History of Bosnia and
from the origins to 1992
Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001
From the Origins through the End of the First Millennium
The Illyrian times
The Illyrians - a group of tribes who spoke a language similar
to modern Albanian - were the earliest known inhabitants of
Bosnia and the most ancient race in south-eastern Europe.
All indications suggest that they are descendants of the earliest
Aryan immigrants. The Illyrians formed the core of the pre-Hellenic
population which inhabited the southern portion of the Balkan
Peninsula and extended into Thrace (parts of modern-day Bulgaria,
Greece and Turkey and east of Macedonia) and Italy. The ancient
Greek writers described the Illyrians as "barbarous"
and "non-Hellenic," indicating the perceived and
real differences between the cultures.
According to historians, the first conflicts between Illyrian
tribes and the Romans took place in 229 BC. Two subsequent
conflicts occurred during the second century BC. The Romans
finally conquered the Illyrians circa 9 AD, and annexed the
territory of today's Bosnia to the Roman province of Dalmatia,
thus resulting in the collapse of Illyrian kingdom.
The Roman Empire
The Romans opened mines and exploited the region's mineral
wealth. In time, some of the Illyrians became "romanised."
Colonisation of the lands along the Adriatic coast and the
lower Neretva River brought more Roman settlers and Roman
influence, and the Roman civilization significantly penetrated
BiH. Life in the region began to resemble the empire as a
whole, as everything was done according to the model in Rome,
including road construction, development of towns, the state
cult of Capitol Gods, and obedience to the emperor as the
incarnation of overall authority. Thermal baths were even
constructed in several places throughout the country, including
Ilidza, the site of the former SFOR headquarters in a western
suburb of Sarajevo. Statues, mosaics and tombstones from the
first five centuries AD can be seen in many locations all
over the country.
The Roman Emperor Diocletian (c. 295 AD), whose palace can
be seen in Split, Croatia, established the system of two empires
with two Caesars beneath him. Emperor Constantine (c. 314
AD), moved the imperial capital of the still-united Roman
Empire to Constantinople (Constantine's polis, i.e. town in
Greek), former called Byzantium, and now named Istanbul. The
capital went back and forth between Rome and Constantinople
for a century. In 395 AD, the division between the Eastern
Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire and the Western
Roman Empire became final. The dividing line between east
and west was the Drina River, making Bosnia a regional buffer
between empires, peoples, philosophies and theologies.
The Southern Slavs
Around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire in 460 AD,
Slavic tribes, including those of the Slovenes, Croats and
Serbs, migrated to the Balkans over many years. There is no
agreement on where any of the Slavic tribes originated or
why they came. However, it is thought that the migrants came
from what are now Ukraine, Russia and perhaps the Nordic countries.
They settled in different places throughout the region, and
experienced separate development as the three cultures evolved.
But - and it is to be underlined today - Slovenians, Croats
and Serbs share a common ancient Slavic origin.
By the time of Emperor Charles the Great (c. 800 AD), the
Slavs had increasingly settled in the region and become its
permanent inhabitants. The region, called the Land of the
Slavs or Slavinia, became modern-day Yugoslavia. The population
slowly adopted Christianity, but were variously influenced
by its two major sects from the outset. The Slovenes and Croats
became Roman Catholics and adopted the Roman alphabet, while
the Serbs became Eastern Orthodox Christians and adopted the
Cyrillic alphabet to represent the same language. In 1054,
the centuries-old power struggle between the Roman church
and the eastern Byzantine churches (Constantinople, Antioch,
Jerusalem and Alexandria), culminated in the schism between
east and west, which divided Christianity into two Christian
churches and empires. The schism cemented the religious border
represented by the Drina River, with modern-day Slovenia,
Croatia and BiH on the west, and Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia
on the east.