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BALKANS. The term "Balkans" stems from the Ottoman Turkish word balkan, defined as a pass through wooded and rocky mountains. The designation is quite recent and, in fact, was not universally accepted until the end of the nineteenth century. Earlier European names for the peninsula included Hellenic peninsula, Greek peninsula, Illyrian peninsula, European Turkey, and Haemus peninsula. In English, names such as "Balkan Mountains" or "Great Balkans" appear as early as 1835, but the term "Balkan Peninsula" was first used in a book by J. G. C. Minchin on the post-1878 political situation in the region, published in 1886.


The Balkan Peninsula is the easternmost of the three great European peninsulas. (The others are the Iberian and the Apennine Peninsulas.) Three of the peninsula's geographical boundaries are maritime: the Black Sea in the east, the Aegean Sea in the south, and the Adriatic Sea in the west. In the north, from the mouth of the Kupa River into the Sava River, the northern boundary continues up the Sava Valley to the Ljubljana basin in Slovenia to the meeting point of the Dinarid range and the Alps. The westernmost part of the northern boundary is clearly defined by the valley of the River Soca at the border between Slovenia and Italy.

A relief map of the Balkan Peninsula is notable for its three main mountain ranges: the Rhodope massif, the Dinarids, and the Pindus system, between which are the region's main agricultural areas. These geographic features have had a great impact on the area's history. The peninsula can be divided into four geographically defined areas: the Aegean, the east Balkans, the Morava-Vardar basin, and the Pindus-Dinarid areas. The Greek-Aegean coast, the Adriatic coast, parts of Albania, Macedonia, and Herzegovina enjoy a Mediterranean climate; the rest of the peninsula shares its weather with central Europe.


Most of the important cities in the Balkans during the early modern erawhich coincides with Ottoman predominance on the peninsulaare still among its most important centers. Some of them date back to Roman antiquity, others are the product of early medieval times (Dubrovnik/Ragusa), and a few were founded under the aegis of the Ottomans (Sarajevo, Mostar) or the Habsburgs (Karlovac). The most important historical territories in the Balkan Peninsula are Greece, Bulgaria, Dobrudja, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, the Croatian and Slavonian military border, Dubrovnik, Istria, and Carinthia.

Today's Greece was a part of the eastern Roman and Byzantine Empire for more than a thousand years (3951460). During the Middle Ages Bulgaria, Serbia, and Bosnia were the important local powers, kingdoms, and tsardoms. Macedonia, despite its old historical name, never again reached the level of political independence and significance it had enjoyed in the times of Philip of Macedonia and Alexander the Great. However, its vast natural resources and more than perfect geographical position on the crossroads of the major roads and fluvial and maritime communications between Europe and the Near East made it a bone of contention for many polities. After periods of being a part of the Byzantine Empire and the Serbian Kingdom, from the mid-fourteenth century until 1430, it became an Ottoman dominion, and Thessalonica, its capital, was one of the most important cities of the Ottoman Empire until the expelling of the Ottomans from the Balkans in 1912. Croatia was an independent kingdom that entered fairly earlyat the beginning of the twelfth centuryinto union with the mighty Hungarian kingdom. Dalmatia's overlords in the period between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries were interchangeably Hungary and Venice. Carinthia was an old Slavonic dukedom, but it came quite early under the rule of various Austrian German rulers. Istria was divided between the counts of Gortz and later the Habsburgs on one side and Venice on the other. Parts of Albania were under Byzantine, Angevine, Serbian, and Venetian rule, but some mighty local dynasts enjoyed a high level of actual power during the Middle Ages. The Croatian military border was a creation of the early modern period. The Habsburgs instituted it in 1579 to halt Ottoman advances into their territories. Dubrovnik (Ragusa) was a tiny aristocratic republic, the importance of which in the economic, social, and diplomatic history of the entire Mediterranean was belied by its minuscule territory and negligible military power.


The main sources for the demographic history of the Balkans in the early modern period are the Ottoman tax registers, but it is sometimes possible to see continuities with the late Middle Ages by using late Byzantine and medieval Venetian registers of various kinds (praktika, cattastici). After the 1560s, in areas with a Catholic population, one can find valuable complementary sources in records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths and in reports by canonical visitors. Estimates of demographic figures in the travel literature of the period are frequently unreliable. The leading authority on Ottoman historic demography, O. L. Barkan, estimated that the Ottoman Balkans in the period 15251530 contained some one million taxable households. (Barkan recommends adding at least 20 percent to any counted number to represent the tax-exempt population.)

During the sixteenth century, the major cities of the Balkans showed a dramatic rise in population. Fernand Braudel estimated the population of the Balkans around 1600 to have been around eight million. This number declined by the mid-eighteenth century to perhaps as few as three million. The main reasons for such a sharp decline were the many wars between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs, Venice, and Muscovy (16831739) and repeated epidemics of plague and other contagious diseases. In the period 17001815 the number of Christians in the Balkans was constantly rising, while the Muslim population was in decline.

The original Ottoman conquests, beginning in the fourteenth century, coincided with substantial demographic changes. Any area the Ottomans planned to conquer was first subjected to repeated seasonal raids accompanied by large-scale enslavement of the local population. These raids caused great waves of migration in the late medieval period. For example, beginning in the fifteenth century, Serbs from Kosovo and eastern Serbia moved to Buda to escape Ottoman seasonal raids, while Catholic Albanians and Slavs crossed the Adriatic Sea and established colonies in the Papal States and in the kingdom of Naples. After the actual Ottoman conquest, many of the newly acquired areas were frequently subjected either to Turkish ethnic colonization or to population resettlement. The main areas of Turkish ethnic colonization in the Balkans were Bulgaria and Macedonia, with the Bektashi and Halveti sufi dervish orders playing a significant role.

