History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992
Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#118, July 25, 2001
From the millennium to the Battle of Kosovo Polje
The golden age of Kulin Ban
In 925, Tomislav, the first Croatian King unified Pannonia
(inland plain) and Dalmatia (coastal) Croatia. After the death
of its last King, Petar Svacic, in 1102, Croatia became a
vassal state of Hungary. The state of Bosnia began to take
shape in the 10th century, and at that time extended from
the Drina River to the Adriatic Sea. Byzantium, Hungary and
the neighbouring states of Croatia and Serbia each tried to
take Bosnian territory in order to expand Catholicism and
Christian Orthodoxy, thereby challenging the socio-legal position
of Bosnia from its origins in the medieval period.
In 1130, Bosnia emerged as an independent state under the
leadership of Kulin, Ban (king) of Bosnia. The kingdom of
Bosnia was established under the dominion of King Stephan
Nemanja, king of Serbia. It was a small kingdom in comparison
with kingdoms such as England or France. The most powerful
empires in the area at the time were the Hungarian Empire,
the Holy Roman Germanic Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Ban
Kulin ruled until 1204; his reign was characterised by peace
and even today is referred to as a time of peace within Bosnia.
It was the so-called golden age of Kulin Ban".
Bosnia was developing as an independent and internationally
recognized country. Ban Kulin has a street bearing his name,
running alongside the Miljacka River, in Sarajevo.
During this reign, a Bulgarian Christian sect known as Bogomilism
(from Bulgarian language: 'Bog', i.e. God, and 'Mil', i.e.
friend) began to attract followers in Bosnia, as Bosnian principalities
adopted Bogomilism in order to offset the strong influences
of its Catholic and Orthodox neighbours. Bogomilism was eradicated
in Bulgaria and Byzantium in the 13th century, but thrived
in Bosnia until the Ottoman Empire gained control of the region
in 1463. Both Catholics and Orthodox persecuted the Bogomils
as heretics. The early pressures by its Catholic and Orthodox
neighbours drew Bosnia to Bogomilism. Later, with the introduction
of Ottoman rule, Bosnians were often more susceptible for
conversion to Islam since they were not friends of either
the Roman Catholic or Serb Orthodox churches, and also to
continue to avoid the Catholic/Orthodox trap set by their
During the 12th century, the Bosnian State was established
on the parliamentary principle. In 1353, Stephen Tvrtko became
king at the age of 15 when his uncle, Stephen Kotromanic,
died while fighting a territorial war with Stephen Dusan of
Serbia. On his crowning in 1377, Bosnia became a kingdom,
and during his rule (1353-1391) Bosnia reached its maximum
size, stretching from the Sava River to the islands of Korcula
and Hvar. Subsequently, Bosnia was ruled by the Kotromanjic
dynasty. When Ban Tvrtko captured the monastery of St. Sava,
he declared himself to be the king of Bosnia, the Serbs and
the Croats. But, wisely, he never tried to apply that authority
to Serbia properly.
On June 28, 1389, St. Vitus' (or Vidovdan) Day, King Lazar
of Serbia met the invading Ottoman Turk armies at Kosovo Polje
(Plain of the Blackbirds) in Kosovo. Even though he was able
to unite the bickering factions of Serbia, the Serbs were
defeated. The Sultan of the Ottomans was killed in this battle,
as was King Lazar when he was captured. The sultan's son became
the new sultan and promptly killed his brothers, so that no
one could compete with him for control. King Lazar was buried
on the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo.
It is very difficult to determine the facts of the famous
1389 battle in Kosovo Polje. There are not reliable historical
sources chronicling the events of the battle. Large portions
of the surviving knowledge of the battle have been enshrined
in a series of epic poems that have formed the Serb legend.
However, many of these were written centuries after the fact,
and are not historically objective.
Contrary to the widespread Serbian legend about this battle,
thousands of Albanian knights and soldiers fought beside their
Serbian brothers in arms against the Ottoman Empire and many
of them died on behalf of the Serbian cause. Many Serbs continue
to glorify the defeated and martyred king as a national hero,
and the battlefield is still regarded as a monument. In fact,
Kosovo Polje was just one of the several battles as the Ottomans
expanded their Empire. At the time of the battle of Kosovo
Polje the Ottoman Empire already occupied many of the territories
that are parts of Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sixty-four years after the battle, in 1453, Constantinople