Serbia and Greece declare war on Ottoman Empire in First Balkan War

Serbia and Greece declare war on Ottoman Empire in First Balkan War

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On October 17, 1912, following the example of Montenegro, their smaller ally in the tumultuous Balkan region of Europe, Serbia and Greece declare war on the Ottoman Empire, beginning the First Balkan War in earnest.

Four years earlier, a rebellion in Ottoman-held Macedonia by the nationalist society known as the Young Turks had shaken the stability of the sultan’s rule in Europe. Austria-Hungary had acted quickly to capitalize on this weakness, annexing the dual Balkan provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and urging Bulgaria, also under Turkish rule, to proclaim its independence. These actions quickly upset the delicate balance of power on the Balkan Peninsula: Ambitious Serbia was outraged, considering Bosnia-Herzegovina to be part of its own rightful territory due to their shared Slavic heritage. Czarist Russia, the other great power with influence in the region—and a strong supporter of Serbia—also felt threatened by Austria’s actions.

By the spring of 1912, Russia had encouraged the cluster of Balkan nations—Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece—to form an alliance aimed at taking control of some or all of the European territory still occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Though often at odds with one another, the disparate Balkan peoples were able to join forces when driven by the singular goal of striking at a distracted Turkey, by then ensnared in a war with Italy over territory in Libya. Montenegro declared war on October 8, 1912; Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece followed suit nine days later.

The outcome of the First Balkan War surprised many, as the combined Balkan forces quickly and decisively defeated the Ottoman army, driving the Turks from almost all of their territory in southeastern Europe within a month. In the wake of Turkey’s withdrawal, the great European powers—Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia—scrambled to exert control over the region, convening a congress with the belligerent nations in London in December 1912 to draw up post-war boundaries in the Balkans. The resulting agreement—which partitioned Macedonia between the four victorious Balkan powers—led to a peace concluded on May 30, 1913, which nonetheless left Bulgaria feeling cheated out of its rightful share by Serbia and Greece. This led to a Second Balkan War just one month later, in which Bulgaria turned against its two former allies in a surprise attack ordered by King Ferdinand I without consultation with his own government.

In the ensuing conflict, Bulgaria was quickly defeated by forces from Serbia, Greece, Turkey and Romania. By the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, signed August 10, Bulgaria lost a considerable amount of territory, and Serbia and Greece received control of most of Macedonia. In the wake of the two Balkan wars, tensions in the region only increased, simmering just beneath the surface and threatening to explode at any point. Austria-Hungary—which had expected first Turkey and then Bulgaria to triumph and had badly wanted to see Serbia crushed—became increasingly wary of growing Slavic influence in the Balkans, in the form of the upstart Serbia and its sponsor, Russia. Significantly, the Dual Monarchy’s own powerful ally, Germany, shared this concern. In a letter to the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister in October 1913 that foreshadowed the devastating global conflict to come, Kaiser Wilhelm II characterized the outcome of the Balkan wars as “a historic process to be classed in the same category as the great migrations of people, the present case was a powerful forward surge of the Slavs. War between East and West was in the long run inevitable…The Slavs are born not to rule but to obey.”

Timeline: The Ottomans and the Balkans

Turkic tribe known as Ottomans forms small state in western Anatolia.

Ottomans invade and begin to occupy Bulgaria.

Ottomans defeat Serbs and their allies at Battle of Maritsa.

Ottomans inflict second defeat on Serbs, now led by Prince Lazar, at the Battle of Kosovo, beginning slow conquest of Serbia.

Ottomans move their capital from Asia Minor to Edirne (Adrianople) in Europe, signaling their intention to become a major European power.

Ottomans encircle and conquer Constantinople, ending the Byzantine Empire.

Fall of Smederevo liquidates last remnant of independent Serbian state.

Ottomans almost complete conquest of Bosnia, executing last king of Bosnia, Stjepan Tomasevic, at Jajce.

Albanian warrior prince Skenderbeg dies. Within a decade of his death, Ottomans overrun most of Albania.

Croatian nobility annihilated at Battle of Krbava in Lika, opening way to Ottoman conquest of much of Croatia.

Hungarian army crushed at Battle of Mohacs, opening way for Ottoman conquest of Hungary.

Sultan decrees restoration of Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate, vacant since the 1460s. Return of Patriarchs to Pec stimulates revival of Serbian identity within Ottoman Empire.

Habsburgs conquer Ottoman-ruled Hungary and Croatia, forging new frontier between “Austrian” and “Turkish” empires. Failed uprising among Serbs in Kosovo results in mass emigration of Serbs to Habsburg Slavonia and Vojvodina.

Series of Serbian uprisings ends in establishment of small autonomous Serbian principality within Ottoman Empire under Prince Milos Obrenovic.

Serbian princes consolidate control over new state by expelling Ottoman garrison from Belgrade.

Uprising in Bulgaria triggers Russo-Turkish war the following year. This ends in Turkish defeat and creation at Congress of Berlin of autonomous Bulgaria within the Ottoman Empire.

Austria occupies Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia throws off last vestiges of autonomy, becoming formally independent and receiving territory to the south. Montenegro also gains territory at expense of Albanians.

So-called “Ilinden” uprising in Macedonia ends in defeat, as Serbs, Greeks and outside powers hold aloof. Ottomans remain in control of Macedonia.

Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina, humiliating Serbia. Montenegro’s prince declares himself a king and Bulgaria’s king declares himself a tsar. Young Turk revolution in Constantinople aims to revive Ottoman Empire.

Anti-Ottoman revolts sweep northern Albania and Kosovo, but rebels’ failure to coordinate or gain support of outside powers allows Ottomans to retain control.

Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece unite and declare war on Ottomans, overrunning “Turkey-in-Europe”, but then fighting with each other over the spoils.

First and Second Balkan wars end with most of Macedonia, claimed by Bulgaria, going to Serbia and Greece. Serbia also gains Kosovo. Albania declares independence but is unable to secure most majority-Albanian land for the new state.

After more than six centuries, the Ottomans are expelled from the continent, except for Constantinople and eastern Thrace.

Marcus Tanner is a journalist, historian and author of Croatia, a Nation Forged in War, among other books. He has reported on the Balkans for more than 20 years. He edits Balkan Insight and was editor for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence from 2007 to 2010.

Serbia and Greece declare war on Ottoman Empire in First Balkan War - HISTORY

1914 : War Erupts

1871 - Following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, Germany is unified as an Imperial federation of states, led by the King of Prussia (Kaiser Wilhelm I). This spurs a new era of population growth and rapid industrialization. The Germans also forcibly annex the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France.

1882 - Germany, Austria-Hungary (Hapsburg Empire) and Italy form the Triple Alliance.

1891 - The Russian Empire and France form their own alliance in reaction to the Triple Alliance.

