Vlachs of Croatia

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Vlachs of Croatia
Total population
Serbo-Croatian, Istro-Romanian
Orthodox Christianity,
Roman Catholic Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Morlachs, Istro-Romanians

The Vlachs of Croatia (Croatian: Vlasi u Hrvatskoj) are a Vlach national minority recognized as one of the 22 autochthonous ethnic groups of Croatia. The total population of Vlachs as recorded in the 2011 Croatian census was only 29, making them the smallest minority group living in Croatia.

Historically, the term "Vlach" was used for a substantial proportion of the Croatian population that influenced politics and everyday life in the country.


"Vlach" is a historical term that, within the territory of present-day Croatia, primarily referred to a socio-cultural segment of population, rather than to an ethnicity.[2] The Vlachs were distinguished by their largely pastoral economy involving transhumance, by living in extended families called zadruga, by being organised into local communities called knežina, and by some ethnographic traits (such as use of the gusle musical instrument). They were bearers of a strongly patriarchal culture associated with the Dinaric Alps. They constituted a separate social class in Habsburg Croatia; in documents, they referred to themselves as Vlachs in the context of claiming the traditional legal rights and privileges of their class. They descended from Orthodox and Catholic refugees from the Ottoman Empire, and they were characterised by mobility and dispersion. They spoke the Neo-Shtokavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian.[2]

In a 1436 document, Catholic Vlachs of the county of Cetina (around the town of Sinj) were represented as distinct from both the Serbs and the Croats inhabiting the county.[3] A prominent Catholic Vlach group were the Bunjevci,[4] who spoke the Western Herzegovinian subdialect of Neo-Shtokavian.[2] The Orthodox people referred to as Vlachs began emigrating from Ottoman-held territories to the Habsburg Empire at the beginning of the 16th century. They were identified as Serbs in contemporary documents of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. They were also called Rascians, which was an exonym for the Serbs.[5][6] The Orthodox Vlachs belonged to the Dinaric ethnographic subgroup of the Serbian people.[5] They spoke the Eastern Herzegovinian subdialect of Neo-Shtokavian.[2]


Late Middle Ages[edit]

Morlach region in the 17th century

Reference to the Croatian Vlachs date from the early 1320s; in 1321, a local priest from Dobrinj on the island of Krk granted land to the church ("to the lands of Kneže, which are called Vlachian"),[7] while in 1322 they were allied to Ban of Croatia, Mladen Šubić, who fought against Croatian pretenders at the Battle of Bliska in the hinterland of Trogir.

Early Vlachs probably lived on Croatian territory even before 14th century, being the progeny of romanized Illyrians[8] and pre-Slavic Romance-speaking people.[9] The arrival of the Croats exposed the Vlachs to the Croatian language, which they began to adopt as their own.[8] However, despite this cross-pollination of language, the Croats remained distinct from the Illyrians, who were called Vlachs by these early Croatians. During the 14th century, Vlach settlements existed throughout much of today's Croatia,[10] but centres of population were focused around the Velebit and Dinara mountains and along the Krka and Cetina rivers. The Vlachs represented a significant part of population of today's Lika and Šibenik-Knin County,[11] and a significant Vlach population lived on the territory of the Nelipić family in Dalmatian Zagora.[12]

The Vlach people were engaged in various activities, primarily animal husbandry and farming, but trading as well.[13] There were two groups of Vlachs in Croatia. One group was the regular Vlachs who lived in Like, while the others were the Morlachs (in translation Black Vlachs) who lived, according to Italian sources, between Senj and Zadar.[14] The Vlachs continued to exist as a separate community with special rights in these areas.[15]

The 15th century saw Vlach and Croatian lands change hands repeatedly. On 13 April 1411, Bosnian Duke Sandalj Hranić sold the Croatian town Ostrovica, which was a gift from King Ladislaus of Naples,to the Republic of Venice. A year later on 10 April 1412, the Morlach branch of the Vlachs captured the town from the Venetians and annexed it to the Kingdom of Croatia. During the 15th century, the Vlach population in Croatia expanded significantly and were sometimes referred to as a distinct entity apart from the Croatians by the king. On 6 August 1432, the Ragusans reported to King Sigismund that the Turks had taken the land of the Croats and Vlachs.[16]

The sale of Dalmatia on 7 April 1433, by King Sigismund, to the Republic of Venice earned him the enmity of Ivan Frankopan. Frankopan convinced the Vlachs to side with him by promising them the resurrection of old "Vlach Laws" on 18 March 1436. These laws dated from the middle of the 14th century and included many personal rights for the Vlachs.[17] According to the "Vlach Laws", Vlachs that chose to follow Frankopan received various privileges, such as serving under Vlach instead of Croatian commanders, crimes committed in the town of Sinj would be judged by a Vlach magistrate rather than a Croatian one,[15] the Croatian prince of Cetina would not be permitted to appoint a voivode (prince) over them [15] and Croats were restricted to having only one Vlach as their shepherd. Encouraged by these promises, the Vlachs attacked nearby littoral towns under Venetian control, but on 2 July 1436 the Ban of Croatia, Matko Talovac, informed the Vlachs of a peace treaty that had been signed that forbade further attacks on Venetian towns. This brought the Talovac and Frankopan families into conflict.[17]

