Goals, Approaches, Methods



         Goals, approaches and methods of the Triplex Confinium International Research Project were for a first time defined in 1997, and published in 1998, as an article in the first Triplex Confinium Volume on Microhistory. What follows is a word by word reproduction of this article.

            Currently, regarding the enlargement of Triplex activities from 1997, the Triplex Confinium Research Teams is working on a new conceptualisation of Project's Objectives.



Drago Roksandić


The Triplex Confinium. International Research Project: objectives, approaches and methods


* from Drago Roksandić (ed.). Microhistory of the Triplex Confinium. International Project Conference Papers (Budapest, March 21-22, 1997). CEU Institute on Southeastern Europe. Budapest, 1998, 7-25.



What Is the Purpose of the Triplex Confinium International Project?


The controversial heritage of the Triplex Confinium, the border area between the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy, in the early Modern Era, belongs to a whole range of national histories and cultures of the region lying between Central and Southeastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. Its nucleus, in research terms, is related to Croatian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian, and Serbian historiographies. Of a no less, but differing influence, are the Austrian, Hungarian, Italian, Slovenian, and Turkish historiographies, as well as many others. From the history of the triple-frontier area it is possible to trace many fundamental questions of Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian history of the early Modern Era, as well as the history of the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy.

Therefore, the project is all about a multiple-border area including numerous historical „puzzles“ and „atypical“ phenomena, as viewed from a variety of research aspects. Thus, the problem of the triple-frontier area is a legitimate one, even for many other  historiographies in the world.

Now, how to interpret interest in the Triplex Confinium? While not at this time attempting to thoroughly ponder all the possible answers, it is certain that interest in the historical research of European borders, and those of the world as a whole, has recently increased. The processes of globalization, and regional integrations, such as those in Europe, historically still abound in uncertainties; just like ethno-national processes, and religious „revivals“ etc., do. Regardless of them being just a „front“ and „reverse“ side to the same historic reality, they both undoubtedly renew interest in the borders of the past and the future. It is certain today that it is almost pointless to think about borders in terms of categories derived from binary opposition, being mutually unrecognizable, and/or irreducible.[1]

Whether referring to a man, culture, society, nation, „New World order“, etc., the term granica (frontier, border) is an inevitable category in any school of thought. Today, the term granica already contains so many meanings and contradictions that it necessitates a lot of new research, based on new questions, regarding a sense and reality of borders, on lesser known sources, and on new approaches. There lies one, if not the most important source of interest in the Triplex Confinium.

In distinction from any bilateral border in European history (starting from the one between „civilization“ and „barbarism“ - being one of the oldest in recorded European experience - to the ancient border between North and South, and later, between East and West, and to national demarcations - „us“ and „them“, and further, to Cold War and post-Cold War border experiences - the EU and the „rest“ of Europe), every multilateral border pre-supposes either very different conceptual approaches or encourages ignorance, fatalism, indifference, and such. Today, we can witness both the former and the latter.[2]

The triple-frontier area is undoubtedly both an intellectual and practical challenge today. Through human thought and experience, borders are becoming more and more multi-faceted. Both individuals and communities are today in an ever-growing confusion about their identities, due to their awareness of their multiple origins, and the need to oppose the dominant European tradition thinking about identities in monistic terms. However, the assumptions for a better understanding and explanation of multi-layered border phenomena are today more and more identifiable.


The Triplex Confinium in Croatian History 

of the Early Modern Era


            The initiative for this project originates from Croatian historiography. That is self-evident. The entire Croatian history of the Modern Era is within the horizon of the triple-frontier area. From the time of the Habsburg election for the Croatian throne (1527), the conflict of the three imperial powers - the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Venetian Republic - in the Croatian area, has been one of the unquestionable „themes“ in Croatian history. From the same period of time, and up until the present day, the collision of the three, and even five, monotheistic religions in the Croatian region has also been among the most indisputable „themes“ of Croatian history. The collision is, of course, about Catholicism (Roman and Greek), the Greek Orthodox and Islamic religions and, to a lesser extent, Protestantism and Judaism. Moreover, it is often overlooked that there have been three distinct types of rural and urban worlds in Croatia (Adriatic/Mediterranean, Pannonian/Central European, and Dinaric/Balkan, etc., etc.). After all, the Croatian region itself is Mediterranean, Pannonian, and Balkan  (See Map 1: Croatia lies in Mediterranean, Pannonian and Balkan Europe [3]).

            Therefore, regardless of whether Croatian history of the Early Modern Era is observed from its own experience, or in European secular and spiritual categories of the period, that history is undoubtedly quite clearly defined by the metaphor Triplex Confinium. In any case, this metaphor is better than any other, including famously the „Antemurale Christianitatis“, being deeply rooted not only in the Croatian tradition, but others as well.