1898 - Germany begins to build up its navy to challenge the British Navy's long-standing global supremacy.

January 1902 - Britain and Japan form a naval alliance.

April 1904 - The British reach a strategic agreement with France which includes mutual military support in the event of war.

January 1905 - Troops of Russian Czar Nicholas II fire upon peaceful demonstrators in St. Petersburg killing hundreds in what comes to be known as Bloody Sunday.

May 1905 - Russia suffers a military defeat at sea by newly industrialized Japan, thwarting Russia's territorial ambitions toward Manchuria and Korea.

October 1905 - Continuing political unrest in Russia, including a general strike, results in the creation of a national legislative assembly (Duma) by the Czar.

February 1906 - H.M.S. Dreadnought is launched by Britain, marking the advent of a new class of big-gun battleships. The Germans follow suit and begin building similar battleships as an all-out arms race ensues between Germany and Britain.

August 1907 - The British reach a strategic agreement with Russia.

October 1908 - Austria-Hungary, backed by Germany, annexes Bosnia-Herzegovina. Neighboring Serbia, with the backing of Russia, voices its objection in support of the Serbian minority living in Bosnia.

March 1909 - Germany forces Russia to endorse the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary.

1910 - Germany surpasses Britain as the leading manufacturing nation in Europe. The United States remains the world leader, surpassing all of the European manufacturing nations combined.

October 1912 - The Balkan War erupts in southern Europe as Serbia leads an attack by members of the Balkan League (Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece) against the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire to drive the Turks out of Europe.

May 1913 - The Balkan War ends with the Turks driven out of southern Europe. A peace settlement is then drawn up by the major European powers that divides up the former Turkish areas in southern Europe among the Balkan League nations. However, the peace is short-lived as Bulgaria, desiring a bigger share, attacks neighboring Greece and Serbia. Romania then attacks Bulgaria along with the Turks. This Second Balkan War results in Bulgaria losing territory and the Serbians becoming emboldened, leaving the Balkan region of southern Europe politically unstable.

June 28, 1914 - Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife, visit Sarajevo in Bosnia. A bomb is thrown at their auto but misses. Undaunted, they continue their visit only to be shot and killed a short time later by a lone assassin. Believing the assassin to be a Serbian nationalist, the Austrians target their anger toward Serbia.

July 23, 1914 - Austria-Hungary, with the backing of Germany, delivers an ultimatum to Serbia. The Serbs propose arbitration as a way to resolve dispute, but also begin mobilization of their troops.

July 25, 1914 - Austria-Hungary severs diplomatic ties with Serbia and begins to mobilize its troops.

July 26, 1914 - Britain attempts to organize a political conference among the major European powers to resolve the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. France and Italy agree to participate. Russia then agrees, but Germany refuses.

July 28, 1914 - The Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia.

July 29, 1914 - Britain calls for international mediation to resolve the worsening crisis. Russia urges German restraint, but the Russians begin partial troop mobilization as a precaution. The Germans then warn Russia on its mobilization and begin to mobilize themselves.

July 30, 1914 - Austrian warships bombard Belgrade, capital of Serbia.

July 31, 1914 - Reacting to the Austrian attack on Serbia, Russia begins full mobilization of its troops. Germany demands that it stop.

August 1, 1914 - Germany declares war on Russia. France and Belgium begin full mobilization.

August 3, 1914 - Germany declares war on France, and invades neutral Belgium. Britain then sends an ultimatum, rejected by the Germans, to withdraw from Belgium.

August 4, 1914 - Great Britain declares war on Germany. The declaration is binding on all Dominions within the British Empire including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.

August 4, 1914 - The United States declares its neutrality.

August 4-16, 1914 - The Siege of Liege occurs as Germans attack the Belgian fortress city but meet resistance from Belgian troops inside the Liege Forts. The twelve forts surrounding the city are then bombarded into submission by German and Austrian howitzers using high explosive shells. Remaining Belgian troops then retreat northward toward Antwerp as the German westward advance continues.

August 6, 1914 - The Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Russia.

August 6, 1914 - French and British troops invade the German colony of Togo in West Africa. Twenty days later, the German governor there surrenders.

August 7, 1914 - The first British troops land in France. The 120,000 highly trained members of the regular British Army form the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) commanded by Field Marshal John French.

August 7-24, 1914 - The French desire to score a quick victory ignites the first major French-German action of the war. The French Army invades Alsace and Lorraine according to their master strategy known as Plan XVII. However, the French offensive is met by effective German counter-attacks using heavy artillery and machine-guns. The French suffer heavy casualties including 27,000 soldiers killed in a single day, the worst one-day death toll in the history of the French Army. The French then fall back toward Paris amid 300,000 total casualties.

August 8, 1914 - Britain enacts the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA) granting unprecedented powers to the government to control the economy and daily life.

August 12, 1914 - Great Britain and France declare war on Austria-Hungary. Serbia is invaded by Austria-Hungary.

August 17, 1914 - Russia invades Germany, attacking into East Prussia, forcing the outnumbered Germans there to fall back. This marks the advent of the Eastern Front in Europe in which Russia will oppose Germany and Austria-Hungary.

August 20, 1914 - German troops occupy undefended Brussels, capital of Belgium. Following this, the main German armies continue westward and invade France according to their master strategy known as the Schlieffen Plan. It calls for a giant counter-clockwise movement of German armies wheeling into France, swallowing up Paris, and then attacking the rear of the French armies concentrated in the Alsace-Lorraine area. Under the overall command of Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, the Germans seek to achieve victory over France within six weeks and then focus on defeating Russia in the East before Russia's six-million-man army, the world's largest, can fully mobilize.

August 23, 1914 - Japan declares war on Germany. The Japanese then prepare to assist the British in expelling the Germans from the Far East. German possessions in the South Pacific include a naval base on the coast of China, part of New Guinea, Samoa, and the Caroline, Marshall and Mariana Islands.

Battle of Tannenberg

August 26, 1914 - On the Eastern Front, German troops in East Prussia under the new command of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff oppose the Russian 2nd Army. Aided by aerial reconnaissance and the interception of uncoded Russian radio messages, the Germans effectively reposition their troops to counter the initial Russian advance. Five days later, after surrounding the Russians, the battle ends with a German victory and the capture of 125,000 Russians. Following this success, the Germans drive the Russians out of East Prussia with heavy casualties. The impressive victory elevates Hindenburg and Ludendorff to the status of heroes in Germany.

August 30, 1914 - German possessions in the Far East are attacked as New Zealand troops occupy German Samoa. Three days later, Japanese forces land on the coast of China, preparing to attack the German naval base at Tsingtao (Qingdao). A month later, the Japanese begin their occupation of the Caroline, Marshall and Mariana Islands.

