History and geopolitical significance
The Balkan region was the first area in Europe to experience the arrival of farming cultures in the Neolithic era. The Balkans have been inhabited since the Paleolithic and are the route by which farming from the Middle East spread to Europe during the Neolithic (7th millennium BC).
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. Two early culture-complexes have developed in the region, Starčevo culture and Vinča culture.
The Balkans are also the location of the first advanced civilizations. Vinča culture developed a form of proto-writing before the Sumerians and Minoans, known as the Old European script, while the bulk of the symbols had been created in the period between 4500 and 4000 BC, with the ones on the Tărtăria clay tablets even dating back to around 5300 BC.
The identity of the Balkans is dominated by its geographical position; historically the area was known as a crossroads of cultures. It has been a juncture between the Latin and Greek bodies of the Roman Empire, the destination of a massive influx of pagan Bulgars and Slavs, an area where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity met, as well as the meeting point between Islam and Christianity.
In pre-classical and classical antiquity, this region was home to Greeks, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Dacians, and other ancient groups. The Achaemenid Persian Empire incorporated parts of the Balkans comprising Macedonia, Thrace, Bulgaria, and the Black Sea coastal region of Romania between the late 6th and the first half of the 5th-century BC into its territories.
The Bulgars and Slavs arrived in the 6th-century and began assimilating and displacing already-assimilated (through Romanization and Hellenization) older inhabitants of the northern and central Balkans, forming the Bulgarian Empire.
During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine Roman and the Bulgarian Empires.
Illyrians and Thracians
Archaeological evidence indicates that the Balkans were populated well before the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age; about 10,000 years ago). At the dawn of recorded history, two Indo-European peoples dominated the area: the Illyrians to the west and the Thracians to the east of the great historical divide defined by the Morava and Vardar river valleys. The Thracians were advanced in metalworking and in horsemanship.
Thracian society was tribal in structure, with little inclination toward political cohesion. In what was to become a persistent phenomenon in Balkan history, unity was brought about mostly by external pressure. The Persian invasions of the 6th and 5th centuries bce brought the Thracian tribes together in the Odrysian kingdom, which fell under Macedonian influence in the 4th century bce.
he Illyrians, ethnically akin to the Thracians, originally inhabited a large area from the Istrian peninsula to northern Greece and as far inland as the Morava River. During the 4th century bce they were pushed southward by Celtic invasions, and thereafter their territory did not extend much farther north than the Drin River.
An Illyrian kingdom based in modern-day Shkodër, Albania, remained an important factor until its liquidation by Roman armies in 168 bce.
*Archaeological site Plaošnik, Ohrid , Macedonia
The Romans were different from other major conquerors of the Balkans in that they first arrived in the west. Later attacks were launched from the southeast as well, so that by the 1st century bce the entire peninsula was under Roman control.
At the height of Roman power, the Balkan peoples were the most united of any time in their history, with a common legal system, a single ultimate arbiter of political power, and absolute military security.
The Romans considered the Rhodope Mountains to be the northern limit of the Peninsula of Haemus and the same limit applied approximately to the border between Greek and Latin use in the region.
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.
Early modern period
By the end of the 16th-century, the Ottoman Empire had become the controlling force in the region after expanding from Anatolia through Thrace to the Balkans.
Many people in the Balkans place their greatest folk heroes in the era of either the onslaught or the retreat of the Ottoman Empire.
In the past several centuries, 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 , the Balkans has been the least developed part of Europe.
The population of the Balkans, according to one estimate, fell from a high of 8 million in the late 16th-century to only 3 million by the mid-eighteenth. This estimate is in harmony with the first findings based on Ottoman documentary evidence.
Most of the Balkan nation-states emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries as they gained independence from the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire (Greece in 1821, Serbia, Montenegro in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, Albania in 1912).
*Samuel’s Fortress, Ohrid, Macedonia