            What Does the Triplex Confinium Really Mean?


This term became an international commonplace when dealing with this part of Europe during the period following the delineation of borders at the peace negotiations of Srijemski Karlovci in 1699, and refers to the point where the Habsburg, Venetian, and Ottoman borders met. This point is Medveđak, now Medveđa Glavica (Bear’s Peak), at the top of the Debelo Brdo (Fat Hill), northeast of Knin. (See Map 2: Pavao Ritter Vitezović. Fragment of Mappa generalis/ Regni Croatiae totius;/limitibus suis antiquis/videlicet a Ludovici, Regis Hungariae, Diplomatibus,/comprobatis, determinati. Croatia, 1699. Drawing, in colour, 694 x 464 mm.[4]

The boundary experts of the three countries jointly decided in the year 1700 that „this place, which represents the actual triple-frontier area, should be marked in a better and more conspicuous manner, so ‘a big hillock, better, nicer, and higher than the others’ was created and special signs were put up on three sides, indicating the border lines between Austria and Turkey, Austria and the Venetian Republic, and the Venetian Republic and Turkey.“[5]

However, the history of the Habsburg-Venetian-Ottoman triple-frontier area, in a spatial sense, endured for far longer than that of Medveđak Hill, which lasted from 1700 to 1797 (i.e. from the interstate delineation until the fall of the Venetian Republic), when the triple-frontier area, in its „imperial“, Modern Era context, disappeared. This particular spatial view was already evident in contemporary linguistic sources. In both Latin and Croatian of the 17th century, the term confinium had primarily a spatial meaning: konecz zemlye, gde sze z-drugum zesztaje,  mejas, kotar, or kraina.[6]

Since this term can be either capitalized or lowercased in Croatian, in this work we shall use the term Tromeđa (Lat. Triplex Confinium, Triple-frontier) for Medveđa Glavica, and the term tromeđa (Engl. triple-frontier area) for any juncture of three border region which, by any exact criteria, forms a historical unit. This concept of the „triple-frontier area“ significantly extends the potential fields of research, and multiplies manifold research questions related to its own long history. The term „triple-frontier area“ survived the fall of the Venetian Republic and the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1878), as well as the unification of the Croatian-Slavonic Vojna Krajina (the Military Border/die Militär Grenze) with the civil provinces of the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia (1881). In different ways, especially in village dialects, it has survived through to the 20th century as well. In this sense, the interest of this project is directed, first of all, towards the period in which the history of all three powers convened, the Venetian Republic, Ottoman Empire, and Habsburg Monarchy, being the period from 1527 to 1797. It is also directed at the area where these interactions were most obvious. This is, above all, the area of the Venetian, Ottoman, and Habsburg krajinas, with their centre in the Croatian nucleus of the late Middle Ages, reaching from Zadar and Knin, to Senj. Such an understanding of the triple-frontier area is too restrictive, though. The triple-frontier area spreads further, along the Dinaric mountains, within reach of the Adriatic Sea, then right along its coast, and into the continent, wherever overlapping occurs; in any case, to Bihać and Livno. The triple-frontier area, we repeat, also includes parts of the Adriatic Sea, and the central parts of the Dinaric mountain range, but also the tributary valleys of the Danube River basin (the Una River). Such an understanding of the triple-frontier area precludes any sort of simplified approach, either when one deals with possible research objectives, and research disciplines, or with problems and approaches. All three cases have their common trait in the origins of the European and Middle Eastern l’Ancien Régime.  

They are usually observed by their contrasts. However, one should always bear in mind that no matter how much the Venetian Republic and the Habsburg Monarchy held in common during the Early Modern Era, they had just as many contrasts. This is readily apparent from the aspect of deep contradictions in the power structures of an aristocratic republic of medieval origin and that of a modern absolute monarchy originating in the early Modern Era. Their relation to the Adriatic Sea is deeply contradictory, and yet, in the early Modern Era, it was restricted to a battle for hegemony in the Adriatic, as well as for control over maritime access to the wider world. Just before it disappeared in 1797, the Venetian Republic, together with the Habsburg Monarchy, lost this battle.

On the other hand, no matter how much the Venetian Republic and Ottoman Empire were mutually irreducible, they both owed a lot in cultural experience to the Byzantines (i.e. the Levantine heritage), even if different in many ways.  On the other hand, even more importantly, although the Venetians and Ottomans were frequently fighting each other in the Early Modern Era, their Mediterranean interests were more similar than dissimilar. It has hardly been noted in a better manner than by Fernand Braudel, who disclosed his findings, among other ways, in a cartographic fashion. (See Map 3: The Destiny of the Ottoman Empire. in: Fernand Braudel. Civilizacije kroz povijest. Zagreb, 1990 106).