Battle of the Marne

September 5-12, 1914 - On the Western Front, Paris is saved as French and British troops disrupt the Schlieffen Plan by launching a major counter-offensive against the invading German armies to the east of Paris. Six hundred taxi cabs from the city help to move French troops to the Front. Aided by French aerial reconnaissance which reveals a gap has developed in the center of the whole German advance, the French and British exploit this weakness and press their advantage. The Germans then begin a strategic withdrawal northward as the Allies pursue. Each side repeatedly tries to outmaneuver the other and gain a tactical advantage as they move northward in what becomes known as the Race to the Sea.

September 7, 1914 - In the Far East, a German naval squadron, commanded by Graf von Spee severs the British Pacific communications cable.

September 8, 1914 - The French government enacts nationwide State of War regulations which include total control over the economy and national security, strict censorship, and suspension of civil liberties.

September 17, 1914 - On the Eastern Front, Austrian forces steadily retreat from the advancing Russian 3rd and 8th armies fighting in southern Poland and along the Russian-Austrian border. The Germans then send the newly formed 9th Army to halt the Russians. This marks the beginning of a pattern in which the Germans will aid the weaker Austro-Hungarian Army.

September 22, 1914 - The first-ever British air raid against Germany occurs as Zeppelin bases at Cologne and Düsseldorf are bombed.

First Battle of Ypres
October 19-November 22, 1914

October 19, 1914 - Still hoping to score a quick victory in the West, the Germans launch a major attack on Ypres in Belgium. Despite heavy losses, British, French and Belgian troops fend off the attack and the Germans do not break through. During the battle, the Germans send waves of inexperienced 17 to 20-year-old volunteer soldiers, some fresh out of school. They advance shoulder-to-shoulder while singing patriotic songs only to be systematically gunned down in what the Germans themselves later call the "massacre of the innocents." By November, overall casualties will total 250,000 men, including nearly half of the British Regular Army.

October 29, 1914 - The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) enters the war on the side of the Germans as three warships shell the Russian port of Odessa. Three days later, Russia declares war on Turkey. Russian and Turkish troops then prepare for battle along the common border of the Russian Caucasus and the Ottoman Empire.

October-November, 1914 - Germans and Austrians launch a combined offensive against the Russians on the Eastern Front. The German 9th Army targets Warsaw, Poland, but is opposed by six Russian armies and withdraws. The Austrians attack the Russians in Galicia (a province in northeast Austria) with indecisive results. However, the Russians fail to press their advantage at Warsaw and instead begin a split counter-offensive moving both southward against the Austrians in Galicia and northward toward Germany. The German 9th Army then regroups and cuts off the Russians at Lodz, Poland, halting their advance and forcing an eastward withdrawal by the Russians.

November 1, 1914 - Austria invades Serbia. This is the third attempt to conquer the Serbs in retaliation for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This attempt fails like the two before it, at the hands of highly motivated Serbs fighting on their home ground. The Austrians withdraw in mid-December, after suffering over 220,000 casualties from the three failed invasions.

November 1, 1914 - The British Navy suffers its worst defeat in centuries during a sea battle in the Pacific. Two British ships, the Monmouth and Good Hope, are sunk with no survivors by a German squadron commanded by Admiral Graf von Spee.

November 3, 1914 - Kaiser Wilhelm appoints Erich von Falkenhayn as the new Chief of the German General Staff, replacing Helmuth von Moltke who is sacked due to the failure of the Schlieffen Plan.

November 5, 1914 - France and Britain declare war on the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

November 6, 1914 - In the Persian Gulf, a major British offensive begins as the 6th Indian Division invades Mesopotamia. The objective is to protect the oil pipeline from Persia. Two weeks later they capture the city of Basra.

November 7, 1914 - In the Far East, the German naval base at Tsingtao is captured by the Japanese, aided by a British and Indian battalion.

Trench Warfare Begins

December 1914 - The Western Front in Europe stabilizes in the aftermath of the First Battle of Ypres as the Germans go on the defensive and transfer troops to the East to fight the Russians. The 450-mile-long Western Front stretches from the Channel Coast southward through Belgium and Eastern France into Switzerland. Troops from both sides construct opposing trench fortifications and dugouts protected by barbed wire, machine-gun nests, snipers, and mortars, with an in-between area called No Man's Land. The Eastern Front also sees its share of trenches as troops dig in after the Russians hold off the Germans in Poland and the Austrians hold off the Russians at Limanowa. The 600-mile Eastern Front stretches from the Baltic Sea southward through East Prussia and Austria to the Carpathian Mountains.

December 8, 1914 - The Battle of Falkland Islands occurs as British Navy warships destroy the German squadron of Admiral Graf von Spee in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. Von Spee and two sons serving in his squadron are killed.

December 10, 1914 - The French begin a series of attacks along the Western Front against the Germans in the Artois region of northern France and Champagne in the south. Hampered by a lack of heavy artillery and muddy winter conditions, the French fail to make any significant gains and both offensives are soon suspended.

December 16, 1914 - Britain suffers its first civilian casualties at home in the war as the German Navy bombards the coastal towns of Whitby, Hartlepool and Scarborough, killing 40 persons and wounding hundreds.

December 25, 1914 - A Christmas truce occurs between German and British soldiers in the trenches of northern France. All shooting stops as the soldiers exit their trenches, exchange gifts, sing carols and engage in a soccer game. This is the only Christmas truce of the war, as Allied commanders subsequently forbid fraternization with orders to shoot any violators.

Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II

German Youth and Military

Germans Cheer Declaration

The Mighty Russian Army

French Infantry in Action

Austrians Attack Russians

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The Balkan Wars: Scenes from the Front Lines

The Balkan Wars began on Oct. 8, 1912. 100 years later, TIME looks at images from one of the 20th century's defining conflicts.

Macedonian rebels advance along the road to Salonica (now Thessalonika, Greece), then a bustling, largely Jewish port city under Ottoman control, in a photo dated from 1912.

On Oct. 8, 1912, the tiny Kingdom of Montenegro declared war on a weakened Ottoman Empire, kicking off what is now known as the First Balkan War. Three other Balkan states in league with the Montenegrins—Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia—rapidly followed suit, waging war on the Turks, the old imperial enemy, while drawing upon a wellspring of national sentiment in each of their homelands. By March 1913, their blood-soaked campaigns had effectively pushed the enfeebled Ottomans out of Europe. Yet by July, Greece and Serbia would clash with Bulgaria in what’s known as the Second Balkan War—a bitter month-long struggle that saw more territory change hands, more villages razed and more bodies dumped into the earth. Some 200,000 soldiers died in less than a year, while countless civilians were slaughtered in pogroms or died of disease and starvation. The conflict, as argued here, in many senses set the tone for the future of war and ethnic strife in the 20th century.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot dead in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić, a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Black Hand secret society. This event led to a diplomatic crisis and the outbreak of World War I.

