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Balkan topo en.jpg
LocationSoutheast Europe
Area666,700 km2 (257,400 sq mi)
Highest elevation2,925 m (9,596 ft)
Highest pointMusala
Sovereign states
Population60+ million
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"Balkan" and "Balkan Peninsula" redirect here. For other uses, see Balkan (disambiguation).
Balkan topo en.jpg
LocationSoutheast Europe
Area666,700 km2 (257,400 sq mi)
Highest elevation2,925 m (9,596 ft)
Highest pointMusala
Sovereign states
Population60+ million

The Balkan Peninsula, popularly referred to as the Balkans, is a geographical region of Southeast Europe[clarification needed] . The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the east of Bulgaria to the very east of Serbia.

The region is predominantly inhabited by Albanians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Bosnians, Gorani, Greeks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Slovenes, Romanians, Aromanians, Turks, Kurds and other ethnic groups which present minorities in certain countries like the Romani and Ashkali.[1] The largest religion on the Balkans is Orthodox Christianity, followed by Catholic Christianity and Islam.[2]

The total area of the Balkans is 257,400 square miles (666,700 square km) and the population is 59,297,000 (est. 2002).[1] The Balkans meets the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea on the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The highest point of the Balkans is mount Musala 2,925 metres (9,596 ft) on the Rila mountain range in Bulgaria.

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).[3][4] The Balkans are also the location of Europe's first advanced civilizations, beginning with the Bronze Age in Greece around 3200 BC.[5]



The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria and Serbia. It is believed the name was brought to the region in the 7th century by the Bulgars who applied it to the area, as a part of the First Bulgarian Empire. In Bulgarian language the word balkan (балкан) means "mountain". It may have derived from the Persian bālkāneh or bālākhāna, meaning "high, above, or proud house."[6] The name is still preserved in Central Asia with the Balkan Daglary (Balkan Mountains)[7] and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan. In Turkish balkan means "a chain of wooded mountains"[8][9]

In classical antiquity (and until the Ottoman conquest), the region was referred to in Greek and Roman sources as the "Peninsula of Haemus". The mountain range itself was known as the "Haemus Mountains", the name being of possibly Thracian etymology.[10]

Other possible etymology for "Haemus" (Αἵμος) comes from the Greek mythology. 'Haemus', still being used in Modern Greek, derives from the Greek word "haema" (αἵμα) meaning 'blood'. The myth goes about the fight of Zeus and the monster/titan Typhon. Zeus injured Typhon with a thunder and Typhon's blood fell on the mountains from which they got their name.[11]

On a larger scale, the mountains are only one part of a long continuous chain crossing the region in the form of a reversed letter S, from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper, before marching away east into Turkey. The Balkan Mountains include the Stara Planina (Old Mountain) mountain range in Bulgaria and part of Serbia. 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 islands.

In the languages of the region, the peninsula is known as:

Evolution of meaning[edit]

The first attested time the name "Balkan" was used in the West for the mountain range in Bulgaria was in a letter sent in 1490 to Pope Innocent VIII by Buonaccorsi Callimaco, an Italian humanist, writer and diplomat.[12] 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 "Balkans" was created by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808.[13] During the 1820s, "Balkan became the preferred although not yet exclusive term alongside Haemus among British travelers... Among Russian travelers not so burdened by classical toponymy, Balkan was the preferred term."[14]

As time passed, the term gradually acquired political connotations far from its initial geographic meaning, arising from political changes from the late 19th century 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.

After the dissolution of Yugoslavia beginning in June 1991, the term "Balkans" again received a negative meaning, even in casual usage (see Balkanization). Over the last decade, in the wake of the former Yugoslav split, many Slovenians and Croatians, as well as Serbs of Vojvodina (also Belgraders, western Serbs "Prečani" and Serbs from other regions) have attempted to reject their label as Balkan nations.[15]

Southeast Europe[edit]

Main article: Southeast Europe

In part due to the historical and political connotations of the term "Balkans",[16] especially since the military conflicts of the 1990s, the term "Southeast Europe" is becoming increasingly popular even though it literally refers to a much larger area and thus isn't as precise.[17] 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.

