In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wars of Balkan Liberation, 1878–1913

  • Introduction
  • General Balkan Histories
  • Documentary Collections from the Great Powers
  • Documentary Collections from the Balkan States
  • Serbo-Bulgarian War, 1885
  • Greek-Ottoman War
  • Macedonia
  • Bosnian Crisis
  • Albanian National Movement

Military History Wars of Balkan Liberation, 1878–1913
Richard C. Hall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0133


Revolts against Ottoman rule erupted in the Balkans in 1875 and in 1876. Wars in which Montenegro, Romania, Russia, and Serbia fought against the Ottoman Empire broke out soon thereafter. While the Montenegrins and Serbs soon suffered defeat, the Russians overcame Ottoman forces on Bulgarian battlefields. The Treaty of San Stefano of 3 March 1878, imposed by the Russians on the Ottomans, proved to be controversial. In an effort to resolve the national issue of southeastern Europe and to replace the contentious Treaty of San Stefano, the European great powers met at Berlin to forge a new settlement. The Treaty of Berlin of 13 July 1878 established a Bulgarian principality under Ottoman suzerainty. Although the Treaty of Berlin satisfied none of the Balkan countries, rivalries among the Balkan peoples over the disposition of Ottoman territories prevented the formation of a united effort against the Ottomans. After the turn of the 20th century, intra-Balkan rivalries intensified, especially over Macedonia. At the same time, Albanians, Muslim Slavs, and Turks sought to effect reforms within the Ottoman Empire. The seizure of power by the Committee for Union and Progress (Young Turks) in Constantinople and their stated intentions to reform the Ottoman Empire initiated a series of events that led to general conflict. In the immediate aftermath of the Young Turk coup, the Austro-Hungarian government announced the formal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Concurrently, Bulgaria made a formal declaration of independence. Concerns that Ottoman reform would thwart their nationalist aspirations led many Albanians to revolt in 1910. Two years later, similar apprehensions led the Bulgarians and the Serbs to put aside their rivalries over Macedonia and conclude an anti-Ottoman alliance. The Greeks and Montenegrins subsequently joined this Balkan League. In October 1912, the Balkan League went to war against the Ottoman Empire. The Balkan armies triumphed on all fronts. On 30 May 1913, the Balkan allies signed a preliminary peace with the Ottomans in London. Shortly thereafter, the Balkan alliance collapsed due to disputes over the disposition of Ottoman territory. On 30 June, the Bulgarians attacked their former Greek and Serbian allies in Macedonia. The Ottomans entered the fray against Bulgaria to regain lost Thracian territory, and the Romanians invaded Bulgaria to seize southern Dobrudja (Dobrudzha). Attacked on all sides, the Bulgarians were forced to sue for peace. These wars left Bulgaria with a sense of national frustration and the Balkan allies and Romania with a feeling of inflated national success. Within three years, all the participants in the Balkan Wars would again be at war.

General Balkan Histories

Because of the complexity of the history of the Balkan Peninsula, the wars of Balkan liberation are best understood in the context of the general history of the region. Several excellent histories are available in English. Although dated, the best overall history of the Balkans remains Stavrionos 1958. More recent solid choices include Jelavich 1999 and Hupchick 2002. Two more recent short histories are Mazower 2000 and Hall 2011. A good general history, in English, but largely from the Bulgarian perspective, is Tzvetkov 1993. Schevill 1922 is outdated but remains a good general source. Historical Maps of the Balkans, an online map collection at the University of Texas, and Hupchick and Cox 2001, an atlas, are valuable resources that provide a good geographic context for the written sources on Balkan history.

  • Hall, Richard C. The Modern Balkans: A History. London: Reaktion, 2011.

    This is a short introduction that treats mainly the political history of southeastern Europe.

  • Historical Maps of the Balkans. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Library.

    This online collection includes a number of 19th-century and early-20th-century maps of various Balkan locations. They are especially useful in supplementing any of the general texts on Balkan history and especially the books on the Balkan Wars.

  • Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780312299132

    Hupchick has written a good comprehensive history of the Balkans with a broad perspective. His bibliography is especially useful for further study of this region.

  • Hupchick, Dennis P., and Harold E. Cox. The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of the Balkans. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

    Maps for all eras of Balkan history are included in this collection. Maps 27 through 33 are particularly relevant to the era of the Balkan wars of independence.

  • Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans. Vol. 1, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    This is an excellent scholarly presentation with a focus on political history. Jelavich emphasizes the struggles of the Balkan peoples to develop politically according to the western European pattern. Originally published in 1983. See also Barbara Jelavich, History of the Balkans, Vol. 2, Twentieth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

  • Mazower, Mark. The Balkans: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

    This work is a short but sophisticated history of southeastern Europe. It is written by a historian whose opus includes works on modern Greece. His comprehensive perspective is a major asset of this work.

  • Schevill, Ferdinand. The History of the Balkan Peninsula from Earliest Times to the Present Day. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922.

    Although this book is outdated, it has been republished several times and remains in general use. Written by a University of Chicago historian, it is a good comprehensive history as far as it covers.

  • Stavrionos, L. S. The Balkans since 1453. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1958.

    Although published in the mid-20th century, this work remains a highly accessible and comprehensive portal for the study of the region. This is an excellent place to start study of southeastern European history.

  • Tzvetkov, Plamen S. A History of the Balkans: A Regional Overview from a Bulgarian Perspective. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1993.

    Tzvetkov makes no pretense of objectivity, but he provides an interesting study of the Balkans from the viewpoint of a Balkan nation often overlooked by modern Western historians. This work will benefit students interested in the Bulgarian outlook on Balkan events.

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