Learning Objectives

Discuss Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, a member of the Austrian royal family and heir presumptive to the Austrian throne, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Young Bosnia movement connected to the Blank Hand secret society.
  • The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s South Slav provinces so they could be combined into Yugoslavia.
  • The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sent deep shock waves through Austrian elites. The murder was described by Christopher Clark as “a terrorist event charged with historic meaning, transforming the political chemistry in Vienna.”
  • The assassination triggered the July Crisis, a series of tense diplomatic maneuverings that led to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to the Kingdom of Serbia, who rejected some of these conditions as a violation of their sovereignty. This led to Austria-Hungary invading Serbia.
  • The system of European alliances led to a series of escalating Austrian and Russian mobilizations. Eventually, Britain and France were also obliged to mobilize and declare war, beginning World War I.

Key Terms

  • Young Bosnia: A revolutionary movement active in the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina before World War I. The members were predominantly school students, primarily Serbs but also Bosniaks and Croats. There were two key ideologies promoted among the members of the group: the Yugoslavist (unification into a Yugoslavia) and the Pan-Serb (unification into Serbia).
  • July Crisis: A diplomatic crisis among the major powers of Europe in the summer of 1914 that led to World War I. Immediately after Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo, a series of diplomatic maneuverings led to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to the Kingdom of Serbia and eventually to war.
  • irredentism: Any political or popular movement intended to reclaim and reoccupy a “lost” or “unredeemed” area territorial claims are justified on the basis of real or imagined national and historic (an area formerly part of that state) or ethnic (an area inhabited by that nation or ethnic group) affiliations. It is often advocated by nationalist and pan-nationalist movements and has been a feature of identity politics and cultural and political geography.
  • Black Hand: A secret military society formed on May 9, 1911, by officers in the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia, originating in the conspiracy group that assassinated the Serbian royal couple (1903) led by captain Dragutin Dimitrijević “Apis.”

Franz Ferdinand was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia and, from 1896 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. This caused the Central Powers (including Germany and Austria-Hungary) and Serbia’s allies to declare war on each other, starting World War I.

Franz Ferdinand was born in Graz, Austria, the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. In 1875, when he was only 11 years old, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena died, naming Franz Ferdinand his heir on condition that he add the name Este to his own. Franz Ferdinand thus became one of the wealthiest men in Austria.

In 1889, Franz Ferdinand’s life changed dramatically. His cousin Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide at his hunting lodge in Mayerling. This left Franz Ferdinand’s father, Karl Ludwig, first in line to the throne. Ludwig died of typhoid fever in 1896. Henceforth, Franz Ferdinand was groomed to succeed him.

Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, occurred on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo when they were shot dead by Gavrilo Princip. Princip was one of a group of six assassins (five Serbs and one Bosniak) coordinated by Danilo Ilić, a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Black Hand secret society. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s South Slav provinces so they could be combined into Yugoslavia. The Black Hand, formally Unification or Death, was a secret military society formed on May 9, 1911, by officers in the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia. with the aim of uniting all of the territories with a South Slavic majority not ruled by either Serbia or Montenegro. Its inspiration was primarily the unification of Italy in 1859–70, but also that of Germany in 1871.

The assassins’ motives were consistent with Young Bosnia, a revolutionary movement active in the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ruled by Austria-Hungary) before World War I. The members were predominantly school students, primarily Serbs but also Bosniaks and Croats. There were two key ideologies promoted among the members of the group: the Yugoslavist (unification into a Yugoslavia), and the Pan-Serb (unification into Serbia). Young Bosnia was inspired from a variety of ideas, movements, and events, such as German romanticism, anarchism, Russian revolutionary socialism, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the Battle of Kosovo.

In 1913, Emperor Franz Joseph commanded Archduke Franz Ferdinand to observe the military maneuvers in Bosnia scheduled for June 1914. Following the maneuvers, Ferdinand and his wife planned to visit Sarajevo to open the state museum in its new premises there. Duchess Sophie, according to their oldest son, Duke Maximilian, accompanied her husband out of fear for his safety.

Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and widely believed to favor trialism, under which Austria-Hungary would be reorganized by combining the Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire into a third crown. A Slavic kingdom could have been a bulwark against Serb irredentism, and Ferdinand was therefore perceived as a threat by those same irredentists. Princip later stated to the court that preventing Ferdinand’s planned reforms was one of his motivations.

The day of the assassination, June 28, is the feast of St. Vitus. In Serbia, it is called Vidovdan and commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans, at which the Sultan was assassinated in his tent by a Serb.

The assassination of Ferdinand led directly to the First World War when Austria-Hungary subsequently issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, which was partially rejected. Austria-Hungary then declared war.

The assassins, the key members of the clandestine network, and the key Serbian military conspirators who were still alive were arrested, tried, convicted, and punished. Those who were arrested in Bosnia were tried in Sarajevo in October 1914. The other conspirators were arrested and tried before a Serbian court on the French-controlled Salonika Front in 1916–1917 on unrelated false charges Serbia executed three of the top military conspirators. Much of what is known about the assassinations comes from these two trials and related records.

The first page of the edition of the Domenica del Corriere, an Italian paper, with a drawing by Achille Beltrame depicting Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, driving through a busy street in a car.


The murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife produced widespread shock across Europe, and there was initially much sympathy for the Austrian position. Within two days of the assassination, Austria-Hungary and Germany advised Serbia that it should open an investigation, but Secretary General to the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Slavko Gruic, replied “Nothing had been done so far and the matter did not concern the Serbian Government.” An angry exchange followed between the Austrian Chargé d’Affaires at Belgrade and Gruic.

After conducting a criminal investigation, verifying that Germany would honor its military alliance, and persuading the skeptical Hungarian Count Tisza, Austria-Hungary issued a formal letter to the government of Serbia. The letter reminded Serbia of its commitment to respect the Great Powers ‘ decision regarding Bosnia-Herzegovina and maintain good relations with Austria-Hungary. The letter contained specific demands aimed at preventing the publication of propaganda advocating the violent destruction of Austria-Hungary, removing the people behind this propaganda from the Serbian Military, arresting the people on Serbian soil who were involved in the assassination plot, and preventing the clandestine shipment of arms and explosives from Serbia to Austria-Hungary.

This letter became known as the July Ultimatum, and Austria-Hungary stated that if Serbia did not accept all of the demands in total within 48 hours, it would recall its ambassador from Serbia. After receiving a telegram of support from Russia, Serbia mobilized its army and responded to the letter by completely accepting point #8 demanding an end to the smuggling of weapons and punishment of the frontier officers who had assisted the assassins, and completely accepting point #10 which demanded Serbia report the execution of the required measures as they were completed. Serbia partially accepted, finessed, disingenuously answered, or politely rejected elements of the preamble and enumerated demands #1–7 and #9. The shortcomings of Serbia’s response were published by Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary responded by breaking diplomatic relations. This diplomatic crisis is known as the July Crisis.

The next day, Serbian reservists transported on tramp steamers on the Danube crossed onto the Austro-Hungarian side of the river at Temes-Kubin and Austro-Hungarian soldiers fired into the air to warn them off. The report of this incident was initially sketchy and reported to Emperor Franz-Joseph as “a considerable skirmish.” Austria-Hungary then declared war and mobilized the portion of its army that would face the (already mobilized) Serbian Army on July 28, 1914. Under the Secret Treaty of 1892 Russia and France were obliged to mobilize their armies if any of the Triple Alliance mobilized. Russia’s mobilization set off full Austro-Hungarian and German mobilizations. Soon all the Great Powers except Italy had chosen sides and gone to war.

Serbia Must Die!: Serbien muss sterbien! (“Serbia must die!”) This political cartoon shows an Austrian hand crushing a Serb.

Serbia and Greece declare war on Ottoman Empire in First Balkan War - HISTORY

The Balkan Wars and the Partition of Macedonia
Council for Research Into South-Eastern Europe of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Following their own interests and aims to conquer and partition the European part of Ottoman Turkey, the neighbouring Balkan states Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro decided to start a war. The Treaty between Serbia and Bulgaria signed on March 12th 1912 (with a secret annexe) included a possibility for the transformation of Macedonia into an autonomous region and anticipated the arbitration of the Russian Tsar. In such form, this agreement was a compromise to avoid the territorial separation and partition of Macedonia. After Greece and Montenegro joined the agreement, a Balkan Alliance was formed and it immediately began preparations for a war against the Ottoman Empire. In autumn 1912 the Balkan allies declared war on Turkey.

The offensive actions of the Balkan allies against the Turkish army were carried out mainly on Macedonian territory and on the Thracian front. Believing that this war would bring the long-expected freedom, the Macedonian people took active part in the First Balkan War with their own regiments (chetas) and voluntary units. Forty-four such units were operating in Macedonia at the time impeding the mobilization and the movement of the Turkish army with their diversions. About 14,000 Macedonians fought together with the Bulgarian army within the so-called "Macedonian Regiment". At the same time there were Macedonian soldiers distributed in thirty units within the "National Defense" and the "Voluntary Regiments" of the Serbian army. A similar formation, called the "Holy Regiment", was operating within the Greek army. The victories of the Balkan allies over the Turkish army conditioned Turkey to sign a cease-fire and a short-term truce, but the battles went on until May 30th, 1913.

However, new bloodshed started soon among the Balkan allies who could not reach an agreement as how to partition the territories taken over from Turkey. The partition was carried out by force of arms and sanctioned by the Bucharest Peace Treaty signed on August 10th, 1913 according to which all the Balkan states expanded their territories. Macedonia was not only denied its autonomy which had originally been one of the causes of the war against Turkey, but it was forcefully divided and partitioned by the neighboring Balkan states. Greece seized the biggest, southern part of Macedonia, Serbia won the central Vardar region and the Pirin part with the Strumica vicinity was given to Bulgaria.

Macedonia within Turkey before 1912 and its partition in 1913 among Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania

Drawing new borders under the excuse of establishing a "balance" and peace on the Balkans was a violent denial of the rights of the Macedonian people to live and develop as a free, unified and independent nation. The aspirations towards the creation of a state of their own as a necessity, a guarantee of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Macedonia, were evident in the ideas and actions of the Macedonian patriots. Despite the conquering and partitioning of their homeland they fought for independence and the establishment of a Macedonian government and national assembly which would decide on the form of government and the internal structure of the Macedonian state. However, the attempts to prevent the compulsory partition of Macedonia were in vain because the Balkan and the European states remained deaf to the demands of the Macedonian people for preserving the integrity of their land and its constitution as a state.

The new masters of the conquered Macedonian regions introduced a violent military and police regime, denied the national individuality of the Macedonian people, deprived them of their rights and tortured and denationalized the Macedonian people. A regime of "special decrees" from the mid-nineteenth century was imposed in the territory under Serbian rule. In the part of Macedonia under Bulgarian rule, military commanders helped by comitadji voivodes ruled over the civil authorities and "dispensed justice" to the people. In the Macedonian districts under Greek rule the notorious Cretan gandarmerie, which acted in support of the conservative Greek governors, kept law and order. The territorial, ethnic and economic disintegration of Macedonia caused severe damage to the economy, to the Macedonian movement for national liberation and to its socio-political development.

After the Balkan Wars, Macedonia was completely devastated. Besides the tens of thousands killed in the war, there were several hundreds of thousands of refugees (more than 135,000 Macedonians and a small number of Bulgarians from Thrace escaped from the Aegean part of Macedonia occupied by the Greek army alone). There were numerous cases of genocide towards the Macedonian population in the territories occupied by the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian armies and, according to the Carnegie Commission, several towns like Voden, Negush, Ber, Enidze Vardar, Dojran, etc., more than 200 villages (out of which around 170 villages with 17,000 homesteads in the Aegean part of Macedonia) were completely destroyed. In June 1913 the Greek army burnt to ashes the Macedonian town of Kukush with its 1,846 houses, 612 shops, 6 factories, etc. At the same time 4,000 houses were burned to the ground in the Seres vicinity. The tragic outcome of the Balkan Wars was a real national catastrophe for Macedonia. The unresolved Macedonian question continued to be "an apple of discord" for the Balkan states. It remained in the whirlpool of events which were of fatal importance both for Macedonia and the future of the Balkans.

Historian Carl Savich plunders the Balkan archive to shed new light on the military forces and strategies involved in the Macedonian theater during the First Balkan War, dusting off sources dating from that bygone time in addition to treating more modern works of scholarship. Successive installments of this exclusive four-part series will follow over the next few days.

Introduction: Origins and Background of the First Balkan War

The First Balkan War began on October 8, 1912 when Montenegro declared war on Ottoman Turkey. Ten days later, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece, the other members of the Balkan League, then followed Montenegro in declaring war against Turkey. The First Balkan War was fought to decide the fate of Macedonia, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey in Europe.

