Croatian History

Figure 1.--The Croatian War of Independence was fought between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia which had declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1991-95). As in the other Yigoslave republics, the war created countless refugees. The caption here read, "A mother helps her daughter wash her hair using water from a supplies tank, just after their crossing into Yugoslavia in he town of Sabac, some 90 km wst of Nelgrade, 14 ugust. Sme 250,000 people are fleeing the former Krajin a region following he recent Croat invasion of the ara." It was taken near the end of the coinflict, August 14, 1995.

Croatia is now an independent country. This has not been the case for most of the country's history. The country is located in the Balkans. Croatia was at times within the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome, Crotia was setlled by Slavs (7th century). We have done some work on medieval Croatia. The Croats became Roman Catholic (9th century). There was for a brief period an independent kingdom. For most of Croatia's subsequent history is associated with Hungary. There was a personal union between Hungary amd the king of Hungary also became the king of Croatia. There were exceptions to the Hungarian connection such as during the Turkish (1526-1699) and the much briefer French (1809-13) invasions and the Austrian annexation (1849-68). Even though Croatia had a Hungarian monarchy, there was a local aristocracy and diet (parliamet). The Hungarian monarchy is a misnomer. The last actual Hungarian king was killed defending the country from the Turks. The crown was inherited by the Hapsburgs so in fact it became an Austrian monarchy. With the creation of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy (1867), the Hapsburg Austrian emperor was separately crowned as a Hungarian king. After World War I, Croatia was united with Serbia and other southern Serbs to form Yugoslavia. The union was unstable because of Croat resistance to Serb domination. The NAZIs allowed the creation of a Croat puppet state after invading Yugoslavia (1941). Tito reunited the country (1945) and although a Croat supressed nationalist agitation. Croatia suceeded from Yugoslavia (1991), resulting in one of several wars connected with the breakup of Yugoslavia.


Geography has been an important influence on Croation history. The Adriatic Sea is one of those influences. The Adriatic is a deep cut into southern Europe and provides the area of modern Croatia access to the Mediterranean. The Croatian coast has numerous bays, inlets and coves. This helped develop a significant mercantile and nautical route. Trade routes developed between Europe and the East which after the Arab expansion was dominated by the Arabs and Islam. Mbr>


Archeologists have found evidence of early habitation of the Balkans including the area of Croatia. The east coast of the Adriatic Sea was inhabited during the early Stone Age. The offshore islsnds were also inhabited. There are archaeological evidence found in caves near the islands of Hvar and Palagruza, etc.).


Croatia was colonized first by the Celts who dominated northern and central Europe by the 5th century BC.


Croatia was susequently settled by the Illyrians. Archaeological evidence proves that the ancient Greeks traded with the Illyrian by aea (6th century BC). The Greeks founded colonies (Pharos, today’s Starigrad, on the islands of Hvar and Issa – or Vis). Illyria was a sovereign state until the Roman conquet (168 BC).

Roman Empire

Croatia was at times within the Roman Empire. The area of modern Croatia was part of Rome's Panonnia and Dalmatia provinces. The Romans built palaces and summer residences. Trade expanded under the pax romana. Archeologists have found evidence of thos trade in suken ships between Pula and Cavtat. Mamy amphorae have been found which were at the time commonly used for storing everything from wine to wheat, oils and perfumes. W Argeologists have found the remains of pythos or dolias, large pottery vessels which were built into ships and used to transport bulk cargo (wheat, etc). One such site is near Cavtat, while another is near Murter.

Croat Tribes

A new era in the Balkans appeared with the arrival from the East of the Slavs. This began a period of struggle among tribal groups for control of lns. The origin of the Croat tribe has been questioned . They are generally seen as members of the southern Slavs. Some Croats claimed Germanic origins which provided a justification for the NAZI honorary Aryan status. Other theories include Persian (Alan) origins. Such ethnic assessments were once based largely on speculation, often relying on linguistics. Modern DNA studies have made possible much more reliable assessments. Modern DNA research suggests that the Croat tribes to northern Central Asia (about 10,000 years ago). DNA researchers believe that Persian origins are unlikely. The earliest know historical evidence of the Croat Tribes from the Crimea. The Croatian name (Horouathos) was found on two two stone inscriptions--the Tanais stone. It was written in Greek (about 200 AD). It was found at the Azov sea port of Tanais. The Croat Tribes at the time appear to have lived in the area north of the Carpathians and east of the Vistula (western Poland and eastern Ukraine). The Croats were called the White Croats, by Byzantine Emperor Porphyrogenitus. Very little is known about the Croat Tribes. The Croats and other Slavic tribes were an agricultural people. Some modern scholars believe that the nomadic Persian-speaking Alans provided a ruling chaste. Here historians rely on philological and etymological evidence. The lack of surviving DNA traces suggest that if true Alans were a very small part of the overall population.


