History of the Balkans

Balkan peninsula (as defined geographically, by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line)

The Balkans is an area of southeastern Europe situated at a major crossroads between mainland Europe and the Near East. The distinct identity and fragmentation of the Balkans owes much to its common and often violent history and to its very mountainous geography.[1]



A burial at Varna, Bulgaria, with some of the world's oldest gold jewelry.

Archaeologists have identified several early culture-complexes, including the Cucuteni culture (4500 to 3500 BC), Starcevo culture (6500 to 4000 BC), Vinča culture (5000 to 3000 BC), Linear pottery culture (5500 to 4500 BC), and Ezero culture (3300—2700 BC). The Eneolithic Varna culture in Bulgaria(4600-4200 BC radiocarbon dating) produced the world's earliest known gold treasure, communicated with the Mediterranean and had sophisticated beliefs about afterlife. A notable set of artifacts are the Tărtăria tablets found in Romania, which appear to be inscribed with proto-writing. The Butmir Culture (2600 to 2400 BC), found on the outskirts of present-day Sarajevo, developed unique ceramics, and was likely overrun by the proto-Illyrians in the Bronze Age.

The "Kurgan hypothesis" of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) origins assumes gradual expansion of the "Kurgan culture", around 5000 BC, until it encompassed the entire pontic steppe. Kurgan IV was identified with the Yamna culture of around 3000 BC.

Copper Age

A golden rhyton, one of the items in the Thracian Panagyurishte treasure, dating from the 4th to 3rd centuries BC

At ca. 1000 BC[2] Illyrian tribes appear in parts of northern Albania and all the way aside Adriatic Sea, Dacians in what is today Romania, and Thracians[3] in Thrace and adjacent lands (now Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, northeastern Greece, European Turkey, eastern Serbia and Republic of Macedonia). These three major tribal groups spoke Paleo-Balkan languages, Indo-European languages. The Phrygians seem to have settled in the southern Balkans at first, centuries later continuing their migration to settle in Asia Minor, now extinct as a separate group and language.


Iron Age

After the period that followed the arrival of the Dorians, known as the Greek Dark Ages or the Geometric Period, the classical Greek culture developed in the southern Balkan peninsula, the Aegean islands and the western Asia Minor Greek colonies starting around the 9th or 8th century BC and peaking with the democracy that developed in 6th and 5th century BC Athens. Later, Hellenistic culture spread throughout the empire created by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. The Greeks were the first to establish a system of trade routes in the Balkans, and in order to facilitate trade with the natives, between 700 BC and 300 BC they founded a number of colonies on the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) coast, Asia Minor, Dalmatia, Southern Italy (Magna Graecia) etc.

By the end of the 4th century BC Greek language and culture were dominant not only in the Balkans but also around the whole Eastern Mediterranean. In the late 6th century BC, the Persians invaded the Balkans, and then proceed to the fertile areas of Europe. Parts of the Balkans and more northern areas were ruled by the Achaemenid Persians for some time, including Thrace, Paeonia, Macedon, and most Black Sea coastal regions of Romania, Ukraine, and Russia.[4][5] However, the outcome of the Greco-Persian Wars resulted in the Achaemenids being forced to withdraw from most of their European territories. The Balkans were to remain free from the Asian empires for at least another thousand years.

The Thracian Odrysian empire, probably founded in the 470s BC, after the Persian defeat in Greece,[6] had its capital at Seuthopolis, next to present-day Stara Zagora in Bulgaria. Other tribal unions existed in Dacia at least as early as the beginning of the 2nd century BC under King Oroles. The Illyrian tribes were situated in the area corresponding to today's Adriatic coast. The name Illyrii was originally used to refer to a people occupying an area centered on Lake Skadar, situated between Albania and Montenegro (Illyrians proper). However, the term was subsequently used by the Greeks and Romans as a generic name for the different peoples within a well defined but much greater area.[7] In the same way, the territory to the north of the kingdom of Macedon was occupied by the Paeonians, who were also ruled by kings, and who may have spoken some kind of Greek (this is uncertain, but their coins bore legends in that language).

Achaemenid Persian Empire (6th to 5th century BC)

Main article: Achaemenid Empire

Around 513 BC, as part of the military incursions ordered by Darius I, a huge Achaemenid army invaded the Balkans and tried to defeat the Western Scythians roaming to the north of the Danube river.[8] Several Thracian peoples, and nearly all of the other European regions bordering the Black Sea (including parts of the modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia), were conquered by the Achaemenid army before it returned to Asia Minor.[4][8] Darius's highly regarded commander Megabazus was responsible to fulfill the conquers in the Balkans.[8] The Achaemenid troops conquered Thrace, the coastal Greek cities, and the Paeonians.[8][9][10] Eventually, in about 512-511 BC, the Macedonian king Amyntas I accepted the Achaemenid domination and surrendered his country as a vassal state to the Achaemenid Persia.[8][11] The multi-ethnic Achaemenid army possessed many soldiers from the Balkans. Moreover, many of the Macedonian and Persian elite intermarried. For instance, Megabazus' own son, Bubares, married Amyntas' daughter, Gygaea; and that supposedly ensured good relations between the Macedonian and Achaemenid rulers.[8]

Following the Ionian Revolt the Persian authority in the Balkans was restored by Mardonius in 492,[8] which not only included the re-subjugation of Thrace, but also the full subordinate inclusion of Macedon into the Persian Empire.[12] The Persian invasion led indirectly to Macedonia's rise in power and Persia had some common interests in the Balkans; with Persian aid, the Macedonians stood to gain much at the expense of some Balkan tribes such as the Paeonians and Greeks. All in all, the Macedonians were "willing and useful Persian allies."[13] Macedonian soldiers fought against Athens and Sparta in Xerxes' army.[8]