In addition to the dervishes, the main agents of ethnic colonization were the Turkish tribes (Yürüks), who either resettled on their own, like the Yürüks from southwestern Anatolia in the period 13551400, or were expelled from Anatolia, as was the case with certain nomad groups of Mongol origins after 1416. The resettlement, both punitive and voluntary, of Balkan peoples also moved in the direction of old Ottoman centers in the Balkans, as well as Istanbul and even Anatolia. After the conquest of Bosnia, some Bosnian peasants were resettled to the vicinity of Edirne, where remnants of this group still survived in the seventeenth century. After the conquest of Belgrade in 1521, many of its citizens were transferred to Istanbul. They soon lost their language as they melted into the Greek community, but they left their trace in the topography of Istanbul where the area called the Belgrade Forest (Belgrat ormani) has been named after them. Serbian expellees from Srijem were resettled to the Gallipoli peninsula in the period between 15211528 and survived as a community, preserving their Slavonic tongue until 1912, when they were forced to migrate to Serbia after the Ottoman defeat in the first Balkan war. During the sixteenth century, waves of Sephardic Jews and Marranos of Sephardic origins entered the Ottoman Empire via Mediterranean ports. Soon afterward, they absorbed the old pre-Ottoman communities of Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews. These Sephardic Jews were joined in the mid-seventeenth century by Ashkenazi Jews from Poland and Ukraine, who were fleeing the Khmelnytsky pogroms.

In the eighteenth century, the Cincars, the last remnant of the Roman Balkan population, pushed by the persecution of local Albanian warlords, created a diaspora network of merchants from Moschopolis in today's Epirus to Vienna and Budapest. The Cincars were absorbed quickly into larger Orthodox communities, and some of them became the most fervent advocates of Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Romanian nationalism. In the period 16991717, a vast number of Muslim Slavonic speakers from the Ottoman Hungarian territories lost to the Habsburgs were forced to resettle in Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania. In the same period, the male Balkan Muslim population, seeking work and social prestige, joined the janissary and mercenary regiments deployed throughout the empire, from Belgrade to Cairo. Two of the most famous Ottoman governors and warlords of the Arab provinces were Jezzar Ahmed Pasha of Syria, a Bosniak, and Kavalali Mehmed Ali Pasha of Egypt, an Albanian. Beside the dramatic and massive migrations caused by political and military factors, there were slow movements of population and micromigrations that caused structural changes in Balkan historical demography, and their importance in Balkan history cannot be underestimated.


Even more important than forceful resettlement and ethnic migration was the Islamization of certain population groups, mainly in Bosnia, Albania, the Rhodope massif, and Crete. The period of Islamization was not the same everywhere. In Bosnia, the process developed predominantly in the period 14631600, while in Albania and on Crete the critical years were in the second half of the seventeenth century. In 1468 in Bosnia less than one percent of the population was Muslim; by about 1600 71 percent had been converted.

There are two main perspectives on this phenomenon. One view sees it as a result of a deliberate and forceful action of the Ottoman Islamic state and its Muslim society and citizens; the other stresses the supposed intrinsically tolerant character of the Ottoman state and society and sees conversion as the result of a deliberate choice of the converts themselves. It is undeniable that the inclusive character of Ottoman society and its toleration of subjects who did not subscribe to the belief of the ruler were higher than elsewhere in early modern Europe, with the exception of the United Provinces. Even in those Protestant countries, it was impossible to be a Muslim, while it was quite normal to be Christian, Jewish, and even Hindu in the Ottoman Empire. With the demise of the Bosnian church after the fall of the Bosnian Kingdom in 1463, the majority of its followers gradually converted to Islam, but some Catholics and some Orthodox Christians converted as well.

In Albania, it is clear that the state was interested and directly involved in conversion. This happened especially during the second part of the seventeenth century when the Ottomans tried, through conversion, to suppress the Venetian reconquest of parts of Albania and Greece and to create a Muslim shield from northern Albania to Bosnia in order to halt possible Habsburg intrusions. The Ottoman archival data show how the central and local administration extended gifts in kind, objects, and money to the convertscertainly an incentive to conversion. Chronicles by Ibrahim Peçevi (d. 1649) and travel accounts by Evliya Çelebi (d. after 1683) preserved reports of sporadic violence, especially in the big cities, which would end with the conversion of individuals or groups of people.

Jews also sometimes converted to Islam. A vivid document from the 1560s describes the troubles of a recently converted Jewish rabbi who was considered a professional threat by the local Muslim intelligentsia. They therefore questioned the sincerity of his conversion in a petition to the Sublime Porte. In addition to converts proper, there were communities of pseudoconverts or half-converts who kept their previous beliefs and customs, while adopting some Islamic ones. Many such communities were still alive in the mountains of northern Albania at the end of the nineteenth century. The Dönmes of Salonika were a special case. They gradually lost their Sephardi Spanish idiom and became linguistically "Turkified," while preserving many rites and customs of Judaism according to their own Sabbetean interpretations.

The story of conversion in the early modern Balkans does not end with the story of its Islamization. Especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were attempts at conversions of Orthodox Christians to Roman Catholicism, and vice versa. Whole zones in the Balkans fluctuated between the two Christian rites. The Habsburgs tried unsuccessfully to bring the Serbian Orthodox population into union with Rome, for example, but they quickly realized that if they wanted to preserve their military border system, they would have to cease proselytizing among their Serbian Orthodox subjects. Venice was even more cautious in that respect. Local missionary work, especially during famines, was more successful than deliberate state action. Some of the most successful conversions of the Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism were achieved by the Franciscans, who gave generous gifts of grain and other food.


The Ottoman drive into the Balkans began with the conquest of the insignificant fortress of Tzympe on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1352 and culminated in the seizure of the fortress of Gallipoli itself in 1354, mostly due to an earthquake's destruction of the mighty walls of this key military port. Gallipoli enabled the Ottomans to control traffic between Europe and Asia and between the Aegean and Marmara Seas. In 1361 the Ottomans were already in Adrianople, which by the beginning of the fifteenth century (by then known as Edirne) became the main capital of the empire. The remnants of Byzantine rule in Thrace were almost obliterated by the early 1380s. The Ottomans fought two important battles, at Marica (1371) and Kosovo (1389), with coalitions of Serbian magnates. Bulgaria was subdued by 1394. In 1396 the Ottomans dealt a crushing defeat to the Hungarian and Franco-Burgundian Crusaders in the battle of Nicopolis. Significant parts of the Morea, Epirus, Albania, and Serbia were subdued by 1400.

