The Balkans

At the end of the 19th Century the Balkans were part of the the Ottoman Empire ruled from Turkey.

This empire was in decline and both Austria and Russia wanted to expand into it and take up territories ruled by the Ottomans

There were also several Balkan states, like Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, that wanted to be independent.

It was inevitable that there would be a conflict of interest in this area as everybody tried to get the best deal in the absence of effective rule by the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Empire controlled extensive areas of the Balkans in the late 19th century

Bosnia- Herzegovina

Balkans War - 1912

Second Balkans War 1913


In 1878 the Treaty of Berlin gave the Austro-Hungarian Empire the right to administrate the Ottoman territories of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Novibazar. The occupation of Novibazar prevented the union of Montenegro and Serbia and stifled Serbian ambitions of acquiring additional territory in the area.

On the 5th October 1908 Bulgaria announced its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Austria-Hungary followed this on the 6th with an announcement that it was annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina and on the 7th Austro-Hungary began to withdraw troops from Novibazar.

Neither of these events were in accordance with the Treaty of Berlin and there were protests from the other signatories of the treaty but, after negotiations in which Serbia made a formal statement that it was happy with the actions, everything was agreed and the Treaty of Berlin was amended to suit.

Serbia later conquered Novibazar extending its territory to border on Montenegro.

1912 - Balkan War

There were four independent nations in the Balkans area of any significance: Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro. Each of these states considered themselves incomplete and looked to increase their territories mainly at the expense of the failing Ottoman Empire.

In March 1912, with the encouragement of Russia, these four countries formed a loose alliance called the Balkan League with the prime intention of forcing the Turks to cede Albania, Thrace and Macedonia, to be divided between them.

The Greeks were included in the alliance because they were the only ones who possessed a navy that could prevent Turkey from reinforcing their army in the Balkans. Greece delayed the declaration of war several times to prepare their navy for the coming conflict.

War was finally declared in October 1912 and was a triumphal victory for the members of the Balkan League. It ended with the signing of the Treaty of London on the 17th May 1913. Greece occupied most of the islands of the Aegean, and Albania, Thrace and Macedonia were ceded by Turkey.

Serbia became much larger but, on Austrian insistence, wasn't allowed access to the sea. To prevent this an independent state of Albania was created. This caused a lot of Anti-Austrian feeling and resentment in Serbia.

1913 - The Second Balkan War

After the Treaty of London had ended the it wasn't long before the victors were quarrelling over the spoils. Bulgaria in particular wasn't happy with what it had received and a Second war broke out in June 1913 when Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece.

Bulgaria initially had some success against Serbia but was defeated by Greece. When Romania joined the war on the side of Serbia and Greece Bulgaria was forced to agree to an Armistice in July.

Macedonia was split between Greece and Serbia and Turkey took the opportunity to seize back eastern Thrace.

The result was that Serbia virtually doubled in size and became big enough to pose a threat to Austro-Hungarian ambitions in the area.

Serbia extended her territory significantly as a result of the Balkan Wars

How did this contribute to the outbreak of World War One?

Serbia became a powerful and ambitious state that felt strong enough to challenge Austria.

It provided an arena for Austria and Russia to play power games.

It created a breeding ground for Nationalism - a trend towards national independence and self-rule.

Austrian interference, particularly with regard to the creation of Albania, resulted in ill feeling and resentment towards Austria in Serbia that was used by Russian agents and Serbian nationalists to promote their own interests.