Although Persian rule in the Balkans was overthrown following the failure of Xerxes' invasion, the Macedonians and Thracians borrowed heavily from the Achaemenid Persians their tradition in culture and economy in the 5th- to mid-4th centuries.[8] Some artificats, excavated at Sindos and Vergina maybe be considered as influenced by Asian practices, or even imported from Persia in the late sixth and early fifth centuries.[8]

Pre-Roman states (4th to 1st centuries BC)

Main articles: Illyria, Thrace, Dacia, and Macedon

Bardylis, a Dardanian chieftain, created a kingdom which turned Illyria into a formidable local power in the 4th century BC. The main cities of this kingdom were Scodra (present-day Shkodra, Albania) and Rhizon (present-day Risan, Montenegro). In 359 BC, King Perdiccas III of Macedon was killed by attacking Illyrians.

But in 358 BC, Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, defeated the Illyrians and assumed control of their territory as far as Lake Ohrid (present-day Macedonia). Alexander himself routed the forces of the Illyrian chieftain Cleitus in 335 BC, and Illyrian tribal leaders and soldiers accompanied Alexander on his conquest of Persia. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, the Greek states started fighting among themselves again, while up north independent Illyrian polities arose again. In 312 BC, King Glaukias seized Epidamnus. By the end of the 3rd century BC, an Illyrian kingdom based in Scodra controlled parts of northern Albania, Montenegro, and Herzegovina. Under Queen Teuta, Illyrians attacked Roman merchant vessels plying the Adriatic Sea and gave Rome an excuse to invade the Balkans.

In the Illyrian Wars of 229 BC and 219 BC, Rome overran the Illyrian settlements in the Neretva river valley and suppressed the piracy that had made the Adriatic unsafe. In 180 BC, the Dalmatians declared themselves independent of the Illyrian king Gentius, who kept his capital at Scodra. The Romans defeated Gentius, the last king of Illyria, at Scodra in 168 BC and captured him, bringing him to Rome in 165 BC. Four client-republics were set up, which were in fact ruled by Rome. Later, the region was directly governed by Rome and organized as a province, with Scodra as its capital. Also, in 168 BC, by taking advantage of the constant Greek civil wars, the Romans defeated Perseus, the last King of Macedonia and with their allies in southern Greece, they became overlords of the region. The territories were split to Macedonia, Achaia and Epirus.

Roman period

The Balkan provinces in the Western Roman Empire

Starting in the 2nd century BC the rising Roman Empire began annexing the Balkan area, transforming it into one of the Empire's most prosperous and stable regions. To this day, the Roman legacy is clearly visible in the numerous monuments and artifacts scattered throughout the Balkans, and most importantly in the Latin-based languages used by almost 25 million people in the area (the Eastern Romance languages). However, the Roman influence failed to dissolve Greek culture, which maintained a predominant status in the Eastern half of the Empire, and of course continued to be strong in the southern half of the Balkans.

Beginning in the 3rd century AD, Rome's frontiers in the Balkans were weakened because of internal political and economic disorders. During this time, the Balkans, especially Illyricum, grew to greater importance. It became one of the Empire's four prefectures, and many warriors, administrators and emperors arose from the region. Many rulers built their residences in the region.[14]

Though the situation had stabilized temporarily by the time of Constantine, waves of non-Roman peoples, most prominently the Thervings, Greuthungs and Huns, began to cross into the territory, first (in the case of the Thervingi) as refugees with imperial permission to take shelter from their foes the Huns, then later as invaders. Turning on their hosts after decades of servitude and simmering hostility, Thervingi under Fritigern and later Visigoths under Alaric I eventually conquered and laid waste the entire Balkan region before moving westward to invade Italy itself.

By the end of the Empire the region had become a conduit for invaders to move westward, as well as the scene of treaties and complex political maneuvers by Romans, Goths and Huns, all seeking the best advantage for their peoples amid the shifting and disorderly final decades of Roman imperial power.

Rise of Christianity

Christianity first came to the area when Saint Paul and some of his followers traveled in the Balkans passing through Thracian,Illyrian and Greek populated areas. He spread Christianity to the Greeks at Beroia, Thessaloniki, Athens, Corinth and Dyrrachium. Saint Andrew also worked among the Dacians and Scythians, and had preached in Dobruja and Pontus Euxinus. In 46 AD, this territory was conquered by the Romans and annexed to Moesia.

In 106 AD the emperor Trajan invaded Dacia. Subsequently Christian colonists, soldiers and slaves came to Dacia and spread Christianity. In the 3rd century the number of Christians grew. When Emperor Constantine of Rome issued the Edict of Milan in 313, thus ending all Roman-sponsored persecution of Christianity, the area became a haven for Christians. Just twelve years later in 325, Constantine assembled the First Council of Nicaea. In 391, Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of Rome.

The East-West Schism, known also as the Great Schism (though this latter term sometimes refers to the later Western Schism), was the event that divided Christianity into Western Catholicism and Greek Eastern Orthodoxy, following the dividing line of the Empire in Western Latin-speaking and Eastern Greek-speaking parts. Though normally dated to 1054, when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch of Constantinople Michael I Cerularius excommunicated each other, the East-West Schism was actually the result of an extended period of estrangement between the two Churches.

The primary claimed causes of the Schism were disputes over papal authority—the Pope claimed he held authority over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the patriarchs claimed that the Pope was merely a first among equals—and over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed. Most serious (and real) cause of course, was the competition for power between the old and the new capitals of the Roman Empire (Rome and Constantinople). There were other, less significant catalysts for the Schism, including variance over liturgical practices and conflicting claims of jurisdiction.

