Bosnia and Herzegovina’s earliest known inhabitants were the Illyrians. Later, the Roman Empire encompassed the area. After the fall of Rome in 395 AD, the Drina River became the dividing line between the Eastern Empire (Byzantium) and the Roman successors in the west.

In the 7th century, Slavic peoples migrating from the north settled in the area and created various principalities. Over the next two centuries, Bosnia was a semi-independent state ruled by a ban (governor), and over which both Hungary and Byzantium vied for control. Around 1200, Bosnia achieved an independent state that lasted for over 260 years. Under King Stephen Tvrtko (1353-91), the country expanded to include the principality of Hum (Herzegovina), and later, parts of the Adriatic coast.

In the 14th century, the Turkish Ottoman Empire invaded the Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina became a province under Turkish rule, which lasted for four centuries. Many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina converted to Islam, although Islam was practiced by some people before the Turks arrived.

When the Ottoman Empire was driven from the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina became an unwilling protectorate of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878. Eventually, the country was annexed by Austria in 1908. On June 28, 1914, the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb from Bosnia, proved to be the spark that ignited World War I. Believing that Serbia had planned the killing, Austria-Hungary declared war.

At the war’s end in 1918, the South Slavs formed a kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes that was eventually named Yugoslavia. Along with other Balkan states, Bosnia and Herzegovina came under German occupation during World War II. A resistance movement of Yugoslav communist forces helped the Allies defeat Germany. In 1945, the leader of the resistance, Josip Broz Tito, emerged as leader of Yugoslavia’s new government. Although communist, Tito rejected Stalin’s style of rule in the Soviet Union and instead created a unique political and economic system.

After Tito’s death in 1980, Yugoslavia weakened. Ethnic tensions increased, as did demands for democracy and independence. In Yugoslavia’s first free elections in 1990, the communist party was defeated by nationalist Serb and Croatian parties, along with a Muslim (Bosniak) party demanding a multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina. United against Serb nationalists, the Croat and Muslim parties declared Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence. Serb forces wanting to partition the republic along ethnic lines and unite with neighbouring Serbia protested with violence, and civil war erupted.

The next four years took a brutal toll on all sides and severely damaged the countryside. Serb troops killed or expelled Bosniak and Croat people from northeastern Bosnia to create an "ethnically clean" Serb territory. Croat and Bosniak forces retaliated. Sarajevo, which has almost half a million inhabitants, endured three years of siege. In 1995, after international intervention, the warring groups signed a peace agreement. Bosnia and Herzegovina retains its pre-war boundaries and has a joint, multicultural, democratic government to oversee foreign, economic and fiscal policy. Two second tiers of government, the joint Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic, are responsible for internal functions. NATO peacekeeping forces remain in the country to monitor the peace agreement and new government, which is led by president Alija Izetbegovic.

  Did you know?

The Turks constructed towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina in traditional Middle Eastern pattern, consisting of two districts: commercial quarters (bazaars) and residential quarters (mahalas). Today, city planners still follow this pattern.

  Did you know?

The urban centre of Herzegovina is Mostar. Founded by the Turks in the 15th century, the city used to be a strong tourist draw for those interested in Islamic culture.