The similarities are more striking when it comes to the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy. No matter how much they considered each other enemies (the „cross“ vs. the „crescent“), their power structures had long been functioning in a similar fashion. On the other hand, both imperial powers had permanent hegemonic interests along all their borders, which created permanent imperial hostilities, either in the East, in the case of the Ottoman Empire (e.g. Persia), or in the West, in the case of the Habsburg Monarchy (e.g. France). Whenever there was a common interest in such conflicts, the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy would sooner understand each other, than ignore mutual interests in the name of religious, moral, or other principles.

From thereon, their common triple-frontier area (when explored on levels of its imperial surdetermination) always had an exceptionally complex and layered historic reality, which either with or without the will of its inhabitants, was always an integral part of those people’s everyday lives. One hereby introduces more controversy into the historical approach to the triple-frontier area.

In other words, the notion of the triple-frontier area can be applied in a broader context. If we view the Venetian Republic and Ottoman Empire from the vantage of „new history“, as a result of a long process, in a socio-historic, cultural-historic, and economic-historic sense, as „civilisations“ and „cultures“, it will always be more difficult, but also more challenging, to determine what their triple-frontier area was. Any attempt at identifying phenomena and events in the history of the early Modern Era, in which distinct Venetian, Ottoman, and Habsburg patterns of behaviour, thought, and actions met, will simultaneously contribute to the history of the triple-frontier area, regardless of whether it occurred in Karlovac or Zagreb, Travnik or Sarajevo, Dubrovnik or Kotor. An even greater contribution would probably be to investigate all those „patterns“ which the Venetian, Ottoman, and Habsburg sides owed to one another, and the „debts“ they acknowledged to one another in areas of direct contact, and/or clashes, of either acculturation or a conflicting nature. Having mentioned acculturation it should be added that this does not exclude the culture of conflicts“ in the triple-frontier area. In this sense, acculturation and conflict are sooner to include, than exclude, each other. The traditional culture of protracted conflicts „prescribed“ rules for conflict in the triple-frontier area. Nowhere was it more apparent than in the continuous appropriation of the traditional Vlach communities in Southeastern Europe, and their value systems in the Vojna Krajina establishments of all three imperial powers.

In other words, these three blocs of early Modern Era power were constantly being realised and renewed by their imperial ambitions, just by maintaining the social and cultural „status-quo“ created at the turn of the 16th century. This came at the very high price of losing the very centre of Croatian socio-cultural ambiance of the Middle Ages, Knin, in the territory of their direct clash, in their krajinas, and in their triple-frontier area. While maintaining this „status quo“, they simultaneously caused serious civilisational and cultural delays in the triple-frontier area proper. The same occurred when one speaks of it as a region of imperial peripheries, and when one talks of krajinas as „self-centered systems“, i.e. from the point of view of the historic reality of people on different sides of imperial borders. In this context, the triple-frontier area was simultaneously as much a region of intensive human communication as it was of one of recognizing human differences, and even more often, a region of constant mutual exclusions and even exterminations, as opposed to that invisible line where the survival of the „winning“ side was conditioned by the survival of the „losing“ side.

To penetrate such a multi-faceted historic experience of the triple-frontier area is by no means simple. This is particularly because most of the approaches to the history of the triple-frontier overlook that it is impossible to reduce it either to the Vlach/Morlach reality, or to peripheral demarcation of any of the three imperial systems.



The Triplex Confinium Between Micro- and Macro-History


 Nothing about the triple-frontier area is easy to research, because each problem is structurally complex. First of all, each requires an approach of the respective „history from below“, and simultaneously, „history from above“, and each of them assumes a multiple linkage of both approaches. Let me explain. The history of the triple-frontier area has always to be recognisable in its imperial „horizons“ (in this context, „from the top-down“), but always, and first of all, in its own region in a historical sense (in this context, „from the bottom-up“). It should correspond to historical research of each of the three imperial powers, but it should also be an integral part of the history of the indigenous people of the triple-frontier area (Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian).

A possible outline of research problems would certainly include the following topics:


1.        The history of the triple-frontier area and its eco-history, especially from the aspect of approaches to the Adriatic Sea and Pannonian Plain (the Una River), and along the Dinaric Mountains in the direction of the Alps. Although the Venetian Republic was mostly Mediterranean, the Habsburg Monarchy was mostly Alpine and Pannonian, and the Ottoman Empire mostly Dinaric and Balkan, all three imperial powers transcended the confines of simple definition. This applies even more to the identities of subjects along the triple-frontier area.

