The Balkans is the historic and geographic
name used to describe a region of southeastern Europe.
The region has a combined area of 550,000 km² (212,000 sq
mi) and an approximate population of 55 million people. The archaic
Greek name for the Balkan Peninsula is the Peninsula of Haemus (?e?s???s??
t?? ??µ??, Chersónisos tou Aímou). The region
takes its name from the Balkan Mountains which run through the centre
of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia.
Definitions and boundaries
Line stretching from the northernmost point of the Adriatic to the
northernmost point of the Black SeaThe Balkans are adjoined by water
on three sides: the Black Sea to the east and branches of the Mediterranean
Sea to the south and west (including the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean
and Marmara seas).
The identity of the Balkans is dominated by its geographical position;
historically the area was known as a crossroads of various cultures.
It has been a juncture between the Latin and Greek bodies of the
Roman Empire, the destination of a massive influx of pagan Slavs,
an area where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity met, as well as
the meeting point between Islam and Christianity.
The Balkans today is a very diverse ethno-linguistic region, being
home to multiple Slavic, Romance, and Turkic languages, as well
as Greek, Albanian, and others. Through its history many other ethnic
groups with their own languages lived in the area, among them Celts,
Illyrians, Romans, Avars, Vlachs, Germans and various Germanic tribes.
Possibly the historical event that left the biggest mark on the
collective memories of the peoples of the Balkans was the expansion
and later fall of the Ottoman Empire. There is not a people in the
Balkans that doesn't place its greatest folk heroes in the era of
either the onslaught or the retreat of the Ottoman Empire. For Croats
it is Nikola Zrinski, for Serbs, Miloš Obilic, for Albanians,
Skanderbeg, for ethnic Macedonians, Nikola Karev, for Bosniaks,
Husein Gradašcevic and for Bulgarians, Vasil Levski.
In the 20th century, the Balkan nations—except Greece and
Yugoslavia—were made part of the Warsaw pact (as a result
of Soviet hegemony after the ending of World War II). Following
the pact's collapse and the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkan states
have acceded to the European Union, or are in the process of doing
Etymology and evolving meaning
The region takes its name from the "Balkan" mountain range
in Bulgaria (from the Turkish balkan meaning "a chain of wooded
mountains"). The name is still preserved in Central Asia
where there exist the Balkan Mountains and the Balkan Province
of Turkmenistan. On a larger scale, one long continuous chain of
mountains crosses the region in the form of a reversed letter S,
from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper, before it
marches away east into Anatolian Turkey. On the west coast, an offshoot
of the Dinaric Alps follows the coast south through Dalmatia and
Albania, crosses Greece and continues into the sea in the form of
various islands. The word was based on Turkish balakan 'stone, cliff',
which confirms the pure 'technical' meaning of the term. The mountain
range that runs across Bulgaria from west to east (Stara Planina)
is still commonly known as the Balkan Mountains.
The first time the name "Balkan" was used in the West
for the mountain range in Bulgaria was in a letter by Buonaccorsi
Callimarco, an Italian humanist, writer and diplomat in 1490. An
English traveler, John Morritt, introduced this term into the English
literature at the end of the 18th century, and other authors started
applying the name to the wider area between the Adriatic and the
Black Sea. The concept of the “Balkan peninsula” was
created by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808 . As time
passed, the term gradually obtained political connotations far from
its initial geographic meaning, arising from political changes from
the late 1800s to the creation of post-World War I Yugoslavia (initially
the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). Zeune's goal was to
have a geographical parallel term to the Italic and Iberian Peninsula,
and seemingly nothing more. The gradually acquired political connotations
are newer, and, to a large extent, due to oscillating political
circumstances. The term Balkans includes areas that remained under
Turkish rule after 1699., namely: Bulgaria, Serbia (except for Vojvodina),
Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro (except for
the Boka Bay and Budva), Kosovo, and continental Greece. Vojvodina
and Transylvania (in Romania) do not belong to Balkans. After the
split of Yugoslavia beginning in June 1991, the term 'Balkans' again
received a negative meaning, even in casual usage. Over the last
decade, in the wake of the former Yugoslav split, Slovenians have
rejected their former label as 'Balkan nations'. This is in part
due to the pejorative connotation of the term 'Balkans' in the 1990s,
and continuation of this meaning until now. Today, the term 'Southeast
Europe' is preferred or, in the case of Slovenia and Croatia, 'Central
Due to the aforementioned connotations of the term 'Balkan', many
people prefer the term Southeastern Europe instead. The use of this
term is slowly growing; a European Union initiative of 1999 is called
the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, and the online newspaper
Balkan Times renamed itself Southeast European Times in 2003.
