Military Life and Warrior Images in Croatian Borderlands from the 16th Century until 1918

About the project

It is an undisputed fact that during the early modern period several European powers regularly began to employ Croatian soldiers on different battlefields across the Continent. The necktie or cravat – now a globally recognized fashion item – stands out as the most distinct reminder of that occurrence, for it was during the Thirty Years’ War that Croatian mercenaries in the service of France made a lasting impression with their distinctive scarves knotted at the neck. A much lesser known fact is that during that same war Croatian soldiers were labelled as brave, but cruel and ruthless warriors, a stereotypical image that remained undiminished during the centuries that followed. The pandours of Baron Trenck and Grenzer from the Military Frontier that saw action during the War of the Austrian Succession, and Croats that were deployed in combat by Venice between Friuli and Corfu, were seen no differently than the Croatian soldiers that had preceded them one century earlier.

From the first time they participated in military conflicts far away from home, Croatian soldiers succeeded to draw much attention of the general public in Europe and even across the Atlantic in the American colonies. The image of these soldiers in the armed forces of European powers furthered the development of an overall image of Croats as a martial people. Their presence on different battlefields across Europe was met with awe among both allies and enemies very similar to the mental impact generated by Goths, Tatars, Vikings etc. European public opinion perceived Croats as brave savages that defied the standard rules of early modern warfare. Partisan or guerrilla warfare (la petite guerre or “little war”) was the trademark of Croatian soldiers in different European theatres of war. It originated from one hundred years of continuous skirmishing on the border between the Ottoman Empire on one side and the Habsburg Monarchy and Republic of Venice on the other. Serving as light infantry or light cavalry, Croatian soldiers revolutionized early modern regular warfare that was dominated by great manoeuvres, large-scale field battles and sieges. Therefore, it was not only the way they dressed, but also the way they fought, that distinguished the Croats from other soldiers.

Guerrilla came in use as a customary term for warfare characterized by ambushes, raid and encounters carried out by irregulars, at the beginning of the 19th century when armed Spanish civilians revolted against the French army. However, “small war” tactics were used long before that on the border between the Habsburg Monarchy (the Military Frontier) and the Republic of Venice (Dalmatia) on one side, and the Ottoman Empire (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro) on the other side. For the population inhabiting these borderlands, “small war” was more than just a method to wage war: it was a way of life. The military skills of soldiers from these borderlands permanently changed warfare on the Continent. The great powers of Europe started organize light infantry and light cavalry units among their troops based on the experience with Croatian irregulars. This development should be seen as a new turning point of the military revolution that lasted during the early modern period, and that has not been researched up to now. Another interesting fact that needs to be mentioned is that guerrilla warfare was a constant feature of Croatian military history from the Ottoman expansion until the Second World War, and even during the Croatian War of Independence of the 1990s.

The reconstruction of everyday life and the identity of military society will include: 1. demographic data (birth rates, fertility and mortality rates), migrations and the socio-economic context (age, gender and professional structure) on the basis of muster rolls and other military records, birth and death registers, censuses, land registers, testimonies; 2. the military and war context (military organization and training, guerrilla warfare and the art of war, images and self-awareness of Croatian soldiers) on the basis of official correspondence, travel books and newspaper articles; and 3. the geopolitical context (administrative and legal organization, government transitions) on the basis of maps and official correspondence.

Project IP-2014-09-3675 Military Life and Warrior Images in Croatian Borderlands from the 16th Century until 1918 is financed by the Croatian Science Foundation (Hrvatska zaklada za znanost) 

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