Maat - To know the history to create the future




The Turkish domination


In 1463 the last king of Bosnia, the catholic Stefano Tomasevic, died defending his own native land from the Turkish invader. For the Bosnians it began the Muslim domination destined to last until 1878. Four centuries whose consequences persist still today.

Locality: Bosnia

Age: 1463-1878

End of the reign of Bosnia

At the beginning of 1463 the king of Bosnia Stefano Tomasevic, having known that the Turks were massing their troops near Edirne (Adrianopoli), asked help to Venice, making present that the Turks after the invasion of Bosnia would arrive also in Dalmatia. But Venice decided not to intervene.

Serbia, become vassal of the Turks after the battle of Kosovo of 1389, had been completely submitted in 1459.

The Albanians had been submitted by the Turks in 1435. In 1443 George Castriota, said Skanderberg, had started a liberation war that would have lasted until 1506, date of the definitive defeat of Albanian people by means of the Ottomans.

In the spring of 1463 the sultan Mehmed II attacked Bosnia. King Stefano tried a desperate resistance. On 20 May the royal fortress of Bobovac was taken. Stefano retreated towards the north, to Jaice, in the fortress of Kliuc. The Turks besieged him, he surrendered and was beheaded.

A part of the northern Bosnia was freed by the Hungarians. Jaice became the capital of a reduced Bosnia. But in 1527 it had to surrender to the Ottomans who had defeated the Hungarians in the battle of Mohacs.

In the south some territories will resist until 1482.

Bosnia before the Turks

The Turks had taken possession of a rich and prosperous country.

Mines of copper and silver at Kesevo and Fojnica. Gold, silver and lead at Zvornik. Silver at Srebenica, whose name means silver, the city was called in Roman age Argentaria. In 1422 Bosnia and Serbia produced the fifth part of European production of silver.

There were many important cities: Visoko, capital of the banate of Bosnia for a large part of the Middle Ages, Jaice, Travnik, Gorazde and Livno. Beyond 350 small cities fortified, between which Vrhbosna, occupied by the Turks and transformed in 1448 in Sarajevo.

The royal court had a well organized chancellery. The documents were written in Latin or Slavonic. It had been developed a kind of writing different from the Cyrillic and called Bosancic.

The noble had frequent contacts with Hungarians, Prussians, Bulgarians, Poles, Serbs, Italians and Greeks.

The Franciscans had founded numerous monasteries.

Artists of Ragusa and Venice worked to embellish churches and palaces.

The Saint war

Islam considers the world divided in two zones:

- dar al-Islam, that is dwelling of Islam: the areas controlled by Muslim states

- dar al-harb, that is dwelling of the war: the areas not controlled by Muslim states.

All the Muslims are obliged to observe the 5 arkan al-Islam, the 5 pillars of Islam: shahada (faith profession), salat (canonical prayer), zakat (alms), sawm (fast) and hagg (pilgrimage).

But another fundamental precept exists: the jihad, that literally means "effort" and is normally translated with "Saint War". It is the religious obligation of Muslims to fight until all the world will have adopted the Muslim faith or will have been submitted to the Muslim domination. It is a concept of Jewish origin adumbrated in the Deuteronomy and the Book of the Judges.

The jihad was revived by the Ottomans, who, converted to the Islam a short time before, had become extremely respectful of the shari'a, the Law. The jihad would have begun to diminish in intensity under the walls of Vienna in 1683, in order to resume violenty in more recent times.

People of the Book

When the Muslims acquire the control of a country, to the local populations it is offered the possibility to be converted to Islam. In case of refuse:

- polytheists and atheists can be condemned to death (Koran 9,5);

- the ahl al-kitab, that is "people of the Book", Hebrew and Christians, is putl under dhimma, that is protection. The dhimmi have politica,l civil, social, economic and religious status of inferiority compared to the other citizens, but they have always the possibility to be converted.

The Ottomans applied rigidly these norms and the ulama, men of religious culture, had the task to watch not Muslim people so that they could not violate the rules established for their protection. Not Muslim peoples often had to appeal to the sultan in order to protest against the abuses and the persecutions that they had to suffer by these local notables.

Not Muslim people who tried to rebel themselves became automatically harbi, that is citizens of dar al-harb, the land of infidels, and therefore they lost the protection and were subject to the laws of the conquest.

The Christians did not have to ...

The Ottomans applying rigorously Muslims laws, established that the Christians did not have:

- to make part of the army

- to make part of the statal bureaucracy

- to have Muslims at their own dependency

- to carry arms

- to horseride

- to testify in court against a Muslim

- to bring legal actions against a Muslim

- to construct new churches

- to repair old churches without permission

- to have civil or religious buildings higher than those Muslim

- to make religious manifestations in public (for instance to ring the bells)

- to try to convert the Muslims (for the apostates it was provided the pain of death)

- to carry the same dresses of Muslims, above all they had to avoid green, sacred color for the Islam

- to marry Muslim women (but Muslims could marry Christian women).

The Christians had to ...

The Ottomans imposed to the Christians:

- to pay a special annual tribute as Christians

- to pay special tribute on the occasion of the wars against Christian countries and of particular requirements of the ministry of finances

- to dress with dresses that identified their religious membership

- to deal with deference Muslims (for instance in the street they had to give way to the Muslims)

- to give their own sons for the devsirme, that is the collection. The Turks passed to select the best boys in order to tear them from their families and to carry them to Istanbul where they would have been converted, trained and inserted in the army and in the bureaucracy. We consider that over 200,000 children have been taken away from their families.

The Ottoman feudal system

The spahi, the noble Muslims, received by the sultan a timar, that is a land property, at the beginning not heritable at least in theory, in change for their service in the Ottoman army.

The peasants had to pay in nature a tax varying between a tenth and a quarter of the product. They had moreover to carry out works for the timariot.

