History of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1463–1878)

History of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1463–1878)
History of
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Coat of Arms of the King Tvrtko I of Bosnia
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The arrival of the Ottoman Turks marked a new era in Bosnian history.


Ottoman Rule

The Turks had conquered Slavonia and most of Hungary by 1541. In the next century, most of the Bosnian province wasn't a borderland and developed in relative peace. However, when the Empire lost the war of 1683-1697 with Austria, and ceded Slavonia and Hungary to Austria at the Treaty of Karlowitz, Bosnia's northern and western borders became the frontier between the Austrian and Ottoman empires.

In 1716, Austria occupied northern Bosnia and northern Serbia, but this lasted only until 1739 when they were ceded to the Ottoman Empire at the Treaty of Belgrade. The borders set then remained in place for another century and a half, though the border wars continued.

The wars between the Ottomans and Austria and Venice impoverished Bosnia, and encouraged further migration and resettlement; Muslim refugees from Hungary and Slavonia resettled in Bosnia, assimilating into the emerging Bosniak population, and many Serbs, mostly from Kosovo but also from Bosnia and Serbia, resettled across the Bosnian border in Slavonia and the Military Frontier at the invitation of the Austrian Emperor.

The most famous of these insurrections was the 1831-1832 one, headed by Captain Husein Gradaščević (Zmaj od Bosne, the Bosnian Dragon), who raised a full-scale rebellion in the province, joined by thousands of native Bosnian soldiers. Despite winning several notable victories, the rebels were eventually defeated in a battle near Sarajevo in 1832. Internal discord contributed to the failure of the rebellion, because Gradaščević was not supported by much of the Herzegovinian nobility. The rebellion was extinguished by 1850, but the Empire continued to decline.

The Ottoman Sultans attempted to implement various economic and military reforms in the early 19th century in order to address the grave issues mostly caused by the border wars. The reforms, however, were usually met with resistance by the military captaincies of Bosnia.

The Ottoman rule lasted for over four hundred years, until 1878.

Governing Structure

Pashaluk of Bosnia in 1606

The Ottoman rule also saw many architectural investments in Bosnia and the creation and development of many new cities including Sarajevo and Mostar. This is mostly because of the high esteem the Bosniaks held in the eyes of the Sultans and the Turks. The Empire also promoted close relations between Turks and Bosniaks, and many Turks during Ottoman times felt a trust for and a kinship with the Bosniaks.


The area of the current Bosnia and Herzegovina was initially part of the Ottoman Rumelia Province (beylerbeylik) and was divided between the three sanjaks (second-level administrative units) of Bosnia (Bosna), Herzegovina (Hersek), and Zvornik (İzvornik). Around 1525, the Ottomans created the Bosnia Eyalet which was subdivided into the sanjaks of Bosnia and Herzegovina, among others. They also introduced the so-called spahi system (actually the timar holder system) which changed the local administration and the agriculture, but was generally an arrangement similar to European feudal fiefs.

Later as part of the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms, the region became the Bosnia Vilayet and Herzegovina Vilayet which together encompassed present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina along with the Sandžak region (then the Sanjak of Novi Pazar).


All of the Bosnian Church adherents eventually converted to Islam. There are conflicting claims on the exact ratios or whether or how much of it was voluntary or not. Since earliest Turkish defters clearly distinguish Bosnian Christians from Catholics or Orthodox, it is now general consensus that the number of Christians adherents in the times during Ottoman rule did not exceed a few hundred people, due to mainly Islamic converts.

Ottoman rule also changed the ethnic and religious makeup of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many Catholic Bosnians retreated to Croatia, which was controlled by Habsburg Austria after the Ottoman conquest of most of the Kingdom of Hungary, and to Dalmatia, which was controlled by the Republic of Venice after the fall of Hungary. Orthodox Serbs and Vlachs from Herzegovina and the neighboring Sanjak of Smederevo (Belgrade Pashaluk) migrated into parts of Bosnia. Many Vlachs later assimilated into the local Serb, Bosniak, and Croat populations. The Ottoman period also saw the development of a Sephardic Jewish community in Bosnia, chiefly in Sarajevo. The Sephardic Jews were persecuted in and expelled from Catholic Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, and many resettled in the Ottoman Empire because of its tolerance towards other religions (especially towards People of the Book), mainly in and around Istanbul. The first synagogue was built in Sarajevo in 1581.


During the Ottoman period, Christians were treated as "dhimmis" by the Ottoman authorities but were otherwise subject to the same restrictions as Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were not required to join the army, but they paid a special tax called jizya (glavarina in Bosnia).

During Ottoman rule, many children of Christian parents, regardless of whether Orthodox or Catholic, were separated from their families and raised to be members of the Janissary Corps (this practice was known as the devşirme system, 'devşirmek' meaning 'to gather' or 'to recruit'). While this was of course forcibly at first, later on in Ottoman history, some Christian and Muslim parents began to bribe Ottoman officials to take their children. However, this practice was heavily resented by most of the people of the area. This was because of the very high position a Janissary held the in Ottoman society. Owing to their education (for they were taught arts, science, maths, poetry, literature and many of the languages spoken in the Ottoman Empire, such as Arabic, Bosnian, Greek and Turkish), Janissaries could easily work their way up to a becoming governors or even Grand Viziers.


  • Markus Koller and Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Bosnia: A History in Peril, University of Wisconsin Press (2004) ISBN 0-299-20714-5
  • Matija Mazuranic, A Glance into Ottoman Bosnia, Saqi Books (2007)

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