2.          The history of the triple-frontier area within civilizational and cultural paradigms of the Venetian Republic, Ottoman Empire, and Habsburg Monarchy, from the beginning of the 16th century, to the 18th century.

3.          The triple-frontier area prior to the triple-frontier area: the Croatian heritage of the Middle Ages. There still has not been any research conducted, which can present in an appropriate manner the historic drama experienced by the Knin region at the turn of the 16th century. Knin was one of the most important centres of Croatia in the Middle Ages, and as such, was in a socio-economic and socio-cultural sense, in fundamental opposition to that which it became after falling under Ottoman rule in 1522. Instead of being at the centre of socio-historical changes, it became marginalised from every perspective. From the 16th to the 18th century, the changes in socio-cultural and ethno-demographic structures were even greater, irrespective of being under Ottoman or Venetian rule. Until it fell under Ottoman rule, Knin was developing its proto-urban structures in a more balanced fashion, in accordance with the standards of the time. Under both Ottoman and Venetian rule Knin was, above all, a border fortress, distrustful of those from the other side of the border, and of its own subjects - a junction of many roads, movements, and interests. (It is interesting to note that Knin could not have been any different at such a time of rather extensive centralisation of power by the Ottoman Empire, or extreme centralisation of the  Venetian military power. In this respect, it is always interesting to compare Knin with Bihać, on the Bosnian side, which, particularly in the 18th century, was a town structured along oriental lines but with remnants of distinct Croatian physiognomy of the late Middle Ages).[7]

The epilogue to the Croatian late Middle Ages coincides with the banovanje (viceroyalty) of Ivan Karlović (1521-1524). At the moment of his becoming ban (viceroy), the Croatian side believed that since he was a man of dual loyalty, to both King Louis II, and to the Venetian Republic, to whom he was a condottiere (mercenary), he would be more successful in withstanding Ottoman conquests.[8]

The belief in the possibility of a long-term Hungarian-Venetian, and later, Habsburg-Venetian anti-Ottoman alliance, along the lines of a global clash between Christianity and Islam was then, as on many later occasions, a historic myth, not only in the Croatian tradition. Thus, at the time of the Ban Ivan Karlović, the unrealised Croatian-Hungarian-Venetian alliance had a decisive, far-reaching effect on the spread of fighting with the Ottomans in Croatia, and the creation of the triple-frontier area. After the fall of Belgrade (1521), and up until the fall of Jajce, following the Battle of Mohács in 1526, came the fall of Knin (1522), Krbava (1527), and Lika (1528).[9]

The Ottomans, however, did not manage to break out to the Adriatic Coast at Senj, an important port access to Istria and Venice. This was first of all, due to the fact that Senj became the most important maritime stronghold in the Habsburg Vojna Krajina, and an Uskok stronghold, directed against both the Ottomans and Venetians, and who in principle resisted any strengthening of Habsburg influence on to the Adriatic Sea. The historic reality of the triple-frontier area was thus determined as far as Senj and the Habsburg Monarchy were concerned. From the Venetian side, the biggest contribution in shaping the triple-frontier area came from Zadar, which was both a town commune and administrative centre of the Venetian province of Dalmatia, and the port, the market, and above all, the centre of Venetian military power on the eastern Adriatic Coast - maritime as much as ground regular as much as irregular, etc.

Therefore, the history of the triple-frontier area was originally determined between Zadar, Knin, Senj, and Bihać. Their urban centres, as weak and vaguely shaped as they were inside the three different imperial systems of power, were nevertheless a great attraction in the triple-frontier area, which was otherwise determined by the reality of herder-warriors (Vlachs or Morlachs, etc.). The Triplex Confinium is an exceptional research challenge from this point of view as well, because the history of the military frontiers  is mostly understood as a history of the rural world, although its deeper sense lies precisely in the mutual dependance of the rural and urban worlds along the imperial borders. The Vlach/Morlach rural world, without which the Vojna Krajina systems on either side of the triple-frontier area are inconceivable, was never able to establish any aspect of the triple-frontier area on its own; and on the other hand, the triple-frontier area itself, as an area already by its nature hostile to an urban civilisation, achieved its Early Modern era existence only  with the rise of its urban, fortified strongholds.

4.         The Triple-frontier Area prior to the triple-frontier area: continuities and changes in the culture of the paleo-Balkan population (Vlachs/Morlachs, etc.). There are a large number of questions regarding Vlach continuities and discontinuities in the Knin region, as well as in the larger triple-frontier area, in both the Middle Ages and the Modern Era. Systematic research, based on insights into archival material, and other sources of material and spiritual culture, has hardly even been conducted. The triple-frontier area is undoubtedly one of the points of origin of the most frequent Vlach migrations in various directions, conditioned by numerous factors „from below“ and „from above“.

