The Croats are believed to be a purely Slavic people who migrated from Ukraine and settled in present-day Croatia during the 6th century. The name Croatia is derived from that of a people called Croats (Hrvat, Chrobatos) i.e. "the nation ready to defend its home and rights", whose migration from Southwestern Russia and Galicia of to-day — then known as "White Croatia" or "Great Croatia"
(Velika Hrvatska) — towards the old Illyricum and Dalmatia began in the early part of the fifth century.
There were several migrations at different times. The people settled during the first half of the sixth century in Pannonia Inferior, now Lower Hungary, and on the eastern banks of the Danube. Here they struggled for their very existence against the Avars, a bloodthirsty people, and then crossed the Drave to Pannonia Superior and Dalmatia, provinces of the Roman Empire, to which they gave the
name of Croatia. From 610 to 641 the Croats established their settlements on a firm basis. From that time forward they suffered various vicissitudes owing to the constantly changing political life. The provinces occupied by the Croats were already peopled by Illyrian and Celtic tribes as Roman domains. Friendly terms were maintained, however, and together they made war against the common enemy,
the Avars, conquered them and finally established their own state.
The executive head of the Croats was the "ban" a title still in use, and he had unlimited power as leader and governor of the people. Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor, was compelled to abandon his provinces in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. At that time the Croats occupied the following provinces: Illyricum Liburnia, Pannonia, Dalmatia, and a part of Histria, now known respectively
as Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Istria, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their kinsmen, the Serbs, settled in Montenegro, Northern Albania, Old Servia, and the western part of the Servian Kingdom. The cities of Zara (Zadar or Jadera), Trau (Trogir or Tragurion), Spalato (Spljet), and Ragusa (Dubrovnik), on the Dalmatian coast, and the islands Veglia (Krk) and Arbe (Rab or Absorus), in the Adriatic,
remained Latin in character. Elsewhere, however, the assimilative power of the Croats was stronger and the Latin race disappeared.
After a period of self-rule, Croatians agreed to the Pacta Conventa in 1091, submitting themselves to Hungarian authority. In Sigismund's time, Croatia was severly tried by the wars with Venice, and those against the Turks, who invaded Croatian territory in 1414-15. From that until 1838, when the Turks were finally repulsed at Cetin, the struggle was continuous. The Bans Nicholas and John
Frankopani and Matko Talovac were the first in the field against the Sultan Murad II. Sigismund was succeeded by his son-in-law Archduke Albert of Austria, who died in 1439 at a critical period. His wife, though civil war was raging, took control of the Government in 1439, and her son, Ladislaus Posthumus was nominal ruler until 1457. After the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the occupation of
Bosnia ten years later by the Turks, the Turks were repulsed on the Croatian frontier and Western culture was saved to posterity.
The following centuries show bloody records of constant struggles against the Turks. Yakub, Pasha of Bosnia, eager to enslave Catholic Balkan, invaded Croatia in 1493. He was met by the Croatian forces under Ban Derenchin on the field of Krbava. The Croats were defeated and left the flower of their nobility on the field. In 1513, however, the Turkish army was defeated by the Ban Bishop Peter
Berislavich, and Leo X, upon receiving the news of victory, sent the warrior-bishop a blessed saber. Bishop Berislavich's appeal to Charles V was unheeded, and the former was killed in the battle of Korenica (1520). His death was a terrible blow to the Antemurale Christianitatis, as the pope and emperor styled the Croats in their letters. Then followed the conflicts of Jajce (1521, 1525), Kllis
(1524), Mohacs (1526), and Vienna (1529) which Solyman II atempted to take. He was badly defeated, however, and returned to Constantinople with thousands of Christians, who became either slaves or soldiers (Janizaries). The pashas in Bosnia in retaliation for the defeat, pillaged the country and slew the Christians.
By the mid-1400s, concerns over Ottoman expansion led the Croatian Assembly to invite the Habsburgs, under Archduke Ferdinand, to assume control over Croatia. Habsburg rule proved successful in thwarting the Ottomans, and by the 18th century, much of Croatia was free of Turkish control.