These appear to be the Croat Tribes which moved west after the fall of Rome and settled in the area of modern Croatia (7th and 8th centuries). There are no surviving records of this migration. There are medieval descriptis, but coming centuries after the migration the accuracy has to be treated with some caution. Medieval scholars describe how the Croats migrated from the area around modern Galicia and the Pannonian plain beginning about 600 AD. That migration was associated with the rise of the Turkic Avars. The Croats settled in Dalmatia ruled at the time by the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. They established a capital around Biograd. The Croats also settled Dalmatia and the islands off Dalmatia. Byzantine records suggest that the Croats settled Dalmatia as a result of the Avars. [De Administrando Imperio] Medieval records suggest that they were variously associated with the Goths. [Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja and Thomas the Archdeacon] All these accounts were written so long after the actual events that they are extremely suspect. While the nature of the Croat migration is not known with any certainty, the settlemnt of the Croats in Pannonia and Dalmatia between the Drava river and the Adriatic is a historical fact.

The Avars

The Avars were one of many Mongolian tribes. They were known to the Chinese as the Juan-Juan. The Avars were among the Mongol and Turkic tribes raiding into northern China (4th century AD). Another of these groups were the Huns. It was the Hunic movement west that drove the Germanic tribes west, eventually leading go the fall of Rome and leading to the fall of the Western Empire. The departure of the Huns led to the rise of the Kök Türük (the Blue or Celestial Turks) as the major power in Central Asia. They in turn drove the Avars and other Turlish groups west. The Juan-Juan migrated through northern Persia eventually reaching the Russian steppes. Here they mingled with other Turkic and Hunic people, especially the Uighurs. They ultimateky reached Eastern Europe (about 550). They formed a confederacy known as the Avars which threatened both Byzantium and Western Europe. The appearance of the Croats and other Slavic tribes into southeastern Europe is believed to be related to the Avars, presumably they were fleeing the Avars much as the Germans fled the Huns. The relationship is described variously in medieval accounts. Byzantine records suggest that the Emperor Heraclius invited the Croats to settle Dalmatia to help resist the Avar threat. Another account suggests that the Croats were not invited by the Byzantines, but rther forced into the Empire by the Avars and successfully resisted domination (about 620). De Administrando Imperio] Another medieval source supports this account. [Thomas the Archdeacon] Both these accounts were written centuries after the events they describe and thus have to be treated with caution. The high point of Avar power was a joint Avar-Persian attack on Constantinople (626). The Avars were joined by the Huns, Gepids and Bulgars. The Persians provided a fleet. After this theAvars declined as the Slavic and Bulgar tribes expanded into their territory. Charlemagne launched a major offensive and delivered a crushing blow, destroying the Avar Ring of fotresses (791). The remanent was destoyed by the Bulgar King Krum (early 9th century).

Medieval Era

The area of modern Croatia was part of Rome's Panonnia and Dalmatia provinces. After the fall of Rome the area was settled by the Slavic Croats (7th century). The Croats organized two duchys. The process of Christinization began at this time as a result of the surviving Roman population. From the beginning the Croats became a pawn situated between larger, more powerful nations. Both the Eastern and Western Church participated in the Christinization process. The Croats accepted Christianity (9th century). The Latin rites emerged as the dominant communion. The first monarch of independent Croatia was King Tomislav. The Croats settling the Balkans formed dukedoms. An united, independent Croatian kingdom existed between 923-1102. The Roman Catholic Papacy was at the heighth of its power and endorsed the crowning of King Tomislav. He was crowned (925) and then disappeared (928). For most of Croatia's subsequent history is associated with Hungary. There was a personal union between Hungary amd the king of Hungary also became the king of Croatia. Croatia became a province ruled by the Hungarian monarchy. Both Hungary and Croatia were devestated by the Mongols (1241-42) The Ottoman victory at the battle of Battle of Mohács (1526) destroyed the Hungarian monarchy. Dynastically the Austrian Hapsburgs inherited the Hungarian crown and Croatia, but for two centuries both were occupied by the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Invasion