5.         The emergence of the triple-frontier area: between imperial conflicts and the small war from the 15th to the 17th centuries. In the 16th century, the triple-frontier area was located more to the north of the Velebit range, with Senj as its epicentre, and it was only in the 17th century that it was established where the Velebit and the Dinara ranges merge, in the Knin region. Therefore, it moved in a northwest – southeast direction, along the Dinaric Alps, but never descended to the Dalmatian Coast, nor to the Pannonian plains.[10]

6.         The emergence of the triple-frontier area: continuities and changes in socio-demographic and ethno-demographic structures. Such a triple-frontier area was compelled to depend on a population which could best acculturate to mountainous conditions and which would be most ready for military service, and that was the Vlach/Morlach population.

7.         The emergence of the triple-frontier area: imperial history. In response to the manner by which the triple-frontier area came into being and its significance at particular times, the Venetian, Habsburg, and Ottoman archives are still inadequately researched. Moreover, it is more than certain that historical perceptions are greatly changed by time and that each of them move within its own parameters of experience.

8.         Ethno-confessional history of the Triplex Confinium. It is the history of the triple-frontier area in Early Modern Era processes of socio-cultural, socio-economic, ethno-linguistic, and ethno-confessional integration and disintegration among Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians along the Venetian, Habsburg, and Ottoman borders. This is of course, the most challenging research area for the national historiographies concerned, being extremely burdened with national and ideological experience, and even more so in light of our own last decade, with the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which among other areas, hit Knin and Bihać particularly hard.

9.         Religious conversions in the triple-frontier area: the religion of the common people, religious communities, state interests, and religious identities. The triple-frontier area was a region with ancient roots (Dalmatia) of Western Christianity. It was also a region where, since the Early Modern Era, as far as Balkan Slavs are concerned, the deepest, historically stabilized penetration of Eastern Christianity (Lika and Krbava) was made into the West. And at the same time, the deepest, historically limited, Western penetration of Islam (also Lika and Krbava) was made.

10.       Questionable loyalties of subjects in the triple-frontier area: the history of divided mentalities, subjugation, banditry, and heroic pathos, etc. The mentalities of the triple-frontier area are better expressed in literature (e.g. Vojin Jelić, Ivan Aralica, etc.) than in the social sciences and humanities, although there is an abundance of source material of different origine.   

11.       „Rebellion“ and „upheavals“ in the triple-frontier area: between total identification with authority and the total rejection of authority on each of the imperial sides.

12.       The history of the triple-frontier area as a history of „barbarism“ as perceived in the Venetian, Habsburg, and Ottoman traditions.



Problems of Historical Methodology Regarding the Triple-frontier Area



A. The History of the Triplex Confinium: „History From Below“ vs. „History From Above“

The history of imperial structures of power within the region of the Triplex Confinium, as clashes of imperial realities, interests, etc., has its own history which with many aspects of today’s more innovative approaches, it is possible to derive from the history of the European periphery. However, the history of the Triplex Confinium is a history of this region’s traditional communities in a socio-cultural or any other sense, from either side of the border, or across all borders, to the extent that those borders are interiorised in their everyday life to a level of „triviality“. The biggest challenge here is how to conduct research in a way in which both „history from above“ and „history from below“ are simultaneously necessary assumptions. Such research projects are still very rare, i.e. most of them, regardless of the research perspectives, are still based on historically determined stereotypes.



B.  A Comparative History of the Triplex Confinium


On the other hand, it is necessary to investigate the history of the Triplex Confinium applying methods of comparative history. It is certain that the historic reality of the triple-frontier area from its civilisational and cultural viewpoint, has its own horizons, in order to face the same questions in different ways, etc., so that one of the central research challenges is how to mutually compare them. Bearing in mind the potential of contemporary world historiography, it is clear that the application of comparative methods is a multiple challenge. There are very different triple-frontier areas, and four-border areas, etc. in Europe. In a way, each of them is a case of its own, but each of them, by the sheer complexity of their historic longevity, inevitably includes experiences and events that are comparable.

