NOTE: Historically and philatelicly, today’s article deals solely to end of World War I. following which Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the South Slav Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (soon renamed Yugoslavia). The post-1992 history, including independence from Yugoslavia and the succeeding stamps issued by three separate postal authorities (corresponding with the ethnic and administrative division of the country), will be dealt with in future articles once I obtain copies of the more recent stamps.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina, or Боснa и Херцеговина) is a region that traces permanent human settlement back to the Neolithic age, during and after which it was populated by several Illyrian and Celtic civilizations. Culturally, politically, and socially, the country has a rich history, having been first settled by the Slavic peoples that populate the area today from the sixth through to the ninth centuries A.D. The name Bosnia Herzegovina has been used as a regional designation, but Herzegovina has never had any precisely defined borders of its own. The region was simply called Bosnia, until the Austro-Hungarian occupation at the end of the nineteenth century. The name of Bosnia likely comes from the name of the Bosna River, which was referred to in the Roman Era by the name Bossina, meaning “running water.” The name Herzegovina (“herzog’s [land]”, from the German word for “duke”) originates from Bosnian magnate Stephen Vukčić Kosača’s title, “Herceg of Hum and the Coast” circa 1448.
Located in southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, the current parliamentary republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is bordered by Croatia to the north, west, and south; Serbia to the east; Montenegro to the southeast; and the Adriatic Sea to the south, with a coastline about 12 miles (20 kilometers) long surrounding the city of Neum. In the central and eastern interior of the country the geography is mountainous, in the northwest it is moderately hilly, and the northeast is predominantly flatland. The inland is a geographically larger region and has a moderate continental climate, with hot summers and cold and snowy winters. The southern tip of the country has a Mediterranean climate and plain topography. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city.
Bosnia has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic age. The earliest Neolithic population became known in antiquity as the Illyrians. Celtic migrations in the fourth century B.C. were also notable. Concrete historical evidence for this period is scarce, but overall it appears that the region was populated by a number of different peoples speaking distinct languages. Conflict between the Illyrians and Romans started in 229 B.C., but Rome did not complete its annexation of the region until 9 A.D. It was in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina that Rome fought one of the most difficult battles in its history since the Punic Wars, as described by the Roman historian Suetonius. This was the Roman campaign against Illyricum, known as Bellum Batonianum. The conflict arose after an attempt to recruit Illyrians, and a revolt spanned for four years (6–9 A.D.), after which they were subdued.
In the Roman period, Latin-speaking settlers from the entire Roman Empire settled among the Illyrians, and Roman soldiers were encouraged to retire in the region. Following the split of the Empire between 337 and 395 A.D., Dalmatia and Pannonia became parts of the Western Roman Empire. Some claim that the region was conquered by the Ostrogoths in 455 A.D. It subsequently changed hands between the Alans and the Huns. By the sixth century, Emperor Justinian had reconquered the area for the Byzantine Empire. Slavs overwhelmed the Balkans in the sixth and seventh centuries. Illyrian cultural traits were adopted by the South Slavs, as evidenced in certain customs, traditions, and placenames.
The Early Slavs, composted of small tribal units drawn from a single Slavic confederation known as the Sclaveni, raided the Western Balkans, including Bosnia, in the sixth and early seventh century. Tribes recorded by the ethnonyms of “Serb” and “Croat” are described as a second, latter, migration of different people during the second quarter of the seventh century who do not seem to have been particularly numerous; these early “Serb” and “Croat” tribes came to predominate over the Slavs in the neighboring regions. The bulk of Bosnia proper, however, appears to have been a territory between Serb and Croat rule and is not enumerated as one of the regions settled by those tribes.
Bosnia is first mentioned as a land (horion Bosona) in Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ De Administrando Imperio in the mid-tenth century, at the end of a chapter entitled “Of the Serbs and the country in which they now dwell”. In time, Bosnia would come to form a unit under its own ruler calling himself Bosnian. Bosnia, along with other territories, became part of Duklja in the eleventh century, although it retained its own nobility and institutions.
In the High Middle Ages, political circumstance led to the area being contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. Following another shift of power between the two in the early twelfth century, Bosnia found itself outside the control of both and emerged as the Banate of Bosnia (under the rule of local bans). During this time the population was called Dobri Bošnjani (“Good Bosnians”). The names Serb and Croat, though occasionally appearing in peripheral areas, were not used in Bosnia proper.