A halt in these conquests occurred during the Ottoman interregnum between 14021422. Salonika, however, came into Ottoman hands in 1430 as one of their most important cities. Serbia was conquered in 1459, Bosnia in 1463, the last remnants of Herzegovina in 1482, Montenegro in 1499, and some important Venetian fortresses in Albania in 1501. The Hungarian banates of Srebrenik and Jajce were liquidated in 1517 and in 1528. The Hungarian defeat at Mohács in 1526 meant the opening of central Europe to the Ottomans. After experimentally installing a vassal kingdom as a buffer against the Habsburgs, the Ottomans took Buda and middle Hungary under their direct control in 1541. Further Ottoman advances in Hungary occurred in the period 15931606 and in the 1660s. Venetian territories and dependencies in the Aegean, the Morea, Albania, and Dalmatia diminished significantly, yielding to the Ottomans in the period 15011669. In 1669 Crete was finally conquered. The Ottomans twice tried to conquer Vienna without successin 1529 and in 1683. The "Long War" between the Ottomans and Habsburgs (15931606) was exhausting and failed to achieve a breakthrough for either side.

Beginning in 1683, the Ottomans started to lose their territories in central and southeastern Europe. In peace treaties at Karlowitz (1699) and Passarowitz (1717) the Ottoman Empire recognized for the first time in its history significant territorial losses to the Habsburgs and Venetians (Hungary, Serbia, and Dalmatia, with its hinterland, the Morea). The situation was slightly stabilized with the Treaty of Belgrade (1739), when the River Sava was finally determined as the Balkan border between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. The Treaty of Zistov in 1791 merely confirmed the Treaty of Belgrade, insofar as borders were concerned.

A series of unsuccessful wars with Russia began with disaster in the war of 17681774 and concluded with an unfavorable peace treaty for the Ottomans at Küçük Kaynarca. The majority of Russo-Ottoman wars were fought in the nineteenth century. The Napoleonic invasion of Italy in 1796 and the peace treaty between France and Austria signed in Campoformio in 1797 deleted the Republic of Venice from the map. Her territorial legacy was divided between Austria and Napoleonic France. In 1806 the French occupied, and in 1808 formally abolished, the Dubrovnik Republic. In 1804 the Serbs began a series of insurrections that resulted in autonomy, granted to them in 1815; the Greek fight for independence began in 1821. These events marked the end of the ancien régime in the Balkans and the beginning of the age of nationalism.

At the beginning of the Ottoman conquests, Thrace had unprecedented importance. It was a cradle of the Ottoman holy warriors who proceeded from it on their raids further west and south. While silver shortages were troubling Europe before the arrival of precious metals from the Americas, the importance of the newly discovered silver mines of Serbia and Bosnia led the Ottomans, always hungry for bullion, to aim their conquests toward these regions. For a long period, between 14591541, Serbia and Bosnia were the empire's main Balkan provinces. This played an enormous role in the Ottoman advance toward central Europe. Serbia was on the main military road from Sofia, Edirne, and Constantinople toward Buda and Vienna, and any campaign formations had to pass through it on their way to battle. Bosnia was the repository of the auxiliary troops. Her Muslim population was entrusted with the permanent frontier Kleinkrieg ('little war') aimed at exhausting the Habsburgs and Venetians. By the 1480s Bosnian akincis (light armored mounted raider volunteers in the Ottoman army) made their raids as far as Friuli in the Venetian Terra Firma and into Carinthia and Styria in today's Slovenia and Austria. In the period 15411699, Ottoman Hungary took over much of the border Kleinkrieg burden from Bosnia and Serbia. During the eighteenth century, a new Muslim military society came into being in Bosnia, and Albania became a source of irregular auxiliary military troops. Its ports harbored not only pirates but local merchants as well. In Serbia a whole new class of rural Orthodox bourgeoisie came into being in the period after 1739. They amassed wealth by exporting pigs and timber into Habsburg territories and would later be at the forefront of Serbian uprisings and quests for autonomy.


From the second part of the fourteenth century until 1541 the Ottoman Balkans were unified in one great province, Rumelia (Rum eli the 'land of Romans', as the Ottomans referred to the Byzantine Greeks), administered by the highest military commander in the European part of the Ottoman Empire, the beglerbeyi of Rumelia. Its subprovinces (sancak) were administered by sancakbeyis. In 1541, when large parts of Hungary came under direct Ottoman rule, some western Balkan sancaks were put under the supervision of the beglerbeyi of Buda. Finally, Bosnia, too, was elevated to a province, with subprovinces of its own. Generally, subprovinces were divided into judgeships (kaza, kadilik). The Ottoman judges (kadi) had, besides their responsibility for the court system, wide administrative duties (tax collecting, military reviews, state inspections, etc.). The smallest administrative units were called regions (nahiye).

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the kadi s were frequently rotated, and many of them saw a good deal of the empire during their careers. In the eighteenth century, many of the more lucrative judgeships were assigned to members of a narrow clique of scholarly aristocratic families in the capital. They preferred to stay in Istanbul and to sublease their appointments to substitutes who would either use them for themselves or resell them in the provinces. The judicial system, after the sixteenth century, started to acquire more organized features. Court registers were coming into use all around the empire by the mid-sixteenth century. Additionally, a specially assigned building for the court and judge (mahkema) was a frequent feature of Balkan towns as early as the seventeenth century. However, until the Tanzimat (the reforms of the state and society proclaimed in 1839), judges or deputy judges often adjudicated in the private space of their own homes. Not only Muslims but also non-Muslims, both men and women, made use of the Muslim sharia courts. This was especially true in cases of appeal or in the expectation of obtaining a more favorable decision than at their own communal court.

All these institutions were imperial, but the provinces also had institutions of a more local character. Such was the case with the office of "mayor" (şehir kethüda), a local and informal administrative institution. The mayor's main task was to protect the interests of cities and towns when Ottoman governors, their entourages, and the military were passing through. A mayor would make sure that such travelers would not stay too long and become a local burden. Three days of hospitality, accompanied by food, lodging, and gifts, was considered enough. Other important administrative positions were those of guild wardens (esnaf kethüda). They took care of the interests of the crafts guilds vis-à-vis the state and individuals outside the guild. The religious composition of guilds varied from place to place and from guild to guild. Guild wardens, however, were predominantly Muslims.


Islam and its body of religious scholars, teachers, and judges (ulama) grew together with the Ottoman Empire, and its religious canon was defined roughly by the 1550s. The religious endowments (evkaf; s. vakif) supported the provincial network of religious secondary and elementary schools (medrese, mekteb), mosques, dervish lodges (tekke), libraries, and other institutions. The patrons of these endowments were members of the imperial family, governors, local notables, and wealthy merchants. In poor areas, where there were no available patrons, the imperial administration would establish its own mosques and elementary religious schools. The sale, resale, lease, and sublease of religious posts occurred frequently in the period 17001839. Many lower-ranking religious officials had commercial and familial ties to the artisanal classes and the bazaar world, as was generally the case throughout the Ottoman Empire and in Iran at the time.