Definitions and boundaries[edit]

The Balkan Peninsula[edit]

The Balkan Peninsula, as defined by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line
Politic map Balkan Peninsula 1827.

The Balkan Peninsula is an area of southeastern Europe surrounded by water on three sides: the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea (including the Ionian and Aegean seas) and the Marmara Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its northern boundary is often given as the Danube, Sava and Kupa Rivers.[18][19] The Balkan Peninsula has a combined area of about 490,000 km2 (189,000 sq mi).

Countries whose territories lie completely within the Balkan peninsula:

Countries that lie partially within the Balkan peninsula:

As of 1920 until World War II Italy included Istria and some Dalmatian areas (like Zara, known as Zadar) that are within the general definition of the Balkan peninsula. The current territory of Italy includes only the small area around Trieste and Gorizia inside the Balkan Peninsula. However, the regions of Trieste and Istria are not usually considered part of the Balkans by Italian geographers, due to a definition of the Balkans that limits its western border to the Kupa River.[20]

The Balkans[edit]

The abstracted term "The Balkans" covers those countries which lie within the boundaries of the Balkan Peninsula.[18] Before 1991, the whole of Yugoslavia was considered to be part of the Balkans.[21] The term "The Balkans" is sometimes used to describe only the areas in the Balkan peninsula: Moesia, Macedonia, Thrace, Kosovo, Šumadija, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Thessaly, Epirus, Peloponnese and others, but more often it includes the rest of former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia) and Romania,[18] namely the provinces of Vojvodina, Slavonia, Banat, Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, and others. Italy as a totality is generally accepted as part of Western Europe and the Apennines. The term "the Balkans" was coined by August Zeune in 1808.

Broadly interpreted, the term Balkans comprise the following territories:[22]

Western Balkans[edit]

European Union institutions and member states defined the "Western Balkans" as the Southeast European area that includes countries that are not members of the European Union ( Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania — or Albania plus the former Yugoslavia, minus Croatia and Slovenia).[23][24][25][26][27][28][29] Today, the Western Balkans is more of a political than a geographic designation for the region of Southeast Europe that is not in the European Union. Each country has as its aim to join the EU and reach democracy and transmission scores (except those to have already done so, i.e. Croatia since 2013 and Slovenia since 2004), but until then they will be strongly connected with the pre-EU waiting program CEFTA.[30]

Nature and natural resources[edit]

Panorama of Stara Planina. Its highest peak is Botev at a height of 2,376 m.
View toward Rila, the highest mountain in the Balkans which reaches 2925 m
Golubac Fortress in Serbia, guarding the Danubian frontier of the Balkans

Most of the area is covered by mountain ranges running from north-west to south-east. The main ranges are the Balkan mountains, running from the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria to its border with Serbia, the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria and northern Greece, the Dinaric Alps in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, the Šar massif which spreads from Albania to Macedonia, and the Pindus range, spanning from southern Albania into central Greece and the Albanian Alps. The highest mountain of the region is Rila in Bulgaria, with Musala at 2925 m, Mount Olympus in Greece, the throne of Zeus, being second at 2917 m and Vihren in Bulgaria being the third at 2914 m. The karst field or polje is a common feature of the landscape.

On the Adriatic and Aegean coasts the climate is Mediterranean, on the Black Sea coast the climate is humid subtropical and oceanic, and inland it is humid 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. The humid continental climate is predominant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, northern Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, northern Montenegro, the interior of Albania, Romania, Serbia and most of Slovenia, while the other, less common climates, the humid subtropical and oceanic climates, are seen on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and Turkey; and the Mediterranean climate is seen on the coast of Albania, southern Croatia, Greece, southern Montenegro, the coast of Slovenia and the Aegean coast of Turkey.

During the centuries many woods have been cut down and replaced with bush. In the southern part and on the coast there is evergreen vegetation. 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 1800–2300 m. The landscape provides habitats for numerous endemic species, including extraordinarily abundant insects and reptiles that serve as food for a variety of birds of prey and rare vultures.

