The Ottoman influences on Croatia in the second half of the fifteenth century

The Ottoman influences on Croatia in the second half of the fifteenth century

By Borislav Grgin

Povijesni prilozi, Vol. 23 (2002)

Late Medieval Portalan chart showing the Adriatic Sea
Late Medieval Portalan chart showing the Adriatic Sea

Abstract: The article discusses political, social, economic and demographic consequences of the Ottoman attacks on the Croatian territories during the second half of the 15th century. It also presents how Ottoman threat influenced the mentalities and everyday life of the Croatian population. The article claims that the Ottoman threat presented a major external influence on the Croatian medieval society of that period. Complex changes in all spheres of the Croatian society were all influenced by the threat from the east.

Introduction: Croatian history in the second half of the fifteenth century is marked by the arrival of the Ottomans on the borders of Croatian medieval lands. After sporadic incursions in the first half of the century, attackers from the east, particularly after conquering the medieval kingdom of Bosnia in 1463, became a factor of utmost importance for all the segments of late medieval Croatian society. This paper outlines the various Ottoman influences on politics, society, economy and demographics of medieval Croatia as well as their expressions in the thinking and everyday life of Croatians at the time.

Living on the Ottoman border at that time was not unusual in the region. Medieval Croatia became the battlefield of two worlds and was a part of the periphery of the Catholic world in Central and Southeast Europe, which extended roughly from the Baltic to the Adriatic and the Black Sea regions. This area included the war-torn southern, border area of the medieval Hungarian-Croatian kingdom. Until the end of the fifteenth century war on both sides was aimed more at draining out the resources of the adversaries than at territorial conquests. However, only the Ottomans, even in such circumstances, managed to achieve certain territorial gains, conquering Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Zeta (Montenegro) and the southeastern border regions of medieval Croatia during the second half of the fifteenth century.

The consequences of war were similar throughout the region. The devastation and destruction of the border area between the Ottomans and the neighboring states in Central and Southeast Europe were coupled with a decline of the economic and demographic potential on the Christian side. All this resulted in the beginning of migrations towards safer areas. The way of life in the wider region became more and more similar, marked with the constant threat of war. Agriculture was neglected and a network of fortresses, serving as local and regional centers of defense, gradually took its shape. The peasants were forced to change their sedentary wayof life, based on agriculture, to a military one. Religious solidarity, based on the threat from the infidels like during the Crusades, regained its relevance in the whole region. It was the opposite in Western Europe at the time, where the ideology of the Crusades and its system of values no longer played a significant mobilizing or integrative role. However, the revived ideology in a new form played a crucial role in the thinking of the social elites in the border areas, including medieval Croatia. The central notion of that ideology is expressed in the term “forefront of Christianity” (antemurale christianitatis). The social elites of almost all the countries in Southeast Europe, on the Ottoman frontiers, identified with this term. The papal chancery, in its letters to the rulers and magnates of the region, often used this notion, mainly as a sort of spiritual backing and compensation for the lack of real support in soldiers, money and war equipment from the rest of Europe.

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The Ottoman influences on political, social, economic and demographic changes in medieval Croatia were not apparent until the year 1463. Their role became more important from then onwards, at the beginning mainly because of more frequent incursions and raids. The Ottomans once again used their efficient tactics to pave the way for territorial conquests in the future. From the Ottoman point of view, it was necessary to weaken their adversaries economically and demographically to make them an easy prey for the final blow. In the case of medieval Croatia the territorial conquests mainly took place from 1521 onwards. Newer research points to the possible influence of food shortages at the end of the fifteenth century, caused by poor weather conditions, as driving forces behind some of the Ottoman raids. There were also the initiatives of local Ottoman commanders and border units. The Ottoman raids were swift and cruel, giving the population of the attacked regions, particularly the peasants, very little time and chance of finding a safe haven. The Ottoman marauding troops, because of their strategy and tactics, usually did not come back again for booty in the same area. Therefore, they always attempted to cause as much damage as possible and capture as many prisoners as possibly during the first major attack.

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