Medieval Europe: Croatia

Croatian medieval festival
Figure 1.--Croatians like other Europeans are fascinated by their history and heritage. Here are a group of Croatian boys participating in a historical festival. O'm not sure when it was taken. A dealer thought the 1910s. The white T-strap shoes look a little more modern, perhaps the 1920s. From their costumes they are engaged in a depiction of Renaisance era during which Europe emerged from the medieval era, probably the 16th century. The boys are wearing doublets and trunk hose, and long stockings (of course in this case, tights). The styles seem remarkably similar to those prevalent in Western Europe. The boys would not be out of place on a Shakesperian stage. Of course we do not know just how accurate these recreations are.

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). 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.

The Balkans Power Situation (7th-12th centuries)

The early small Croatian dukedoms were caught between powerful states which surronded them. The Byzantine Empire to the south attempted to control the Dalmatian city-states and islands. Here Byzantine naval power was an inmportant factor. The Franks to the north were another threat and unlike the Byzantines had the military power to dominate inland areas of the Balkans. The other major threat coming from the east were the Avars. Even after the decline of the Avars the Magyars who merged with them continued to threaten the Croats. Eventually the Magyar or Hungarian monrchy would acquite Croatia. Other lesser threats came from the Bulgars and Serbs as Byzantine power receeded. The Croatian dukes and kings attempted to survive by playing these powers of each other.


The process of Christinization began at this time as a result of the surviving Roman population. The Papacy reports contacts with the Croats (mid-7th century). [Liber Pontificalis. Pope John IV (640-42) known as John the Dalmatian dispatched Abbot Martin to Dalmatia and Istria to ransom prisoners and relics (the remnants of old Christian martyrs). Abbot Martin appears to havecmade an impression on Croatian leaders. Byzantine sources also report efforts to Christinize the Croats. The Byzantines report that Duke Porin at the incentive of Emperor Heraclius began the process. Another account mentions Duke Porga (possibly an alternstive spelling of Porin) who played a major role influence by Roman missionaries. Many modern Croatian sources attribute Chrstinization in large measure to Duke Borna. While few details survive on the process of Chistinization, it was largely achieved (early 9th century). The Latin Rites appear to have prevailed largely because the Papacy gave greater attention to Croatia than the Byzantines. Church synods were held in Dalmatia (11th century). Papal attention to Croatia intensified after the break between the Eastern and Western Church (1054). After this the Latin rites became increasingly dominant.


The Croats settling the central Balkans formed dukedoms--the Pannonian duchy in the north and the Dalmatian duchy in the south. The first written record of Croatia was in an 952 statute issued by Duke Trpimir. Trpimir I, Duke of Croatia (845-864) of the house of Trpimirovic ruled under the suzerainty of the German Emperor Lothar, but expanded relations with Byzantium in part to establish an independent state. The country was recognized by pope John VIII as an independent dukedom under Branimir in 879. A united independent Croatian kingdom existed (923-1102). We jknow little about Croatia at this time. We have found a variety of listings about the monarchs of Croatia. Croatia became a province ruled by the Hugarian monarchy. 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.

Mongol Invasion (1241-42)

The Mongols played an enormously important role in world history. Although a relatively small population, the Mongols established the most extensive empire in history, streaching from Korea to Eastern Europe. Only the Japanese suceessfully defied the Mongols. The Mongols under their great khan Geghis conquered and influenced many of the major world powers, China, Russia, Persia, amd India. The Mongols defeated the Poles and were set to move into Western and Southern Europe. Only the death of thir great leader, Geghis Khan prevented this (1227). Mongol army continued to be active in the Balkans. King Bela IV of Hungary angered Batu by giving refuge to groups of Cumans who had fled from Bulgaria when the Mongols had conquered the country. Batu demanded that these people be returned. The Hungarians were also concerned with the Cumans who to them looked like Mongols. Batu Khan and Subotai moved the Mongol army into Hungary and approached Pest. King Bela's army was huge (perhaps 100,000 men) and considered to be one of the most powerful in Europe. The mongols feined a retreat and King Bela’s army persued them. After a series of squirmishes, Batu found the Hungarians in an exposed position near Mohi, a small village, along the Sajo River (1241). Batu massed his forces. He ttacked first. Subotai was delayed. The battle began to turn against Batu, but turned into aslaughter when Subotai finally reached Mohi. The Hungarian army was anialated, perhaps 60,000 men were killed. A small contingent with King Bela managed to break out of the encirclement and reach Pest. Batu followed and burnt Pest to the ground. King Bella managed to reach Zagreb in Croatia. Zagreb was unable to resist the Mongols who destroyed the city and its cathedral. Bela then fled to the fortified Dalmatian places. The Duke of Austria used the opportunity to annex Hungarian/Croatian provinces, not fully appreciating the Mongol threat. Batu pillaged Hungary and Croatia. Most of the people they found were butchered. The Mongols withdrew but Hungary and Croatia were devestated. Huge numbers of people were killed and cities and settlements burned. The economy and cultural inheritance were largely destroyed. King Bela began to recbuild the kingdom. He began contructing fortified towns. The defense of the kingdom was based on free royal towns rather than a massive army. One of the most important fortified townn in Croatia was Zagreb.

The Ottomans

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 Turlish 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.



De Administrando Imperio (10th century). This is the earliest source describing the migration of the Croats and other Slavic Tribes into southeastern Europe.

Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja (12th century).

Thomas the Archdeacon. Historia Salonitana (13th century).


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Created: 6:21 AM 5/16/2007
Last edited: 6:21 AM 5/16/2007