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History of Bosnia Herzegovina
 
 
 

Early History

Bosnia has been inhabited at least since Neolithic times. In the late Bronze Age, the Neolithic population was replaced by more warlike Indo-European tribes known as the Illyres or Illyrians. Celtic migrations in the 4th and 3rd century BC displaced many Illyrian tribes from their former lands, but some Celtic and Illyrian tribes mixed. Concrete historical evidence for this period is scarce, but overall it appears that the region was populated by a number of different peoples speaking distinct languages. Conflict between the Illyrians and Romans started in 229 BC, but Rome wouldn't complete its annexation of the region until 9 AD. In the Roman period, Latin-speaking settlers from all over the Roman empire settled among the Illyrians and Roman soldiers were encouraged to retire in the region.

Christianity had already arrived in the region by the end of the 1st century, and numerous artifacts and objects from the time testify to this. Following events from the years 337 and 395 when the Empire split, Dalmatia and Pannonia were included in the Western Roman Empire. The region was conquered by the Ostrogoths in 455, and further exchanged hands between the Alans and Huns in the years to follow. By the 6th century, Emperor Justinian had re-conquered the area for the Byzantine Empire. The Slavs, a migratory people from northeastern Europe, were subjugated by the Eurasian Avars in the 6th century, and together they invaded the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th and 7th centuries, settling in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina and the surrounding lands. More South Slavs (namely Croats and Serbs) came in a second wave, and according to some scholars were invited by Emperor Heraclius to drive the Avars from Dalmatia.

Medieval Period (958-1463)

Modern knowledge of the in the west Balkans during the dark ages is patchy. Upon their arrival, the Slavs brought with them a tribal social structure, which probably fell apart and gave way to feudalism only with Frankish penetration into the region in the late 9th century. It was also around this time that the south Slavs were Christianised. Bosnia, due to its geographic position and terrain, was probably one of the last areas to go through this process, which presumably originated from the urban centres along the Dalmatian coast. The region of Bosnia had been part of the kingdoms of Serbia and Croatia, whose borders were often fluctuant. However, by the high middle ages Croatia had been acquired by the Hungarian Kingdom, and the Serbian state to the southeast was in a period of stagnation. Control over Bosnia subsequently was contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine empire, with the Byzantines initially claiming it. Following the death of the Byzantine Emperor, Hungary appointed a Ban, one Kulin, to rule the province under vassalage. However, this vassalage was largely nominal.

The first notable Bosnian ruler, Ban Kulin, presided over nearly three decades of peace and stability during which he strengthened the country's economy through treaties with Dubrovnik and Venice. His rule also marked the start of a controversy with the Bosnian Church, an indigenous Christian sect considered heretical by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. In response to Hungarian attempts to use church politics regarding the issue as a way to reclaim sovereignty over Bosnia, Kulin held a council of local church leaders to renounce the heresy in 1203. Despite this, Hungarian ambitions remained unchanged long after Kulin's death in 1204, waning only after an unsuccessful invasion in 1254.

Bosnian history from then until the early 14th century was marked by the power struggle between the Šubi? and Kotromani? families. This conflict came to an end in 1322, when Stjepan II Kotromani? became ban. By the time of his death in 1353, he had succeeded in annexing territories to the north and west, as well as Zahumlje and parts of Dalmatia. He was succeeded by his nephew Tvrtko who, following a prolonged struggle with nobility and inter-family strife, gained full control of the country in 1367. Under Tvrtko, Bosnia grew in both size and power, finally becoming an independent kingdom in 1377. Tvrtko crowned himself "King of Serbs and all of Bosnia" in the Monastery of Mileseva. Following his death in 1391 however, Bosnia fell into a long period of decline. The Ottoman Empire had already started its conquest of Europe and posed a major threat to the Balkans throughout the first half of the 15th century. Finally, after decades of political and social instability, Bosnia officially fell in 1463. Herzegovina would follow in 1482, with a Hungarian-backed reinstated "Bosnian Kingdom" being the last to succumb in 1527.

Ottoman Era (1463-1878)

The Ottoman conquest of Bosnia marked a new era in the country's history and introduced tremendous changes in the political and cultural landscape of the region. Although the kingdom had been crushed and its high nobility executed, the Ottomans nonetheless allowed for the preservation of Bosnia's identity by incorporating it as an integral province of the Ottoman Empire with its historical name and territorial integrity - a unique case among subjugated states in the Balkans. Within this sandžak (and eventual vilayet) of Bosnia, the Ottomans introduced a number of key changes in the territory's socio-political administration; including a new landholding system, a reorganisation of administrative units, and a complex system of social differentiation by class and religious affiliation.


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