The main religious authorities among Balkan Muslim communities were jurisconsults (mufti), who issued legal opinions pertaining to the Islamic holy law. Any larger town had at least one jurisconsult, usually the most esteemed Islamic scholar in the region. Unlike jurisconsults, religious judges (molla, kadi, naib) were predominantly individuals who would not stay long in the places where they were appointed due to rotation rules. Because of their temporary position, they were bound to cooperate closely with local religious authorities, jurisconsults, and professors (müderris) of the religious schools. The lowest strata of the Islamic religious hierarchy were the prayer leaders and preachers in mosques (imam, hatib, vaiz).

The Ottomans allowed non-Muslim communities to regulate their own internal religious affairs. What the Ottoman state was interested in were the taxes these communities were obliged to pay to the state treasury. The paying of these taxes was regulated in the form of long-term and short-term tax farms, and non-Muslim religious leaders were considered, from the point of view of the Ottoman administration, as tax farmers of the state revenues. A newly appointed Christian or Jewish religious leader was expected to pay an investiture fee for the diploma he was issued by the imperial council and to render yearly taxes to the state treasury in the name of the community. On the other hand, as a member of the ruling Ottoman military class, he could ride a horse, carry weapons publicly, and have personal armored guards, and he was also entitled to collect taxes from his flock for his own needs and those of his office.

The Ottoman authorities assisted these leaders in tax collecting. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the patriarch of Istanbul, for instance, asked the Imperial Council to assign him a number of Ottoman soldiers to help him while he was touring his dioceses in order to collect taxes. When the Serbian Patriarch Arsenije III Carnojevic was on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1680s, he was accompanied by a guard of four hundred mounted warriors.

The Greek Orthodox patriarchate continued its work immediately after the conquest of Constantinople. In 1557 the Serbian patriarchate, abolished in 1459 after the conquest of the despotate of Serbia, was reestablished. The first Serbian patriarch after its reestablishment was Makarije Sokolovic, a close cousin or, according to some reports, brother of the future grand vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha (d. 1579), and the reestablishment of this institution would not have been possible were it not for Mehmed Pasha's intercession.

The Balkan Catholic Church was in a far worse position, given that the Ottomans were much more suspicious toward the real or supposed spy role that Catholic clerics might have been playing. In addition, the popes never abandoned the rhetoric and politics of the Crusades and were staunch supporters of the Ottomans' rivals, the Habsburgs. The Franciscans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries monopolized Catholicism in the Ottoman Balkans. By 1463, the Bosnian Franciscans had received privileges from Mehmed II, the Conqueror (14511481), and by the end of the seventeenth century they were in charge of all aspects of the religious lives of Catholics in Bosnia, Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Some small oases of the so-called Petrine hierarchy survived in parts of Croatia, Dalmatia, Hungary, and Albania. The Franciscans were extremely jealous of their achieved position, and they strenuously fought attempts by the Jesuits to gain strongholds in Belgrade in the mid-seventeenth century. The situation changed rapidly after 1699, as the Bosnian Franciscans lost control over the territories that the Ottomans were forced to cede to the Habsburgs and Venetians.

As far as Jewish institutions in the Balkans were concerned, in addition to Greece and Salonika (the greatest Jewish center in the empire), small, predominantly Sephardic communities existed in Bosnia (Sarajevo, Travnik), Serbia (Belgrade), Bulgaria (Ruscuk, Sofia, Plovdiv), Macedonia (Skoplje, Bitolj), Dalmatia (Split), Dubrovnik, and Albania (Valona, Skadar). After the Habsburg reconquest of Hungary in the period 16831699, many Hungarian Jews resettled in the Ottoman Balkans. The leaders of these communities were rabbis who were not only religious scholars, but also businessmen. Many Jews were physicians, apothecaries, or official translators.

Tensions between lay and religious leaders of non-Muslim communities were especially noticeable among Greeks and Serbs. The conflicts between local church boards, led by lay notables, and patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops took place daily. These conflicts were mostly over the control of the revenues of the church and church taxes, and how they were assessed.


The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans facilitated a rapid rise in commerce, as it unified a vast territory and submitted it to a fairly unified administrative system. The Ottoman merchant came to be at home on both the Adriatic and the Red Seas. At first, Dubrovnik merchants controlled the empire's Balkan merchant networks, since they possessed the greatest investment capital and shipping capacity. They also controlled a huge network of merchant colonies throughout the Balkans, with Sarajevo, Belgrade, Nish, Skoplje, Sofia, Plovdiv, and Buda as major centers. By the first half of the sixteenth century, however, archival records show local Balkan merchants beginning to appear at markets on both coasts of the Adriatic and elsewhere. The first among them appear to have been Muslim merchants. Ottoman, Dubrovnik, and Venetian archival records dispel an old myth about the alleged intrinsic Muslim lack of interest in commerce. At first, these merchants were unable to compete with the Dubrovnik merchants, but by the end of the sixteenth century, this was no longer true.

In the seventeenth century, the Dubrovnik and Muslim merchants were joined by Serbian Orthodox, Albanian, and Bosnian Catholic rivals. Bosnian Catholic merchants disappeared around the end of the century as the wars of 16831699 dealt a blow to their networks. Having been accused of plotting with the Habsburgs and the pope against the Ottomans, they either resettled to Habsburg territories or lost their wealth and became peasants and miners. On the other hand, the Serbian, Albanian (Muslim and Christian), and Bosnian Muslim commercial networks continued to flourish. While the Bosnian and Albanian Muslim merchants traded predominantly with Venice, Dubrovnik, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, the Serbian, Bulgarian, Greek, Cincar, and Albanian Orthodox merchants began to migrate into Habsburg territories, a development the Austro-Ottoman Belgrade Treaty of 1739 promoted. These diasporas spread from Vienna to Trieste and Rijeka on one side and to Buda, Sopron, and Pressburg on the other. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 1783 and the rise of Odessa as a port, these merchants moved into the extremely lucrative shipment of Ukrainian grain. The world of the merchant diasporas was crushed only with the rise of the railroads.

Jews were also present in Balkan commerce, with Salonika, Skoplje, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, and Valona as their main centers. Jewish merchants were at the peak of their commercial success in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. In addition they were engaged in financial operations and moneylending, and in Bosnia and Albania they acquired large farms even before the Tanzimat reforms of 1839, which are usually considered the starting point of free non-Muslim investments in large landed properties.