Early Middle Ages

Eastern Roman Empire

Main article: Byzantine Empire
The Jireček Line separating zones of Greek and Latin influence prior to the Slavic invasions.

The Byzantine Empire was the Greek-speaking, Eastern Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. During most of its history it controlled provinces in the Balkans and Asia Minor. The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian for a time retook and restored much of the territory once held by the unified Roman Empire, from Spain and Italy, to Anatolia. Unlike the Western Roman Empire, which met a famous if rather ill-defined death in the year 476 AD, the Eastern Roman Empire came to a much less famous but far more definitive conclusion at the hands of Mehmet II and the Ottoman Empire in the year 1453. Its expert military and diplomatic power ensured inadvertently that Western Europe remained safe from many of the more devastating invasions from eastern peoples, at a time when the still new and fragile Western Christian kingdoms might have had difficulty containing it.

The magnitude of influence and contribution the Byzantine Empire made to Europe and Christendom has only begun to be recognised recently. The Emperor Justinian I's formation of a new code of law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, served as a basis of subsequent development of legal codes. Byzantium played an important role in the transmission of classical knowledge to the Islamic world and to Renaissance Italy. Its rich historiographical tradition preserved ancient knowledge upon which splendid art, architecture, literature and technological achievements were built. This is embodied in the Byzantine version of Christianity, which spread Orthodoxy and eventually led to the creation of the so-called "Byzantine commonwealth" (a term coined by 20th-century historians) throughout Eastern Europe. Early Byzantine missionary work spread Orthodox Christianity to various Slavic peoples, amongst whom it still is a predominant religion. Jewish communities were also spread through the Balkans at this time, while the Jews were primarily Romaniotes.[15][16] In a sense of a Greek-influenced "Byzantine commonwealth", the Greek christian culture and also the Romaniote culture have influenced the emerging cultures both the Christian and the Jewish cultures of the Balkans and of Eastern Europe.[17]

Roman Empire and Barbarian confederacies in the Balkans, c. 200 AD

Throughout its history, its borders were ever fluctuating, often involved in multi-sided conflicts with not only the Arabs, Persians and Turks of the east, but also with its Christian neighbours- the Bulgarians, Serbs, Normans and the Crusaders, which all at one time or another conquered large amounts of its territory. By the end, the empire consisted of nothing but Constantinople and small holdings in mainland Greece, with all other territories in both the Balkans and Asia Minor gone. The conclusion was reached in 1453, when the city was successfully besieged by Mehmet II, bringing the Second Rome to an end.

Barbarian incursions

Coinciding with the decline of the Roman Empire, many "barbarian" tribes passed through the Balkans, most of whom did not leave any lasting state. During these "Dark Ages", Eastern Europe, like Western Europe, regressed culturally and economically, although enclaves of prosperity and culture persisted along the coastal towns of the Adriatic and the major Greek cities in the south.[18] As the Byzantine Empire withdrew its borders more and more, in an attempt to consolidate its waning power, vast areas were de-urbanised, roads abandoned and native populations may have withdrawn to isolated areas such as mountains and forests.[18]

The first such barbarian tribe to enter the Balkans were the Goths. From northern East Germany, via Scythia, they pushed southwards into the Roman Balkans following the threat of the Huns. These Goths were eventually granted lands inside the Byzantine realm (south of the Danube), as foederati (allies). However, after a period of famine, the proto-Visigoths rebelled and defeated the emperor in 378. The Visigoths subsequently sacked Rome in 410, and in an attempt to deal with them, they were granted lands in France. The Huns, a confederation of a Turkic-Uralic ruling core that subsequently incorporated various Germanic, Sarmatian and Slavic tribes, moved west into Europe entering Pannonia in 400–410 AD. The Huns are supposed to have triggered the great German migrations into western Europe. From their base, the Huns subdued many people and carved out a sphere of terror extending from Germany and the Baltic to the Black Sea. With the death of Attila the Hun in 454 AD, succession struggles led to the rapid collapse of Hun prestige and subsequent disappearance from Europe. In the mean time, the Ostrogoths freed themselves from Hunnish domination in 454 AD and became foedorati as well. The Ostrogoths too migrated westwards, commissioned by the Byzantines, and established a state in Italy. In the second half of the 5th- and first of the 6th century, new Germanic barbarian tribes entered the Balkans. The Gepids, having lived in Dacia in the 3rd century with the Goths, settled Pannonia and eventually conquered Singidunum (Belgrade) and Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica), establishing a short-lived kingdom in the 6th century. The Lombards entered Pannonia in 550s, defeated the Gepids and absorbed them. In 569 they moved into northern Italy, establishing their own kingdom at the expense of the Ostrogoths.

The Balkans c. 400 AD, at time of Hunnic Empire.

The Slavs, known as the Sklavenoi, migrated in successive waves. Small numbers might have moved down as early as the 3rd century however the bulk of migration did not occur until the 6th century. These Slavs, the South Slavs, migrated from Central- and Eastern Europe. They occupied most of the Eastern Roman Empire, pushing deep into Greece. Most still remained subjects of the Roman Empire, but those that settled in the Pannonian plain were tributary to the Avars.

The northern Balkans in the 6th century.