Most European multi-frontier areas were created by imperial clashes of long duration, but for an area to become an area of multi-frontiers, it must be both integrated and disintegrated by natural environmental, socio-economic, and socio-cultural structures. The history of Silesia, as a region on the border with Poland, the Habsburg Monarchy, and Prussia, i.e. as a legitimate area of Polish, Czech, and German ethno-national aspirations, is a good example of this. There is another good example, but in a different way, the history of the triple-frontier area of Luxembourg and/or Belgium, Germany, and France, being completely different, structurally, from the Triplex Confinium, which is in the centre of our attention. Another interesting example, in a third variant, is the case of the historic Hungarian, Polish, and Ottoman triple-frontier area, or that of the Russian, Polish, and Ottoman triple-frontier area. These borders were fluid and yet survived in history long after empires disappeared. The Ukraine is a country with a distinct identity, but so is the triple-frontier area of Russia, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire, as well as the Caucasus of Russia, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire. While the Ukraine has a distinctive ethno-national identity, the Caucasus has a particularly multinational one.

However, all these multi-frontier areas are so structurally complex, that in Europe’s Early Modern Era, every conflict along them has had direct or indirect long-lasting consequences for Europe; or, avoidance of conflict along them has had long-lasting consequences for those ethno-national communities which have been divided by a triple-frontier area. In this sense, there are always some fundamental questions to European history, which are reflected in the history of triple-frontier areas, at least on epoch-making horizons. Thus, the possibility of applying the comparative methods is without doubt almost unlimited.


C. Archaism and the Long Duration of the Triple-frontier Area. Problems of Approach.

 From the 16th to 19th century, on all three sides of the Triple-frontier Area, there existed both different and similar systems of the Vojna Krajina, and that is an aspect of its historic reality that undoubtedly provokes the most research questions. Although these systems of Vojna Krajina were built within very different imperial social and cultural realities, and although they represented very different value systems, aspirations, etc., they were founded, first of all, on traditional paleo-Balkan communities of herder-warriors, or village-warriors. To those people, the Triple-frontier Area was always a relative term, and yet one cannot imagine any of these Vojna Krajina systems are possible to exist without, first of all, such communities. These communities could, by the way, move from one military border system to the other, irrevocably, or return equally to the original system. In the same way as they were imperial instruments, the Vojna Krajina systems, and the triple-frontier area itself, those systems were also instrumentalised by traditional communities in the area. In this sense, the triple-frontier area was „everybody’s“, and „nobody’s“, because in the mentalities of those „from the bottom“, and those „from the top“, it was simply a fruitless, perpetual battlefield; a battlefield of „great“ and „small“ wars; those with international legitimacy and those without legitimacy. The more it differed from one of its sides, the more it remained the same in its inability to escape from its own historic, multiply-determined situation. And as for its people, the more they tried to be at variance with multiple civilisational, cultural, or ethno-confessional justifications, the more they remained the same, in their refusal to admit their multiple interdependence. Therefore, triple-frontier areas are either areas of great human imagination, or even greater mental narrow-mindedness and exclusivism. They are either areas of exceptional human tolerance, or even more exceptional human intolerance, etc. The triple-frontier area is always archaic, because, if it were to become modern, it would not be the triple-frontier area any longer.


D. History of the Triplex Confinium: a Challenge Across the Borders of Traditional Disciplines

 This understanding of the history of the Triplex Confinium makes its history „transdisciplinary“ in many ways. From one point of view, it means it cannot be reduced to any single traditional historiographic discipline. From the other viewpoint, it is necessary for history to use methods and research possibilities from a series of disciplines, ranging from historic demography, socio-cultural history, and historic anthropology, to rural and urban history, military history, eco-history, etc. Therefore, the emphasis of work within the Triplex Confinium International Project must be the choice of „major topics“, around which researchers of different „profiles“ with a sense for interdisciplinary dialogue should gather.

To this end, an international scientific colloquium that was held on the micro-history of the Triplex Confinium, has disclosed a need for undertaking a series of concrete micro-historic research projects, which will in a small region, and in the experience of a relatively small number of local communities, discover an exceptional complexity of historic events and duration. In contrast to micro-history aimed at the research of relatively homogenous human communities, macro-history of the Triplex Confinium is directed at researching relatively heterogeneous, or extremely heterogeneous human communities. If they are not heterogeneous in a socio-economic sense, then they must be heterogeneous in a socio-cultural, or socio-religious sense, because the triple-frontier area must have its mythical, ideological, fictional, or any other justification. These communities were subject to imperative interests and/or the requirements of imperial systems, which from their view, often had to unambiguously legitimate themselves on their own borders. In example, the triple-frontier area was, to many people and to itself, and even more often outside its territory, a regular stage of „irrational“ behaviour, permanent interpersonal hatred, etc.