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, except in the territory of Kosovo, where considerable coal, lead, zinc, chromium, silver deposits are located.[31] Other deposits of coal, especially in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia also exist. 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 is in wide use, with over 1,000 dams. The often relentless bora wind is also being harnessed for power generation.

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 are exported.

The time zones are situated as follows:

History and geopolitical significance[edit]

Apollonia ruins near Fier, Albania.
Ruins of the Roman-era palace Felix Romuliana, UNESCO, Serbia.


The 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.

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,[citation needed] 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. 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. 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 called the Jireček Line).[32] 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.[33] During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine Roman and the Bulgarian Empires.

Early modern period[edit]

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.[citation needed] As examples, for Croats, Nikola Šubić Zrinski and Petar Kružić; for Greeks, Constantine XI Palaiologos and Kolokotronis; and for Serbs, Miloš Obilić and Tzar Lazar; for Montenegrins, Đurađ I Balšić and Ivan Crnojević; for Albanians, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg; for ethnic Macedonians, Nikola Karev[34] and Goce Delčev;[34] and for Bulgarians, Vasil Levski, Georgi Sava Rakovski and Hristo Botev.

Modern political history of the Balkans from 1800 onwards.
Hagia Sophia, a former Eastern Orthodox cathedral built in the 6th century in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey).

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 (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. According to Suraiya Faroqhi and Donald Quataert, "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."[35]

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 and Romania in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, Albania in 1912).

20th century[edit]

Tsarevets, a medieval stronghold in the former capital of the Bulgarian EmpireVeliko Tarnovo.
The 13th-century church of St. John at Kaneo and the Ohrid Lake in Macedonia. The lake and town were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

World wars[edit]

In 1912–1913 the First Balkan War broke out when the nation-states of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro united in an alliance against the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the war, almost all remaining European territories of the Ottoman Empire were captured and partitioned among the allies. Ensuing events also led to the creation of an independent Albanian state. Bulgaria insisted on its status quo territorial integrity, divided and shared by the Great Powers next to the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) in other boundaries and on the pre-war Bulgarian-Serbian agreement. Provoked by the backstage deals between its former allies Serbia and Greece on allocation the spoils at the end of the First Balkan War, while it fights at the main Thracian Front, Bulgaria marks the beginning of Second Balkan War when attacked them. The Serbs and the Greeks repulse single attacks, but when the Greek army invaded Bulgaria together with an unprovoked Romanian intervention in the back, regardless of the single won battles, Bulgaria collapsed. The Ottoman Empire also used the opportunity to recapture Eastern Thrace, establishing its new western borders that still stand today.

The First World War was sparked in the Balkans in 1914 when Mlada Bosna, a revolutionary organization with predominately Serbian and pro-Yugoslav members, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Bosnia and Herzegovina's capital, Sarajevo. That caused a war between the two countries which—through the existing chains of alliances—led to the First World War. The Ottoman empire soon joined the Central Powers becoming one of the three empires participating in that alliance. The next year Bulgaria joined the Central Powers attacking Serbia, which was successfully fighting Austro-Hungary to the north for a year. That led to Serbia's defeat and the intervention of the Entente in the Balkans which sent an expeditionary force to establish a new front, the third one of that war, which soon also became static. The participation of Greece in the war three years later, in 1918, on the part of the Entente finally altered the balance between the opponents leading to the collapse of the common German-Bulgarian front there, which caused the exit of Bulgaria from the war, and in turn the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending the First World War.[36]

With the start of the Second World War all Balkan countries, with the exception of Greece, were allies of Nazi Germany, having bilateral military agreements or being part of the Axis Pact. Fascist Italy expanded the war in the Balkans by using its protectorate Albania to invade Greece. After repelling the attack, the Greeks counterattacked, invading Italy-held Albania and causing Nazi Germany's intervention in the Balkans to help its ally.[37] Days before the German invasion a successful coup d'état in Belgrade by neutral military personnel seized power.[38]

Although the new government reaffirmed Serbia's intentions to fulfill its obligations as member of the Axis,[39] Germany, using its other two allied countries in the region, Bulgaria and Hungary, invaded both Greece and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia immediately disintegrated when those loyal to the Serbian King and the Croatian units mutinied.[40] Greece resisted, but, after two months of fighting, collapsed and was occupied. The two countries were partitioned between the three Axis allies, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy, and the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Italy and Germany was created.