The Mongols also devestated the Ottomans, but as Mongol power receeded east the Ottomons emergedcas a major threatv to the Balkan Christian kingdoms. The Ottomans penetrated into the Balkans (14th century). The fall of Byzantium (1453) enabled the Ottomans to expand their drive into Europe. Croatian prince Juraj Mikuličić, was one of many Balkan princes who attempted to resist the Ottomans. He built a fort at Bužim, near Bihać. The Ottomons reduced Bosnia to a sanjak (about 1463). The Ottomans killed Croatian Ban Bishop Petar Berislavić in an action near the Devil's Mountain in the Bihać area (1520). Sultan Beyzaid II appointed his grandson Gazi Husrev-beg to the post of governor in the Nosnia Sanjak. Husrev-beg was an effective military commander. His background is illustrative of the comlicated Blkans ethnic composition. His father was an Islamized Croat from Bosnia. His mother was Turkish. Appointed governer, he set out to expand his territory. He concentrated his efforts on Croatia. He took Udbina. Then he took Jajce, Banja Luka and Ključ (1528). Next he took Krbava and Lika (1529). This area was to be called Turkish Croatia.

Ottoman Hungary (1526-1699)

The Ottoman Empire occupied almost all of the Balkans (15th century). They then began to move into central Europe (early 16th century). Here they were opposed principally by Jagiellon Hungary and Hasburg Austria. This was the peak of Ottoman power under the leadership of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–66). The Ottomans represented a major threat to Christian Europe. Hungary at this time was weakened by peasants' uprisings and internal divisions among the nobility. King Louis II Jagiellon (1516-26) faced serious dissent within the country's restive nobility. Süleyman took Belgrade (1521). He then attacked north seoizing the opportunity to conquer the weakened Hungarian Kingdom. The Hungarian with their small army faced Süleyman's magnificent army alone. The result ws adisater for Hungary. Their small army was totally defeated at the Battle of Mohács (1526). This gave Süleyman control of Hungary as well as Croatia, a province ruled by the Hungarian monarchy. Suleyman next proceeded to conquer Austria. He beseiged Vienna (1529). Vienna held out and with beginning of winter, Süleyman retreated south. This left both the Austrian Hapsburgs and Suleyman with a claim to Hungary. They both supported rival kings. Süleyman appointed a vassal king, János Szapolyai. Süleyman seized Buda (1541), but the Hapsburgs continued to hold western and northern Hungary. This area became known as Royal Hungary. Süleyman retained the Ottomon hold on central and southern Hungary. The country became one of the 42 Ottomon eyalets (provinces). The capital of Ottoman Hungary was Budin (Buda). Additional Ottoman eyalets were subsequently created (Eğri and Kanije). While a kind of peace enveloped Hungary, both the Ottomans and Hapsburgs worked to seize all of Hungary. Here the Hapsburgs faced a double crisis. Not only did they have to confront the Ottomans, but with the launch of the Protestant Reformation (1519), the Hapsburgs faced an increasingly divided Germany. The Hapsburgs backed the Vatican and became the leading force in the Counter Reformation. The Ottomans from their Hungarian bases attempted to conquer a weakened Austria. The Ottomans launched major offensives (1620 and 1683). Large areas of Hungary were devestated by the conflict between the Ottomans and Hapsburgs. Large areas were depopulated and fell out of tillage. Areas returned to forrest and marsh lands. Peasants fled Ottoman rule into the wildreness areas. Guerilla/bandit bands, the Hajdú troops, formed and harassed the Ottomans making large areas unsafe. It also forced the Ottomans to divert resources to maintaining order. Rather than gaining revenue from Hungary, it became a costly sink, requiring massive military spending such as a chain of border forts. The era of Ottomon rule ended with the the Great Turkish War (1683-97). Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha mounted the final Ottomon offensive against Austria, beseiging Vienna again (1683). Vienna was releaved by a Christian army composed of forces from Poland and the Holy Roman Empire led by King Jan III Sobieski. The Ottoman defeat before Vienna was beginning of the end of their rule in Hungary. The Ottomans signed a peace treaty with the Hapsburgs--the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699). Under the Treaty. the Ottomans ceded Slavonia (part of central Croatia) and most of Hungary (Hungarian pashalik) to the Habsburgs. Thus western and northern Bosnia became the boundary between the Ottoman and Austrian empires.