The Avars were a Turkic group (or possibly Mongol[19]), possibly with a ruling core derived from the Rouran that escaped the Göktürks. They entered Pannonia in the 7th century AD, forcing the Lombards to flee to Italy. They continuously raided the Balkans, contributing to the general decline of the area that had begun centuries earlier. After their unsuccessful siege on Constantinople in 626, they limited themselves to Pannonia. They ruled over the Pannonian Slavs that had already inhabited the region. By the 10th century, the Avar confederacy collapsed due to internal conflicts, Frankish and Slavic attacks. The remnant Avars were subsequently absorbed by the Slavs and Magyars.

The Bulgars, a people of Central Asia, most believed Turko-Altaian and Indo-Arian. The major Bulgar wave commenced with the arrival of Asparuh's Bulgars. Asparuh was one of Kubrat's, the Great Khan, successors. They had occupied the fertile plains of the Ukraine for several centuries until the Khazars swept their confederation in the 660s and triggered their further migration. One part of them — under the leadership of Asparuh — headed southwest and settled in the 670s in present-day Bessarabia. In 680 AD they invaded Moesia and Dobrudja and formed a confederation with the local Slavic tribes who had migrated there a century earlier. After suffering a defeat at the hands of Bulgars and Slavs, the Byzantine Empire recognised the sovereignty of Asparuh's Khanate in a subsequent treaty signed in 681 AD. The same year is usually regarded as the year of the establishment of Bulgaria (see History of Bulgaria). A smaller group of Bulgars under Khan Kouber settled almost simultaneously in the Pelagonian plain in western Macedonia after spending some time in Panonia. Some Bulgars actually entered Europe earlier with the Huns. After the disintegration of the Hunnic Empire the Bulgars dispersed mostly to eastern Europe.

The Magyars, led by Árpád, were the leading clan in a ten tribe confederacy. They entered Europe in the 10th century AD, settling in Pannonia. There they encountered a predominantly Slavic populace and Avar remnants. The Magyars were a Uralic people, originating from west of the Ural Mountains. They learned the art of horseback warfare from Turkic people. They then migrated further west around 400AD, settling in the Don-Dnieper area. Here they were subjects of the Khazar Khaganate. They were neighboured by the Bulgars and Alans. They sided with 3 rebel Khazar tribes against the ruling factions. Their loss in this civil war, and ongoing battles with the Pechenegs, was probably the catalyst for them to move further west into Europe.

The local Romans and Romanized remnants of the Iron Age populace of the Balkans began their assimilation into mainly the Slavs and Greeks, however, notable Latin-speaking communities are known to have survived. In literature, these Romance-speakers are known as "Vlachs". In Dacia, Roman colonists and Romanized Dacians retreated in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania after the Roman withdrawal. Archaeological evidence indicate a Romanized population in Transylvania by at least the 8th century. By the 7th and 8th centuries, the Roman Empire existed only south of the Danube River in the form of the Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople. In this ethnically diverse closing area of the Roman Empire, Vlachs were recognized as those who spoke Latin, the official language of the Byzantine Empire used only in official documents, until the 6th century when it was changed to the more popular Greek. These original Vlachs probably consisted of a variety of ethnic groups (most notably Thracians, Dacians, Illyrians) who shared the commonality of having been assimilated in language and culture of the Roman Empire with the Roman colonists settled in their areas. Anna Comnene relates in Alexiade about Dacians (instead of Vlachs) from Balkans and from the North side of Danube and they were identified as Romanians.[20] Romance-speaking populations survived on the Adriatic, and the Albanians are believed by some to be descending from partially Romanized Illyrians.

First Bulgarian Empire

The First Bulgarian Empire's greatest territorial extent during the reign of Simeon I.

In the 7th century the First Bulgarian Empire was established. It greatly increased in strength in the coming centuries stretching from Dnieper to Budapest and the Mediterranean. Bulgaria dominated the Balkans for the next four centuries and was instrumental in the adoption of Christianity in the region. Bulgarian Tsar Boris I ordered the creation of the Bulgarian Alphabet, which was later spread by missionaries to the north reaching Russia.

High Middle Ages

Republic of Venice

In building its maritime commercial empire, the Republic of Venice dominated the trade in salt,[21] acquired control of most of the islands in the Aegean, including Cyprus and Crete, and became a major "power" in the Near East and in all the Balkans. Venice seized a number of locations on the eastern shores of the Adriatic sea before 1200, partly for purely commercial reasons, but also because pirates based there were a menace to its trade. The Doge since that time bore the titles of Duke of Dalmatia and Duke of Istria. Venice became a fully imperial power following the Venetian-financed Fourth Crusade, which in 1203 captured and in 1204 sacked Constantinople and established the Latin Empire. Venice subsequently carved out a sphere of influence in the Aegean known as the Duchy of the Archipelago, and also gained control of the island of Crete.

Late Middle Ages

The Balkans in 1355.

From the 14th century, Venice controlled most of the maritime commerce of the Balkans with important colonial possessions on the Adriatic and Aegean coasts. Venice's long decline started in the 15th century, when it first made an unsuccessful attempt to hold Thessalonica against the Ottomans (1423–1430). She also sent ships to help defend Constantinople against the besieging Turks (1453). After the city fell to Sultan Mehmet II, he declared war on Venice. The war lasted thirty years and cost Venice many of the eastern Mediterranean possessions. Slowly the Republic of Venice lost nearly all possessions in the Balkans, maintaining in the 18th century only the Adriatic areas of Istria, Dalmatia and Albania Veneta. The Venetian island of Corfu was the only area of Greece never occupied by the Turks. In 1797 Napoleon conquered Venice and caused the end of the Republic of Venice in the Balkans.