In 1712 the Croatian Sabor accepted the Pragmatic Sanction, by which Charles VI secured the succession to his daughter Maria Theresa. In the Thirty Years War and the Seven years War between Maria Theresa and Frederick the Great the Croats took a prominent part. During the reign of Leopold I (1658-1705) hundreds of families of the Schismatic Greek Church had entered Croatia as refugees from
Turkish rule. Jealousy existed between the Catholics of the country and the newcomers because the rulers did not favour any but the Catholic religion. In 1777 Maria Theresa secured the erection of a diocese for the Uniat Greeks, with the Eastern Rite and the Old Slavonic Liturgy. She hoped in this way to bring about union with Rome, but the breach was only widened. Education reached a high
standard in the sixteenth century under the Hermits of St. Paul. Later on the Jesuits became their co-workers in the field. They established an excellent institution in Zagreb. The Croatian youth also attended the universities at Rome, Padua, and Bologna.
The absolutist, Joseph II (1780-90), who succeeded Maria Theresa, failed in his reforms, though he stopped at nothing in his attempts to carry them out. In Croatia he suppressed religious orders, confiscated monasteries and seminaries, and hampered the progress of education. To save the mother-tongue a reaction against Latin began in 1835, and the native speech was revived in church,
university, and street. In 1809 Napoleon, having conquered Croatia, set up the Kingdom of Illyria, a union of all the Croatian provinces, under French control. In the first half of the nineteenth century, as an outgrowth of the revival of the language, a vigorous nationalizing movement began under Louis Gaj. Representatives of the people, 300 in number, demanded of the king the same rights for
Croatia as those possessed by Hungary: independence under the king; the election of the ban by the people and his presentation for the king's approval; the ban was to be ex-offficio president of Croatian cabinet and responsible to the Sabor, at its annual meeting; the Croatian army with its head was to take an oath of fidelity to the king; the military Frontier to be abolished; and Croatian made
the official tongue. The only point gained was the appointment , as ban, of Joseph Jellachich. In 1848 the revolution broke out. Jellachich saved the throne for the Hapsburg family, but further enslaved his country in doing so. The Croatian Generals Davidovich and Vukasovich distinguished themselves in the war against Italy in 1866. In 1878 Generals Francis and Ivan Philoppovich occupied Bosnia
with Croatian regiments.
In 1868, Croatia gained domestic autonomy while remaining under Hungarian authority. Following World War I and the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Croatia joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes became Yugoslavia in 1929). Yugoslavia changed its name once again after World War II. The new state became the Federal Socialist Republic
of Yugoslavia and united Croatia and several other states together under the communistic leadership of Marshall Tito.
After the death of Tito and with the fall of communism throughout eastern Europe, the Yugoslav federation began to crumple. Croatia held its first multi-party elections since World War II in 1990. Long-time Croatian nationalist Franjo Tudjman was elected President, and one year later, Croatians declared independence from Yugoslavia. Conflict between Serbs and Croats in Croatia escalated, and
one month after Croatia declared independence, civil war erupted.
The United Nations mediated a cease-fire in January 1992, but hostilities resumed the next year when Croatia fought to regain one-third of the territory lost the previous year. A second cease-fire was enacted in May 1993, followed by a joint declaration the next January between Croatia and Yugoslavia. However, in September 1993, the Croatian Army led an offensive against the Serb-held Republic
of Krajina. A third cease-fire was called in March 1994, but it, too, was broken in May and August 1995 after Croatian forces regained large portions of Krajina, prompting an exodus of Serbs from this area. In November 1995, Croatia agreed to peacefully reintegrate Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Dirmium under terms of the Erdut Agreement. In December 1995, Croatia signed the Dayton peace
agreement, committing itself to a permanent cease-fire and the return of all refugees.
The death of President Tudjman in December 1999, followed by the election of a coalition government and president in early 2000, brought significant changes to Croatia. The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Racan, progressed in implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, regional cooperation, refugee returns, national reconciliation, and democratization.
On November 23, 2003, national elections were held for parliament. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, took office in December 2003.
Croatian History Bibliography
* Portions of this text are from the print edition of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.