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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Wine or Raki - The Interplay of Climate and Society in Early Modern Ottoman Bosnia

Jelena Mrgić

Environment and History 17 (2011): 613-637. doi: 10.3197/096734011X13150366551652

Variations in the agricultural production of cereals and grapes observed in sixteenth century Ottoman tax registers of Northern Bosnia could be ascribed to changes provoked, among other causes, by climatic variability during the early phase of the ‘Little Ice Age’ (ca 1550-1650). Comparative analysis with other well-studied European regions is conducted within the general frame of the socio-cultural context of climate and other impacts on a pre-industrial society. Secondly, a significant cultural change is evaluated: the beginning of raki (brandy or Brandtwein) production and consumption in the Central Balkans. This change is first recorded in Bosnia and Serbia in the late sixteenth century, at the same time as wine-growing began to diminish, and by the nineteenth century raki had replaced the popular consumption of wine. The results of the historical analysis show which adaptive strategies farmers in Ottoman Bosnia applied as they faced the challenges of climate deterioration and harvest failures, as well as those of war, famine and epidemics. The survival strategies included crop pattern changes, abandonment of viticulture, intensification of pig rearing and itinerant trade and population migrations, which all correspond well to the situation observed in other European states and the Ottoman Empire. The study aims to increase the historical knowledge of a marginalised region whose environmental history has not yet been brought under closer investigation.

KEYWORDS: Climate impact, pre-industrial society, Ottoman Bosnia, wine, brandy

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