During the occupation the population suffered considerable hardship due to repression and starvation, to which the population reacted by creating a mass resistance movement.[41] Together with the early and extremely heavy winter of that year (which caused hundreds of thousands deaths among the poorly fed population), the German invasion had disastrous effects in the timetable of the planned invasion in Russia causing a significant delay,[42] which had major consequences during the course of the war.[43]

Finally, at the end of 1944, the Soviets entered Romania and Bulgaria forcing the Germans out of the Balkans. They left behind a region largely ruined as a result of wartime exploitation, but by making use of the post-war separation of Germany into two independent entities, the German states successfully and legally avoided paying any reparations or repaying the forced loans given by the occupied countries.

Cold War[edit]

The Old Harbour at Dubrovnik, Croatia. Between 1358 and 1808 the Republic of Dubrovnik ruled itself as a free state.

During the Cold War, most of the countries on the Balkans were governed by communist governments. Greece became the first battleground of the emerging Cold War. The Truman Doctrine was the US response to the civil war, which raged from 1944 to 1949. This civil war, unleashed by the Communist Party of Greece, backed by communist volunteers from neighboring countries (Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia), led to massive American assistance for the non-communist Greek government. With this backing, Greece managed to defeat the partisans and, ultimately, remained the only non-communist country in the region.

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 spearheaded, together with India and Egypt the Non-Aligned Movement. Albania on the other hand gravitated toward Communist China, later adopting an isolationist position.

The Mes Bridge near Shkodër, Albania, built by the Ottomans in the 18th century

As the only non-communist countries, Greece and Turkey were (and still are) part of NATO composing the southeastern wing of the alliance.

Post–Cold War[edit]

In the 1990s, the transition of the regions' ex-soviet block coutries towards democratic free-market societies went peacefully with the exception of Yugoslavia. Wars between the former Yugoslav republics broke out after Slovenia and Croatia held free elections and their people voted for independence on their respective countries' referenda. Serbia in turn declared the dissolution of the union as unconstitutional and the Yugoslavian army unsuccessfully tried to maintain status quo. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence on 25 June 1991, followed by the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. Till October 1991, the Army withdrew from Slovenia, and in Croatia, the Croatian War of Independence would continue until 1995. In the ensuing 10 years armed confrontation, gradually all the other Republics declared independence, with Bosnia being the most affected by the fighting. The long lasting wars resulted in a United Nations intervention and NATO ground and air forces took action against Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

From the dissolution of Yugoslavia six republics achieved international recognition as sovereign republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. In 2008, while under UN administration, Kosovo declared independence (according to the official Serbian policy, Kosovo is still an internal autonomous region). In July 2010, the International Court of Justice, ruled that the declaration of independence was legal.[44] Most UN member states recognise Kosovo. After the end of the wars a revolution broke in Serbia and Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian communist leader (elected president between 1989 and 2000), was overthrown and handed for trial to the International Criminal Tribunal for crimes against the International Humanitarian Law during the Yugoslav wars. Milošević died of a heart attack in 2006 before a verdict could have been released. Ιn 2001 an Albanian uprising in Macedonia forced the country to give local autonomy to the ethnic Albanians in the areas where they predominate.

With the dissolution of Yugoslavia an issue emerged over the name under which the former (federated) republic of Macedonia would internationally be recognized, between the new country and Greece. Being the Macedonian part of Yugoslavia (see Vardar Macedonia), the federated Republic under the Yugoslav identity had the name Republic of Macedonia on which it declared its sovereignty in 1991. Greece, having a large region (see Macedonia) also under the same name opposed to the usage of this name as an indication of a nationality. The issue is currently under negotiations after a UN initiation.