Republic of Dubrovnik (14th-18th century)

During the era of personal union with Kingdom of Hungary, the Croatian coast fell under Venitian control. Dubrovnik was able to maintain its autonomy as a republic. This continued under Ottoman rule. Ottoman power was weakest as one moved north in the Balkans. Thus principslities in the north or along the Adriatic were best positioned to achieve a degree of autony azfter the Ottoman conquest. One such principality was the Republic of Ragusa / Dubrovnik. It was a maritime / trading republic based in Dubrovnik. (Ragusa is the Latin word for Dubrovnik.) This is an Adriatic port in Dalmatia (southern Croatia). The Republic was founded im the high middle ages befire the Ottoman conquest (14th century). It was most powerful (15th-16th century. It recognized the soverignity of the Sultan and operated under Ottoman protection. It was not a large part of Croatia. Some estimate the population at its peak at 30,000 people, but only 5,000 people sctislly lived within the Dubrovnik city walls. While it was not large, it bplayed an important role in maintaining the Latin lanuage and Croatian culture. It finally ended during the Napoleonic Wars when the Fremch conquered Croatia (1808).

Napoleonic Wars (1808-13)

There was the much briefer French occupation (1809-13). The Dalmatian coast controlled by Venice was awarded to Austria at the Congress of Vienna.

National Revival

The national revival or Illyrian movement began during the Napoleonic era. This was a cultural movement with political connotations. Zagren was the center of the movement. The Bishop of Zagreb Maksimilijan Vrhovac was one of the leading figures in the national revival. He issued a plea for submissions of Slavic literary treasures and worked tirelessly to archive the collected material and to make them available to the Croatian people. Zagren was the center of the national revival. A group of young Croatian writers gathered in Zagreb (1830s). They helped bring the movement to its peak (1830s-40s). It was not a specifically Croatian movement, but rather a national renewal movement aimed at the unity of the southern Slavs within the Hapsburg Monarchy. The central important focus of Illyrians was the establishment of standard language to counter the Hungarian language and the Hunarization efforts by the Hungarian authorities.

Revolutions of 1848: Austrian Annexation

The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 was one of many Revolutions which occurred throughout Europem including the Hapsburg Empire. The revolution in Hungary developed into a war for independence from Hapsburg Austrian Empire. Croatoa largely remained loyal to the Hapsburgs, in part as the Hungaroans were seen as the opressive force. Austrian and Croatian forces with critical Russian assistance defeated the Hungarian army (1849). The Austrians initiated a policy of Germanization. Even though Croatia had a Hungarian monarchy, there was a local aristocracy and diet (parliamet). The Hungarian monarchy is a misnomer. The last actual Hungarian king was killed defending the country from the Turks. The Crown was inherited by the Hapsburgs so in fact it became an Austrian monarchy.

War with Italy (1866)

The unification of Italy resulted in a conflict with Austria over Venice and the Balkan Adriatic coast where many Italians lived. Italian King Victor Emanuel II declared war to Austria (June 1866). Italy sought to obtain Venice and the Dalmatian coast. Thus the Adriatic Sea became a battle ground. The fleets of the two countries met in Battle of Lissa (September 20, 1866). The Austrian commander Wilhelm von Tegetthoff commanded from the the battleship Erzherzog Ferdinand Max. The Italiam commsnnder Admiral Persano commanded from the battleship Re d’Italia. Tegetthoff sailed into the harbour of Lissa/Vis with all his ships firing. The defeated Italian fleet withdrew. The Austria victory secured their dominance on the Adriatic Sea. A Croatian officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, Ivan Lupis, working with Robert Whitehead, built the first self-propelled torpedo in Rijeka.

Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867)

Prussia's victory over the Austrians in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) eakened the Hspsburgs. The result was the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the creation of a new state which was a monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary. With the creation of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy (1867), the Hapsburg Austrian emperor was separately crowned as a Hungarian king. This left open the status of Croatia. The next year Croatian and Hungarian parliament created a constitution for the personal union of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia and the Kingdom of Hungary.

World War I (1914-18)

A Croatian Home Guard was organized during the Revolution of 1848. Since ten the name "pucko ustasa" or "ustaski" for the soldiers of Croatian Home Guard units. The term "domobran" and "domobranstvo" was used too. After Prussia's vicory in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), the old Austrian Empire was reorganized as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, based on a dual monarchy. The Imperial Croatian Home Guard was the Domobranstvo (HD) was the Croatian army section of the Hungarian Army (Honvéd). It was established when the Empire was created (1868). The Domobran was created by decree of the Croatian Parliament (1868). The official term Domobran (HD) was established in accordance with the settlement between Hungarian and Croatian governments of 1868. The agreement was with Hungary because Croatia was a dependency of the Hungarian Kingdom. The Agreement placed four conditions on Hungary. The Croas in the Domobranstvo would fullfill their within Croatia. The training would also be in Croatia. It had also stipulated that the commanding language shall be Croatian and Croatian armed forces shall get their officers and warrant officers from the new founded Domobran Academy and other cadet's training centers. Croatian military units would be allowed to have Croatian names The Domobranstvo was used when the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina (1908). It also saw actiion in World War I. One officer, Svetozar Boroević, became a Astro-Hungarian field-marshal. The Domobranstvo was stood down following the disolution of the Empire (1918). It was disbanded by the new Serb dominated government of the SHS Kingdom (Serbs-Croats-Slovenians) which of course became Yugoslavia.

