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  • The Historical Geography of Croatia: Territorial Change and Cultural Landscapes by Borna Fuerst-Bjeliš and Nikola Glamuzina
  • David S. Hardin
The Historical Geography of Croatia: Territorial Change and Cultural Landscapes. Borna Fuerst-Bjeliš and Nikola Glamuzina. Historical Geography and Geosciences. Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2021. Pp. xviii+203, 6 black & white illustrations, 59 color illustrations, endnotes. $169.99, hardcover, ISBN 978-3-0306-8432-7. $169.99, paperback, ISBN 978-3-0306-8435-8. $129.99, eBook, ISBN 978-3-0306-8433-4.

One would be hard-pressed to find a nation-state that has been the product of as many outside forces as Croatia. Waves of human settlement from the Paleolithic to the Indo-European invasion to Greek and Roman expansion to South Slavic immigration to Ottoman displacements and Austro-Hungarian settlement programs created a cultural mosaic that would only be unified independently twice, once in the tenth century and again in the twentieth century. Throughout most of its history, it has been on the edge of dividing lines and a shatter belt between competing kingdoms, city-states, and empires that each redrew the external borders, trade patterns, road networks, and landscapes. There have been English-language histories of Croatia, but no historical geographies until now. Coauthors Borna Fuerst-Bjeliš and Nikola Glamuzina have done a commendable job of peeling back the many layers of the Croatian historical-geographical onion in The Historical Geography of Croatia: Territorial Change and Cultural Landscapes.

The book is divided into ten chapters, with an introductory geographical overview and nine time periods: Prehistory (Paleolithic through Indo-European invasion), Antiquity (Greeks through late Roman Empire), Early Middle Ages (collapse of Roman civilization through Slavic colonization), High Middle Ages (rise of distinctive regions through the first independent Croatian state), Ottoman Conquest (Slavonia under Ottoman control and depopulation through refugee migrations and the coming of the Vlachs), Early Modern Era (Ottoman decline and creation of the Military Frontier through the rise of the Republic of Ragusa), Spatial Impacts of Industrial Development within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (Austro-Hungarian rule and the coming of railroads and industry through a Croatia proper under a Ban's rule and the first great emigration waves), Croatia under South Slavic Political Associations (post–World War I Yugoslav monarchy through the latter years of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), [End Page 97] and Stepping Out of the Past—Developmental Tendencies of Croatia since the 1990s (Post–Homeland War through the present).

The authors point out three important cultural aspects of Croatia: its Western orientation; Catholicism; and the inland/littoral divide. So while Croatia may have been fragmented and absorbed by larger external forces down through the centuries, beginning with the division of the Roman Empire in 395 CE, Croatia has remained on the western side of the divide between eastern and western Europe. Though incursions from the east (Ottoman Empire and subsequent population resettlement) did occur, Croatia remained an outpost of western European culture, maintaining use of the Latin alphabet and adhering to the Roman Catholic faith, while their neighbors to the east adopted the Byzantine Cyrillic alphabet and Eastern Orthodox Christianity or Ottoman Arabic script and Islam. The Dinaric Alps form the principle cultural divide within the country, and for several centuries the littoral slope was the focus of settlement and development by waves of colonizers, primarily of Mediterranean orientation (Rome, Venice, Austria). The interior (Pannonia) flourished under Roman control but remained a quiet agrarian region dominated by central European (Hungarian) influence for much of its history. Like the rest of Europe, Croatia also developed smaller regional identities that can be fiercely held and sometimes manifest as political parties.

One remarkable aspect of Croatian historical geography that seems to recur in several different periods is the nearly complete obliteration of the cultural presence of in situ groups by invaders. Indo-Europeans erased the Neolithic Vučedol culture in Eastern Slavonia; Ottoman and then Austro-Hungarian forces wiped the landscape clear of each other's cultural presence in Western Slavonia. The Pannonian interior—the most prosperous of Rome's provinces in what is now Croatia—wasn't immune as the border defenses collapsed:

Early all the elements of the...