The origins and background of the First Balkan War could be found in the 1878 Congress of Berlin and the events that followed the Treaty of Berlin. One of the major outcomes of the Treaty of Berlin was that the status of Macedonia remained unresolved the Great Powers allowed Turkey to retain Macedonia. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, Macedonia was incorporated in Bulgaria under the Treaty of San Stefano, the peace treaty held in a suburb of Constantinople that ended the war. Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Germany feared that an enlarged Bulgarian state would unduly benefit Russia and alter the status quo in Eastern Europe. What was proposed was a new treaty, negotiated at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Under the Treaty of Berlin, Macedonia was retained by Turkey, resulting in a smaller and truncated Bulgarian state split into two sections. Northern Bulgaria would have autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. Southern Bulgaria, or Eastern Rumelia, would become semi-autonomous. The goal of Britain, Germany, and Austria-Hungary was to prevent the expansion of Russian influence in Eastern Europe. The way to achieve this was by preventing the emergence of an independent and united Bulgaria, Greater Bulgaria. Under the Treaty of Berlin, Bulgaria was divided into an autonomous principality north of the Balkan Mountains and a southern semi-autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia. The Treaty of Constantinople in 1881 forced Turkey to cede Thessaly and the Arta region in Epirus to Greece.

The Macedonia territorial issue, however, thus remained unresolved. Both Serbia and Bulgaria sought to annex Macedonia. In 1885, a war between Serbia and Bulgaria was fought when Bulgaria occupied and annexed Eastern Rumelia, or southern Bulgaria, which contained the second largest Bulgarian city of Plovdiv. King Milan saw this move as upsetting the Balkan balance of power so he demanded compensation to Serbia. Serbia declared war on Bulgaria and invaded on November 13, 1885. Serbian forces, however, were routed by the Bulgarian army and were driven back into Serbia. Austria-Hungary subsequently intervened and arranged negotiations to end the conflict. The Treaty of Bucharest in 1886 ended the war and endorsed and ratified the annexation of Eastern Rumelia. Three Macedonian battalions in the Bulgarian army participated in the conflict.

The territory of present-day Macedonia was under the Ottoman Turkish Empire for over five hundred years, half a millennium. During much of this period a national identity was dormant and inchoate. But with the emergence of nationalism and the independence movements in Europe, following the Serbian Revolution or Uprising of 1804 and the Bosnian Serb revolution or insurgency of 1875, nationalism emerged as the defining movement in the Balkans.

In Macedonia, five major indigenous nationalist movements emerged. A Macedonian national/ethnic/linguistic identification emerged whose slogan was “Macedonia for the Macedonians.” The Macedonians sought a separate ethnic/national/linguistic identity that was distinct from the Serbian and Bulgarian identification. The Macedonian language, culture, and political and national/ethnic identity overlapped with the Bulgarian and Serbian. Moreover, there were Serbian and Bulgarian populations in Macedonia. Serbia sought to protect this Serbian population and to maintain a Serbian linguistic, religious, cultural, and national identity in Macedonia. To further this end, Serbian schools, institutions, aid organizations, and even guerrilla groups, were set up in Macedonia.

Bulgaria sought to protect the Bulgarian population by likewise setting up competing Bulgarian schools, institutions, religious organizations, and guerrillas or paramilitary forces. A fourth movement emerged after the League of Prizren in Kosovo, a Greater or Ethnic Albania nationalist movement which sought to unite all Albanian inhabited areas in the Balkans, including western Macedonia, or Illirida, Kosovo-Metohija, or Kosova, the Presevo-Bujanovac-Medvedja area of Southern Serbia, northern Greece, or Chameria, and areas of Montenegro. A fifth nationalist movement emanated from Romania that sought to incorporate the Vlach or Romanian population of Macedonia. The five rival nationalist/ethnic/political movements in Macedonia—Macedonian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Albanian, and Romanian—were antagonistic and conflicted with each other.

The conflict between the Serbian and Bulgarian populations in Macedonia was the most acute. Both Bulgaria and Serbia sent schoolteachers, priests, bishops, and armed guerrilla groups into Macedonia. There was thus a tug of war over Macedonia between Serbia and Bulgaria as both sought territorial expansion in the region.

British writer Herbert Vivian visited Macedonia and Serbia in 1903 and reported about the crises regions of Macedonia in the chapter “Rambles in Macedonia” from his book The Servian Tragedy with Some Impressions of Macedonia. Vivian traveled to Skopje and to Tetovo and personally observed events there. Macedonia was a politically unstable region at the beginning of the twentieth century. Vivian described Macedonia as follows:

“…the French appropriately use the same word, Macedoine, for a holocaust of sodden fruit and for that Turkish province which remains the last cock-pit of Europe. As we have seen, nearly all the Powers, great and small, covet Macedonia, and there seems every probability of serious disturbances being renewed there before long.”

Macedonia had a reputation for ethnic turmoil, kidnappings, and murders. Vivian noted: “To judge by the papers, you may only visit Macedonia if you are content to carry your life in your hand.” He described the basis for the turmoil as follows: “If the Albanians could be kept in order and Bulgarian anarchism could be suppressed, there would be no grievances in Macedonia today. The Albanians are turbulent sportsmen, engaging as individuals but intolerable as neighbours. They must be made to understand that no further nonsense will be permitted. The Porte would be quite capable of reducing them to order if they had not a powerful protector at hand.” He saw the Albanian population as the most unstable: “For the Albanians…who are the most turbulent persons in the region.”

Vivian described Skopje in 1903 as follows: “Uskub—dreamy Uskub—the capital of Old Servia and of the vilayet of Kosovo, is a far less busy, practical place, but entirely idyllic.”

By 1895, hundreds of schools were set up in Macedonia advancing Serbian, Greek, and Bulgarian claims in Macedonia organized by such groups as the Bulgarian National Committee, the Greek Association of Hellenistic Letters, and the Serbian Society of Saint Sava. Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria all had irredentist and nationalist claims to Macedonia. All three nations had guerrilla groups in Macedonia as well who fought against each other and against the Ottoman Turkish forces and police.

All three countries sought territorial expansion in Macedonian, basing their claims on ethnicity, history, culture, and geopolitical considerations. Moreover, there was an indigenous Macedonian nationalist movement that sought an autonomous “Macedonia for the Macedonians” within the Ottoman Empire. Albania and Romania had claims on Macedonia as well.

Also not to be overlooked is the fact that Macedonia had a large Turkish population, who regarded Macedonia as part of Turkey in Europe. In 1912, Macedonia was part of Turkey. If Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece were to address and resolve their rival claims to Macedonia, they first had to confront the Ottoman Empire. This is what led to the First Balkan War as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece suppressed their mutually antagonistic claims in Macedonia and united in a military alliance against Ottoman Turkey to gain control of Macedonia.

Macedonia and the Eastern Question

The First Balkan War was essentially fought over Macedonia. Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece focused their political agendas on territorial expansion there. All three nations had conflicting, overlapping, and mutually exclusive claims in addition, the indigenous Macedonian autonomy movement conflicted with the irredentist agendas of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. What all recognized, however, was that Turkey had to be first militarily defeated before any of their goals could be realized. It was this realization that led, first, to the creation of the Balkan League, and, second, to the First Balkan War. It was the need to expel Turkey that united Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Macedonian population. Nothing was possible in Macedonia as long as it was part of Ottoman Turkey. They also realized that only if they united could they defeat Turkey militarily. The major antagonists over Macedonia were Serbia and Bulgaria. If they could agree to a political and military alliance, then Greece and Montenegro could be easily induced to join the alliance. But Serbia and Bulgaria remained the essential actors in the First Balkan War. It was the Serbian-Bulgarian alliance that made military victory possible over Ottoman Turkey.

