter-ethnic mixing and tolerance. But in the 1990s fate had twisted and Bosnia became a particularly problematic area.

In 1990, Slovenia declared independence which caused a short conflict with the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) which tried to prevent secession. Later that year, Croatia did the same and JNA responded the same way, but with the Serb majority in Krajina separating from Croatia. Bosnia was ethnically heterogenous and there could not be a remotely clear delimitation between the areas that wanted to secede and those that did not. The Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina provided for three constitutional nations: the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, so no major constitutional changes were to be granted short of a unanimous agreement from all three sides. This was pretty much a guarantee that the warfare would be very bloody.

On February 29th and March 1st 1992, the Bosnian government held a referendum on independence. The Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks mostly voted on the referendum while the Bosnian Serbs mostly boycotted it, because of its unconstitutionality as the Serb delegates in parliament did not approve it.

Being in the middle of a wider conflict, the situation in Bosnia quickly escalated. The first casualty in Bosnia was Nikola Gardović, a groom's father who was killed at a Serb wedding procession on the first day of the referendum, on February 29, 1992 in Sarajevo's old town Baščaršija. A Serb Orthodox priest was also wounded in the attack.

With 99% voting for the independence out of 66% of the eligible voters, the Bosniak and Croat representatives in Bosnia's parliament declared the republic's independence on April 5, 1992. The Serb delegates, having previously left over the violation of the Constitution, declared their own state Republika Srpska on midnight between April 6th and April 7th.

Most European countries and the U.S. recognized the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina by April 7th, and the country was admitted to the United Nations on May 22nd.

The war between the three constitutive nations turned out to be probably the most chaotic and bloody war in Europe since World War II. Numerous cease-fire agreements were signed, only to be broken again when one of the sides felt it was to their advantage. Initially it was Bosniaks and Croats together against the Serbs on the other side. The Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (despite less manpower) and established control over most of the Serb-populated rural and urban regions excluding the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar. Most of the capital Sarajevo was held by the Bosniaks and in order to prevent the Bosniak army from being deployed out of the town, the Bosnian Serb Army surrounded it, deploying troops and artillery in the surrounding hills, and often bombarded the Bosniak army in the city. The Serbs held on to a few Sarajevo suburbs (Grbavica and parts of Dobrinja) who were also shelled by the Bosniak forces as well. The civilian death count in Sarajevo would pass 11,000 by the end of the war.

To make matters even worse, in 1993 the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks began fighting over the 30 percent of Bosnia they held. This caused the creation of even more ethnic enclaves and even further bloodshed.

The third incarnation of the war in the former Yugoslavia prompted the United Nations to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague on May 25, 1993. The warring parties committed war crimes, committed ethnic cleansing, formed internment camps often compared to concentration camps etc, so the UN repeatedly attempted to stop the war, but wasn't particularly successful.

Eventually even NATO got involved when its jets shot down four Serb aircraft over central Bosnia on February 8th 1994; this was the alliance's first use of force since it was founded in 1949. The so-called Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina was announced on Febrary 9, 1994 and in March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia signed the peace agreement, creating the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This narrowed the field of warring parties down to two.

A particularly disturbing and problematic incident happened in July 1995, when, reportedly in retaliation to previous incursions by Naser Orić's troops, Serb troops under general Ratko Mladić occupied the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, after which around 7,000 Bosniak males went missing.

The war continued through most of 1995, and with Croatia taking over the Serb Krajina in early August, the Bosniak-Croat alliance gained the initiative in the war, taking much of western Bosnia from the Serbs. At that point, the international community pressured Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović to the negotiation table and finally the war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on November 21, 1995 (the final version was signed December 14, 1995 in Paris).

In the end, the war caused an estimated 278,000 dead and missing persons and another 1,325,000 refugees and exiles from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
after Dayton Agreement

The Dayton Agreement divides Bosnia and Herzegovina roughly equally between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska, based mostly on their wartime borders.

In 1995-1996, a NATO-led international peacekeeping force (IFOR) of 60,000 troops served in Bosnia to implement and monitor the military aspects of the agreement. IFOR was succeeded by a smaller, NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) whose mission was to deter renewed hostilities.

The United Nations' International Police Task Force in Bosnia was replaced at the end of 2002 by the European Union Police Mission, the first such police training and monitoring taskforce from the European Union.

Throughout this conflict the international community, especially the United Nations, have made fatal errors in evaluating the whole situation. This is a point of contention -- opinions range from those that say they should have intervened earlier and stopped the bloodshed, to whether they should have intervened at all.

External links

General history:

War and post-war history: