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Bosnian Borders
Tomislav Raukar



The original Bosnia, or "small land of Bosnia" (to horion Bosona) was for the first time mentioned in the middle of the 10th century in the work of Constantine Porfirogenet (De administrando imperzo), as a part of Duke Caslav's Serbia, but however, clearly separated from Serbia proper.46 The original Bosnia was spread across the highlands around the upper stream of the river Bosna. It was separated from the neighbouring regions by a mountain range towards rivers Vrbas, Neretva and Drina. In order to develop, Bosnia had to expand territorially from its core.

As Vjekoslav Klaic said, "from the very beginning, Bosnia stood between Croat and Serb peoples", which meant that it was always between two (Croat and Serb) dominating state and ethno-social centers in the South-Slav lands. During the medieval times, Bosnia expanded onto Croatian (mostly), as well as Serb lands (at times).47

The growth of Bosnia
(T. Macan "Povijest hrvatskog naroda")


In order to explain the social complexity of medieval Bosnia, a historian must take note of both directions of Bosnia's expansion, and consequently, both the western and eastern influences on its development.


The necessity for communication

The breakout from the initial core ran parallel with the development of an independent Bosnian state. Bosnia had expanded past the midpoint of the river Drina, towards the Serb lands, perhaps as early as during the reign of Ban Kulin (towards the end of the 12th century), but definitely during the reign of Ban Matej Ninoslav (mid 13th century). Crucial for Bosnian development was its territorial drive towards west, south-west and further south to the coast, especially toward the eastern Adriatic coast, all these being Croatian regions. Further Bosnian territorial drives in 13th and 14th centuries, the annexation of parts of the Croatian kingdom (Donji Kraji and Zavrsje) had a twofold effect. First, Bosnia now included significant parts of the Croatian kingdom, and secondly, Bosnia was now in a close geopolitical and economic relationship with the surrounding Croatian lands.

The territories of Bosnian lords in the 15th century
(F. Sisic "Povijest Hrvata u vrijeme narodnih vladara")


Certainly, Bosnia also absorbed some Serbian regions in the 14th century, as King Tvrtko's Bosnia expanded towards east and south-east, encompassing Upper Podrinje and Polimlje all the way down to Dubrovnik and Kotor hinterland. As was mentioned before, the surrounding and annexed Croatian regions were far more important in Bosnia's development.

Bosnia's territorial enlargement during the reign of king Stjepan II Kotromanic and Tvrtko I was first and foremost directed at the eastern Adriatic coast. Such large changes greatly influenced the relations between Bosnia and the Croatian kingdom. A very strong social current towards the belt of settlements from Zadar to Dubrovnik meant that Bosnia developed strong economic, folk and reflective ties with the Croatian domain. It can be said that Bosnia had a specific role as a border zone, connecting Croatia with the wider Balkan region.

Active economic ties and trade between Bosnia and Croat coastal towns can be observed from as early as reign of Ban Kulin all the way up to the Turkish invasion. Beginning from the "friendship" contract between Ban Kulin and Dubrovnik in 1189, through to the sudden rise in trade that was due to the construction of important landmarks of Split in 1592. Social communication between the Croatian kingdom and Bosnia, first and foremost, meant interaction of the peoples. Migrations, especially from Bosnia towards the Adriatic coast and running the other way, from Dalmatian towns into Bosnia - resulted in an exchange of ideas and concepts (dualist heresy, language and art).

Bosnia's unique social development was a legacy of eastern and western influences. Influences eminating from the east were an initial guide in development, but from the 12th century onwards, western influences had become dominant. Heretic, dualist ideas from the east were the main factor in the creation of a "Bosnian church", the strongest factor in Bosnia's uniqueness, It must also be said that from the outset, the western church had a very strong influence in Bosnia. Indeed, even the heretic "Bosnian church" was created within the jurisdiction and the embrace of the western church. As of the 14th century, an important factor in the spiritual and social development of Bosnia was the activity of the Franciscan order. Bosnian language and script was also a combination of western and eastern influences. The initial glagolitic base had been supplemented with the use of Cyrillic script, but with a Bosnian adaptation. Morphologic simplicity, folk grammar, the "ikavica" dialect and the visual differences mean that the Bosnian version of Cyrillic was clearly different to the eastern version. The two Cyrillic zones - eastern and western, did of course have the same origin, but their spiritual use and role in the society were quite different.

