Pula Amphitheater

History of Croatia

Throughout its turbulent history, either the whole of Croatia or some of its regions have been parts of a series of states or empires - Hungary, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, Italy, Yugoslavia, and others - that thundered across the European stage. Even before that, the Ancient Romans and Slavic tribes that settled the territory of today’s Croatia in the 7th century had left a lasting mark.

Croatia in the Stone and Iron Ages

Traces of human life in the territory of Croatia reach back to the Late Stone Age. The Neanderthal site discovered in a cave on Hušnjak Hill near the town of Krapina is important on a European scale. The town, Krapina, has lent its name to this type of hominid: Homo krapiniensis. The remains of a Neolithic Age (Early Stone Age) culture have been discovered around the rivers Sava, Drava and the Danube. Characteristic of the Copper Age is the renowned Vučedol culture that developed along the Danube not far from the town of Vukovar. Fine examples of ceramics were discovered, the Vučedol Dove being the best known.

The remains of Illyrian tribes (the Liburni, Japodes and Delmata), found in the region from Istria to Dalmatia and Herzegovina, date back to the Iron Age. In the 4th century BCE, the Celts also left traces of their culture in Croatia. In the same period, the ancient Greeks established colonies on the islands of Vis (Issa) and Hvar (Pharos), in today’s town of Trogir (Tragurion) and elsewhere.

The Roman Era

Two centuries later, the Romans followed the Greeks to the shores of the Adriatic Sea, but did not conquer Croatian regions until the early 1st century CE. They established the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, while Istria was annexed to the Italic region (Venetia et Histria). The Roman Era saw the rapid development of trade and traffic; roads and seaports were built, and many towns emerged, such as Pola (Pula), Parentium (Poreč), Jadera (Zadar), Scardona (Skradin) and Narona on the mouth of the river Neretva. Towns such as Siscia (Sisak), Cibalae (Vinkovci), Sirmium (Mitrovica), Mursa (Osijek) and many others were also founded in the continental part of today’s Croatia along Roman roads and waterways.

The arrival of the Croats

In the centuries following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, growing numbers of newcomers began settling the Roman provinces. The Croats, a belligerent Slavic tribe, mostly settled the territory of today’s Croatia. In alliance with the Avars, they conquered and settled the region of the former Roman province of Illyricum, first in Pannonia and then in Dalmatia. In 582, they captured the flourishing town of Syrmium, and in 614, Salon, followed by Epidaurum (Cavtat).

Gradually, the Croats mixed with the region’s indigenous population and embraced Christianity. They soon established their own state, which survived for almost 500 years. The rule of Croatian princes and kings in this era is characterized by a series of wars with the Franks, Venetians, Arabs, Hungarians, Bulgarians and Byzantines.

The first Croatian rulers

Prince Branimir in the late 9th century was the first known Croatian ruler, while Tomislav, the first Croatian king, was crowned in 925 and ruled until 928. King Tomislav of the Trpimirović dynasty established the medieval Kingdom of Croatia that reached its peak during the time of King Petar Krešimir IV from 1058 to 1074. The Dalmatian towns of that time pledged to give the king a third of their port revenue, a peace tribute, and to provide support with their ships in wartime. Such revenue helped to strengthen the kingdom.

The proud age of Croatian kings ended with the decline of the Trpimirović dynasty. In 1102, the Croats recognised the Hungarian ruler Koloman as joint king of Croatia and Hungary. Initially, the link between the Croatian and Hungarian state was based solely on a joint ruler. However, continuous conflicts over Dalmatia with the Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire and, later, the Ottoman Empire, brought the two states closer together.

The Habsburg Monarchy and the Venetian Republic

The Croatian-Hungarian Kingdom survived until the battle of Mohacs against Ottoman forces in 1526. This was a period of internal wars between Croatian and Hungarian nobles for position and rule, as well as constant conflicts with the Ottomans. When the Ottoman expansion in Europe began, Croatia found itself bordering on the Ottoman Empire, and in the 16th century, it became a guardian of Christianity in Europe. Despite continuous struggles, Croatia lost more and more of its territory.

The battle of Mohacs in 1526 marked the culmination of conflicts between the Croats and Hungarians on one side and the Ottomans on the other. While the Ottoman forces emerged as victors, signifying the end of the Hungarian Kingdom’s power, they did not succeed in conquering the Croats and Hungarians. Both countries became part of the Habsburg Monarchy, while the Venetian Republic annexed Croatia’s Littoral.

War with the Ottomans continued, and following theie victory at Sisak in 1593, the Croatia people began to retrieve their territory, although one part was lost forever. The 18th century saw the final expulsion of the Ottoman army out of Hungary and Croatia, and the Habsburg Monarchy, also known as the Austrian Empire, regained central control.

Under the rule of the Viennese Court

The Croats continued their resistance against the Germanising and centralist politics of the Viennese court. Dalmatia had been under Italian influence during the 100-year Venetian administration. With the fall of the Venetian Republic in the late 18th century, the Littoral and Dalmatia came under the rule of the Viennese court.

The Croatian National Revival

The centralistic aspirations of the Austrian Empire resulted in mounting tension and struggles against Germanisation, Magyarisation and Italianisation that culminated in the first half of the 19th century. This period is known as the Croatian national revival, and one of its greatest achievements is the reintroduction of Croatian as the official language. Croatian culture and literature flourished during that time.

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the independent state

Croatia remained a part of Austria-Hungary until the end of the First World War in 1918. With the disintegration of the Monarchy, Croatia entered the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Croatia became one of Yugoslavia’s six republics and with the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, it continued as an independent state.


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