Bosnian history from then until the early fourteenth century was marked by a power struggle between the Šubić and Kotromanić families. This conflict came to an end in 1322, when Stephen II Kotromanić became Ban. By the time of his death in 1353, he was successful in annexing territories to the north and west, as well as Zahumlje and parts of Dalmatia. He was succeeded by his ambitious nephew Tvrtko who, following a prolonged struggle with nobility and inter-family strife, gained full control of the country in 1367.
By the year 1377, Bosnia was elevated into a kingdom with the coronation of Tvrtko as the first Bosnian King in Mile near Visoko in the Bosnian heartland. Following his death in 1391 however, Bosnia fell into a long period of decline. The Ottoman Empire had already started its conquest of Europe and posed a major threat to the Balkans throughout the first half of the fifteenth century. Finally, after decades of political and social instability, the Kingdom of Bosnia ceased to exist in 1463 after its conquest by the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman conquest of Bosnia marked a new era in the country’s history and introduced drastic changes in the political and cultural landscape. The Ottomans allowed for the preservation of Bosnia’s identity by incorporating it as an integral province of the Ottoman Empire with its historical name and territorial integrity — a unique case among subjugated states in the Balkans. The Ottomans introduced a number of key changes in the territory’s socio-political administration; including a new landholding system, a reorganization of administrative units, and a complex system of social differentiation by class and religious affiliation.
The four centuries of Ottoman rule also had a drastic impact on Bosnia’s population make-up, which changed several times as a result of the empire’s conquests, frequent wars with European powers, forced and economic migrations, and epidemics. A native Slavic-speaking Muslim community emerged and eventually became the largest of the ethno-religious groups due to lack of strong Christian church organizations and continuous rivalry between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, while the indigenous Bosnian Church disappeared altogether (ostensibly by conversion of its members to Islam). The Ottomans referred to them as kristianlar while the Orthodox and Catholics were called gebir or kafir, meaning “unbeliever”. The Bosnian Franciscans (and the Catholic population as a whole) were protected by official imperial decrees and in accordance and full extent of Ottoman laws, however in a effect these often merely affected arbitrary rule and behavior of powerful local elite.
As the Ottoman Empire continued their rule in the Balkans (Rumelia), Bosnia was somewhat relieved of the pressures of being a frontier province, and experienced a period of general welfare. A number of cities, such as Sarajevo and Mostar, were established and grew into regional centers of trade and urban culture and were then visited by Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi in 1648. Within these cities, various Ottoman Sultans financed the construction of many works of Bosnian architecture. Bosnian recruits formed a large component of the Ottoman ranks in the battles of Mohács and Krbava field, while numerous other Bosnians rose through the ranks of the Ottoman military to occupy the highest positions of power in the Empire.
However, by the late 17th century the Empire’s military misfortunes caught up with the country, and the conclusion of the Great Turkish War with the treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 once again made Bosnia the Empire’s westernmost province. The following century was marked by further military failures, numerous revolts within Bosnia, and several outbursts of plague. The Porte’s efforts at modernizing the Ottoman state were met with distrust growing to hostility in Bosnia, This, combined with frustrations over territorial, political concessions in the north-east, and the plight of Slavic Muslim refugees arriving from the Sanjak of Smederevo into Bosnia Eyalet, culminated in a partially unsuccessful revolt by Husein Gradaščević, Related rebellions would be extinguished by 1850, but the situation continued to deteriorate. Later agrarian unrest eventually sparked a widespread peasant uprising in 1875 called the Herzegovinian rebellion. The conflict rapidly spread and came to involve several Balkan states and Great Powers.
At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Andrássy obtained the occupation and administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the right to station garrisons in the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, which remained under Ottoman administration. The Sanjak preserved the separation of Serbia and Montenegro, and the Austro-Hungarian garrisons there would open the way for a dash to Salonika that “would bring the western half of the Balkans under permanent Austrian influence.” Though, technically, Bosnia was still considered a province of the Turkish Empire, it was now controlled by the imperial government in Vienna.
