By Tim Lambert
Before 5,000 BC the people of what is now Croatia learned to farm although they only had stone tools. Later they learned to use bronze and then iron. After 390 BC Greeks settled in colonies along the coast. Then after 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia. By 12 AD the Romans ruled it all. The Romans divided up the area into provinces. The coast was made the province of Dalmatia. Part of Croatia became the province of Noricum (which included part of Austria). The rest of Croatia became the province of Pannonia (which included part of Hungary).
In time the Croatians adopted the Roman way of life. The Romans founded new towns and they built roads. However Roman control of Croatia collapsed in the 5th century.
Croatia in the Middle Ages
Early in the 7th century, a Slavic people called the Croats migrated to the area. At first, they settled in Dalmatia. However, in the 8th century, they expanded northwards and inland. Two separate Croatian states emerged, one by the coast, the other inland. In the 9th century, the inland Croatians became subject to the Franks, a powerful people who ruled most of Europe.
Meanwhile, in the 9th century, Croatia was converted to Christianity. However, the Croats became part of the western Catholic Church based in Rome rather than the Eastern Orthodox Church based in Constantinople.
Meanwhile in the 8th and early 9th centuries trade and commerce grew in Croatia. Roman towns were revived and new towns were created. Then in the eleventh century, King Petar Kresimir (1058-1074) managed to unite the two Croatian states. However, in 1102 the Hungarian king Koloman conquered Croatia. During the Middle Ages, trade and town life flourished in Croatia and many towns grew large and important.
However, Venice coveted parts of Croatia. In 1202 Crusaders agreed to take the town of Zadar to repay a debt they owed to the Venetians. They captured it in 1204. In 1205 the Venetians captured Dubrovnik and Istria.
In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back Croatian territory in Dalmatia. However, in 1382 Dubrovnik bought its independence. It remained an independent republic until 1808.
Meanwhile, the Venetians still had designs on the Croatian coast. In 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to Venice. So the Venetians were left in control of Istria and most of Dalmatia.
In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians at the battle of Krovsko Poje. In 1526 the Hungarians were crushed by the Turks at the battle of Mohacs. The king of Hungary-Croatia was killed and his kingdom passed to an Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg. However, the Turks continued to advance and by the late 16th century they controlled most of Croatia.
Yet in the late 17th century, the Turks were pushed back. They were driven back from Vienna in 1683 and in 1716 they were defeated at the battle of Petervaradino, which led to the liberation of Croatia. The 18th century was a relatively peaceful one for Croatia. However Croatian society changed little.
19th Century Croatia
In 1797 Venice was forced to hand over its territory in Croatia to Austria. However, in 1809 Napoleon formed the territory in the area into a new state called the Illyrian Provinces but the new state was short-lived. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815 the old order returned. Austria took all the territory that once belonged to Venice. The Austrians also took Dubrovnik.
Yet the ideas of the French Revolution did not die out in Croatia. In the early and mid-19th century Croatian nationalism grew and Croatian culture and literature flourished. Then in 1847 the Croatian parliament, the Sabor made Croatian the official language. It also abolished feudalism.
In 1848 a wave of Revolutions swept across Europe and rebels took power in Hungary. However, Hungarians and Croats fell out and they went to war. Yet the Austrian monarchy soon regained power and both Hungary and Croatia became firmly a part of the Austrian Empire again.
Still, in 1867 the Austrian Empire split into two halves, Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained the king of both halves but otherwise, they were largely independent. Croatia was split. Dalmatia was ruled by Austria while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.
In the late 19th century Croatian nationalists were divided into two schools of thought. One wanted a new state uniting all Southern Slavs. The other wanted an independent Croatia.
20th Century Croatia
In 1914 the First World War began. Even before it ended in November 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was breaking up. Croatia declared its independence in October 1918. Nevertheless on 1 December 1918, the Croats agreed to join with Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became disenchanted as they wanted the new state to be federal whereas it became a unitary state. Demands for autonomy were led by Stjepan Radic, who was shot in 1928.
In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship. The state was renamed Yugoslavia. In the 1930s there were 2 extremist parties in Croatia. The Communists and the Fascist Ustase, which was founded by Ante Pavelic in 1929. In 1939 the Yugoslav government gave in to demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.
The same year the Second World War began. At first, Yugoslavia was neutral but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers. As a result, the Germans attacked Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941 and they quickly conquered the country. The Germans set up a puppet state in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge. However, Croatia was liberated by partisans in 1945, and afterward, a Communist regime was imposed.
However, during the 1960s nationalism re-emerged in Croatia. Some people demanded more autonomy but in 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a lid on all demands for reform. However, Tito died in 1980.
Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989. The same year non-Communist organizations were formed in Croatia. In May 1990 elections were held. The Croatians sought to leave Yugoslavia but there was a substantial minority of Serbs living in Croatia. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence. However, on the pretext of protecting Serbs living within Croatian borders, the Yugoslav army invaded and a long war began.
Meanwhile, the EU nations recognized Croatian independence on 15 January 1992. The war ended in 1995 with the Erdut Agreement. Eastern Slavonia was administered by the UN until 1998 when it was handed over to Croatia.
21st Century Croatia
Croatia joined NATO in 2009. Then in 2013, Croatia joined the EU. Meanwhile, tourism is flourishing in Croatia. In 2020 the population of Croatia was 4 million.
Last Revised 2022