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

Sources and Database

Historical Population of Croatian Borderlands database

The main type of source for longitudinal databases available in Croatia consists of parish registers (Roman-Catholic, Orthodox, Greek-Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Jewish). Civil record offices were created in 1878 that took over the registers from the parishes. In 1949 all parishes had to turn over all the registers that dated from before 1860 to the nearest archive. While turning over these registers, many parishes nonetheless kept their “status animarum”. Some of these cover up to five or even six generations of the same family. The Croatian State Archive (Hrvatski državni arhiv) possesses microfilms (ca. 2 million sets) of almost all preserved parish registers (18000 registers of all confessions) of present-day Croatia as well as some Roman Catholic registers from Bosnia and Hercegovina. The archival information system ARHiNET contains all holdings that are possession of the Croatian State Archive and its district branches. Apart from parish registers population censuses are also a very important source for historical demography. Official population counts were perfected and became systematized during the 19th century. The first modern census in Croatia was conducted in 1857. Of course there had been official counts before that time as well that referred to populations as a whole or certain particular members (e.g. men fit for military service) but these censuses were generally not standardized nor were they conducted for statistical purposes.


Another important data source are muster rolls of 11 Grenzer Regiments that made up the Military Frontier in Croatia. These muster rolls (Standestabellen, Verpflegslisten and Monatsakte) cover the period from 1821 until 1869 and often contain promotion, transfer and death certificates with detailed information on civil status, offspring, cause of death etc. So-called Conduite-Listen of officers refer to special skills, character traits, behaviour etc. This complete archival holding consists of 483 books, 1538 boxes and 2356 sheafs. Older muster roles (dating back to appr. 1740) of the same Grenzer Regiments are kept at the Kriegsarchiv (part of the Austrian State Archive) in Vienna but are also available on microfilm in the Croatian State Archive. As has been pointed out earlier, this project will focus on the muster rolls of only two Grenzer Regiments: the Lika and the Otočac Regiments (appr. 18 % of the complete holding). Muster rolls as these have been mostly neglected by historical demographers. One important exception is the UC Croatia Project that was conceived by E. A. Hammel in the early 1980s and which focussed on the Gradiške Regiment in Slavonia.

Elementary Venetian sources on military actions and troops whose file and rank mainly consisted of Croats, but also other ethnic groups that inhabited the east coast of the Adriatic Sea are kept in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia. The holding Inquisitori sopra l’amministrazione dei pubblici ruoli includes records of the Venetian Magistrate in charge of enlisting soldiers in the armed forces of the Republic. The military records relevant to our research have to do with the infantery unit Fanti oltramarini and the Croatian light cavalry Croati a cavallo. The holding consists of 1035 boxes of which 319 boxes relate to infanterymen and 56 boxes to cavalrymen.


There are several circumstances to be taken into account that hinder the construction of databases from Croatian sources. Firstly, Croatian law prescribes that public archival material with personal data is accessable 70 years after its creation (registers of marriages and deaths) or 100 years after the birth of the person it relates to (registers of births). Secondly, unlike „modern“ registers many of the parish registers that date back before the nineteenth century don’t have specific sections and columns. Entries are narrational (not in columns), often with unnecessary comments and lacking crucial information (e.g. surname, name of the parents, place of birth). Even though church regulations carefully stated which particular data had to be recorded, some registrars – for reasons only known to them – simply did not respect them. The quality of each entry depended on the will of the registrar. Thirdly, the fact that Croatia was divided under three (after 1881 two) different administrations until 1918 is reflected in the official language of these records. Civil Croatia (and Slavonia) belonged to the Hungarian part of the Habsburg Monarchy, Dalmatia and Istria (under Venetian rule until 1797) belonged to the Austrian part of the Habsburg Monarchy and – until 1871 the Military Frontier was administered by the Court Council of War (later Ministry of War). The official languages were Latin (after 1848 Hungarian and Croatian), Italian and German respectively. Personal and place-names exist in Latin, Hungarian, Croatian, Italian and German versions (not to mention Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Gothic letters).

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