All these merchant networks were grounded either in family ties or in ties resulting from local solidarity. Specific branches of commerce were monopolized by certain families and local communities. Also significant for Balkan commerce of the period were yearly fairs held all over the Balkans, such as those in Dolkjani in Macedonia and in Uzuncaova in Bulgaria, which were visited by various merchants.


Western Europe never lost its interest in the Balkans. European interest in the Balkans during "Tourkokratia," or Turkish rule, continued after focus shifted from Byzantium after the time of Charlemagne. Russian interest in the Balkans also predates the Ottoman conquest. The first interest in the Ottoman Balkans emerged in the framework of Crusading ideology. Two Crusades took place in the Ottoman Balkans (Nicopolis in 1396 and Varna in 1444), and smaller ones continued into the late sixteenth century. The kingdom of Hungary constructed its ideology around a view of itself as the bulwark of Christendom against the Ottoman peril. This ideology was clearly formulated by Sigismund von Luxemburg (ruled 13861437) and espoused by subsequent Hungarian kings, among whom Matthias Corvinus (ruled 14581490) was probably the most important. This was also the main ideology behind Habsburg, Venetian, Polish, and Russian engagement in war with the Ottomans in the period 16831699, and it would survive into the early eighteenth century.

The Habsburgs stressed that the Muslim population of the reconquered areas should either convert to Christianity or leave for Ottoman territories. Only Joseph II (ruled 17801790) proclaimed that in exchange for their loyalty, he would not force the Muslim populations of future conquered areas to convert. Out of the Crusading ideology arose the concept of the so-called Eastern Question, which can be viewed as its secularized variant, whose central goal was the destruction and division of the Ottoman Empire and the reconquest of Constantinople. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the houses of Savoy and Mantua, with papal approval, hired various adventurers who promised they would incite Balkan Christians to rebel. Most of these plans were quite unrealistic, but some of them, especially in the period 15931606, gained some influence over the local Christian populations of Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania.

Russian interest in the Balkans appeared slowly and gradually during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the beginning, the rulers of Muscovy acted as patrons of Orthodox religious institutions in the Balkans; some Balkan Orthodox monasteries got their first gifts from mid-sixteenth century Muscovite rulers. Soon, Balkan Orthodox monks and priests started to go to Muscovy, and later Russia, on long tours in search of alms. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Russian tsar contacted a member of the Christian sipahi (a mounted warrior enjoying the prebend as pay for his service) community in Herzegovina, asking him for help in hiring experienced Balkan miners, as he wanted to improve the state of Russian mining. Peter I the Great (16721725) contacted Slavonic navigators living in the Venetian-held Boka Kotorska (Bocca di Catharo) in order to procure skillful commanders and crews for his modern Russian navy. The division of the Ottoman Empire was put on the agenda by Catherine II the Great of Russia and Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire during the 1770s and 1780s. The Balkans played a significant role in these partition plans, and spheres of interest were clearly defined. The western part of the Balkans was to be under Austrian rule, while the eastern was to go to the Russians. These division plans had a great impact on solutions proposed for the "Eastern Question" during the nineteenth century.

In the final Austro-Ottoman War (17871791) the Austrians mustered a significant number of the local Orthodox population in Serbia and Bosnia in special volunteer regiments (Freikorps). Although many of them were pardoned by the Ottomans in the 1790s, a majority of the leaders of the First Serbian Uprising (18041815) were actually men who acquired their military expertise while serving in the anti-Ottoman, Austrian-sponsored Freikorps.

The interests of Europe in the Balkans in the early modern era cannot be said to have been only military and political. The Ottoman-French alliance existed from 1530 to the French Revolution of 1789. That meant that many French diplomats, adventurers, antiquarians, and would-be missionaries crossed the Balkans heading toward Istanbul. Some of their travelogues are very interesting sources on the Balkans as they appeared to outsiders. The first contact of the Habsburgs with the Ottomans dates to around 1500, even before the imperial family became the rulers of Hungary and Croatia. A plethora of Austrian spy reports, travelogues, and historical works on the Balkans survive as well. Venice was for a long time a place where the most reliable knowledge about the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman Balkans could be found. The only premodern translation of a pagan Roman classic into any Islamic language, Cicero's De Senectute, was commissioned by the Venetian envoy to the High Porte, Marino Cavalli, as a presentation to Suleiman the Magnificent in the late 1550s, and it was translated by a Hungarian convert who worked as an official translator at the imperial council. Around 1600 an Ottoman Balkan chronicler reported that European diplomats were crossing the Balkans and stopping in Srijemska Mitrovicaformerly Sirmium, once one of the most important cities of the Late Roman Empireto look for the Roman artifacts. This unique report showed how the curiosity of European humanists had been noticed and emulated by a local Muslim scholar.

See also Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Islam in the Ottoman Empire ; Janissary ; Porte ; Russo-Ottoman Wars ; Suleiman I .


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. The Ottoman Empire: Conquest, Organization and Economy. London, 1978.

. The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300 1600. Translated by Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber. London, 1973.

. Studies in Ottoman Social and Economic History. London, 1985.

Inalcik, Halil, with Donald Quataert. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 13001914. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1994.

Kissling, Hans Joachim. Dissertationes Orientales et Balcanicae Collectae. Vols. 13. München, 1986.

Kreutel, Richard, and Otto Spies. Leben und Abenteuer des Dolmetschers Osman Aga: Eine türkische Autobiographie aus der Zeit der grossen Kriege gegen Österreich. Bonn, 1954.

McGowan, Bruce. Economic Life in Ottoman Europe: Taxation, Trade, and the Struggle for Land, 16001800. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1981.

Mutafchieva, Vera P. Agrarian Relations in the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and the 16th Centuries. Boulder, 1988.

Šabanovic, Hazim. Bosanski pašaluk. Sarajevo, 1959.

Stavrianos, Leften Stavros. The Balkans since 1453. With a new introduction by Traian Stoianovich. New York, 2000. First published 1958.

Sućeska, Avdo. Ajani. Sarajevo, 1965.

Sugar, Peter F. Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 13541804. Seattle, 1977.

Zirojević, Olga. Tursko vojno uredjenje u Srbiji, 14591683. Belgrade, 1984.