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.[citation needed]

Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981; Slovenia since 2004, Bulgaria and Romania since 2007 and Croatia joined in 2013. In 2005, the European Union decided to start accession negotiations with candidate countries; Turkey, and Macedonia were accepted as candidates for European Union membership. In March 2004, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia have become members of NATO. As of April 2009,[45] Albania and Croatia are members of NATO. Bosnia and Herzegovina and what was then Serbia and Montenegro started negotiations with the EU over the Stabilization 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. During the 2008 Bucharest summit Greece vetoed Macedonia's NATO membership bid over the Macedonia naming dispute between the two countries[citation needed].

All other countries have expressed a desire to join the EU at some point in the future.

Politics and economy[edit]

View from Santorini in Greece. Tourism is an important part of the Greek economy.
Drvengrad (also known as Mećavnik or Küstendorf), an ethno village in Serbia and home to the annual Kusturica film festival

Currently all of the states are republics, but until World War II all except Turkey were monarchies. Most of the republics are parliamentary, excluding Romania and Bosnia which are semi-presidential. All the states have open market economies, most of which are in the upper-middle income range ($4,000 – $12,000 p.c.), the remaining – Greece, Slovenia and Croatia have high income economies (over $12,000 p.c.), which are also classified with very high HDI in contrast to the remaining states which are classified with high HDI. The states from the former Eastern Bloc that formerly had planned economy system and Turkey mark gradual economic growth each year, only the economy of Greece drops for 2012 and meanwhile it was expected to grow in 2013. The Gross domestic product (Purchasing power parity) per capita is highest in Slovenia and Greece (over $25), followed by Croatia (up to $20), Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia ($10 – $15), Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo (below $10).[46] The Gini coefficient, which indicates the level of difference by monetary welfare of the layers, is on the second level at the highest monetary equality in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, on the third level in Greece, Montenegro and Romania, on the fourth level in Macedonia, on the fifth level in Turkey, and the most unequal by Gini coefficient is Bosnia at the eighth level which is the penultimate level and one of the highest in the world. The unemployment is lowest in Romania and Slovenia (below 10%), followed by Bulgaria, Turkey, Albania (10 – 15%), Croatia, Greece (15 – 20%), Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia (20 – 30%), Macedonia (over 30%) and Kosovo (over 40%).

Regional organizations[edit]

Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe
  supporting partners
Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI)
Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)

See also the Black Sea Regional organizations


Map showing religious denominations
Distribution of races in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor in 1922, Racial Map of Europe by Hammond & Co.
Distribution of races in the southern Balkan Peninsula in 1918.
Ethnic composition map of the Balkans by the French ethnographer Guillaume Lejean (1861)
Ethnic composition of the southern part of the region in 1898 by the French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache
Ethnic composition of the northern part of the region in 1880 by the English-German cartograge E.G. Ravenstein
Distribution of races in the southern Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor in 1918 (National Geographic)

The Balkans have a population of 60–71 million and a population density of 80-91/km2, depending on whether the Turkish and Italian parts are counted within the peninsula. Without those, the peninsula has a population of about 48 million and a density of 99/km2.

Population by territories:

TerritoryTotal populationIn the peninsula *DensityLife expectancy
 Albania2,831,741[47]2,831,741[47]98.5/km277.4 years
 Bosnia and Herzegovina3,839,737[48]3,839,737[48]75.0/km274.9 years
 Bulgaria7,364,570[49]7,814,570[49] Ref.66.4/km273.0 years
 Croatia4,290,612[50]2,700,000[50]~75.8/km277.3 years
 Greece11,123,034[51]11,123,034[51]81.7/km282 years
 ItalyNot a part of the region (see [1])~330,000[52]
 Macedonia2,057,284[54]2,057,284[54]80.0/km274.2 years
 Romania19,042,936[56]832,141[56]90.2/km272.5 years
 Serbia7,186,862[57]~3,500,000[57]92.8/km274.2 years
 SloveniaNot a part of the region (see [1])~360,000[58]
 TurkeyNot a part of the region (see [1])10,620,739[59]
Balkans **59,764,374 (excl. Turkey, Slovenia and Italy's parts)
70,610,355 (incl. Turkey, Slovenia and Italy's parts)
44,888,282 (excl. northern Croatia and Serbia)

[*] The islands are not taken into account.
[**] Both census figures of Serbia and Kosovo in the table do not include North Kosovo, therefore in the population of the Balkans, made up of sum of the populations in the table, is added separately an additional number of 70,000 to include the missing population of North Kosovo.