The Vlachs of Lika, who were predominantly Catholic,[14] were ruled by Croatian princes and bishops, while Vlachs who lived along the Cetina river were more autonomous and were governed by Vlach princes, dukes and judges. They also paid more favorable taxes and were free from paying for pasture for their cattle. However, they were not completely free citizens and faced restrictions such as prohibitions on becoming court witnesses, jurors and officers. Their rights were contained in the "Vlach Paper" from 1476, which itself is an extension of the "Vlach Laws" from 1436. Both of these were written in Cyrillic and kept in the Franciscan monastery in Trsat.[18] Also, during this period, large numbers of Vlachs were traded or used as gifts between Croatian nobles.[19]

Ottoman conquest and Austrian Empire[edit]

The 16th century saw an expansion of the Vlachs population from Lika to Vinodol and the isles under Frankopans.[14] The first Vlach colonization of Žumberak started in 1526. However, their number was much lower compared to the immigrants that settled after 1530. The immigration of Vlachs in Žumberak was probably caused by the introduction of new taxes for Vlachs in the Ottoman Empire.[20] In 1551, the Turks settled Vlachs from the Ottoman Empire around Srb and Knin, more correctly Kosovo field near the town of Knin. During this period, the settlement of Orthodox Vlachs had begun. They were led by Orthodox priests who also founded an Orthodox monastery.[21] After the Christian-Muslim war of 1593 - 1606, Vlachs began arriving in Croatia en masse. Later, they were settled by Austria on the lands of former Croatian nobles.[22] Vlach migrations to the Austrian Empire from the Ottoman Empire were generally caused by the loss of financial status or privileges rather than from any form of ethnic or religious persecution.[20] In June 1531, around 1000 Vlachs, advised by Ivan Katzianer, settled in Kostel and Polajna, along the Kupa River near Žumberak, of which 700 were fit for military service.[23]

Many Vlachs served in Ottoman armies during their conquests[20] and when the towns of Lišnica and Novigrad were captured along with large parts of the Una valley, Bušević and the Krupa River, Orthodox Vlachs from Bosnia settled there under the protection of Bosnian pashas and beys. Orthodox Vlachs were also directed to settle in Lika when Memi-Bey became commander of Lika Sanjak. The Beylerbey of Bosnia, Hasan-Pasha Predojević, himself an islamized Vlach from Bosnia,[24] received the support of these Orthodox Vlachs and many served in his armies. At Predojević's order, Vlachs, as well as some Turkish nobility, settled near the towns Brekovica, Ripča, Ostrvice and Vrla Draga near Sokolac in such numbers that they formed a significant population of this region, which would become the Military Frontier. In 1579, Vlachs in Turkish service wanted to transfer the towns of Cazin and Ostrožac to Christian, that is Croatian, ownership. In 1599, many Vlachs emigrated from Korenica and Bihać area in Gomirje.

In 1605, General Vid Kisel brought Vlachs from Ostrožac to Ogulin and Bosiljevac, and some time later, Vlachs from Uzorac and Turje[disambiguation needed] settled in Karlovac. After the Turks were defeated in Vienna in 1683, the Vlachs scattered throughout the Croatian Military Frontier. Concerned about this, Turks decided to settle them on the south side of the Una river, but were unable to execute this plan. During this period, Turks were vulnerable to Vlach raids from Banija and Karlovac. Vlachs, under the protection of the Ban of Croatia Miklós Erdődy and General Ivan Josip Herberstein, also settled around Petrinja, Glina, Skradin, Vojnić, Krstinje and Budačko.[25]

As part of the military, Vlachs often served either as light cavalry or infantrymen. However, since the movements of large Ottoman armies towards Inner Austria were rarely routed through the Croatia-Slavonia, and military actions were focused on the vicinity of Jajce and Bihać, the role of the Uskok-Vlachs spying on the Ottomans was particularly important.[26]

Many Vlachs that remained in Turkish military service regularly raided Croatia. Bihać was frequently targeted by those that had settled near Dinara and the spring of Una in the towns of Unac, Srb and Glamoč. Over time, Ottoman Vlachs began to pass over the Christian side, further aided by General Katzianer at the behest of the residents of Bihać. With the growing number of the Ottoman Vlachs passing over the Christian side, the Vlach leader from Glamoč, Ladislav Stipković, traveled to Ljubljana to offer his service, and those of his forces, to the Austrians. In a later battle, the combined forces of the army from Bihać and the Vlachs defeated an Ottoman army at Bihać.[27]