The use of this term to mean the Balkan peninsula (and only that)
technically ignores the geographical presence of northern Romania,
Moldova, Ukraine, and Ciscaucasus, which are also located in the
southeastern part of the European continent.
Ambiguities and controversies
The northern border of the Balkan peninsula is usually considered
to be the line formed by the Danube, Sava and Kupa rivers and a
segment connecting the spring of the Kupa with the Kvarner Bay.
Some other definitions of the northern border of the Balkans have
the line Danube - Sava - Krka River - Postojnska Vrata - Vipava
River - Soca
the line Danube - Sava - Ljubljansko polje - Idrijca - Soca
the line Dniester - Timisoara - Zagreb - Triglav
the line Trieste - Odessa (Trieste-Odessa line) 
the line Bay of Trieste - Ljubljana - Sava - Danube ()
Balkan peninsula (as defined by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line)The most
commonly used Danube-Sava-Kupa northern boundary is arbitrarily
set as to the physiographical characteristics, however it can be
easily recognized on the map. It has a historical and cultural substantiation.
The region so defined (excluding Montenegro, Dalmatia, and the Ionian
Islands) constituted most of the European territory of the Ottoman
Empire from the late 15th to the 19th century. Kupa forms a natural
boundary between south-eastern Slovenia and Croatia and has been
a political frontier since the 12th century, separating Carniola
(belonging to Austria) from Croatia (belonging to Hungary).
The Danube-Sava-Krka-Postojnska Vrata-Vipava-Isonzo line ignores
some historical and cultural characteristics, but can be seen as
a rational delimitation of the Balkan peninsula from a geographical
point of view. It assigns all the Karstic and Dinaric area to the
The Sava bisects Croatia and Serbia and the Danube, which is the
second largest European river (after Volga), forms a natural boundary
between both Bulgaria and Serbia and Romania. North of that line
lies the Pannonian plain and (in the case of Romania) the Carpathian
Although Romania (with the exception of Dobrudja) is not geographically
a part of the Balkans, it is often included in the Balkans in public
According to the most commonly used border, Slovenia lies to the
north of the Balkans and is considered a part of Central Europe.
Historically and culturally, it is also more related to Central
Europe, although the Slovenian culture also incorporates some elements
of Balkan culture.
However, as already stated, the northern boundary of the Balkan
peninsula can also be drawn otherwise, in which case at least a
part of Slovenia and a small part of Italy (Province of Trieste)
may be included in the Balkans.
Slovenia is also sometimes regarded as a Balkan country due to
its association with the former Yugoslavia. When the Balkans are
described as a twentieth-century geopolitical region, the whole
Yugoslavia is included (so, Slovenia, Istria, islands of Dalmatia,
northern Croatia and Vojvodina too).
Current common definition
Current political map of the Balkans. Countries firmly considered
part of the region are in green; countries sometimes considered
part of the region are in turquoise.In most of the English-speaking,
western world, the countries commonly included in the Balkan region
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Turkey, but only the European section of it (traditionally called
Rumelia or Eastern Thrace)
Some other countries are sometimes included in the list as well:
Nature and natural resources
Southeastern Europe seen from NASA's Terra SatelliteMost of the
area is covered by mountain ranges running from north-west to south-east.
The main ranges are the Dinaric Alps in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia,
the Šar massif which spreads from Albania to Republic of Macedonia
and the Pindus range, spanning from southern Albania into central
Greece. In Bulgaria there are ranges running from east to west:
the Balkan mountains and the Rhodope mountains at the border with
Greece. The highest mountain of the region is Musala in Bulgaria
at 2925 m, with Mount Olympus in Greece, the throne of Zeus, being
second at 2919 m and Vihren in Bulgaria being the third at 2914.
On the coasts the climate is Mediterranean, in the inland it is
moderate continental. In the northern part of the peninsula and
on the mountains, winters are frosty and snowy, while summers are
hot and dry. In the southern part winters are milder.
During the centuries many woods have been cut down and replaced
with bush and brush. In the southern part and on the coast there
is evergreen vegetation. In the inland there are woods typical of
Central Europe (oak and beech, and in the mountains, spruce, fir
and pine). The tree line in the mountains lies at the height of
The soils are generally poor, except on the plains where areas
with natural grass, fertile soils and warm summers provide an opportunity
for tillage. Elsewhere, land cultivation is mostly unsuccessful
because of the mountains, hot summers and poor soils, although certain
cultures such as olives and grapes flourish.
Resources of energy are scarce. There are some deposits of coal,
especially in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia. Lignite deposits
are widespread in Greece. Petroleum is most notably present in Romania,
although scarce reserves exist in Greece, Serbia, Albania and Croatia.
Natural gas deposits are scarce. Hydropower stations are largely
used in energetics.
