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Balkan Peninsula

Balkan Peninsula, southeasternmost peninsula of Europe, c.200,000 sq mi (518,000 sq km), bounded by the Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, Aegean Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Ionian Sea, and Adriatic Sea. Although there is no sharp physiographic separation between the peninsula and Central Europe, the line of the Sava and Danube rivers is commonly considered as the region's northern limit. The Balkan Peninsula therefore includes most of Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, continental Greece (including the Peloponnesus), Bulgaria, European Turkey, and SE Romania. These countries, successors to the Ottoman Empire, are called the Balkan States. Historically and politically the region extends north of this line to include all of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Romania.

The peninsula is very mountainous; the main ranges are the Dinaric Alps, the Balkans, the Rhodope Mts., and the Pindus. Except for the barren Karst plateau in the northwest and the eroded highlands of Greece, the mountains are densely forested. The Morava, Vardar, Strimón, Mesta, and Maritsa are the largest rivers. The Morava and Vardar river valleys form the chief corridor across the peninsula. The mild Mediterranean-type climate, with its dry summer period, is limited to the southern and coastal areas. Covering a greater area are the humid subtropical climate in the northwest and the harsher humid continental climate in the northeast. The region as a whole is largely agricultural; fruits, grains, and grazing are important. A variety of mineral deposits are found there, including iron ore, coal, manganese, copper, lead, and zinc.

The peoples of the Balkan Peninsula make up several racial groups. However, linguistic and religious differences are more distinct than the racial divisions. The peninsula, at the crossroads of European and Asian civilizations, has a long history; Ancient Greece, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire flourished there.

See R. D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts (1994); M. Tedorov, Imagining the Balkans (1997); M. Mazower, The Balkans: A Short History (2000).

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Balkans, the

Balkans, the the countries occupying the part of SE Europe lying south of the Danube and Sava Rivers, forming a peninsula bounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas in the west, the Aegean and Black Seas in the east, and the Mediterranean in the south. The peninsula was taken from the Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries, and parts remained under Turkish control until 1912–13. After the First World War the peninsula was divided between Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia (which broke up in 1991–3), with Turkey retaining only a small area including Constantinople (Istanbul).

The term Balkanize meaning ‘divide (a region or body) into smaller mutually hostile states or groups’ is recorded from the 1920s.


Balkan Wars two wars of 1912–13 that were fought over the last European territories of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912 Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro forced Turkey to give up Albania and Macedonia, leaving the area around Constantinople (Istanbul) as the only Ottoman territory in Europe. The following year Bulgaria disputed with Serbia, Greece, and Romania for possession of Macedonia, which was partitioned between Greece and Serbia.

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