On September 28, 1878, Finance Minister Koloman von Zell threatened to resign if the army, backed by the Archduke Albert, were allowed to advance to Salonika. In the session of the Hungarian Parliament of November 5, 1878, the opposition proposed that the foreign minister should be impeached for violating the constitution with his policy during the Near East Crisis and by the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The motion lost 179 to 95. Although an Austro-Hungarian side quickly came to an agreement with Bosnians, tensions remained in certain parts of the country (particularly the south) and a mass emigration of predominantly Slavic dissidents occurred. A state of relative stability was soon reached, however, and Austro-Hungarian authorities were able to embark on a number of social and administrative reforms which intended to make Bosnia and Herzegovina into a “model colony”.
With the aim of establishing the province as a stable political model that would help dissipate rising South Slav nationalism, Habsburg rule did much to codify laws, to introduce new political practices, and to provide for modernization.
The first Bosnia and Herzegovina postal releases were produced in 1879. a set of six (Scott #2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10) stamps without any text, but featuring the Austrian double-eagle coat of arms with numeral tablets in the upper corners. They are lithographed and watermarked. From 1879 to 1889, the printing paper was watermarked large double-lined capital letters BRIEF-MARKEN across the middle of the sheet. From 1890, the printing paper was watermarked large double-lined capital letters ZEITUNGS-MARKEN across the middle of the sheet. The currency used from 1879 to 1904 was 100 novcica (neukreuzer) = 1 florin (gulden). One additional stamp in what came to be known as Type I (of three) was released in 1893 — the 20 novcica grey green (Scott #9). On Type I stamps, the heraldic eaglets on the right side of the escutcheon are entirely blank while the eye of the lion is indicated by a very small dot which sometimes failed to print.
A Type II stamp (Scott #1, the ½ novcica black) appeared in 1894 and Type III (Scott #6b, 5 novcica rose red) was released in 1898. As with all Austrian postage stamps of this period, these issues come in a number of different perforation gauges, ranging from gauge 9 to gauge 13½, as well as with compound perforation gauges. There are also numerous color shades and variations in the numerals, in addition to the type differences. While the Scott catalogue provides a good introduction to some of these varieties, a more specialized catalogue is a must if one wants to delve into these earliest of the Bosnian issues.
In 1881, within three years of formal occupation of Bosnia Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary obtained German and the more important Russian approval of the annexation of these provinces at a time that suited Vienna. This mandate was formally ratified by the Dreikaiserbund (Three Emperor’s Treaty) on June 18th of that year. Upon the accession of Czar Nicholas II, however, the Russians reneged on the agreement, asserting in 1897 the need for special scrutiny of the Bosnian Annexation issue at an unspecified future date.
Between 1900 and 1901, the new series of definitive postage stamps, again without text, were issued (Scott #11-24). These new stamps have denominations expressed in the new Austrian currency, that is, 100 heller = 1 krone. The same coat of arms designs were utilized, but the value numeral tablets of the lower denominations were now moved to the bottom corners of the design. The new krone value stamps have the value indicated in all four corners of each stamp. These stamps were printed on both regular and ribbed papers. The 20 heller, 40 heller, and 50 heller denominations from the first printings of these new stamps are very scarce. These three denominations were reprinted in 1911 in lighter colors and on whiter paper than the originals, and they are all very common.
Six stamps were issued between 1901 and 1904 (Scott #25-29). The designs are identical to the previous issue, except that the denomination numerals are now printed in black ink on a clear background. An attractive set of multicolored postage due stamps were issued for use in Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1904 (Scott #J1-13).
On November 1, 1906, a set of sixteen pictorial definitive stamps inscribed BOSNIEN HERZEGOWINA was featuring national landmarks (Scott #30-45). These stamps replaced the coat of arms designs that had been in use since 1879. As many of the Austrian Empire issues of this time, there are many different production varieties of these new definitive stamps. Some of these varieties were intentionally created for presentation to government officials and influential stamp collectors of the time. In addition to numerous perforation gauges available, all exist imperforate. The page at Stamp Collecting World does a good job explaining some of the numerous varieties of this popular issue. As with so many of these Bosnian and Herzegovinian stamps, a more specialized catalogue than Scott is a must.