The region's principal religions are Christianity (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic) and Islam (Sunni).[2] Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority religion in both the Balkan peninsula and the Balkan region. A variety of different traditions of each faith are practiced, with each of the Eastern Orthodox countries having its own national church.

The Jewish communities of the Balkans were some of the oldest in Europe and date back to ancient times. These communities were Sephardi Jews, except in Slovenia, Croatia and Romania where the Jewish communities were Ashkenazi Jews. In Slovenia, there were Jewish immigrants dating back to Roman times pre-dating the 6th century settlement of the region by the Slavic peoples.[60] In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the small and close-knit Jewish community is 90% Sephardic, and Ladino is still spoken among the elderly. The Sephardi Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo has tombstones of a unique shape and inscribed in ancient Ladino.[61] Sephardi Jews used to have a large presence in the city of Thessaloniki, and by 1900, some 80,000, or more than half of the population, were Jews.[62] The Jewish communities in the Balkans suffered immensely during World War II, and the vast majority were killed during the Holocaust. An exception were the Bulgarian Jews, most of whom were saved by Boris III of Bulgaria, who resisted Adolf Hitler, opposing their deportation to concentration camps. Almost all of the few survivors have emigrated to the (then) newly founded state of Israel and elsewhere. No Balkan country today has a significant Jewish minority.


Further information: Balkan sprachbund

The Balkan region today is a very diverse ethno-linguistic region, being home to multiple Slavic, Romance, and Turkic languages, as well as Greek, Albanian, and others. Romani is spoken by a large portion of the Romanis living throughout the Balkan countries. Throughout history many other ethnic groups with their own languages lived in the area, among them Thracians, Illyrians, Romans, Celts and various Germanic tribes. All of the aforementioned languages from the present and from the past belong to the wider Indo-European language family, with the exception of the Turkic languages (e.g., Turkish and Gagauz).


Most of the states in the Balkans are predominantly urbanized; the countries in which the rural population is the majority are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Slovenia, each being about 50% rural and 50% urban.[63]

View of Athens and the Acropolis
View of Belgrade and the Sava river which defines the border of the Balkan peninsula
View of Thessaloniki's port and part of city's center.
View of Sofia from the parliamentary square
Central Tirana with Mount Dajt in the distance

A list of cities with population of over 200,000 inhabitants:

RankCityLocationUrban Pop.Metro Pop.
Istanbul* Turkey12,919,00014,160,467 [64]
1Belgrade Serbia1,344,8441,659,440 [65]
2Sofia Bulgaria1,204,6851,359,520 [66]
3Thessaloniki Greece790,8241,006,730 [67]
4Zagreb Croatia686,5681,107,115 [68]
5Athens Greece664,0463,737,550 [67]
6Skopje Macedonia506,926668,518 [69]
7Tirana Albania421,286763,634 [70]
8Plovdiv Bulgaria339,077403,153 [66]
9Varna Bulgaria334,870 [66]343,544
10Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina311,161438,757 [71]
11Novi Sad Serbia277,522341,625 [65]
12Ljubljana Slovenia272,220 [72]
13Constanța Romania254,693 [73]
14Banja Luka Bosnia and Herzegovina238,353 [74]
Çorlu* Turkey215,293 [75][better source needed]
15Patras Greece214,580 [67]
Trieste* Italy205,374 [76]
16Burgas Bulgaria200,271 [66]223,902
17Pristina Kosovo[a]198,214 [77]465,186
18Niš Serbia183,544 [65]260,237
[*] Besides comparison between the cities of the Balkan countries, the table also shows cities of non-Balkan countries that are located fully (Çorlu and Trieste) or partially (Istanbul) within the Balkan peninsula.


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.


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  32. ^ Boundary between Greek and Latin
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  51. ^ a b Official estimate
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  77. ^ Demographics of Kosovo#2011_Census


External links[edit]