There is no particular discipline in the social sciences and humanities that could absorb such a multi-faceted problem. It is therefore necessary for the Triplex Confinium International Project to put emphasis on „major topics“, which will from one side, be representative enough of the problem as a whole, and from the other side, innovative enough in opening the possibilities for a whole range of interdependent, interdisciplinary research. Such subjects could be:  


I. The Triple-frontier Area: Ecosystem and/or Area of Imperial Conflicts;

II. State Power and Violence in Traditional Communities Along the Triple-frontier Area;

III. Ethno-confessional Tolerance and Intolerance in the Triplex Confinium



The above list could be extended, but these three „major topics“ probably offer enough stimulation, because each of them would, and indeed already does, include the cooperation of many researchers from a whole range of countries and their gathering at international conferences, as well as joint publications and the full application of the methodology inherent to cross-cultural studies.  

Speaking in general though, there is a vast bibliography of historic works on each of the Vojna Krajina systems touching the triple-frontier area, mostly Habsburg, but also Venetian, and Ottoman. However, there are far fewer works that have appropriately researched and evaluated the latter two, and even fewer which have evaluated all three sides of the triple-frontier area, i.e. the triple-frontier area as a „multiple identity“. Such works could be counted on the palm of one hand. In recent times, they represent exactly the kind of approach which is provoking an ever-growing research interest, and the Triplex Confinium International Project is dedicated to promoting such histories of this region and its Vojna Krajina system in particular.


E. Back to the Sources

 A history of the triple-frontier is impossible without returning to the sources, archival ones first of all, but also archaeological, museological, ethnographic, and others, including research in the region proper. It is an important pre-condition for the successful conduct of this project. Unless it relies on sources, it would be too dependent on former findings, which are quite often those least based on research from original source material. This means that the pre-conditions of coordinated research in a whole range of research centres, and appropriate direct communication among researchers in the research project alone are necessary.

This does not mean to say that everything accomplished so far in historical research of the triple-frontier area loses its legitimacy. In accordance with the basic rules of every research project, the project team will stimulate the return to texts of different provenance, from different national and religious traditions.

It is important to emphasize that we want this project to be open to imaginative contributions of any origin, but of course in accordance with the project’s purpose regardless of whether these reports are from individuals or groups.

 Types of Work, Deadlines, and Financing

The continuity of work on the Project should be ensured by two research teams: a Croatian one from the Institute of Croatian History (History Department, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb, and an Austrian team from the Abteilung für südosteuropäische Geschichte (University of Graz). There is the possibility of creating a third research team at the History Department of the Central European University in Budapest.

Each of the research teams would assemble not only experienced researchers with relevant research status, but also young researchers, people who are writing their postgraduate dissertations, or doctorates, on topics directly connected with the history of the triple-frontier area.

Academic cooperation will be established with all relevant researchers  while working upon any particular project initiative.

The Project would of course constitute bodies for international coordination of its initiatives, but in general, each team and/or collaborator would need to work as autonomously as possible in order to make the Project as creative and effective as possible.

Since the Project is primarily research-oriented, its success depends, to a great extent, on its ability to facilitate the research work of many individuals and groups either in their place of residence, and/or quite often, outside their place of residence, especially across state borders. The only option for a more reasonable use of the always limited sources, is publishing certain sources, or groups of material, in draft editions in step with the research process. There would be inevitably considerable costs involved here. Exchange of experience by direct contacts of researchers from different environments in different ways, including the possible use of the Internet, can certainly be very useful, stimulating, and financially more profitable.

Since the Project would largely be dependent on applying quantitative methods to a whole range of disciplines, it would be of extreme importance to secure the necessary computer equipment, as well as software (programs for research in social sciences, for cartographic processing, for processing of primary source materials, etc.).

The success of the Project greatly depends on the possibility of periodic international symposia. The suggested „three subjects“ could be the central theme of three international conferences, but each of them should be based on previously published research and written reports. The effect of each of these could be ensured by printing special journals. Conferences should take place every year, or every other year, depending on the preparatory research and financial sponsorship. Conference sites would alternate, and one of them should certainly be in the wider area of the triple-frontier area proper (e.g. Knin, Zadar, Bihać).

However, international conferences cannot gather all the potential participants of the Project, so it would undoubtedly be useful to initiate a periodic publication of the Project, which could publish critiqued works of various sorts on the subject initiated by the Project.

The Project’s value would be increased if university professors who are part of its teams, or its collaborators, were to include in their regular lectures, seminars, etc., subjects from the Project work, and those dealing in part with them, introducing students themselves to the projects on-going research. In this regard, one possible approach is organizing summer schools designed for young collaborators of the Project, including undergraduates, where we could study certain Project subjects in an appropriate fashion.


            The Triplex Confinium International Project and the Triple-frontier Area Today.