The settlement of the Vlachs in Croatia was beneficial to the Austrian empire as the Emperor was reluctant to return the Military Frontier to Croatia.[28] Further settlement of Vlachs was encouraged by the Austrian Government[29] but this antagonised the Sabor (the Croatian Parliament) and resulted in the passing of various laws, on 21 February 1629, guaranteeing certain privileges to the Vlachs. For example, any Vlach willingly becoming a subject of the Kingdom of Croatia was exempt from being becoming a serf, rendering Vlachs almost equal with native Croatians. The laws enacted by the Emperor of the Austrian Empire and Sabor are collectively know as Statuta Valachorum. The exemption of the Vlachs from serfdom can be compared to the same exemption for native Croats, which was not applied until 1848 during the rule of Josip Jelačić.[30] To ensure cooperation from the Vlachs, Austrian generals conducted a propaganda campaign focusing on Vlach serfdom under Croatian rule. This activity prevented the Croatian envoy to the Austrian court, Benedikt Vinković, who was there to consult on the "Vlach question", from pursuing a union of the Vlach settled Military Frontier with Croatia.[28]

With the enactment of the Statuta Valachorum, relations between Croats and immigrant Vlachs improved particularly with the encouragement from prominent figures such as Sima Vratanja, who promoted cooperation and understanding between natives and immigrants, and Gabrijel Mijakić, a proponent of loyalty to Croatia. Mijakić, together with Petar Zrinski, was later killed in Wiener Neustadt after Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan conspired against Austria. Although unsuccessful, historians[who?] agree that Zrinski's revolt, consisting of both Catholic and Orthodox Vlachs, was able to delay centralisation and germanisation of Croatia, but in turn Austria gained the opportunity to influence Croatian Vlachs and through them, Austria hoped to gain control of Croatian lands.[31] The Austrian government showed little willingness for the liberation of the Croatian and Hungarian parts of the empire seized by the Turks. Indeed, the government gave parts of liberated Croatian territory to the Turks and prevented the unification of the Military Frontier with the rest of Croatia.[32]

Despite the death of Mijakić, his successor Pavao Zorčić continued to integrate the Croats and Vlachs, not only as a population, but also religiously by pursuing the unification of Orthodox Vlachs with the Catholic Church. He founded a seminary in Grič, Zagreb in 1675, which became the center of Croatian thought among immigrants.

The Catholic Vlachs were integrated into the Croatian nationality.[33] Orhtodox Vlach groups whose migrations were not accompanied by an ecclesiastical infrastructure were Catholicised and assimilated. The Serbian ethnic identity was consolidated among the Orthodox Vlachs after the establishment of the Serbian Orthodox eparchies of Zrinopolje and Lika-Krbava in 1695, which would be later unified into the Eparchy of upper Karlovac.[34]

Related groups[edit]

Drawing of an Istro-Romanian Vlach from 1891

A people that are called Vlachs in present-day Croatia are the Istro-Romanians (Croatian: Ćiribirci; Ćići), whose language belongs to the group of the Eastern Romance languages. According to the 2001 census, there were approximately 1500 - 5000 Istro-Romanians living in Istria, Croatia.

Another significant historical Vlach population that lived in the littoral part of present-day Croatia were the Morlachs (Croatian: Morlaci).

Number of Vlachs in modern Croatia[edit]

Official name of Croatia Year Number of Vlachs
- 1931 -
 PR Croatia 1948 1
1953 2
1961 34
 SR Croatia 1971 13
1981 16
 Republic of Croatia 1991 22
2001 12
2011 29
(Croatian Bureau of Statistics)[1][35]


  1. ^ a b "Stanovništvo prema narodnosti, popisi 1971. - 2011." (in Croatian). Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d Šarić 2009, pp. 343–46
  3. ^ Klaić 1973, pp. 26–27
  4. ^ Šarić 2009, p. 348
  5. ^ a b Šarić 2009, p. 357
  6. ^ Šišić 1908, pp. 162–64
  7. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 10: i pašišća… do zemlje Kneže, ke se zovu vlaške
  8. ^ a b Mužić 2010, p. 19.
  9. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 2006, p. 129.
  10. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 14.
  11. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 20.
  12. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 22.
  13. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 11-15.
  14. ^ a b c Mužić 2010, p. 21.
  15. ^ a b c Van Antwerp Fine 2006, p. 130.
  16. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 13-14.
  17. ^ a b Mužić 2010, p. 24-26.
  18. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 26-27.
  19. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 15-22.
  20. ^ a b c Suppan & Graf 2010, p. 59.
  21. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 33-34.
  22. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 149.
  23. ^ Suppan & Graf 2010, p. 60.
  24. ^ Dominik Mandić. Croats and Serbs: Two Old and Different Nations, p. 145:. 

    After the fall of Bihać in 1592 the Bosnian Beylerbey Hasan Pasha Predojević settled Orthodox Vlachs from Eastern Herzegovina, especially those of his own Predojević clan, in the central part of Pounje around Brekovica, Ripač, Ostrovica and Vrla Draga up to Sokolovac.

  25. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 34.
  26. ^ Suppan & Graf 2010, p. 61.
  27. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 34-35.
  28. ^ a b Mužić 2010, p. 150.
  29. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 390.
  30. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 150-151.
  31. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 153.
  32. ^ Mužić 2010, p. 151.
  33. ^ Šarić 2009, p. 333
  34. ^ Šarić 2009, pp. 340–41
  35. ^ Stanovništvo Hrvatske od 1931.-2001.