National consciousness

In extremely rare available data on national consciousness during the late medieval period of Bosnia, Bosnian orientation of the Slav core is evident. However, it is necessary to point out two things. First of all, that the name "Bosnjani" (Bosnenses) is complex because it is applied as a designation on many different levels (in one instance, for example, to distinguish aristocracy from ordinary subjects), and secondly because the name developed parallel with other processes. The development of national consciousness in Bosnia can only be analysed in light of social consequences of the events occurring around that time. Such events were for example the extending of Bosnian borders onto formerly Croatian and Serbian lands, and the activity of Catholic and Orthodox churches on Bosnian territory.

"Srblin" and "Vlah"

Research on ethno-social development of Bosnia runs into difficulties even during the translation of Bosnian Cyrillic documents from the 13th Century, especially in three documents attributed to Ban Matej Ninoslav. In these, Matej Ninoslav uses the term "Srblin" (Serb) for inhabitants of Bosnia and juxtaposes it with "Vlah" (Vlach) for the inhabitants of Dubrovnik.50 These designations have been subject to many interpretations, ranging from complete rejection to absolute acceptance.51 In order to explain this historical enigma, it is necessary to analyze Cyrillic documents from the 12th and 13th Centuries.

The analysis of these documents shows that the designation in question ("Srblin" vs "Vlah") did not originate in medieval Bosnia, but rather in Serbia. The first instance of these names being used was in the document of the Great Duke of Raska (a predecessor to Serbia), Stefan, to Dubrovnik written around 1215.52 Today, we recognize that particular document was written by a Dubrovnik notary, Paskal, which becomes even more crucial when we note that two out of three of Matej Ninoslav's documents were also written by this particular notary in 1240 and 1249.53 First of Matej Ninoslav's documents was written before 1235 by notary Desoje, but this doesn't affect the conclusion that the juxtaposition of the national designation "Srblin" vs "Vlah" found its way into Bosnian documents from Raska, through the complicity of the Dubrovnik public office. Another fact that supports the conclusion that names used in Ninoslav's documents did not reflect the national composition of Bosnia in the first half of the 13th Century, is the fact that Ban Kulin's document sent to Dubrovnik in 1189 does not recognise the name "Srblin". As a document older than Ninoslav's, it would be expected that it would contain this designation, if it indeed was actually used in Bosnia. Furthermore, it doesn't even use the term "Vlah"54 when referring to the inhabitants of Dubrovnik. The term "Vlah" when referring to an inhabitant of Dubrovnik, is thus, definitely not of Bosnian origin, likewise with the term "Srblin" for inhabitants of Bosnia.

Bosnia and Serbia

Such unusual use of the terms "Srblin" and "Vlah" between the Serbian, Bosnian and Dubrovnik public offices indicates that it could only occur in Bosnia because it's ethno-social order and a national name was still under development in the first half of the 13th Century. National characteristics of the Slavs in Bosnia had not clearly developed by this time. The role of the Dubrovnik notary, Paskal, indicates that in the minds of the people of Dubrovnik, Serbia's leading position in the Slavic, continental hinterland had been a decisive factor. During the reign of the great Duke Stefan Nemanja, after the conquest of Duklja in 1183, Raska had occupied the whole region surrounding Dubrovnik, including Zahumlje, Travunja and Duklja. Such a mindset included data about the political allegiances of Bosnia at the beginning of its written history whereby according to Porfirogenet, "small land Bosnia" in the middle of the 10th Century was a part of Serbia. Such a territorial/political belief about the continental hinterland of Pop Dukljanin (Grgur Barski) was prevalent two centuries after.

In mid 12th Century, the chronicle Primorju (Maritima) from Duklja, in which White and Red Croatia are separated, are contrasted to Serbia or Zagorje (Surbia, Transmontana), composed of Bosnia and Raska.55 With such a prevalent sentiment, it's not surprising that even the Pope's decrees from late 12th and early 13th Century, using the information coming out of Dubrovnik, mistakenly identified Serbia with Bosnia (regnum Servillie, quod est Bosna).56 At the time when those Papal decrees were written, during the reigns of Ban Kulin and Ban Matej Ninoslav, Bosnia was not a part of Serbia, but memories of Bosnia's initial position vis a vis Serbia in the beginning of the 12th Century still abounded, especially in the cities of Upper Dalmatia (Bar, Dubrovnik). In accordance with such beliefs, and with the activities of the Dubrovnik public office, terms "Srblin" and "Vlah" had made their way into Bosnian public documents. That means that the term "Srblin" in Ninoslav's documents was not a reflection of the national consciousness in Bosnia, but was rather a late result of political influences of Serbia before the establishment of a Bosnian state. That is why we cannot take those terms as being accurate when describing the national consciousness of Bosnia in the first half of the 13th Century. Quite the opposite then, they are the proof of its lagging development in terms of national sentiment. It needs to be reiterated that the equality "Srblin" = an inhabitant of Bosnia appears in only three documents of Ban Matej Ninoslav and there is no mention of it in any of the later works and documents.

The extent of ethnic identification?

No Bosnian documents from the late 13th and early 14th Century have survived. Ethno-social occurrences from that time period thus stay outside a historian's view, but at the time when Bosnia, under Ban Stjepan II Kotromanic entered a phase of territorial expansion and social growth, the concepts of national consciousness became more complex and with new factors added to the mix. The first item to be noted is the use of the Bosnian name in the 14th and 15th Century. The name is used in Cyrillic documents of medieval Bosnia, in Latin scripts about the "Bosnian church" and the notaries of Dalmatian towns. But in each of those three instances, the Bosnian name pertains to a different group, every one of them is indicating a separate level of national consciousness. What was the role and purpose of the Bosnian name?

The Bosnian name was first used in Cyrillic documents. In determining the relationship with Dubrovnik, and the procedure for solving arguments, Ban Stjepan II, in a document from 1322 uses the terms "Dubrovcanin" (obviously, a citizen of Dubrovnik) and "Bosnanin". That oldest authentic name for an inhabitant of Bosnia occurs very rarely in documents of Bosnian kings - but when it does, it is usually "dobri Bosnane" ("the good Bosnian"). After Bans Stjepan II and Tvrtko I we encounter this term in some documents from the 15th Century (Tvrtko II, Stjepan Ostojic, Stjepan Tomas).57 Even this relatively rare mention of the name "dobri Bosnane" is very important. First of all, the usage of terms "Bosnjanin" vs "Dubrovcanin" in the document of Ban Stjepan II in 1322 isn't a continuation of the documents of Ban Matej Ninoslav, but rather builds on Kulin's document from 1189. Kulin doesn't use the term "Bosnjanin", but does use the term "Dubrovcani", and not "Vlasi". Terms "Srblin" and "Vlah" were only temporary, and as previously discussed, found their way from Raska into the public office of Ban Matej Ninoslav, and certainly had no base in the actual social and national order of Bosnia, and that is why there is no trace of them ever being mentioned again after the first half of the 13th Century. Only the term "Bosnjanin" correctly reflected the independence of Bosnia, and that is why it is used in the documents from the 14th and 15th Century. But, to what or whom did exactly these terms, "Bosnjanin" and "dobri Bosnjani" refer to?

The term "dobri Bosnjani" has a class designation. It refers to aristocracy, and not an inhabitant of Bosnia, or a citizen of the Bosnian state. In the latter part of medieval times, Bosnia in 1377 became the Bosnian kingdom (Regnum Bosnae), and the dominating orientation was an allegiance to the crown and the state. The Bosnian state or "rusag Bosanski" included all of the Bosnian aristocracy, ie. "dobri Bosnjani".

The Heretics

Alongside the narrow definition of a Bosnian contained in the Cyrillic documents, in Latin sources from the 14th and 15th Century about medieval Bosnia, a more broad application of the Bosnian name is used. Firstly in Latin scripts about the heretic "Bosnian church". In a correspondence between Pope Grgur XI (?????) and a Bosnian Franciscan Bartholomeus, where the Pope is answering 23 questions on the Church's stance towards the scismatics and the heretics, the term "Bosnenses" (Bosnjani) is used in the fourth question. In the twentieth question, and the Pope's answer, the term "Bosnjanin" is used as a synonym for a heretic or a non-believer (Bosnensis vel infidelis). In the eighth question, that term is explained as referring to "Heretic people from Bosnia".60 The Bosnian name in Latin scripts about the "Bosnian church", thus has a clear meaning. "Bosnjani" in Franciscan documents from 1373 are the members of the "Bosnian church".61 The scope of that designation is evidently wider than the term "dobri Bosnjani" from Cyrillic documents, but even this broad designation did not refer to all inhabitants of Bosnia, regardless of their class or religious status.