Jacob Schurman in The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 (1914) explained how ethnicity and geography drew Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece into conflict over Macedonia:

“…what was the occasion of the war between Turkey and the Balkan States in 1912? The most general answer that can be given to that question is contained in the one word Macedonia. Geographically Macedonia lies between Greece, Servia, and Bulgaria. Ethnographically it is an extension of their races. And if, as Matthew Arnold declared, the primary impulse both of individuals and of nations is the tendency to expansion, Macedonia both in virtue of its location and its population was foreordained to be a magnet to the emancipated Christian nations of the Balkans…. Hence the Macedonian question was the quintessence of the Near Eastern Question.”

Macedonia was the central focus of the Eastern Question. Herbert Gibbons noted that “the very heart of the Eastern Question” was “the rivalry of races in Macedonia.” The Great Powers “played a game against each other, endeavoring always to use the Balkan states as pawns in their sordid strife.” What was unique about the First Balkan War was that the tables were now turned. The Balkan states had realized that the strategy the Great Powers used to keep them subservient and weak was ‘divide and conquer.’ If they could put aside their differences and unite, they could be an independent political actor, deciding their own political fate. What had allowed the Ottoman Turkish Empire to invade, defeat and occupy the Balkan states in previous centuries was the disunity and dissension among the Christian populations of the Balkans.

The Turkic peoples, on the other hand, were united and thus possessed overwhelming superiority in numbers. This allowed them to pick off and defeat each of the Balkan states one by one. What was different and unique in 1912 was that the Balkan states were united like the Turkic peoples had been earlier. All four Balkan League states were Orthodox Christian and Montenegro, Serbia, and Bulgaria were Slavic. What allowed the Balkan League to defeat the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1912 was their unity. The Balkan League was able to muster 750,000 troops. They not only defeated the Ottoman forces militarily on the battlefields, but were poised to take Constantinople and all of Turkey itself. It was only the intervention of the Great Powers that prevented the fall of Constantinople.

Russia had originally fostered the creation of the Balkan League ostensibly as a counterweight to Austro-Hungarian influence and penetration into the Balkans. But the Balkan states were able to use the alliance to resolve the Macedonian issue and to expel the Ottoman Empire from Eastern Europe. What issue united the Balkan states? Dennis P. Hupchick in The Balkans from Constantinople to Communism explained that Macedonia was what the First Balkan War was fought over: “There was no doubt that the First Balkan War was fought primarily to decide Macedonia’s ultimate fate.” Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece were united in their determination to expel the Turkish forces from Macedonia and to resolve their territorial disputes over the region.

Philip Gibbs and Bernard Grant in Adventures of War: With Cross and Crescent (1912), noted that Macedonia was the subject of the conflict: “Macedonia, that vague and troublesome territory which for generations has been the theatre of guerrilla warfare, of vendettas, of massacres and murders between Christians and Turks, was to be the cause of quarrel. The liberation of Macedonia from Turkish rule was the watchword adopted by the rulers of the Balkan States to give righteousness to their cause, and to gain the sympathy of other Christian peoples.” Gibbs and Grant concluded that Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece had self-interested motives in Macedonia.

Part 2 of this series will appear tomorrow.


Bogicevic, Milos, Causes of the War an examination into the causes of the European war, with special reference to Russia and Serbia(Amsterdam: Langenhuysen, 1919)

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars (Washington, D.C.: The Endowment, 1914)

Gibbons, Herbert Adams, The New Map of Europe, 1911-1914: The Story of the Recent European Diplomatic Crises and Wars a
nd of Europe’s Present Catastrophe
(New York: The Century Co., 1914)

Gibbs, Philip, and Bernard Grant, Adventures of War: With Cross and Crescent (London: Methuen and Co., 1912)

Helmreich, Ernst C., The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938)

Monroe, Will S., Bulgaria and her People with an Account of the Balkan Wars, Macedonia, and the Macedonian Bulgars (Boston: The Page Co., 1914)

Schurman, Jacob Gould, The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1914)

Stavrianos, L. S., The Balkans, 1815-1914 (New York: Rinehart and Winston, 1963)

Vivian, Herbert, The Servian Tragedy with Some Impressions of Macedonia(London: Grant Richards, 1904)

Balkan Wars

The continuing collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to two wars in the Balkans, in 1912 and 1913, which was a prelude to world war. By 1900 nation states had formed in Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia. Nevertheless, many of their ethnic compatriots lived under the control of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912, these countries formed the Balkan League. There were three main causes of the First Balkan War. The Ottoman Empire was unable to reform itself, govern satisfactorily, or deal with the rising ethnic nationalism of its diverse peoples. Secondly, the Great Powers quarreled among themselves and failed to ensure that the Ottomans would carry out the needed reforms. This led the Balkan states to impose their own solution. Most importantly, the members of the Balkan League were confident that it could defeat the Turks, which would prove to be the case.

The First Balkan War broke out when the League attacked the Ottoman Empire on October 8, 1912, and was ended seven months later by the Treaty of London. After five centuries, the Ottoman Empire lost virtually all of its possessions in the Balkans. The Treaty had been imposed by the Great Powers, dissatisfying the victorious Balkan states. Bulgaria was dissatisfied over the division of the spoils in Macedonia, made in secret by its former allies, Serbia and Greece, and attacked to force them out of Macedonia, starting the Second Balkan War. The Serbian and Greek armies repulsed the Bulgarian offensive and counter-attacked into Bulgaria, while Romania and the Ottoman Empire also attacked Bulgaria and gained (or regained) territory. In the resulting Treaty of Bucharest, Bulgaria lost most of the territories it had gained in the First Balkan War.

The long-term result was heightened tension in the Balkans. Relations between Austria and Serbia became increasingly bitter. Russia felt humiliated after Austria and Germany prevented it from helping Serbia. Bulgaria and Turkey were also dissatisfied, and eventually joined Austria and Germany in the First World War.

Serbia and Greece declare war on Ottoman Empire in First Balkan War - HISTORY

In the first millennium A.D., the Balkans was a part of the Byzantine Empire. This empire, ruled from the Greco-Roman city of Constantinople, was multinational and very proud of its legacy as the chief successor state of the former Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, the Byzantines thought of their state as the "Eastern Roman Empire."

