Croatia: Themes, Authors, Books


At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), as a counter to the Reformation, guidelines were given for the consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church. Almost immediately the Church began intensive educational work in Croatia. Rome became a center for printing books in the Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Glagolitic, although it had strong roots in some areas, began to lose its predominance. The future of Croatian letters would belong to the Latin alphabet or to western Cyrillic.

The Croats at this time were under the rule of three different powers: the Turks, Habsburgs and Venetians, with constant bloodshed on the bounderies between them. Conditions were catastrophically unfavorable for any intellectual advances. However, a national revival based on the Croatian language began in the Baroque period in those towns that remained under Christian rule.

Grammars and dictionaries show this very clearly. Modern Europe became aware of Croatia at this time, against all odds, and against the wishes and expectations of the great powers. Croatian writers in the 17th century wanted to abolish the borders and to reach across to their countrymen so close, yet so cruelly out of reach. The urge to break all boundaries is the characteristic of Croatian baroque culture. The Catholic Rennaisance provided an impetus to the deepest felt national needs for development and it soon outgrew the intial intentions of the Church.

The literary language was enlivened by the coloring of several dialectal variants, čakavian, kajkavian and štokavian, but there was a commom aim to gradually eliminate differences. Croatian writers strived to attain some kind of linguistic standardization. Mutual influences interwove in such a way that it became obvious during the Baroque period that the štokavian dialect would eventually prevail in the Croatian language

The Baska Stone

The Baška Stone contains an inscription from about 1100 affirming a land donation made by the Croatian king Zvonimir to the parish of St. Lucia on the island of Krk. The Baška Stone, discovered in 1851, was standing as a part of the altar partition in the Church of St. Lucia in Jurandvore near Baška. Although not the oldest saved Croatian Glagolitic text, it is the first large text written in a Croatian national language with a few elements of Church Slavonic. The legal text contains elements of clear literary qualities. Because of these stylistic qualities the Baška Stone is considered a symbol of the beginnings of Croatian literature.

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The Beinecke Glagolitic Fragment

The Beinecke Glagolitic Fragment is a bifolium containing a fragment of a Croatian missal of the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. The writing is angular Glagolitic with features of the Croatian recension of Church Slavonic. Folio 1, columns a and part of b, contain the reading of the Vigil of All Saints (Revelation 5.6-12)

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Fausto Veranzio (Faust Vrančić), Bishop of Csanád (1551-1617)

Faust Vrančić’s dictionary is not the oldest Croatian lexicographical work, but it is important because for the first time Croatian lexicography was presented to the wider European community. There are more than 5000 words in Vrančić’s dictionary. The Croatian (Dalmatian) is based on the čakavian dialect of his native Šibenik, which he considers to be the most beautiful among the Slavic languages. In this way “Dalmatian” found itself next to Latin, Italian, German and Hungarian—the five most noble European languages. At the end of the dictionary there are several addenda: “Vocabularia Dalmatica quae Ungari sibi usurparunt,” and “Institutio Christiana” containing the Ten Commandments, Credo, Our Father and Hail Mary presented in five languages.

  • Dictionarivm qvinqve nobilissimarvm Evropæ lingvarvm, latinæ, italicæ, germanicæ, dalmatiæ, & vngaricæ (Venetiis: Apud Nicolaum Morettum, 1595)

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Bartol Kašić (1575-1650)

In 1604 Bartol Kašić (also Bartul Kašić, Bartholomaeus Cassius, Bartolomeo Cassio) of Pag published in Rome the first Croatian grammar. At the time he was a student at the Rome Society of Jesus and was alloted this task when the Order decided to extend their activity to the Western Balkans. Kašić had no model for his work but he carried it out very well, and made the first steps in defining Croatian linguistic standards. He was strongly influenced by his native čakavian dialect which he regarded as being best suited as a literary form for Croatian. However he remained open-minded towards štokavian. In his later works, particularly in «Rimski ritual», Rome, 1640, he took on more elements of the štokavian dialect, which makes him one of the first figures of štokavian standardization.

  • Institutiones linguæ Illyricæ (Rome, 1604; reprint: Wien: Bohlau, 1977)

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Ivan Belosteneć (1595-1675)

Belostenec’s great Latin-Croatian, Croatian-Latin dictionary Gazophylacium was not printed until 1740, sixty-five years after the author’s death. After its publication, many Croatian writers used the dictionary: from Tito Brezovački right down to Miroslav Krleža in the 20th century. Belostenec was inspired by the idea of a single language for all Croats. His approach differed from that of the “Illyrians” because he argued that the three dialects of the Croatian language čakavian, štokavian and kajkavian should be fused into one language. Although the idea of fusing the three dialects was not accepted later, it was a real possibility during the 17th century. His conception was based on the practice of dialectical interweaving as practiced by the writers of the so-called Ozalj circle, of which Belostenec was a member.

  • Admodum reverendi patris Joannis Bellosztenecz (Zagreb:"Liber," "Mladost," 1972)

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Juraj Habdelić (1609-78)

Habdelić’s dictionary with 12,000 words was intended for schools. The author of this pioneering work did not really have sufficient lexicographic knowledge, but his baroque literary gifts shine through every entry. Thus this sober and strict Jesuit in his school dictionary listed forty different kinds of wine: wine of Muscat grapes and Malvasia, wine that gave you headache or made you limp, wine sour and difficult to drink, sweet like grape juice, fragrant and spiced.