Royal Yugoslavia

After World War I, Croatia was united with Serbia and other southern Serbs to form Yugoslavia. The union was unstable because of Croat resistance to Serb domination.

World War II (1941-45)

Hitler was furious with Yugoslavia's attempt at neutrality during World War II. Combined with the faltering Italian war with Greece, Hitler invaded and seized Yugoslavia within a few days. Hitler ordered the terror bombing of Belgrade to punish the Yugoslavs for daring to defy him. While Yugoslavia was quickly occupied, the NAZI offensive into the Balkans delayed Operation Barbrossa, the invsion of the Soviet Union with catastrophic consequences foir Hitler and his Third Reich. Hitler divided Yugoslaia. Slovenia was partitioned between Italy and Germany. Most of the country was divided between two puppet states, Serbia and Croatia. The Germans incouraged actions against the Jews. Ethnic tensions exploded between the Serbs and Croats and atrocities against the Jews and Muslims ere were widespread in addition to actions againsts Serbs and Croats. Attrocities were committed by both sides. Some of the most outrgou actions were carried out by the Croatian Fascist Ustache against Serbs, Muslims, and Jews. The Germans promoted actions against the Jews and Gupseys, but do not seem to have been involved in the actions against Serbs and Croats. Much of the recent fighting in the former Yugoslavia today is a result of the terrible attrocities that took place during World war II. Under the Germans Croatia was a nominal kingdom ruled by an Italian princeling, who remained in Italy, probably a good choice on his part.

Communist Yugoslavia

Croatia was seprated from Serbia for centuries. In the 19th century they were part of the Austro-Hungaian Empire. under Hungarian jurisduction. After World ar II te two terrutories were united in Royl Yugoslavuia. Yj vonflict brwtween Serbs and Crots dstabilized Royal Yugoskavia. Yugoslavia from the beginning was divided long ethic and religious lines, but the major conflict was between Croas and Serbs. These division burst out in unbelievable brutality during World War II. Tito reunited the country under Communist rule (1945) and although a Croat supressed nationalist agitation.

Independence War (1991-95)

Croatia suceeded from Yugoslavia (1991), resulting in one of several wars connected with the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Government dominted by he Serbs in Belgrade didn't not recognize he Croat declaration and wanted some of Croatia for Greater Serbia. The Croatian War of Independence was fought between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia which had declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) along with local Serb forces (1991-95). The JNA ended its combat operations in Croatia (1992). Croations refer to it as the 'Homeland War' ( Domovinski rat ) or the 'Greater-Serbian Aggression' ( Velikosrpska agresija ). Croatia was internationally recognized by the European Union (1992). The Yugolave Government coninud to refuse to recognize the break-away republic. A major issue was Krajina with its etic Serb population. Milan Babic was the first President of the Republic of Serbian Krajina (1991-95). This was a Croatian region largely populated by ethnic Serbs whobwnted to join a Greater Serbia. Atthe onst of the War, Yugoslavia was perhaps the most ethnically diverse countru in the world. The president of Republika Srpska Krajina would later declare that he was 'strongly influenced and misled by Serbian propaganda'. There were also questionable statements made by Croatian president Franjo Tudman who was quoted as saying, "I am happy that my wife is not Serbian or Jew.' In the end there as full scakle fighting. " have not helped situation. In the end full scale rebelion. The Serbs proclaimed their autonomous Republic of Serb Krajina. Criatia and Biosnia planned an opertion to retkr Kajina--Operation Storm. It was a major military operation carried to retake Krajina. The Military of Croatia reached an accord with Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They faced the separatist ethnic Serbs. After 4 years of vicious fighting, Serb leaders of Republika Srpska Krajina had to order that the Serbs in Krajina had to evcuate to Bosnia and Herzegovina.


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Created: 9:18 AM 10/20/2009
Last updated: 10:06 PM 6/19/2018