The peasants who were converted to Islam could have the full property of a farm of an area varying between 5 and 10 hectares.

Military-administrative structure

The Ottoman Empire was subdivided in provinces (eyalet) and these in sanjaks. The sanjak of Bosnia had its seat in Sarajevo (until 1553), then in Banja Luka (until 1639), then newly in Sarajevo (until the end of XVII century) and finally in Travnik. Bosnia was inserted in the eyalet of Rumelia, that comprised nearly all Balkans. In 1588 it was constituted the eyalet of Bosnia comprising Bosnia, Herzegovina and parts of Slavonia, Croatia, Dalmatia and Serbia.

The population

In 1468-1469 it was carried out the defter, a census at fiscal purpose. In the territories of central and oriental Bosnia were present 37,125 Christian families and 332 Muslim ones, in addiction to approximately 9,000 single or widow Christians. Many holders of timar were new Muslims, others had a muslim name, but they were sons of a father with a Christian name.

In 1485 it was carried out a new defter. 30,552 Christian families and 4,134 Muslims, 2,491 single Christians and 1,064 single Muslims turned out present. The lessening of the number of families is due to the emigration of Christians towards lands still free from Ottoman domination.

The defter of period 1520-1530 supply the figures of 98,095 Christians and 84,675 Muslims.

Let's assume that for every family there have been 5 persons, it is possible to supply the following table:


Persecution of Catholic Church

The Ottoman Empire, between XV and XVI centuries, succeeded to get hold of the main states of orthodox religion of Balkans. On the contrary the great European catholic powers constituted a valid bastion to the progress of the Turks, even if losing important areas like Hungary. In this situation orthodox peoples did not have more references external to the Ottoman Empire, while catholics could always hope in the intervention of the Pope, of Venice, of Austria, etc

Beside orthodox people, in compliance with their tradition, shew an inclination for the cohabitation and submission regarding to the political authorities. They even called the sultan basileus. On the contrary the catholics entered in contrast with Turkish authorities and gave life to numerous revolts.

Consequently the Ottomans began to support the Orthodox Church and to fight the Catholic Church.

Orthodox populations were introduced in Bosnia, in order to contrast the catholics, whose clergymen were considered enemy spies.

The greater part of Franciscan convents was closed. Those remained opened had to pay special taxes. Many religious people were imprisoned.

Although that Catholic Church did not have any source of income, if not the donations of believers and some contribution from foreign countries, Ottoman governors subjected it to continuous collections of money.

Towards Europe

In 1683 Austrians, helped by the Poles of Giovanni Sobieski, repelled the attack of the Turks against Vienna.

In 1689 count Piccolomini guided the Austrians troops up to the Kosovo, but on 9 November he died of plague at Prizren.

In 1690 general Veterani, his successor in command, did not succeed in controlling the Turkish counter-offensive and had to withdraw abandoning freed lands.

The Christians, and particularly the catholics, who had supported the Austrians, were forced to abandon their native land, chased by Turkish troops. It is considered epic the history of the 40,000 families which, guided by the orthodox patriarch of Pec Arsenio III Crnojevic, escaped beyond the Danube, in the lands controlled by the Austrians.

In 1697 prince Eugene of Savoia freed Sarajevo, but had newly to retreat. An enormous crowd of catholics followed the general on the other side of the Sava river, hoping to be able to return soon in their own land.

After these facts Christian population, and in particular the catholics, diminished drastically and the Turks, contrary to the muslim tradition, tried to force the conversion to Islam of those who had remained.

In 1699 it was drawn up the treaty of Karlowitz (Sremki Karlovci, at north-west of Belgrade, near Novi Sad) and a part of Bosnia near the south-west border passed to the Venetians.

In 1716 Eugene of Savoia tried again to free Bosnia. In 1718, with the treaty of Passarowitz (Pozarevac in Serbia), Austria received a strip of Bosnian territory at south of the Sava river and the Venetian Dalmatia advanced reaching what still today is the south-west border of Bosnia.

In 1736 the Austrians tried for the umpteenth time to free Bosnia, but they were defeated. With the treaty of Belgrade of 1739 they had to renounce to the territories south of the Sava. The northern border of today's Bosnia dates back to this treaty.

In 1788 the Austrians newly began the hostilities towards the Ottoman Empire. In 1791 Austria obtained from the sultan the official title of "protector" of the Christians under Turkish domination.

In 1804 the Serbs rebelled themselves and in 1815 they obtained from the sultan wide autonomy in a zone of center-north Serbia, the nucleus of the future free Serbia.

In 1851 the Christians of Bosnia sent a petition to the sultan asking:

- to be treated as subjects of the Turks and not to be subjected to kanun-i raya (the discriminatory laws for not muslim peoples)

- to be treated in an equal way in front of the law

- to have an equal number of Christian and Muslim judges

- the elimination of the tax per capita over the Christians.

In 1855 the tax was abolished and the Christians were allowed to do their military service.

In 1872 the new orthodox cathedral of Sarajevo was completed completed and the bells rang anew in Bosnia.

In 1875 the Bosnian governor repressed violently a series of protests of the peasants, in majority Christians, who did not succeed to pay taxes after the catastrophic collection of 1874.

In 1876 the Ottomans began a mopping up that made approximately 250,000 Christians escape from Bosnia. Russia declared war to the Ottoman Empire claiming the freedom of Serbia and Montenegro and particular autonomies for Bosnia.

On 13 July 1878 with the treaty of Berlin it was established that Bosnia and Herzegovina, even if remaining under Turkish sovereignty, would have been occupied and managed by Austria. On 18 August 1878 the Austrian troops entered in Sarajevo. On 20 October Bosnia returned to be part of Europe.


Bibliographical references:


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