Nenad Filipovic


views updated May 18 2018




The term Balkan has a number of different manifestations that can be roughly grouped into three categories. At its simplest, Balkan is a name. A Turkish word meaning "mountain," since its appearance in the fifteenth century, it designated the ancient Haemus (the mountain range crossing Bulgaria from east to west). Then, beginning in the nineteenth century, it was applied to the southeast European peninsula as a whole, and thus became the name of a region. At one point in the nineteenth century it was correctly argued that the peninsula, which had until then been variably designated as "Hellenic," "South-Slavic," "Turkey-in-Europe," and a dozen more different names, was erroneously called "Balkan" because of the geographic mistake assuming that the Balkan mountains represented its northern frontier. By that time, however, the term had gained currency and ascendancy over the earlier used ones. Finally, Balkan is used as a personal name (family name in Bulgaria, given name in Turkey).

Balkan is also employed as metaphor. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it became a pejorative, although this was only a gradual process, triggered by the events accompanying the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of small, weak, economically backward, and dependent nation-states, which were striving to modernize. The difficulties of this modernization and the accompanying excesses of nationalism made the Balkans a symbol for the aggressive, intolerant, barbarian, savage, semideveloped, semi-civilized, and semi-oriental. The array of stereotypes, although of a relatively recent provenance, added to a deep layer of oppositions between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, Europe and Asia, West and East, and especially between Christianity and Islam. The creation of a specific discourse—balkanism—has often shaped attitudes and actions toward the Balkans in the twentieth century. However, Balkan can be also used as a positive metaphor, especially in Bulgaria, where the word denotes independence, love of freedom, courage, and dignity.

Balkan is also used as a scholarly category of analysis—a geographic region shaped by specific historical legacies. As a concept, then, the Balkans have a modern—nineteenth or twentieth century—provenance.


In the early twenty-first century, "the Balkans" most often serves as a synonym for Southeastern Europe. But are they the same category? Southeastern Europe falls within the range of taxonomical designations such as Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe, and Northwestern Europe within the Europe -cum -geographical-derivatives family. Most geographers treat it as synonymous with the Balkans. The exception, represented by a minority of German-language academic works and building upon a purist geographical approach, argues that the lands southeast of the Carpathian range form the entity Southeastern Europe, of which the Balkans are but a geographic subregion. Thus, Hungary and occasionally Slovakia would be catalogued as southeast European, but they would not be considered Balkan within this matrix.

"The Balkans," however, as the appellation of a territorial mass, is of the same nature as historical designations like the Iberian and Apennines peninsulas, Scandinavia, or the Alpine and Baltic regions, all following a historical geographic or ethnic name. There is general consensus among geographers about the western, southern, and eastern borders of the Balkans, defined by the Adriatic, Ionian, Mediterranean, Aegean, Marmara, and Black Seas. The northern border is most often considered to begin at the mouth of the river Idria in the Gulf of Trieste, following the southeast foothills of the Julian Alps, and coinciding with the Sava and Danube Rivers. This approach, disregarding history, leaves out Romania (with the exception of Dobrudzha). The best way to define the territorial scope of the Balkans, however, is to employ a combination of geographical, political, historical, cultural, ethnic, religious, and economic criteria. In the narrow sense of the word, and sticking to the Turkish origins of the name Balkan, one can posit that the Balkans are this part of Europe, which had been for a long historical period under Ottoman rule or suzerainty and which displays the features of the Ottoman legacy.

More broadly, the Balkans may be regarded as the complex result of the interplay of numerous historical periods, traditions, and legacies, some synchronic or overlapping, others consecutive or completely segregated. They can be classified according to their influence in different spheres of social life—political, economic, demographic, and cultural. One can enumerate many of them: the Roman, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, and the communist are some of the most important political legacies. In the religious sphere, it is the Christian, Muslim, and Judaic traditions with their numerous sects and branches; in the sphere of art and culture, the legacies of pre-Greeks, Greeks, and the numerous ethnic groups that settled the peninsula; in social and demographic terms, the legacies of large and incessant migrations, ethnic diversity, seminomadism, a large and egalitarian agricultural sphere, late urbanization alongside a constant continuity of urban life. For the purposes of this text, the Balkans encompass Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, and, with qualifications, Turkey.


Contrary to received wisdom, the Balkans were not as central to European developments in the twentieth century as they were in the nineteenth, when events in the Ottoman Empire, especially its European possessions, known collectively as the Eastern Question, preoccupied European diplomacy. The states that came to be known as Balkan emerged in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Greece (independence 1830), Serbia (autonomy 1830, independence 1878), Montenegro (independence 1878), Romania (unification 1859, independence 1878), Bulgaria (autonomy 1878, independence 1908), and Albania (independence 1913). The national movements that gave birth to these states were part of the general European drift toward nationalism and espoused programs based on the revival of their medieval states and/or unification of their respective ethnicities.

The frontiers of the new states, however, disregarded these principles without exception and were determined by the interest of the European Great Powers in order to preserve the balance of power and prevent the undue strengthening of any one of the states in the power vacuum created by the shrinking Ottoman Empire. This pattern started with the creation of the small and poor rump Greece, whose inhabitants were less than a quarter of the empire's Greeks and that determined their irredenta—the program of unifying the unredeemed territories inhabited by Greeks—until the 1920s. It was particularly flagrant at the outcome of the Eastern Crisis of 1875–1878, when autonomous Bulgaria, comprising the territories of the Bulgarian ethno-religious community, was created by the Treaty of San-Stefano (March 1878). Only three months later the newly formed state was partitioned, with only one-third receiving autonomy, with the sole rationale being that too big a state, suspected to be a Russian client, would upset the balance of power on the peninsula and on the Continent. The result was another troubled irredenta until World War II. Likewise, the occupation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary (1878) and its annexation (1908) fed the Serbian irredenta, confined to the small Belgrade region.

This is not to pass value judgments about the positive or negative outcome of the way the map of the Balkans was redrawn. Ironically, the creation of Albania could have remained an unrealized national aspiration had it not been for the confluence of Italian and Austrian interests to forestall Serbian expansion to the Adriatic. One can generalize, however, that the particular shape the Balkans took in the nineteenth century and the roots of inter-Balkan relations were to a large extent, if not predominantly, due to the central position that these states occupied in European affairs. By the early twentieth century the relative importance of the Eastern Question had decreased as other areas of conflict had come to the fore—the Far East, Africa, Latin America—and Europe itself was divided into two hostile camps.