External matters began to affect the Bosnian Protectorate and its relationship with Austria-Hungary. A bloody coup occurred in Serbia on June 10, 1903. This brought a radical anti-Austrian government into power in Belgrade. A revolt in the Ottoman Empire in 1908 raised concerns that the Istanbul government might seek the outright return of Bosnia Herzegovina. These factors caused the Austrian-Hungarian government to seek a permanent resolution of the Bosnian question sooner, rather than later.
On July 2, 1908, in response to the pressing of the Austrian-Hungarian claim, the Russian Imperial Foreign Minister Alexander Izvolsky offered to support Bosnian annexation in return for Vienna’s support for Russia’s bid for naval access through the Dardanelles Straits into the Mediterranean. On October 6, 1908, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire seized the Turkish province of Bosnia, and it officially became a province of Austria-Hungary in 1909. The international furor over the annexation announcement caused Izvolsky to drop the Dardanelles Straits question, altogether, in an effort to obtain a European conference over the Bosnian Annexation. This conference never materialized and without British or French support, the Russians and their client state, Serbia, were compelled to accept the Austrian-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia Herzegovina in March 1909.
In 1910, the Austrian Empire celebrated the 80th Birthday of Emperor Franz Josef. To commemorate this event a new set of postage stamps was issued in Bosnia Herzegovina on August 18, the Emperor’s birthday (Scott #48-61). The designs of the 80th Birthday issues are identical to those of the 1906 pictorial definitive issues, except that the stamps are a bit taller, with a label containing 1830 and 1910 at the bottom of each stamp. These new stamps, shown above, were all produced with perforation gauge 12½.
In June 1912, three new denominations of the 1906 pictorial definitive type were issued (Scott #52-64). These new stamps were only produced using perforation gauge 12½ but also exist imperforate. On October 4, 1912, Bosnia and Herzegovina replaced the definitive national landmark series of stamps with 2o stamps featuring portraits of Emperor Franz Josef (Scott #65-84). These were issued in various frames and included the inscriptions K U K MILITAR POST at the top and BOSNIEN HERCEGOVINA at the bottom, The heller denominations are engraved on white paper, and the kroner denominations are all engraved on colored paper. All of these stamps are perforated 12½. A 10 kroner denomination in the same design (Scott #85) was released on October 1, 1914 (Scott #85). As with previous issues, these new Bosnia and Herzegovina stamps exist imperforate, in pairs imperforated between, plate proofs, trial color proofs, and essays. Many of them are very affordable.
Newspaper stamps which included a depiction of a girl in a Bosnian costume were released in 1913 (Scott #P1-4), followed in 1914 by several charity stamps featuring surcharged overprints applied to previously-issued definitives (Scott #B1-8).
Political tensions in the region culminated on June 28, 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo. They were shot dead by Gavrilo Princip, 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 a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as Young Bosnia. The assassination 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.
Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Dragutin Dimitrijević was in charge of these Serbian military conspirators along with his right-hand man Major Vojislav Tankosić, and the spy Rade Malobabić. Tankosić armed the assassins with bombs and pistols and trained them. The assassins were given access to the same clandestine network of safe-houses and agents that Malobabić used for the infiltration of weapons and operatives into Austria-Hungary. 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.
Two charity stamps (Scott #B9-10) were issued on July 10, 1915. Each denomination was sold with a 2 heller surcharge, which went to aid wounded war veterans. The 5 heller depicts an invalid veteran and the 10 heller depicts a nurse leading a blind veteran.
In October 1916, Bosnia Herzegovina again replaced their definitive series of postage stamps with a set of 18 (Scott #86-104), all issued between October 1 and October 31, 1916. The frames are a little different than the previous definitive postage stamp issue, and the stamps were all engraved. The heller denominations were printed on white paper, featuring a facing portrait of Emperor Franz Josef I. The kroner denominations were printed on color toned paper and portrayed a profile bust of the emperor.
Two special handling stamps (Scott #QE1-2) were issued on October 25, 1916. They are both engraved on white paper and depict a flying Mercury with lightening bolts. A set of thirteen postage due stamps (Scott #J14-26) were issued between December 1916 and July 1918. The 10 heller bister (Scott #89) and 15 heller carmine rose (Scott #91) of the 1916 definitive series received an overprint and issued as charity stamps on May 9, 1917 (Scott #B11-12). Each denomination was sold with a 2 heller surcharge, which went to aid wounded war veterans.