Early modern period

Ottoman Empire

1726 Map of The Ottoman Empire in the Balkans
The Balkans at the end of the 19th century

Much of the Balkans was under Ottoman rule throughout the Early modern period. Ottoman rule was long, lasting from the 14th century up until the early 20th in some territories. The Ottoman Empire was religiously, linguistically and ethnically diverse, and a much more tolerant place for religious practices when compared to other parts of the world at the time.[22] The different groups in the empire were organised along confessional lines, in the so-called the Millet system. Among the Orthodox Christians of the empire (the Rum Millet) a common identity was forged based on a shared sense of time defined by the ecclesiastical calendar, saint's days and feasts.[23]

The social structure of the Balkans in the late 18th century was complex. The Ottoman rulers exercised control chiefly in indirect ways.[24] In Albania and Montenegro, for example, local leaders paid nominal tribute to the Empire and otherwise had little contact. The Republic of Ragusa paid an annual tribute but otherwise was free to pursue its rivalry with the Republic of Venice. The two Romance-speaking principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia had their own nobility, but were ruled by Greek families chosen by the Sultan. In Greece, the elite comprised clergymen and scholars, but there was scarcely any Greek aristocracy. A million or more Turks had settled in the Balkans, typically in smaller urban centers where they were garrison troops, civil servants, and craftsmen and merchants. There were also important communities of Jewish and Greek merchants. The Turks and Jews were not to be found in the countryside, so there was a very sharp social differentiation between the cities and their surrounding region in terms of language, religion and ethnicity. The Ottoman Empire collected taxes at about the 10% rate but there was no forced labor and the workers and peasants were not especially oppressed by the Empire. The Sultan favoured and protected the Orthodox clergy, primarily as a protection against the missionary zeal of Roman Catholics.[25]

Rise of nationalism in the Balkans

The rise of Nationalism under the Ottoman Empire caused the breakdown of millet concept. With the rise of national states and their histories, it is very hard to find reliable sources on the Ottoman concept of a nation and the centuries of the relations between House of Osman and the provinces, which turned into states. Unquestionably, understanding the Ottoman conception of nationhood helps us to understand what happened in the Balkans in the late Ottoman period.

The bloody suppression of the April Uprising in Bulgaria, became occasion of the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).

Congress of Berlin

Anton von Werner, At the Congress of Berlin (1878) the tall Bismarck on the right is shaking hands with Gyula Andrássy and Pyotr Andreyevich Shuvalov; on the left are Alajos Károlyi, Alexander Gorchakov and Benjamin Disraeli

The Congress of Berlin (13 June - 13 July 1878) was a meeting of the leading statesmen of Europe's Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire. In the wake of the Russia's smashing victory in a war with Turkey, 1877–78, the urgent need was to stabilize and reorganize the Balkans, and set up new nations. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who led the Congress, undertook to adjust boundaries to minimize the risks of major war, while recognizing the reduced power of the Ottoman Empire, and balance the distinct interests of the great powers.

As a result, Ottoman holdings in Europe declined sharply; Bulgaria was established as an independent principality inside the Ottoman Empire, but was not allowed to keep all its previous territory. Bulgaria, without being admitted to the Congress, lost more than 70% of its territory, and over 50% of its ethnic population remained outside its borders—which caused a number of uprisings and brought the country into subsequent Balkan wars. Bulgaria lost Eastern Rumelia, which was restored to the Turks under a special administration. Macedonia, and East and Western Thrace were returned outright to the Turks, who promised reform and Northern Dobrudja became part of Romania, which achieved full independence but had to turn over part of Bessarabia to Russia. Serbia and Montenegro finally gained complete independence, but with smaller territories. Austria took over Bosnia and Herzegovina, and effectively took control of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. Britain took over Cyprus.[26]

The results were at first hailed as a great achievement in peacemaking and stabilization. However, most of the participants were not fully satisfied, and grievances regarding the results festered until they exploded in world war in 1914. Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece made gains, but far less than they thought they deserved. The Ottoman Empire, called at the time the "sick man of Europe," was humiliated and significantly weakened, rendering it more liable to domestic unrest and more vulnerable to attack. Although Russia had been victorious in the war that caused the conference, it was humiliated at Berlin, and resented its treatment. Austria gained a great deal of territory, which angered the South Slavs, and led to decades of tensions in Bosnia and Herzogovina. Bismarck became the target of hatred of Russian nationalists and Pan-Slavists, and found that he had tied Germany too closely to Austria in the Balkans.[27]

In the long-run, tensions between Russia and Austria-Hungary intensified, as did the nationality question in the Balkans. The congress was aimed at the revision of the Treaty of San Stefano and at keeping Constantinople in Ottoman hands. It effectively disavowed Russia's victory over the decaying Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War. The Congress of Berlin returned to the Ottoman Empire territories that the previous treaty had given to the Principality of Bulgaria, most notably Macedonia, thus setting up a strong revanchist demand in Bulgaria that in 1912 was one of many causes of the First Balkan War.

20th century

Balkan Wars

Main article: Balkan Wars

The Balkan Wars were two wars that took place in the Balkans in 1912 and 1913. Four Balkan states defeated the Ottoman Empire in the first war; one of the four, Bulgaria, was defeated in the second war. The Ottoman Empire lost nearly all of its holdings in Europe. Austria-Hungary, although not a combatant, was weakened as a much enlarged Serbia pushed for union of the South Slavic peoples.[28] The war set the stage for the Balkan crisis of 1914 and thus was a "prelude to the First World War."[29]

World War I

Coming of war 1914

The monumentally colossal World War I was ignited from a spark in the Balkans, when a Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz Ferdinand. Princip was a member of a Serbian militant group called the Crna Ruka, translated 'Black Hand'. Following the assassination, Austria-Hungary sent Serbia an ultimatum in July 1914 with several provisions largely designed to prevent Serbian compliance. When Serbia only partially fulfilled the terms of the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.