The Franciscans

In evaluating the role of the Franciscan order in medieval Bosnia, the fact that the western church had an earlier presence in Bosnia, a long time before the arrival of the Franciscans, shouldn't be ignored. As was pointed out earlier, the heretical "Bosnian church" itself grew out of the Bosnian Catholic diocese.

The territorial oganisation of churches in Croatia and Bosnia
(N. Klaic "Povijest Hrvata u razvijenom srednjem vijeku")

As the dualist heresy in the first half of the 13th Century gradually developed into an independent "Bosnian church", so grew the attention of the Catholic Church towards Bosnia, beginning with the rejection of the Heretic principles by Ban Kulin at Bilino Polje in 1203 until the Crusades led by Duke Koloman against Ban Matej Ninoslav between 1234 and 1239.64 It is important to point out that the origin of all Catholic initiatives was outside of Bosnia. Catholic initiatives were not led by people who called Bosnia home, be they the Pope's emissary Ivan de Casamaris in 1203 or the inquisition led by the Dominicans. The activities of the Franciscans were markedly different. They didn't just come to Bosnia. They stayed there, made it their home and built numerous convents. Their activities were an integral part of Bosnian history.

According to data from 1375 collected by Bartol Pizanski, Franciscan convents in Bosnia could be found in Sutjeska, Visoko, Lasva and Olovo. The oldest was the convent of St. Nicholas in the village of Arnautovici, near today's Visoko (medieval settlement Mile). The number of Franciscan convents grew in the 15th Century. Turkish sources from the latter part of the 15th Century mention Franciscan convents in Fojnica, Kresevo, Visoko, Sutjeska, Zvornik, Olovo and elsewhere.65 Such a large network of convents allowed them to play a large part in Bosnia's cultural and social development.

The Orthodox Church

When contrasted with the strong position of the Catholic Church in mid 15th Century, the role of the Orthodox Church in Bosnia was relatively insignificant. The initial Serb influences, as indicated by first documents on medieval Bosnia, were from 12th Century almost completely drowned out by authentic domestic influences, including the development of the state and the "Bosnian church". The original Bosnia and the parts of the Croatian kingdom annexed up until the reign of Stjepan II Kotromanic, did not have any Orthodox inhabitants. But an Orthodox population could be found in those border regions which earlier belonged to medieval Serbia, and which during the reigns of Stjepan II (east Zahumlje) and Tvrtko I (Podrinje, Travunja) became a part of Bosnia. Only in those border regions, in the east and south-east, which became a part of an enlarged Bosnia, could one find Orthodox churches and convents.68 In the real, central core of Bosnia, the dominant force was Catholic-Heretic dualism, which was eventually weakened by the Catholic Church by the mid 15th Century.

Locations of churches in Bosnia before the arrival of the Ottomans
(S. Cirkovic "Istorija srednjovjekovne bosanske drzave")


The fall of Bosnia

When Bosnia fell to the Ottomans in 1463, and the subsequent process of Islamisation that ensued, was a key historical turning point. Now a part of the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia still remained a border region as far as Croatian history was concerned. The communication between Croatian and Bosnian territories did not end in 1463. The Ottoman conquests and incursions into Croatian lands did make communication more difficult, but in more peaceful times flows of communication increased. The Croatian social development in Bosnia under the Turks was only possible through the influence and the discreet activities of the Franciscans. The "ahdnama" issued by the Sultan Mohammed II in 1463, allowed the Bosnian Franciscans a limited scope, but albeit important, within which to conduct their activities under the Ottoman rule.70 The ethno-cultural bridge linking Croats in Bosnia to their brethren in Croatia was thus not severed, even during the most difficult period of history.




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