On June 28, 1917, Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a set of three stamps (Scott #B13-15) to commemorate the third anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Archduchess Sophia. Each of the denominations was sold with a 2 heller surcharge, which helped to build a memorial church at Sarajevo. The 10 heller violet black (Scott #B13) depicts the design for the memorial church at Sarajevo. Archduke Franz Ferdinand is portrayed on the 15 heller claret stamp (Scott #B14) while the 40 heller deep blue denomination features both Duchess Sophia and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The three stamps were printed by typography and exist perforated 12½, 11½, and imperforate.
A set of eighteen new definitive postage stamps were issued on July 1, 1917 (Scott #105-122), featuring the portrait of the new Austrian Emperor Karl I. Two charity stamps were issued on March 1, 1918 (Scott #B16-17), each sold with a 2 heller surcharge which went to aid wounded war veterans. The designs are identical to those of the July 1915 charity issue, but the colors are different. An additional set of semi-postal stamps were issued on July 20, 1918 (Scott #B18-20), each sold with a 10 heller surcharge which went to the “Karl’s Fund”. These stamps depict Emperor Karl I and Empress Zita.
Two earlier stamps (Scott #47 and 66) were issued during September 1918 with the year 1918 overprinted in red (Scott #126-127).
In late 1918, a final set of fourteen definitive stamps (Scott #128-141) featuring a portrait of Emperor Karl I were prepared for use in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They ultimately weren’t issued there. The stamps were, however, sold for a few days after the Armistice at the post office in Vienna. These would be the last stamps inscribed with the country name of Bosnia and Herzegovina until October 27, 1993, following independence from Yugoslavia. Each stamp is valued in the 2009 Scott catalogue at USD $12.00 for mint copies, except for the 1 krone olive green on greenish paper (Scott #141). This is the highest valued Bosnian stamp listed in the Scott by far at USD $2,000 (second is Scott #9 at $625 mint).
By the end of the war in November 1918, the Bosniaks had lost more men per capita than any other ethnic group in the Habsburg Empire while serving in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry (known as Bosniaken) of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Nonetheless, Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole managed to escape the conflict relatively unscathed.
The Austro-Hungarian authorities established an auxiliary militia known as the Schutzkorps with a moot role in the empire’s policy of anti-Serb repression. Schutzkorps, predominantly recruited among the Muslim (Bosniak) population, were tasked with hunting down rebel Serbs (the Chetniks and Komiti) and became known for their persecution of Serbs particularly in Serb populated areas of eastern Bosnia, where they partly retaliated against Serbian Chetniks who in fall 1914 had carried out attacks against the Muslim population in the area. The proceedings of the Austro-Hungarian authorities led to around 5,500 citizens of Serb ethnicity in Bosnia and Herzegovina being arrested, and between 700 and 2,200 died in prison while 460 were executed. Around 5,200 Serb families were forcibly expelled from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On December 1, 1918, Alexander Karađorđević, Prince-Regent for his father, Peter I of Serbia, proclaimed the unification of “Serbia with lands of the independent State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs into a unified Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.” The new kingdom was made up of the formerly independent kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro (Montenegro having been absorbed into Serbia five days previously), and of a substantial amount of territory that was formerly part of Austria–Hungary, the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The lands previously in Austria–Hungary that formed the new state included:
- Croatia, Slavonia, and Vojvodina from the Hungarian part of the empire;
- Carniola, part of Styria, and most of Dalmatia from the Austrian part; and
- The crown province of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Yugoslav kingdom bordered Italy and Austria to the northwest at the Rapallo border, Hungary and Romania to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece and Albania to the south, and the Adriatic Sea to the west.
For its first eleven years of existence, the country was officially called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but the term “Yugoslavia” was its colloquial name from the beginning. Stamps with overprints (DRZAVA S.H.S.. etc.) were first used in 1919. The official name of the state was changed to “Kingdom of Yugoslavia” by King Alexander I on October 3, 1929. The first stamps inscribed with the name of Kingdom of Yugoslavia appeared in 1931. Bosnia and Herzegonia used Yugoslavian stamps until becoming independent in 1992.