Gradually, the power of the Byzantine Empire shrank, and independent Slavic states emerged in the Balkans to the west of Constantinople. From the 10th through the 15th centuries, there were Bulgarian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian kingdoms. Since these kingdoms were basically sequential, rather than simultaneous, sometimes the same piece of territory belonged at different times to different kingdoms. This overlap has created problems in modern times, when more than one nation asserts its historical rights to the same territory. One may call this problem of Balkan history the principle of "overlapping kingdoms."

The arrival of the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans in the 14th century heralded a period of massive political change. By the end of the 15th century, all of the Balkan peoples (except for the Montenegrins and some Croatians) would lose their political independence and become subjects of the Turkish Sultan. The most famous defeat of a Balkan people at the hands of the Turks came in 1389, when the Serbs and their allies (including Christian Albanians) lost the battle of Kosovo Polje (Field of Blackbirds), near today's Pristina in Kosovo. Constantinople itself fell in an epochal battle in 1453. The Turks renamed it Istanbul and it served as the capital of their Ottoman Empire until its final collapse after World War I. Photo: The former Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia, transformed after 1453 into a mosque. Photo by John K. Cox.

Ottoman rule was basically indirect, built upon a system of millets, or religious communities. Local Christian church authorities, as well as Greek merchants, translators, and Romanian nobles, played important administrative roles. The Orthodox churches, especially the Serbian, became the guardian of the language and cultural traditions of the submerged peoples. Because the Ottoman Empire was not formed on a national basis, that is, it was not a Turkish national state, the Sultan allowed his peoples to retain their identities, if not their freedom indeed, isolation from currents of change sweeping over Western and Central Europe was probably the greatest negative of Ottoman rule. Photo: Medieval castle of a Romanian noble. Photo by John K. Cox.

Non-Muslims (that is, Christians and Jews) were subjected to civil discrimination but were theoretically protected as fellow "peoples of the book," a reference to the common heritage and sharing of holy writings of these three monotheistic religions, all originally from the Middle East. Sometimes the Sultan's European subjects did suffer greatly, though this suffering was usually from his inability to control his unruly nobles, who exploited their peasants and rebelled against central authority. An aspect of Ottoman rule that was not popular then, and which has been held up as an example of the cruelty of Turkish rule since then, is the practice of devshirme, or blood-tax, in which children from Balkan Christian families were taken away from their families and raised as Muslims in Istanbul. Of course, this practice is cruel by the yardstick of any time. But it should be noted that these children were carefully educated and placed in important careers throughout the empire. They were extremely important to the Sultan because they were a loyal group of advisors, officers, and diplomats who were not beholden to any domestic faction in Ottoman politics except him. They formed a kind of palace guard, although they served not just as elite soldiers (janissaries) but also in many other types of government service. Often high-ranking devshirme officials would perform substantial acts of charity for their places of birth, thereby directly benefiting their original communities.

In the 19th century, under the influence of the Romantic movement and German philosophy, scholars and writers from Balkan peoples began exploring their nations' identities. Some scholars collected folk songs others wrote dictionaries, grammar books, and histories. As this nationalism spread to wider and wider circles of people in Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria, political activity aimed at the creation of national states began. This activity was certainly aided by the fact that the Ottoman Empire was growing weaker and weaker, even as its rulers attempted long-needed reforms.

By World War I, a series of Balkan states had formed: Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria. At the end of World War I, the defeated Ottoman and Habsburg Empires were carved up, making room in the Balkans for a unified Yugoslavia. During the interwar period, these new countries, as well as their neighbors in the rest of Eastern Europe, were unable to meet many of their basic challenges in agriculture, to assure harmonious relations with minorities inside their countries, and to create workable pluralistic political systems. World War II then came along and, at least in Yugoslavia, made future prospects even worse. In addition to fighting against the Italian and German invaders of the country and their local satellite governments, the Yugoslavs also carried out a civil war between guerrilla groups. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, in all parts of the country, leaving a legacy of mistrust and a thirst for revenge that has reemerged in our time. Still, it is important to point out that these are not "ancient" ethnic hatreds, since they came to fruition less than sixty years ago.

After 1945 socialist governments came to power--or were placed in power by the USSR--in almost all of the Balkan states. Greece was an important exception, eventually becoming an important ally of the United States and a member of NATO, as did Turkey. Yugoslavia and Albania soon become maverick socialist states they did not remain allies or satellites of the USSR. But Bulgaria and Romania, like East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia to the north, became members of the Warsaw Pact, the alliance system that faced off against NATO during the Cold War.

The year 1989 brought changes of government to most of these socialist countries. The Soviet Union itself was promoting the democratization of its East European communist allies, as part of the massively important period of perestroika instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev. That year saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the "velvet revolution" in Prague, and in the Balkans, the toppling and then execution of the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu.

The Idiot’s Guide to the Balkan Wars

The Balkans refers to a geographic region that lies on the Balkan peninsula. The modern day Balkan states are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro, and a small part of Turkey. Comparatively small as a region, Winston Churchill once remarked, “The Balkans generates more history than it can locally consume.” Though small and not as economically powerful as its giant neighbors, the countries of the historically volatile region have indeed been a source of conflict that has dramatically changed the world stage on more than one occasion.

The Balkan wars themselves were two wars spanning 1912- 1913 the first, between the allied Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro) and the Ottoman Empire then the second between Bulgaria and its former allies. The wars are seen as precursors to World War I, and have regained interest in a time when nationalist conflicts, fueled by the agendas of larger countries, have caused violence which has sparked more violence. Time writer Ishan Tharoor compared the Balkan wars to today’s Syria and Democratic Republic of the Congo, reiterating that an intensely violent national conflict can only lead to greater, bloodier violence in the long term, if left uncontrolled. Though comparatively short, the Balkan wars have been noted for their intensity and horror. Descriptions of the battles foreshadow the later unmatched horror of World War 1. One journalist compared scenes from the battles to Dante’s descriptions of hell.

In the first Balkan war, the Balkan League united against Turkey. Having previously been quite powerful, at the time, Turkey controlled significantly more land. Yet it had recently been defeated by Italy and was clearly waning in power. Turkish defences quickly crumbled against the combined forces of Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro. This concluded the first Balkan war.

Afterwards, Bulgaria became dissatisfied with the division of the lands claimed from the first war. It subsequently attacked Greek and Serbian forces in an attempt to assert military power, which quickly escalated into the second Balkan war. Outnumbered, Bulgaria made peace with the neighboring states in 1913. Yet bitter wounds and rivalries remained, and a left a legacy of overzealous nationalist pride which would not easily be mended.

The Balkan wars were only a century ago, yet the lessons learned of the dangers of pure nationalist interest and the unforeseen consequences of greater powers using conflicts to spur their own agendas are going tragically unheeded.

Watch the video: The First Balkan war breaks out in 1912 Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Bulgaria.