It is in these circumstances that four of the Balkan nation-states—Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro—whose expansion was naturally sought at the expense of Macedonia and Thrace, territories still controlled by the Ottomans, entered into an alliance in 1912, known as the Second Balkan League (the First Balkan League dated from the 1860s). Only Romania stayed out, since its unification drive was directed to the north, to the heavily Romanian-populated Habsburg region of Transylvania.

The four allies declared war on the Ottoman Empire (October 1912), and at the Treaty of London (May 1913) the Ottoman Empire ceded all of its territory in Europe with the exception of Istanbul's small hinterland. The disagreements over the division of the newly acquired territories led to the Second Balkan War (1913), a fratricidal conflict in which Bulgaria was catastrophically vanquished by its former allies, now allied with Romania and the Ottomans, and remained, for the next three decades, an embittered revanchist, seeking to retrieve its losses. The cruelties of these wars, in a European climate that believed in the stability of the Belle Epoque, gave rise to the stereotypical images of a particularly harsh and savage region. These persisted, no matter that West European barbarities largely outnumbered and outdid Balkan atrocities only a few years later, during World War I.

So persistent are these stereotypes that despite definitive scholarly verdicts about the roots and causes of World War I, the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand (1863–1914) in Sarajevo (June 1914) by the young Serb Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918) is still often evoked as the principal reason for the global imperialistic conflagration. Accordingly, the sobriquet "powder keg of Europe," coined at that time, can still be heard about the Balkans. In fact, all Balkan states tried to avoid the Great War. It was imposed by Austria-Hungary on a pliant Serbia. Bulgaria committed to the Central Powers only after the Allied failures at the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, in the hope of reversing the humiliation from the Balkan Wars, and occupied Macedonia. Turkey was virtually coaxed to enter the war on Germany's side, and Romania cautiously joined the Allies in 1916. The Albanians had little choice and were partitioned between the warring parties, and the Greeks entered the war on 27 June 1917, even after the United States, which had joined the conflict in April. The Balkans never became a major theater of operation, although the war proved devastating for their populations and their economies.


The end of World War I saw the disintegration of the Habsburg and Romanov empires and the final collapse of the Ottoman. The secession of the Balkan nation-states, however, was already completed during the nineteenth century, and the retreat of the Ottomans from Europe had ended with the Balkan Wars. The formation of the Turkish Republic, therefore, did not affect national frontiers in the Balkans, although it had enormous repercussions for the Middle East. But the huge population exchanges, sanctioned by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), had deep-reaching legal and demographic consequences in the Balkans. The great expansion of two Balkan states—Serbia and Romania—was effectuated at the expense of Austria-Hungary and Russia. Romania annexed Transylvania (from Hungary), Bukovina (from Austria), and Bessarabia (from Russia). Serbia became the nucleus of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia after 1929), with acquisitions from Austria and Hungary.

The 1920s marked the diplomatic ascendancy of France and later of Italy in the Balkans. The Great Depression (1919–1933), however, paved the way first for Germany's economic penetration and then political predominance. In the early 1930s the Balkan states made an attempt at a regional alliance, which was meant to withstand great-power pressures. The 1934 Balkan Entente (an alliance between Greece, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Turkey) proved, however, limited and even futile in the face of German and Italian ascendancy, Bulgarian revisionism, and the international collapse of the principle of collective security.

Despite attempts at staying out of the looming conflagration, all Balkan countries with the exception of Turkey were pulled into World War II. Bulgaria and Romania became German satellites and strove to fulfill their irredentist programs. Bulgaria occupied Macedonia and Thrace, although it refused to send troops to the eastern front. Romania, in an attempt to regain Bessarabia, which it had lost to the Soviets in 1940, joined the German army against the Soviet Union. Albania was occupied by Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) as early as 1939, and Yugoslavia and Greece were overrun by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) in 1941. Both Yugoslavia and Greece staged a remarkable (mostly communist-led) resistance against a particularly brutal occupation, although the fractured character of their resistance movements fed the Greek Civil War (until 1949) and haunted Yugoslavia during its violent breakup in the 1990s.


After World War II the Balkans were divided along Cold War lines, agreed upon by Winston Churchill (1871–1947) and Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) in the famous percentage deal in Moscow (October 1944). Greece and Turkey became part of the Western alliance, the rest became part of communist Eastern Europe. But even in this respect, the Balkans proved sui generis. Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, came several times to the brink of war with each other. Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980) maneuvered deftly between World Wars I and II and played at being at the helm of a third. Bulgaria was the Soviet Union's most faithful ally, but, ironically, it was politically more liberal than the anti-Russian Nicolae Ceauşescu's (1918–1989) Romania. Albania broke with the Soviet bloc and found protection from China. Most remarkably, the designation Balkan, not to speak of the negative stereotypes, all but disappeared, submerged in the bipolar Cold War rhetoric.

The stereotypes resurfaced again in the course of a twofold process that took place after 1989. The first was the disintegration of the socialist system and the issue of European Union expansion to the east. The strategy and costs of this expansion, and the potential competition between the candidates, brought to the fore the differential treat-ment of Eastern Europe's subregions. The Central European ideology of the 1980s (with Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia at its center), which initially was only anti-Soviet, by the 1990s evoked the Balkans as its constituting other. This seemed to be mostly motivated by the initial tendency of the West to treat non-Soviet Eastern Europe as a group, a tendency that slowed Central Europe's prospects for integration. Although the Central European ideology was rhetorically successful, it has remarkably and ironically all but disappeared since its goals were achieved.

The second coinciding process was Yugoslavia's bloody disintegration. Despite the fact that the wars of succession were confined entirely to the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and none of the other Balkan countries was ever involved, the world insisted on naming this a "Balkan" conflict and even the "Third Balkan War." To a great extent this was the result of an attempt not to get involved, to restrict the problems to Europe's southeastern corner. Rhetorically, it was based on a number of cultural arguments, particularly the application of the "clash of civilizations" theory positing that henceforth international conflicts would occur not so much between states and ideologies but rather along cultural, especially religious, fault lines. It was the time of the blooming of balkanism, a discursive paradigm that described the region as essentially different from the rest of Europe and thus legitimized a policy of relative noninvolvement and isolation.


Extending a protective arm around the old centers of the Habsburg Empire after 1989, the West, motivated in part by sentiment, followed neatly the new trench lines outlined by the "clash of civilizations" theory that drew a border not only between Christianity and Islam but also between Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity and Western (Catholic and Protestant) Christianity. This led to predictions that beyond Central Europe "Byzantine Europe" would be left out, too close to Russia, too poor and disorderly to jeopardize "Fortress Europa."

