The Balkans in World History

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In the historical and literary imagination, the Balkans loom large as a somewhat frightening but ill-defined space. Most attempts at definition focus on geography (the actual mountain range that gives the area its name and the lands surrounding it) or, more recently, on the set of prejudices attached to the term by local and outside observers. There has been far less concern with attempting to define this space in positive terms, taking as a starting point not geography as such but rather the cultural, historical, and social threads that could allow us to see what might be merely contiguous places as a coherent, though complex, whole. The goal of this volume is to do precisely that. The Balkans should probably be defined as that borderland geographical space in which four of the world's greatest civilizations have overlapped in a sustained and meaningful way to produce a complex, dynamic, sometimes combustible, multi-layered local civilization. It is the space in which the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, of Byzantium, of Ottoman Turkey, and of Roman Catholic Europe met, clashed and sometimes combined. The history of the Balkans can be seen as a history of creative borrowing by local people of the various civilizations that have nominally conquered the region. Each civilization has thus been hybridized, modified, and amplified by other voices and traditions.