 This project is not directed at resolving any kind of political questions, because all of its members are in agreement that applying multi-national research projects as a political instrument can only be counterproductive to creating mutual trust among researchers of very different viewpoints. To the extent that this Project would be a contribution to a better understanding of any disputable question arising from the history of the triple-frontier area, it would also be a contribution to creating a different (by today’s European standards - more appropriate) relationship towards the undoubtedly difficult life of the people of that area, whether it is about the people from that area proper, those who go there, or any others outside its borders, in Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and anywhere in Europe, who can in any way contribute to its better, and above all, happier future.[11]




Andre Blanc. La Croatie occidentale. Etude de geographie humaine. Paris: Institut d’Etudes Slaves de l’Universite de Paris, 1957.

Vaso Čubrilović (ed.). Vojne krajine u jugoslovesnkim zemljama u Novom veku do Karlovačkog mira 1699. Beograd: SANU, 1989.

Boško Desnica. Istorija kotarskih uskoka, sv. I. i II. Beograd: SAN, 1950., 1951.

Edgar Morin. Penser l’Europe. Paris: Gallimard, 1987.

Dragutin Pavličević (ur.). Vojna krajina. Povijesni pregled - historiografija - rasprave. Zagreb: SNL & Odjel za hrvatsku povijest, 1984.

Veljko Rogić, Regionalna geografija Jugoslavije, knj. 1. Prirodna osnova i historijska geografija. Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1982.

Gligor Stanojević. Dalmatinske krajine u XVIII vijeku. Zagreb: Prosvjeta, 1987. 


[1] See: Edgar Morin. Penser l’Europe. Paris, 1987. Also: the Bosnian-Herzegovinian translation: Kako misliti Evropu. Sarajevo, 1989) and the Croatian translation: Misliti Evropu, Zagreb, 1995.

[2] An example for the latter approach: In 1991, when the world had to face the phenomena of „unexpected“ brutality in the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, one of the most common explanations in the Euro-American mass media, and in a multitude of pretentious interpretations by experts, was that „those“ people „always hated“ each other.  

[3] Rogić. Regionalna geografija Jugoslavije. Knjiga 1. Zagreb, 1982, 21.

[4] Granice Hrvatske na zemljevidima od 12. do 20. stoljeća. Zagreb, 1992, 70.

[5] Ešref Kovačević. Granice Bosanskog Pašaluka prema Austriji i Mletačkoj republici po odredbama Karlovačkog mira, Sarajevo, 1973, 63, 107.

[6] Ivan Belostenec (Joannes Bellosztenecz). Gazophylacium seu Latino-Illyricorum onomatum aerarium. Zagreb, 1740, 339-340.

[7] The town was conquered by the Ottomans in 1522, being between 1493, the year of the heavy defeat of the medieval Croatian nobility at the Battle of Krbavsko Polje, not far from Knin, and 1526, the year of the heavy defeat of the medieval Hungarian state at the Battle of Mohács. For more than a hundred years, Knin was one of the main Ottoman strongholds, both in relation to the Venetian Republic and Habsburg Monarchy: „In Turkish hands, Knin remained a significant strategic outpost against raids and conquests towards the North and West. At one time, it was the centre of the Zakrčje sanjak. When Venice started to conquer the territory of Zagora, Knin fell into Venetian hands. In 1653, however, the Turks regained Knin and restored the ruined fortress, which Venice failed to conquer in 1654. In a bloody struggle between the Turks and krajišniks (frontiersmen), Knin became the greatest Turkish stronghold. It was only in 1688, after a fourteen-day siege, that Knin was liberated (11 September).“ EJ 5. Zagreb, 1962, 267-268.

[8] Tomislav Raukar. Hrvatsko srednjovjekovlje. Prostor, ljudi, ideje. Zagreb, 1997, 104-105.

[9] N.B.: „Turska osvajanja u Hrvatskoj u XVI. St“ (Turkish conquests in Croatia in the 16th century). in Nada Klaić-Zvonimir Dugački-Petar Mardešić (eds.). Historijski atlas, Zagreb, 1954, map 42.

[10] See: Wendy Bracewell. The Uskoks of Senj. Piracy, Banditry, and Holy War in the Sixteenth-Century Adriatic. New Haven. 1992. and the Croatian translation: Senjski uskoci. Piratsvo, razbojništvo i sveti rat na Jadranu u šesnaestom stoljeću. Zagreb, 1997. This book also contains a detailed and recent bibliography, important for the history of the triple-frontier area.

[11] Of course, all these are the author’s thoughts and suggestions, created first of all on the basis of his own research, but to a greater extent, on the previous impacts of work in the Project, as well as the exchange of thoughts with participants and collaborators of the Project. I owe to all my colleagues a deep sense of gratitude.



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