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1463-1878 - Ottoman Bosnia

Bosnia remained independent until 1463, when Ottoman Turks conquered the region. In the reign of the eighth King, Stephan Tomashewitch, Bosnia was conquered by Sultan Mohammed II. Sultan Mohammed II resolved to reduce Bosnia to complete subjection. When he sent an embassy to demand tribute, King Stephen, taking the envoy into a treasure-chamber, said, "Here is the tribute; but I have no mind to send it to the Sultan." "It is a fine treasure to keep," replied the envoy, " but I know not whether it will bring you luck; I fear, the reverse."

The lands directly under the Bosnian Crown were soon subdued. Mohammad attacked the royal residence, the mighty fortress of Bobovac and ended the Kotromanjic Dynasty; and here again the special condition of Bosnia affected the course of events. The defender, Prince Radak, was secretly a Patarine, though he had feigned to accept Catholicism; and he betrayed the town to the Turk. The Turk rewarded him by decapitation; - a strange policy on the part of a conqueror whose interest it was to encourage such treacheries.

It was the Sultan's policy to put to death all rulers whom he dethroned; and, in order to release him from the obligation of keeping a promise which he had not authorised, a learned Persian mufti with his own hand beheaded the Bosnian King. It is said that Mohammad carried off 30,000 boys to be made into Janissaries, besides 100,000 other captives. The Catholics who were left fled from the country; and to prevent its utter dispeoplement, Mohammad gave the Franciscans a safeguard, allowing the Christians free exercise of their religion.

Nevertheless, ongoing battles and sieges continued for many years thereafter. King Matthias Corvinus made a vigorous attempt to rescue Bosnia; and in the year 1463 he drove many of the Ottoman garrisons out. But he had not made timely preparations for encountering the return of Mohammad, who in the next spring (1464) came to recover Jajce, the most important stronghold of all. The hard-pressed place was relieved by a Hungarian force ; but at the end of the year Matthias, who was besieging another fort, was constrained by Mahmud Pasha to retreat. The Turks, under Sulejman the Magnificent, attacked Austria through Bosnia, arriving at the gates of Vienna in 1533, where they were defeated. But the Ottoman Empire ruled almost a third of Europe. In 1571, on the Mediterranean Sea, the Turks lost the battle of Lepante. 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. In 1528 the banat of Jajce, and in 1592 the N.W. part of Bosnia, were incorporated with the Turkish empire. Nothing more was done for Bosnia.

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. The Turks occupied Croatia until 1699. 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. 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.

From 1463 to 1878 Bosnia and Herzegovina were a part of the Turkish Empire. While subject to the Turks, they practically vanished from the current of civilization. During Ottoman rule, many Bosnians converted from Christianity to Islam. In spite of all Europe heard of the persecution of Christians in Mohammedan land, one-half of the population remained Christian. But the land was seldom long at peace, as the oppressive sway of the Turks caused the Christians to revolt repeatedly, particularly in 1850 and 1875. Bosnia became the chief theater of the long wars between Austria and Turkey, which were at length ended by the peace of Sis to va in 1791. Scarcely a ray of light or progress brightened the intellectual, social and industrial stagnation that settled upon these people.

The Ottoman conquest of Bosnia marked a new era in the country's history and introduced tremendous changes in the political and cultural landscape of the region. Although the kingdom had been crushed and its high nobility executed, the Ottomans nonetheless allowed for the preservation of Bosnia's identity by incorporating it as an integral province of the Ottoman Empire with its historical name and territorial integrity - a unique case among subjugated states in the Balkans. Within this sandžak (and eventual vilayet) of Bosnia, the Ottomans introduced a number of key changes in the territory's socio-political administration; including a new landholding system, a reorganization of administrative units, and a complex system of social differentiation by class and religious affiliation.

The four centuries of Ottoman rule also had a drastic impact on Bosnia's population make-up, which changed several times as a result of the empire's conquests, frequent wars with European powers, migrations, and epidemics. A native Slavic-speaking Muslim community emerged and eventually became the largest of the ethno-religious groups (mainly as a result of a gradually rising number of conversions to Islam), while a significant number of Sephardi Jews arrived following their expulsion from Spain in the late 15th century. The Bosnian Christian communities also experienced major changes. The Bosnian Franciscans (and the Catholic population as a whole) were protected by official imperial decree, although on the ground these guarantees were often disregarded and their numbers dwindled. The Orthodox community in Bosnia, initially confined to Herzegovina and Podrinje, spread throughout the country during this period and went on to experience relative prosperity until the 19th century. Meanwhile, the schismatic Bosnian Church disappeared altogether.