Many members of the Austro-Hungarian government, such as Conrad von Hötzendorf had hoped to provoke a war with Serbia for several years. They had a couple of motives. In part they feared the power of Serbia and its ability to sow dissent and disruption in the empire's "south-Slav" provinces under the banner of a "greater Slav state". Another hope was that they could annex Serbian territories in order to change the ethnic composition of the empire. With more Slavs in the Empire, some in the German-dominated half of the government hoped to balance the power of the Magyar-dominated Hungarian government. Until 1914 more peaceful elements had been able to argue against these military strategies, either through strategic considerations or political ones. However, Franz Ferdinand, a leading advocate of a peaceful solution, had been removed from the scene, and more hawkish elements were able to prevail. Another factor in this was the development in Germany giving the Dual-Monarchy a "blank cheque" to pursue a military strategy that ensured Germany's backing.

Austro-Hungarian planning for operations against Serbia was not extensive and they ran into many logistical difficulties in mobilizing the army and beginning operations against the Serbs. They encountered problems with train schedules and mobilization schedules, which conflicted with agricultural cycles in some areas. When operations began in early August Austria-Hungary was unable to crush the Serbian armies as many within the monarchy had predicted. One difficulty for the Austro-Hungarians was that they had to divert many divisions north to counter advancing Russian armies. Planning for operations against Serbia had not accounted for possible Russian intervention, which the Austro-Hungarian army had assumed would be countered by Germany. However, the German army had long planned on attacking France before turning to Russia given a war with the Entente powers. (See: Schlieffen Plan) Poor communication between the two governments led to this catastrophic oversight.

Fighting in 1914

As a result, Austria-Hungary's war effort was damaged almost beyond redemption within a couple of months of the war beginning. The Serb army, which was coming up from the south of the country, met the Austrian army at the Battle of Cer beginning on August 12, 1914.

The Serbians were set up in defensive positions against the Austro-Hungarians. The first attack came on August 16, between parts of the 21st Austro-Hungarian division and parts of the Serbian Combined division. In harsh night-time fighting, the battle ebbed and flowed, until the Serbian line was rallied under the leadership of Stepa Stepanovic. Three days later the Austrians retreated across the Danube, having suffered 21,000 casualties against 16,000 Serbian casualties. This marked the first Allied victory of the war. The Austrians had not achieved their main goal of eliminating Serbia. In the next couple of months the two armies fought large battles at Drina (September 6 to November 11) and at Kolubara from November 16 to December 15.

In the autumn, with many Austro-Hungarians tied up in heavy fighting with Serbia, Russia was able to make huge inroads into Austria-Hungary capturing Galicia and destroying much of the Empire's fighting ability. It wasn't until October 1915 with a lot of German, Bulgarian, and Turkish assistance that Serbia was finally occupied, although the weakened Serbian army retreated to Corfu with Italian assistance and continued to fight against the central powers.

Yugoslav Committee, a political interest group formed by South Slavs from Austria-Hungary during World War I, aimed at joining the existing south Slavic nations in an independent state.[30] From this plan, a new kingdom eventually was born: The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians.

Montenegro declared war on 6 August 1914. Bulgaria, however, stood aside before eventually joining the Central Powers in 1915, and Romania joined the Allies in 1916. In 1916 the Allies sent their ill-fated expedition to Gallipoli in the Dardanelles, and in the autumn of 1916 they established themselves in Salonika, establishing front. However, their armies did not move from front until near end of the war, when they marched up north to free territories under rule of Central Powers.


Bulgaria, the most populous of the Balkan states with 7 million people sought to acquire Macedonia but when it tried it was defeated in 1913 in the Second Balkan War. In 1914 Bulgaria stayed neutral. However its leaders still hoped to acquire Macedonia, which was controlled by an ally, Serbia. In 1915 joining the Central Powers seemed the best route.[31] Bulgaria mobilized a very large army of 800,000 men, using equipment supplied by Germany. The Bulgarian-German-Austrian invasion of Serbia in 1915 was a quick victory, but by the end of 1915 Bulgaria was also fighting the British and French—as well as the Romanians in 1916 and the Greeks in 1917. Bulgaria was ill-prepared for a long war; absence of so many soldiers sharply reduced agricultural output. Much of its best food was smuggled out to feed lucrative black markets elsewhere. By 1918 the soldiers were not only short of basic equipment like boots but they were being fed mostly corn bread with a little meat. Germany increasingly was in control, and Bulgarian relations with its ally the Ottoman Empire soured. The Allied offensive in September 1918, which failed in 1916 & 1917 was successful at Dobro Pole. Troops mutinied and peasants revolted, demanding peace. By month's end Bulgaria signed an armistice, giving up its conquests and its military hardware. The Czar abdicated and Bulgaria's war was over. The peace treaty in 1919 stripped Bulgaria of its conquests, reduced its army to 20,000 men, and demanded reparations of £100 million.[32]

Consequences of World War I

Political history of the Balkans

The war had enormous repercussions for the Balkan peninsula. People across the area suffered serious economic dislocation, and the mass mobilization resulted in severe casualties, particularly in Serbia where over 1.5 million Serbs died, which was approx. ¼ of the total population and over half of the male population. In less-developed areas World War I was felt in different ways: requisitioning of draft animals, for example, caused severe problems in villages that were already suffering from the enlistment of young men, and many recently created trade connections were ruined.

The borders of many states were completely redrawn, and the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later Yugoslavia, was created. Both Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were formally dissolved. As a result, the balance of power, economic relations, and ethnic divisions were completely altered.