However, the differing American and European visions of NATO produced a series of unintended consequences. The year 1997 saw the beginning of NATO expansion, but since 1989 the question of the raison d'être of the alliance never ceased to be high on both the European and U.S. foreign policy agenda, so much so that in Europe there were plans to build alternative security systems confined only to the Continent and disband NATO. Until 1999 the international community channeled its pressure on and involvement in Yugoslavia exclusively through the United Nations. The 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, effectively carried out by the United States, was motivated by a host of political and moral considerations, not least among them the desire to revive and make relevant the last organization in which the United States played a leading role in Europe. Whatever the order of motivations, the bombing clearly had unintended consequences. Before the Kosovo war, the dominant paradigm applied to the Balkans translated into the practical ghettoization of the region. The European Union's visa regime absolved Central Europe but not the rest of Eastern Europe and the Balkans and put restrictions on the movement of their populations. This was balkanism in action.

But the rhetorical legitimation of 1999—bombing in the service of universal human rights—effectively brought the Balkans back into the sphere of Western politics, and the bombing and its aftermath brought the Europeans and Americans deeper and, it seems, inextricably into involvement with the Balkans. They are running two (Bosnia and Kosovo) and arguably four (with Macedonia and Albania) protectorates. There is also, for the first time, a significant lobby among Eurocrats who believe that it is in Europe's greater interest to bring the Balkans in, instead of ghettoizing them. The unintended result was the early suspension of the visa barriers for Bulgaria and Romania and, more importantly, the curious but predictable restraining of the balkanist rhetoric: it no longer served power politics, although it is there, conveniently submerged but readily at hand. In the meantime, NATO, which was founded in 1949, and during the Cold War added Greece and Turkey to its ranks (1952), has admitted as full members Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia (2004). Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia are partners in NATO's Membership Action Plan. Slovenia is already part of the European Union (2004), the second Balkan state after Greece (1981), and Bulgaria and Romania are scheduled to join in 2007. Turkey, a long-term applicant, does not yet have a firm accession date, and Croatia applied in 2003.

It seems that one can tentatively speak of the end of the Balkans-as-metaphor. The concept is retreating from politics and relegated to nomenclature and scholarship.

See alsoAlbania; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Croatia; Greece; Kosovo; Macedonia; Montenegro; Romania; Serbia; Slovenia; Turkey; Yugoslavia.


Clogg, Richard. A Concise History of Greece. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1992.

Crampton, R. J. A Concise History of Bulgaria. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1997.

——. The Balkans since the Second World War. New York, 2002.

Fischer-Galati, Stephen. Twentieth Century Rumania. 1970. 2d ed. New York, 1991.

Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1983.

Lampe, John R. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1996.

Lampe, John R., and Marvin R. Jackson. Balkan Economic History, 1550–1950: From Imperial Borderlands to Developing Nations. Bloomington, Ind., 1982.

Mazower, Mark. The Balkans: A Short History. New York, 2000.

Pavlowitch, Stevan K. A History of the Balkans, 1804–1945. London and New York, 1999.

Stavrianos, L. S. The Balkans since 1453. 1958. New York, 2000.

Stoianovich, Traian. Balkan Worlds: The First and the Last Europe. Armonk, N. Y., 1994.

Sugar, Peter F., ed. Eastern European Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. Lanham, Md., 1995.

Todorova, Maria. Imagining the Balkans. New York, 1997.

Todorova, Maria, ed. Balkan Identities: Nation and Memory. Washington Square, N. Y., 2004.

Vickers, Miranda. The Albanians: A Modern History. London and New York, 1995.

Woodward, Susan L. Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War. Washington, D. C., 1995.

Maria Todorova


views updated May 29 2018


While racially similar, the peoples of the Balkans diverge in language and religion.

Five peoples inhabit the Balkan Peninsula, an area in southeast Europe that is generally considered to be bounded by the Danube River plain to the north, the Black Sea to the east, the Aegean Sea to the south, and the Adriatic Sea to the west: South Slavs, Romanians, Greeks, Albanians, and Turks.

The most numerous group, the South Slavs, comprises five nations, settled in a broad band across the central Balkans from the Adriatic to the Black Seas: the Slovenes, northeast of the Adriatic; the Croats to the southeast; the Serbs farther east; the Macedonians to the south; and the Bulgarians along the Black Sea. The Slavs arrived in the sixth century and began assimilating and displacing the older inhabitants of the northern and central Balkan Peninsulathe Illyrians, Thracians, and Dacians. Some Illyrians and Thracians found refuge in isolated mountain areas, and their descendants eventually became Albanians and Vlachs, respectively. The latinized Dacians were pushed north and emerged as the modern Romanians. As the South Slavs settled down, some were conquered by the Bulgars, an Asiatic people few in number and so quickly assimilated that only their name survives.

Meanwhile, the ancient Greeks inhabited the peninsula farther south, as they do today. The arrival of the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century brought scattered Turkish settlements; with the exception of Eastern or Turkish Thrace (European Turkey), few Turks remain there at the end of the twentieth century. Germans came to the area as a result of Austrian defense policies that called for frontier colonization. Few, however, of the 1.5 million Germans in the area before World War II remain. Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal were given refuge by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century in what later became Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece, while many Jews arrived in Romania from Russia and Poland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Of the 1.2 million Jews in the Balkans before World War II, fewer than 50,000 remain. Gypsies arrived in the fifteenth century and more currently comprise a small and persecuted minority, particularly in Romania.

The Balkan peoples are predominantly Orthodox Christians. But the overwhelming majority of Slovenes and Croats are Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities exist in the northwest. Eastern Thrace is predominantly Muslim, as is 70 percent of Albania's population. Substantial Muslim minorities exist in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria.


Stavrianos, L. S. The Balkans, 18151914. New York: Holt Rinehart, 1963.

Stoianovich, Traian. A Study in Balkan Civilization. New York: Knopf, 1967.

John Micgiel

Balkan Mountains

views updated May 21 2018

Balkan Mountains Major mountain range of the Balkan Peninsula, extending from e Serbia through central Bulgaria to the Black Sea. The range is a continuation of the Carpathian Mountains. It is rich in minerals and forms a climatic barrier for the interior. The highest pass is Shipka Pass, c.1270m (4166ft), and the highest peak is Botev, 2375m (7793ft).


views updated May 18 2018