  • Dictionar, ili Réchi szlovenszke: zvexeda ukup zebrane, u red posztauljene, i Diachkemi zlahkotene (1670; reprint: Zagreb: Kršćanska Sadašnjost, 1989)

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Ardelio Della Bella (1654-1737)

The 1st ed. of this dictionary was published in 1728 in Venice. A native of Foggia, Italy, Della Bella served as a rector in the Dubrovnik Jesuit College (1696-1702). He was a Jesuit priest in Dubrovnik and Dalmatia until his death in Split in 1737. He preached and did his missionary duties in Croatian. Della Bella was asked to compile a dictionary for the needs of the Jesuit missionaries sent by Rome to the Croatian lands. Della Bella’s dictionary is one of the best old dictionaries of the Croatian language. A true lexicographer, he based his work on printed and manuscript works of Croatian literature as well as examples from the spoken language and folk literature. He included in his dictionary instructions for reading, writing and the pronunciation of Croatian words along with a short grammar of Croatian language.

  • Dizionario italiano-latino-illirico, a cui si premettono alcune brevi instruzioni gramaticali, nesessarie per apprendere la lingua e l’ortografia illirica (Ragusa: [s.n.], 1785)


Joakim Stulli (1729-1817)

Joakim Stulli, a Franciscan priest from Dubrovnik, worked diligently and patiently on his dictionary for over half a century. The first two parts of his large trilingual dictionary (in 3 v. and 6 pts.) were published in Buda in 1801 and were partly funded by the Austrian Court. After the loss of Dubrovnik’s independence in 1806, he published two further volumes there with the financial help of “Duc de Raguse,” Napoleon’s marshal Marmont in 1806 and 1810. Stulli derived his material for the dictionary from common people’s language, which he heard on his many travels, as well as from published and unpublished works, from the texts of old authors and from existing dictionaries. The second volume, “Rjecsosloxje,” is a triumph of early Croatian lexicography. It contains 80,000 lexical units illustrated with numerous citations, proverbs, phrases and sayings. Stulli’s dictionary, with the richness of its vocabulary and its formal, systematic analysis, surpassed all earlier lexicographic works in the Croatian lands and became the basis for later Croatian and Serbian lexicographers and authors.

  • Joachimi Stulli ... Lexicon latino-italico-illyricum ditissimum, ac locupletissimum, in quo adferuntur usitatiores, elegantiores, difficiliores earundem linguarum phrases, loquendi formula, ac proverbia (Buda: 1801-1810)

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During the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-1780) and her son Joseph II (1780-1790), the Enlightenment became the official cultural policy of the Habsburg government. It also flourished in the regions under Venetian rule.

The bourgeois revolution that grew out of the spirit of Enlightenment came to Croatia late and indirectly with the arrival of Napoleon's troops (1809-1813). The old order had been disrupted and a powerful impetus was provided for new kinds of writing. It was at this time that pamphlets, proclamations and newspapers first began to be published. The educational policy of the new French protectorate of Illyria provided a firmer basis for writers and literature. Unfortunately this period lasted only for a short time. The Habsburg restoration gathered all Croats under the Austrian crown with the exception of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina who were still under the Sultan.

The embers from the revolution and Napoleon's time were not fully extinguished. The north-western parts of the country had a homogenous cultural background and were in direct contact with central European civilization. In this region the Croatian language began to crystalize around the kajkavian dialect, still used by only a minority of the Croatian people. The literary language of most Croats was štokavian. Moreover, štokavian was a linguistic link with the great Croatian literature of the past which kajkavians in the north felt was also part of their heritage. The times were auspicious for the Croatian National Revival of the mid-nineteenth century.

Ljudevit Gaj (1809-72)

  • Kratka osnova horvatsko-slavenskogo pravopisaňa ... od L.o.G. / Kurzer Entwurf einer kroatisch-slavischen Orthographie (1930; reprint: Zagreb: Liber, 1983)

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Vjekoslav Babukić (1812-75)

  • Ilirska slovnica (Zagreb: 1854)
  • Danica ilirska (Zagreb: Liber, 1970-1971)

Reprint of the newspaper published from 1835 to 1849. It was the first newspaper of the Croat cultural movement called the Illyrian Revival, a program for South Slavic cultural and political unity.


  • Rječnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika; na svijet izdaje Jugoslavenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 23 vols. (Zagreb: 1880-1976)

This great dictionary of the Croatian and Serbian languages is the most important publication of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts. It contains a treasury of words from the first beginnings of the two languages up to the modern era. Work on this monumental achievement of Slavic lexicography started in 1867. The first volume was published in 1880 and the last one in 1976. It contains 22,080 folio pages. The dictionary’s first editor was Ðuro Daničić, a great Serbian philologist, followed by Matija Valjavec, Petar Budmani, Tomo Maretić, Stjepan Musulin and Slavko Pavešić. The dictionary created a firm basis for philological work. It codified the Croatian and Serbian languages and was influential in the development of Croatian and Serbian literatures.


  • Bujas, Željko. Veliki englesko-hrvatski rječnik / English-Croatian dictionary (Zagreb: Globus, 1999)
  • Bujas, Željko. Veliki hrvatsko-engleski rječnik / Croatian-English dictionary (Zagreb: Globus, 1999)

Željko Bujas, 1928-1999, a Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Zagreb, compiled and defined words for his renowned Croatian-English and English-Croatian dictionaries during most of his life. These two great dictionaries represent the peak of contemporary Croatian and South Slavic lexicography.

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