Some important territorial changes include:

Between World War I and World War II, in order to create nation-states the following population movements were seen:

See also:

World War II

World War II in the Balkans started from the Italian attempts to create an Italian empire. They invaded Albania in 1939 and annexed after just a week to the Kingdom of Italy. Then demanded Greece to surrender in October 1940. However, the defiance of the Greek prime minister Metaxas on 28 October 1940, started the Greco-Italian war. After seven months of hard fighting, with some of the first Allied victories and the Italians losing nearly one third of Albania, Germany intervened to save its ally. In 1941, it invaded Yugoslavia with the forces they later used against the Soviet Union.

After the fall of Sarajevo on 16 April 1941 to Nazi Germany, the Yugoslav provinces of Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina were recreated as fascist satellite states, Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (NDH, the Independent State of Croatia). Croat-nationalist, Ante Pavelić was appointed leader. The Nazis effectively created the Handschar division and collaborated with Ustaše in order to combat the Yugoslav Partisans.

With help from Italy and Hungary, they succeeded in conquering Yugoslavia within two weeks. Then they joined forces with Bulgaria and invaded Greece from the Yugoslavian side. Despite Greek resistance, the Germans took advantage of the Greek army's presence in Albania against the Italians to advance in Northern Greece and consequently conquer the entire country within 3 weeks, with the exception of Crete. However, even with the fierce Cretan resistance, which cost the Nazis the bulk of their elite paratrooper forces, the island capitulated after 11 days of fighting.

On May first the Balkan frontiers were once again reshuffled, with the creation of several puppet states, such as Croatia and Montenegro, the Albanian expansion into Greece and Yugoslavia, Bulgarian annexation of territories in the Greek North, creation of a Vlach state in the Greek mountains of Pindus and the annexation of all the Ionian and part of the Aegean islands into Italy.

With the end of the war, the changes of the ethnic composition reverted to their original conditions and the settlers returned to their homelands, mainly the ones settled in Greece. An Albanian population of the Greek North, the Cams, were forced to flee their lands because collaborated with the Italians. Their numbers were about 18 000 in 1944.

Aftermath of World War II

In January 7–9, 1945, Yugoslav authorities killed several hundred of declared Bulgarians in Macedonia as collaborators, in an event known as the "Bloody Christmas".

The Greek Civil War was fought between 1944 and 1949 in Greece between the armed forces of the Greek government, supported at first by Britain and later by the United States, against the forces of the wartime resistance against the German occupation, whose leadership was controlled by the Communist Party of Greece. Its goal was the creation of a Communist Northern Greece. It was the first time in the Cold War that hostilities led to a proxy war. In 1949, the partisans were defeated by the government forces.

Cold War

During the Cold War, most of the countries in the Balkans were ruled by Soviet-supported communist governments. The nationalism was not dead after World War II. Yugoslavia was not an isolated case of ethnic tension. For example: in Bulgaria, beginning in 1984, the Communist government led by Todor Zhivkov began implementing a policy of forced assimilation of the ethnic Turkish minority. Ethnic Turks were required to change their names to Bulgarian equivalents, or to leave the country. In 1989, a Turkish dissident movement was formed to resist these assimilationist measures. The Bulgarian government responded with violence and mass expulsions of the activists. In this repressive environment, over 300,000 ethnic Turks fled to neighboring Turkey.[34] However, despite being under communist governments, Yugoslavia (1948) and Albania (1961) fell out with the Soviet Union. After World War 2, communist plans of merging Albania and Bulgaria into Yugoslavia were created, but later nullified when Albania broke all relations with Yugoslavia, due to Tito breaking from the USSR. Marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), later rejected the idea of merging with Bulgaria, and instead sought closer relations with the West, later even creating the Non-Aligned Movement, which brought them closer ties with third world countries. Albania on the other hand gravitated toward Communist China, later adopting an isolationist position. The only non-communist countries were Greece and Turkey, which were (and still are) part of NATO.

Religious persecutions took place in Bulgaria, directed against the Christian Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches as well as the Muslim, Jewish and others in the country. Antagonism between the communist state and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church eased somewhat after Todor Zhivkov became Bulgarian Communist Party leader in 1956. Zhivkov even used the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for the purposes of his policies.


The late 1980s and the early 1990s brought the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. As westernization spread through the Balkans, many reforms were carried out that led to implementation of market economy and to privatization, among other capitalist reforms.

In Albania, Bulgaria and Romania the changes in political and economic system were accompanied by a period of political and economic instability and tragic events. The same was the case in most of former Yugoslav republics.

Yugoslav wars

Main article: Yugoslav wars

The collapse of the Yugoslav federation was due to various factors in various republics that composed it. In Serbia and Montenegro, there were efforts of different factions of the old party elite to retain power under new conditions along, and an attempt to create Greater Serbia by keeping all Serbs in one state.[35] In Croatia and Slovenia, multi-party elections produced nationally-inclined leadership that followed in the footsteps of their previous Communist predecessors and oriented itself towards capitalism and secession. Bosnia and Herzegovina was split between the conflicting interests of its Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, while Macedonia mostly tried to steer away from conflicting situations.

An outbreak of violence and aggression came as a consequence of unresolved national, political and economic questions. The conflicts caused the death of many civilians. The real start of the war was a military attack on Slovenia and Croatia taken by Serb-controlled JNA. Before the war, JNA had started accepting volunteers driven by ideology of Serbian nationalists keen to realise their nationalist goals.[36]

The Ten-Day War in Slovenia in June 1991 was short and with few casualties. However, the Croatian War of Independence in the latter half of 1991 brought many casualties and much damage on Croatian towns. As the war eventually subsided in Croatia, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina started in early 1992. Peace only came in 1995 after such events as the Srebrenica massacre, Operation Storm, Operation Mistral 2 and the Dayton Agreement, which provided for a temporary solution, but nothing was permanently resolved.

