We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!

Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting > Histories of the Yugoslav People to World War I > Bosnia and Herzegovina


In the seventh century, Croats and Serbs settled in the land that now makes up Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dominance of the regions shifted among the Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Byzantine rulers for generations, before the Croatian and Hungarian crowns merged and Hungary dominated. Foreign interference in Bosnia and Herzegovina exacerbated local political and religious hostilities and ignited bloody civil wars.

The heretical Bogomil faith played an important early role in Bosnian politics. Ban Kulin (1180-1204) and other nobles struggled to broaden Bosnian autonomy, rejected the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, and embraced Bogomilism, a dualistic offshoot of Christianity. The Bogomils enraged the papacy, and the Catholic kings of Hungary persecuted them to exterminate the heresy and secure Hungarian rule over Bosnia. Kulin recanted his conversion under torture, but the Bogomil faith survived crusades, civil war, and Catholic propaganda.

In the fourteenth century, Bosnia became a formidable state under the rule of Ban Stefan Tvrtko I (1353-91). Tvrtko joined Bosnia with the principality of Hum, forerunner of Herzegovina, and attempted to unite the South Slavs under his rule. After the Serbian Nemanja dynasty expired in 1371, Tvrtko was crowned King of Bosnia and Raska in 1377, and he later conquered parts of Croatia and Dalmatia. Bosnian troops fought beside the Serbs at Kosovo Polje. After that defeat, Tvrtko turned his attention to forming alliances with Western states. Rival nobles and religious groups vied to gain control of Bosnia after the death of Tvrtko; one noble in Hum won the title of "Herzeg," (German for "duke") whence the name "Herzegovina."

The fifteenth century marked the beginning of Turkish rule in Bosnia. Most of Bosnia was taken in 1463, Herzegovina in 1483. Many Orthodox and Roman Catholics fled, while Bogomil nobles converted to Islam to retain their land and feudal privileges. They formed a unique Slavic Muslim aristocracy that exploited its Christian and Muslim serfs for centuries and eventually grew fanatical and conservative. Turkish governors supervised Bosnia and Herzegovina from their capitals at Travnik and Mostar, but few Turks actually settled in this territory. Economic life declined and the regions grew isolated from Europe and even Constantinople. As the sultan's military expenses grew, small farms were replaced by large estates, and peasant taxes were raised substantially. When the Turkish Empire weakened in the seventeenth century, Bosnia and Herzegovina became pawns in the struggle among Austria, Russia, and the Turks.

The nineteenth century in Bosnia and Herzegovina brought alternating Christian peasant revolts against the Slavic Muslim landholders, and Slavic Muslim rebellions against the sultan. In 1850 the Turkish government stripped the conservative Slavic Muslim nobles of power, shifted the capital of Bosnia to Sarajevo, and instituted centralized, highly corrupt rule. Austrian capital began to enter the regions, financing primitive industries, and fostering a new Christian middle class. But the mostly Christian serfs continued to suffer the corruption and high rates of the Turkish tax system. In 1875 a peasant uprising in Herzegovina sparked an all-out rebellion in the Balkan provinces, provoking a European war. The Treaty of Berlin, which followed the Turkish defeat of 1878, gave Austria-Hungary the right to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina to restore local order.

The Treaty of Berlin brought a period of manipulation by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire suppressed Muslim and Orthodox opposition to the occupation and introduced an orderly administration. But it retained the feudal system because Bosnia and Herzegovina technically remained Turkish states. Seeking to increase the Catholic population of Bosnia, Vienna sent Austrian, Hungarian, Croatian, and Polish administrators, and colonized northern Bosnia with Catholic Slavs and Germans. The administrator of the regions, Baron Benjamin Kállay (1882-1903) fostered economic growth, reduced lawlessness, improved sanitation, built roads and railways, and established schools. However, Kállay, a Hungarian, exploited strong nationalist differences among the Muslim Slavs, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs.

At the turn of the century, nationalist differences reached the point of explosion. Fearful that Turkey might demand the return of Bosnia and Herzegovina after a revolutionary government was established in Constantinople, Austria-Hungary precipitated a major European crisis by annexing the regions in October 1908. Serbia, which had coveted the regions, mobilized for war. The crisis subsided a year later when Russia and Serbia bowed to German pressure and all Europe recognized the Serbian annexation as a fait accompli. Domination by Austria had embittered the ethnic groups of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Muslim Slavs resented Turkish withdrawal from the Balkans; the Croats looked initially to Vienna for support, but were increasingly disappointed by its response; and the Bosnian Serbs, deeply dissatisfied with continued serfdom, looked to Serbia for aid.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Yugoslavia Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 12 of 208


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

(din.) Yugoslav Dinar (YDN)
Convert to Any Currency