Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Middle Ages

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This is the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Middle Ages, in particular after the Illyrian and Roman period and before the Ottoman period.

Slavic migrations[edit]

By the 6th century, Emperor Justinian had re-conquered the area for the Byzantine Empire. The Slavs, a migratory people from southeastern Europe, were allied 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.[1] More South Slavs came in a second wave, and according to some scholars were invited by Emperor Heraclius to drive the Avars from Dalmatia.[1]

Very little is known about the period between 700 and 1000. The Slavs, who had originated in areas spanning modern-day southern Poland, were subjugated by the Eurasian Avars. Together, they invaded the Byzantine Empire starting in the 6th century, settling in lands south of river Sava to Adriatic sea, including Bosnia, and the Hum.[2]

In the early Middle Ages, the earliest preserved mention of the name Bosnia comes from the book De Administrando Imperio, Chapter 31, which mentions the "small country" (χοριον) of "Bosona" (Βοσωνα), located around the river Bosna in the modern-day fields of Sarajevo and of Visoko.[3][4][5] The area is thought to have been previously inhabited by the Illyrian tribe of the Daesitiates,.[6] Of the two inhabited cities described in the work, Kotor/Katera and Desnik,[4][5] the location of Desnik is still unknown, while Katera was located to the south of present day Sarajevo. Vrhbosna arose out of Katera.

The Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, dating probably from the late 12th century, also names Bosnia as a somewhat larger region, referencing an earlier source from the year of 753 - the De Regno Sclavorum (Of the Realm of Slavs).[7]

The romanised population of Roman Bosnia, after the arrival of the Slavs and the massacres done by the Avars, started to be represented mostly by shepherds in the mountains called Vlasi (Vlachs). However they were present in huge numbers in Bosnia-Herzegovina until the 14th century, according to scholar Marko Vego.[8]

Early Slavic polities[edit]

Modern knowledge of Bosnia in the western Balkans during the Dark Ages is patchy. The invasions by the Avars and Slavs from the 6th through 9th centuries, bringing Slavic languages, both probably gave way to feudalism only with the might by the Frankish penetrating into the region in the late 9th century (Bosnia probably originated as one such pre-feudal entity). It was also around this time that the Bosnians were Christianized. 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 centers along the Dalmatian coast.[1] It was also around this time, and the baptizing missions of Cyril and Methodius that the eastern parts of Bosnia were Christianized.

The term Bosnia would later spread to cover most of what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Byzantines restored control over Bosnia at the end of the 10th century, but not for long as it was soon taken by Emperor Samuil of Bulgaria. In 1019 the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, after the defeat of Samuil, Bosnia has to acknowledge Byzantine suzerainty. During the middle of the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire's influence had been changed with the influence of Petar Krešimir IV of Croatia[9] but with his death in 1074 Croatian control of Bosnian region had failed. Grand Prince Mihailo Voislav from Duklja was ordained King by Pope Gregory VII in 1077.[10]

Mihailo's son Constantin Bodin conquered Bosnia in 1082 and placed Stephen, one of his courtiers, as Prince. After King Bodin's death in 1101, discords erupted, and by the end of the 12th century, Bosnia would find itself completely detached from Duklja. Some attempts to reunite Bosnia and Duklja were made, especially by king Kočopar (1102–1103) of Duklja who forged an alliance with Bosnia against Rascia and Zahumlje, but utterly failed with his death.[10]

After Croatia entered personal union with Hungarian kingdom in 1102, most of Bosnia became vassal to Hungary as well. Since 1137, King Bela II of Hungary claimed the Duchy of Rama, a region of northern Herzegovina. His title included "rex Ramae" since the Council at Ostrogon 1138, likely referring to all of Bosnia. However, by the 1160s the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus defeated Hungary and restored Bosnia to the Eastern Roman Empire for a time.

Kulin Ban's plate found in Biskupići, near Visoko.


Main article: Banate of Bosnia

With Croatia acquired by the Hungarian Kingdom, and the Serbian state in a period of stagnation, control over Bosnia was subsequently contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine empire. In 1154, Hungary appointed Ban Borić as the first ruler and Viceroy of Bosnia. Under the pressure of the Byzantine, a subsequent King of Hungary appointed one Kulin as a Ban to rule the province under the eastern vassalage. However, this vassalage was largely nominal.

The second Bosnian ruler, Ban Kulin, allegedly 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.

Territorial evolution of the Bosnian Kingdom


Main article: Kingdom of Bosnia

Bosnian history from then until the early 14th century was marked by the power struggle between the Šubić and Kotromanić families. This conflict came to an end in 1322, when Stjepan II Kotromanić 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. 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, while resistance was active and fierce for a few more centuries. Southern regions of Bosnia, nowadays known as "Herzegovina" would follow in 1483, with a Hungarian-backed reinstated "Bosnian Kingdom" being the last to succumb in 1527.


  1. ^ a b c Malcolm, Noel (1994). Bosnia A Short History. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-5520-8.
  2. ^ The Slavs on The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
  3. ^ Bašić, Denis (2009). The Roots of the Religious, Ethnic, and National Identity of the Bosnian-Herzegovinan [sic] Muslims. University of Washington, ProQuest. p. 123. 
  4. ^ a b Vladimir Ćorović, Teritorijalni razvoj bosanske države u srednjem vijeku, Glas SKA 167, Belgrade, 1935, pp. 10-13
  5. ^ a b "Rethinking the territorial development of the medieval Bosnian state". Historical Review (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts - Institute of History) LI: 46–53. 2004. ISSN 0350-0802. Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  6. ^ Ivan Mužić (December 2010). "Bijeli Hrvati u banskoj Hrvatskoj i županijska Hrvatska". Starohrvatska prosvjeta (in Croatian) (Split, Croatia: Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments) III (37): 270. ISSN 0351-4536. Retrieved 2012-09-12. Bosna u obujmu, u kakvom se navodi u djelu DAI kao jedinstvena teritorijalna jedinica, protezala se, kako neki autori smatraju, na području u kojem su prije prebivali Desitijati (M. Hadžijahić). Ti Desitijati, koji su nastavali istočnu i srednju Bosnu počevši od Travnika prema Rogatici pa dalje, imali su središte oko današnje Breze. (Mandić 1942, str. 133.) 
  7. ^ The Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja
  8. ^ Map showing in red the Vlasi of Herzegovina
  9. ^ Curta
  10. ^ a b Vladimir Corovic: Istorija srpskog naroda


External links[edit]