The economy suffered an enormous damage in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the affected parts of Croatia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia also suffered an economic hardship under internationally imposed economic sanctions. Also many large historical cities were devastated by the wars, for example Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Mostar, Šibenik and others.

The wars caused large population migrations, mostly involuntary. With the exception of its former republics of Slovenia and Macedonia, the settlement and the national composition of population in all parts of Yugoslavia changed drastically, due to war, but also political pressure and threats. Because it was a conflict fueled by ethnic nationalism, people of minority ethnicities generally fled towards regions where their ethnicity was in a majority. Since the Bosniaks had no immediate refuge, they were arguably hardest hit by the ethnic violence. The United Nations tried to create safe areas for the Bosniak populations of eastern Bosnia but in cases such as the Srebrenica massacre, the peacekeeping troops (Dutch forces) failed to protect the safe areas resulting in the massacre of thousands. The Dayton Accords ended the war in Bosnia, fixating the borders between the warring parties roughly to the ones established by the autumn of 1995. One immediate result of population transfers following the peace deal was a sharp decline in ethnic violence in the region. A number of commanders and politicians, notably Serbia's former president Slobodan Milošević, were put on trial by the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for a variety of war crimes—including deportations and genocide that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Croatia's former president Franjo Tuđman and Bosnia's Alija Izetbegović died before any alleged accusations were leveled at them at the ICTY. Slobodan Milošević died before his trial could be concluded.

Initial upsets on Kosovo did not escalate into a war until 1999 when the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) was bombarded by over 30 members of NATO for several months and Kosovo made a protectorate of international peacekeeping troops. A massive and systematic deportation of ethnic Albanians took place during the Kosovo War of 1999, with over 1.000.000 Albanians (out of a population of about 1.8 million) forced to flee Kosovo. This was quickly reversed at the war's end.

2000 to present

Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981. Greece is also an official member of the Eurozone, and the Western European Union. Slovenia and Cyprus have been EU members since 2004, and Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007. Croatia joined the EU in 2013. Turkey initially applied in 1963 and as of late 2005 accession negotiations have begun, although analysts believe 2015 is the earliest date the country can join the Union due to the plethora of economic and social reforms it has to complete. Macedonia also received candidate status in 2005, while the other Balkan countries have expressed a desire to join the EU but at some date in the future.

Greece has been a member of NATO since 1952. In 2004 Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia became members of NATO. Croatia and Albania joined NATO in 2009.

In 2006, Montenegro separated from the state of Serbia and Montenegro, also making Serbia a separate state.

On October 17, 2007 Croatia became a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2008-2009 term, while Bosnia and Herzegovina became a non-permanent member for the 2010-2011 period.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008.

Since the 2008 economic crisis, the former Yugoslav countries began to cooperate on levels that were similar to those in Yugoslavia. The term "Yugosphere" was coined by The Economist after a regional train service "Cargo 10" was created.

Overview of state histories

Cultural history

Byzantine culture

Main article: Byzantine culture

Ottoman culture

Main article: Ottoman culture

Eastern Orthodoxy

See also


  1. Jelavich 1983a, Mazower 2007
  2. The Illyrians (The Peoples of Europe) by John Wilkes,ISBN 978-0-631-19807-9,1996,page 39: "... the other hand, the beginnings of the Iron Age around 1000 BC is held to coincide with the formation of the historical Illyrian peoples. ..."
  3. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 1: The Prehistory of the Balkans, the Middle East and the Aegean World, Tenth to Eighth Centuries BC by John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, N. G. L. Hammond, and E. Sollberger,1982,page 53,"... Yet we cannot identify the Thracians at that remote period, because we do not know for certain whether the Thracian and Illyrian tribes had separated by then. It is safer to speak of Proto-Thracians from whom there developed in the Iron Age ..."
  4. 1 2 The Oxford Classical Dictionary by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth,ISBN 0-19-860641-9,"page 1515,"The Thracians were subdued by the Persians by 516"
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  21. Richard Cowen, The importance of salt
  22. Gail Warrander, Verena Knau, Kosovo, 2nd: The Bradt Travel Guide.
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  24. Franklin L. Ford, Europe: 1780-1830 (1970) pp 39-41
  25. Ford, Europe: 1780-1830 (1970) pp 39-41
  26. A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848-1918 (1954) pp 228-54
  27. Jerome L. Blum, et al. The European World: A History (1970) p 841
  28. Christopher Clark (2013). The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. HarperCollins. pp. 45, 559.
  29. Richard C. Hall, The Balkan Wars 1912-1913: Prelude to the First World War (2000)
  30. Norka Machiedo Mladinić (June 2007). "Prilog proučavanju djelovanja Ivana Meštrovića u Jugoslavenskom odboru" (PDF). Journal of Contemporary History (in Croatian). 39 (1). Zagreb, Croatia: Croatian Institute of History. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  31. Tucker, The European powers in the First World War (1996). pp 149-52
  32. Richard C. Hall, "Bulgaria in the First World War," Historian, (Summer 2011) 73#2 pp 300-315 online
  33. "Secondary Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century" Archived May 7, 2009, at WebCite
  34. Ethnic Cleansing and the Normative Transformation of International Society Archived March 19, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Ethnic cleansed Great Serbia
  36. Institute for War and Peace Reporting

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