History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992
Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#119, August 8 2001
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