The History of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The history of Bosnia and Herzegovina is dominated by invasion and only recently by true independence.

Ancient History

The area that is now Bosnia and Herzegovina has changed hands countlessly throughout history. Initially populated by Illyrians and Celts who had migrated from elsewhere in the European continent. These were then conquered and occupied by the Roman Empire, resulting in a Latinisation of the area’s  languages, until the Ostrogoths took advantage of the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the mid-5th century to conquer the area.

The Eastern Roman Empire re-conquered the area in the 6th century, but it was not to last: The Slavs came streaming down from the north and conquered the area, later followed by the Kingdom of Hungary, which ruled Bosnia until the 14th century, with on-again off-again dominance of the Byzantine Empire as well.

Independence

In 1377, the Bosnian Kingdom was officially established, independent of both Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. It was not to last, however; the Ottoman Empire was flexing its muscle and conquered the area beginning in 1463, slowly overcoming resistance until the last remnant of an independent Bosnian Kingdom fell in 1527.     

The Ottomans ruled Bosnia and Herzegovina until 1878, when the area was ceded to Austria-Hungary via treaty after centuries of Ottoman decline. Austria-Hungary ruled the area until 1918, when that empire’s defeat in World War I resulted in the formation of a Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which included Bosnia and Herzegovina. Famously, Bosnia retained no official status under this kingdom, resulting in increased strife between the different groups of people forced unwillingly into this new country. This also set the table for future conflict between the Serbs and the Bosnians.

World War II and Beyond

The Nazis conquered Yugoslavia during World War II, and then the region fell under communist control with the establishment of a communist Yugoslavia, which lasted until 1992. In 1990 the first free elections were held in the country, and a significant debate within Bosnia and Herzegovina regarding whether they should seek independence resulted in a resolution for independence that was only partially supported by the overall population – with the split clearly along ethnic lines. Civil war broke out, lasting over two years and involving many atrocities committed mainly by Serbians against Bosnians and Croats. In the end this war established the first truly independent Bosnia-Herzegovina in history.