As the Ottoman Empire thrived and expanded into Central Europe, Bosnia was relieved of the pressures of being a frontier province and experienced a prolonged period of general welfare and prosperity. A number of cities, such as Sarajevo and Mostar, were established and grew into major regional centers of trade and urban culture. Within these cities, various Sultans and governors financed the construction of many important works of Bosnian architecture (such as the Stari most and Gazi Husrev-beg's Mosque). Furthermore, numerous Bosnians played influential roles in the Ottoman Empire's cultural and political history during this time. Bosnian soldiers formed a large component of the Ottoman ranks in the battles of Mohács and Krbava field, two decisive military victories, while numerous other Bosnians rose through the ranks of the Ottoman military bureaucracy to occupy the highest positions of power in the Empire, including admirals, generals, and grand viziers. Many Bosnians also made a lasting impression on Ottoman culture, emerging as mystics, scholars, and celebrated poets in the Turkish, Arabic, and Persian languages.

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 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.

The Ottomans 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.

By the late 17th century, the Ottoman Empire's military misfortunes caught up with the country, and the conclusion of the Great Turkish War with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 had once again made Bosnia the empire's westernmost province. The following hundred years were marked by further military failures, numerous revolts within Bosnia, and several outbursts of plague. The Porte's efforts at modernizing the Ottoman state were met with great hostility in Bosnia, where local aristocrats stood to lose much through the proposed reforms. During the 18th Century, and in the first half of the 19th Century, the Bosnians engaged in defensive wars against Austria and Venice, and at the same time also demanded autonomous status within the Ottoman Empire. Adopted Ottoman institutions (landowners, captains, janissaries) were by that time accepted as Bosnian. Frustrations over political concessions to nascent Christian states in the east, culminated in a famous (albeit ultimately unsuccessful) revolt by Husein Gradascevic in 1831. There were numerous reforms and rebellions, such as the movement of Husein Bey Gradascevic (1831-32) which finally defined the extent of Bosnian autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. Related rebellions would be extinguished by 1850, but the situation continued to deteriorate. During the 1860s, the reforms undertaken brought Bosnia certain provincial autonomy.

By the time of the Crimean war against Russia in 1853, the Ottoman Empire had begun to lose power in the region, allowing Russia to gain influence in the Balkans, particularly with Serbia and Montenegro. In 1877 the Russians successfully waged war against the Ottomans along the Danube and in Armenia. However, Russia declared that the Balkan matter was something for Europe to settle.

A German writer, shortly before the Russo-Turkish war, described the situation in these words: "The misrule existing in the whole of the Turkish Empire is so great and so universal that it can be best characterized as a state of chronic and chaotic anarchy. One province, however, and that perhaps the least known of all, has in this respect a sad preeminence. It is a province where one can travel only with the greatest difficulty, and with not less danger than in the wilds of Kurdistan, where the intolerance and hate against the Christians is more living and active than around fanatical Damascus, and where the condition of the people is more abject and hopeless than that of any Fellaheen upon the Nile. That province is Bosnia."

There were no railways, and few wagon roads. When people were compelled to travel they went in large parties, fully armed, or were accompanied by an escort of soldiers. Murder was not considered a crime and the number of people killed by the soldiers or by each other was not recorded. Robbery was as common as lying. Brigandage was a recognized profession.

In 1875, when, exasperated by extortion, taxation, robbery, rapine, murder and religious persecution, they rose in rebellion. Agrarian unrest eventually sparked the Herzegovinian rebellion, a widespread peasant uprising, in 1875. The conflict rapidly spread and came to involve several Balkan states and Great Powers. Upon the failure of the Sultan to restore order, the great Powers of Europe, at the Berlin Conference of 1878, placed the two provinces under the protection of Austria, although still requiring them to pay tribute to Turkey. The Russian and Turkish war of 1878 did not directly affect Bosnia at the time, but by the Treaty of Berlin Austria was allowed to occupy Bosnia and the Herzegovina.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:47 ZULU