Metal ores are more usual than other raw materials. Iron ore is
rare but in some countries there is a considerable amount of copper,
zinc, tin, chromite, manganese, magnesite and bauxite. Some metals
History and geopolitical significance
Main article: History of the Balkans
Animated history of the Balkans from 1800 to the 2006The Balkan
region was the first area of Europe to experience the arrival of
farming cultures in the Neolithic era. The practices of growing
grain and raising livestock arrived in the Balkans from the Fertile
Crescent by way of Anatolia, and spread west and north into Pannonia
and Central Europe.
In pre-classical and classical antiquity, this region was home
to Greek city-states, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Epirotes,
Mollosians, Thessalians, Dacians and other ancient groups. Later
the Roman Empire conquered most of the region and spread Roman culture
and the Latin language but significant parts still remained under
classical Greek influence. During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became
the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine, Bulgarian
and Serbian Empires.
By the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire became the controlling
force in the region, although it was centered around Anatolia. In
the past 550 years, because of the frequent Ottoman wars in Europe
fought in and around the Balkans, and the comparative Ottoman isolation
from the mainstream of economic advance (reflecting the shift of
Europe's commercial and political centre of gravity towards the
Atlantic), the Balkans has been the least developed part of Europe.
The Balkan nations began to regain their independence in the 19th
century (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro), and in 1912-1913
a Balkan League reduced Turkey's territory to its present extent
in the Balkan Wars. The First World War was sparked in 1914 by the
assassination in Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Union and communism played
a very important role in the Balkans. During the Cold War, most
of the countries in the Balkans were ruled by Soviet-supported communist
However, despite being under communist governments, Yugoslavia
(1948) and Albania (1961) fell out with the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia,
led by marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), first propped
up then rejected the idea of merging with Bulgaria, and instead
sought closer relations with the West, later even joining many third
world countries in the Non-Aligned Movement. Albania on the other
hand gravitated toward Communist China, later adopting an isolationist
The only non-communist countries were Greece and Turkey, which
were (and still are) part of NATO.
In the 1990s, the region was gravely affected by armed conflict
in the former Yugoslav republics, resulting in intervention by NATO
forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia.
The status of Kosovo and ethnic Albanians in general is still mostly
Balkan countries control the direct land routes between Western
Europe and South West Asia (Asia Minor and the Middle East). Since
2000, all Balkan countries are friendly towards the EU and the USA.
Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981; Slovenia
and Cyprus since 2004. Bulgaria and Romania became members in 2007.
In 2005 the European Union decided to start accession negotiations
with candidate countries Croatia and Turkey and the Republic of
Macedonia was accepted as a candidate for the European Union membership.
As of 2004, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia are also members of NATO.
Bosnia and Herzegovina and what was then Serbia and Montenegro started
negotiations with the EU over the Stabilisation and Accession Agreements,
although shortly after they started, negotiations with Serbia and
Montenegro were suspended for lack of co-operation with the International
Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
All other countries have expressed a desire to join the EU but
at some date in the future.
Population composition by nationality and religion
Ethnic map of the Balkans prior to the First Balkan War.
Ethnic map of the Balkan Peninsula from 1877, by A.SynvetThe region's
principal nationalities include:
Greeks (10.5 million)
Turks (10 million)
Serbs (8.5 million)
Bulgarians (7.8 million)
Albanians (7.5 million)
Croats (5.1 million)
Bosniaks (2.8 million)
Macedonians (1.3 million)
Montenegrins (0.3 million)
Romanians (20 million)
Slovenes (2 million)
others (Roma, Jews)
The region's principal religions are (Eastern Orthodox and Catholic)
Christianity and Islam. A variety of different traditions of each
faith are practiced, with each of the Eastern Orthodox countries
having its own national church.
Eastern Orthodoxy is the principal religion in the following countries:
Bulgaria (Bulgarian Orthodox Church)
Greece (Church of Greece)
Republic of Macedonia (Macedonian Orthodox Church Although not recognized
by other Orthodox Churches)
Montenegro (Serbian Orthodox Church and uncanonical Montenegrin
Romania (Romanian Orthodox Church)
Serbia (Serbian Orthodox Church)
Roman Catholicism is the principal religion in the following countries:
Islam is the principal religion in the following countries:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The following countries have many religious groups which exceed
10% of the total population:
Albania: Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosniacs are mostly Muslim, Serbs are mostly
Serbian (Eastern) Orthodox and Croats are mostly Catholic.
Republic of Macedonia: Albanian and Turkish minorities are predominantly
Montenegro: Albanians and Bosniacs are Muslims.
Serbia: Albanians and Bosniacs are mostly Muslim, Hungarians and
Croats are mostly Catholic, Slovaks are mostly Protestant (Evangelic).