History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992

Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#119, August 8 2001

Chapter 3
At the cross-roads of the religions

Judaism and the lily flower
In the 15th century, as the Ottoman Empire settled in on a long-term basis in Bosnia, there were additional demographic shifts in Bosnia. As religious persecution in various western European countries, including France and Spain, continued, many Jews began to settle in Sarajevo, where they found religious tolerance and were able to form a very active, rich and powerful community. These Sephardic Jews continue to play a vital role in Sarajevo's community life.
During this time, the lily flower was introduced in Bosnia as a coat of arms. There are two different explanations about its introduction as a symbol, both similar but offering varying dates for its adoption. The first explanation is based on a short period in the 12th century when Hungary ruled Bosnia. Hungary was led by a French-originated king, Roger-Charles of Anjou, who reigned under the name of Karoly the First. He brought with him the coat of arms of the French province of Anjou, the lily flower.
However, other historians claim that Bosnia became part of the Hungarian kingdom for a time at the beginning of the 14th century. Hungarian dynastic struggles broke out in 1302 with the end of the Arpad dynasty. The King of Naples claimed the throne, and it was during these struggles that, by pledging allegiance to one side and to the other, the Bosnian kings managed to carve out their independent fief. The Bosnian dynasty became quite close to the Angevins, and the daughter of Stjepan, king of Bosnia, married Louis I, King of Hungary. The kings of Naples were a part of the Anjou family, a junior branch of the French royal family, and bore a slightly different coat of arms. It is possible that the adoption of the fleur-de-lis on the coat of arms was a reward for taking the Angevin side. Today, the lily flower appears on the flag of the Federation, as representation of its Bosniac component.
The Era of the Ottoman Empire
The period of Ottoman Empire building in and around Europe progressed in stages over many years. During this time, Croatia (in union with Hungary) settled the Serbs who were displaced from the invasions in an area along its border with Bosnia. This area became known as the "Krajina" or frontier. This "human wall" served its purpose and became a barrier to the Ottoman advance. However, although this tactic was useful during the Ottoman years of occupation, in the future it would serve as a problem for Croats interested in independence and a "pure" Croatian state.
The Turkish Army conquered the kingdom of Bosnia in 1463, when Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror captured the Castle of Babovac and ended the Kotromanjic Dynasty. Nevertheless, ongoing battles and sieges continued for many years thereafter. The Turks, under Sulejman the Magnificent, attacked Austria through Bosnia, arriving at the gates of Vienna in 1533, where they were defeated. In 1571, on the Mediterranean Sea, the Turks lost the battle of Lepante. And in 1683, the Ottoman Empire was once again and finally defeated at the walls of Vienna. It was the end of its expansion toward the west.
Changes in the society
But the Ottoman Empire ruled almost a third of Europe. It tolerated a significant amount of religious diversity within its borders. While the Turks did not force conversions, only Muslims could own property, vote, or participate in the government. Non-Muslims had to pay a tax on their work. However, they could practice their own religion and justice, and exercise their own will in many community affairs. These measures were taken by the Ottoman rulers to avoid revolts or rebellions.
It was during this time that many Bosnians converted to Islam. A large part of the Slavic population converted to the Islam religion, and became known as Bosniacs (Muslims). Christian peasants remained the serfs in the feudal society. Christian boys were often taken from their families to be converted and trained as the personal servants and soldiers of the Sultans and his viziers. This janissary army was a means of integrating non-Ottomans into the structure of the empire, and of tying outlying communities to the ranks of the Sultan.
The Ottoman Empire brought numerous changes to the Bosnian society. New towns of the Islamic-Oriental type were developed, and the economy was changed by the introduction of a feudal estate-landowner system. The Turks established administrative military districts called sandjaks. From 1580 the region of Bosnia became ruled through the administration of pashadom, a decision that recognized the Bosnian entity, including all of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and some parts of Slavonia, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Serbia. In 1592, the Turks captured the important fortress at Bihac from the Hapsburgs, and with this move the Ottoman Empire covered all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of Croatia, and Hungary. The Turks occupied Croatia until 1699. After the Vienna War (1683-1699) Bosnia became the western province of the Ottoman Empire, and the Karlowitz treaty (1699) confirmed the historical borders of Bosnia on the north, west and south. The Ottoman Empire ruled Bosnia and Herzegovina until 1878.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6