Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

Strategic Interactions in the Balkania Major from Dalmatia through Herzegovina and Bosnia: the Long Way to the Balkans

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


The French occupation of Dalmatia proved a shivering experience. The emperor Napoleon I put General Marmont[1] in charge of the military and civic administration of the country.

Marmont’s enlightened administrative insights and untiring efforts in Dalmatia started having her first proper roads, and an acclaimed model of western civilization.

At that time, the topographical contours were as rough-shaped as a land of wild goat-tracks; it seemed likely proper roads were definably not standing at all.

While staying in Dalmatia, French Marshal Marmont greatly advantaged himself  carrying out the building of roads which his troops were demanding for strict tactical necessity. Back to 18th Century Venetian heritage and dominance, and to the theorematic postulations of geo-strategical asset, administrative efforts – in the eastern lands of Balkania – had not worried too much about building practicable roads. True reasons of this blameful inconvenience did take source in the sphere of strategic dominance; difficult country communications did not allow the Turkish hordes entering Dalmatia; this forgetfulness did neither permit the easy progressing of the artillery pieces, nor advancing the long columns of baggages and army supplies – the impedimenta exercitus – unopposed.

Roads conditions were miserable, when not existing at all; this structural de-stabilization had a primary causal motivation: Bosnian Catholics purposely failed to maintain them, and intentionally destroied the roads to deter any offensive pushing and sudden military hostilities with the Turkish host.  The Ottoman ruler equally applied a symbiotic strategic choice: the roads were kept in disrepair limiting any contact with Christian countries; most especially avoiding the flowing of Catholic and Orthodox peasantries.

Anyhow, there were severe military motivations which had to be analyzed under compensation of military thinking and strategic evaluations. The Venetian Senatorial oligarchy relyed on its own strategic awareness.  Venetian authorities much shrewdly did not need to exercite any definite military control on inland roads; being a major maritime power, permanent advantage was gained controlling the sea and the maritime courses, and applying an unrivalled hegemonic supremacy at sea.  The fast sailing ships of the Repubblica Marciana were strong and almost uncontested.  After the occupation of the Danubian monarchy, the aptitude and the commitment turned quite different a matter.

The Austrians, on their side, had been more zealous on definite administrative plans; orders were given building a road that from Zadar – via Benkovac and Kistanje – lead to Palanka in Croatia. Another major road had been built from Palanka toward Knin, Dernis and Sibenik; the works of this last arterial road had been carried out at the expenses of the cited municipalities.

Marmont’s basic aims were shrewdly focused on a two-folded planning; first, to establish a communication between Zadar, Scardona, Sibenik, Traù and Split; second, to leave from the bridge of Zermagna (Kravii most) and from Knin, to pass through the Cetina valley and direct the better way out of the border to penetrate into Bosnia.

At the same time, it was built a road that from the valley of the Cetina River – via Imotski – debouched in Hercegovina; and another road that from the Turkish border near Livno, to Senj and Klissa, reached Split. Finally, a section of road did connect the location of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) with Stagno.

All the aforecited necessities were hastly executed; working time was inferior to six months. To have working operational necessities promptly accomplished, Marshal Marmont made effectual use of the regimental units under his authoritative command. Orders were imparted to the troops taking into account their military locations and presidial garrisons; the soldiers were thus not worn out with bivouacs and trying marches. 

Every road section was then to receive the name of the regiment which had it built; furthermore, that name, as equally those of the colonel and superior officers, were carved on stone.  Road sections which were not at hand for the proficiency of military garrisons, were built at the caring of local inhabitants, and under vigilant escorts of officiers and soldats. Marmont himself – almost with benevolent satisfaction – pointed out the gratitude which aroused from his straight dispositions, and the successful spreading of civilization among the Dalmatians; local inhabitants joked about the Austrians’ administraive efficency, and used to say: «The Austrians for eight years have done and discussed the plans of the roads without building them; Marmont is leapt on horse to order them, and when he dismounted they were built».

Beyond the Bosnian Border

On 20 April 1807 – acting on personal dispositions of the Emperor Napoleon I, and on request of General Sebastiani – Marmont hastly had military preparations for a mixed force counting 500 gunners and sappers, and sending them to Costantinople.

Because the decrees of the Ottoman sultan Selim III(1) did not exceed the numeric equivalences of 300 units, and because the pasha of Bosnia (Husrev Mahmed) wanted ultimately that this French force marched by detachments of 12 to 15 heads, military discrepancies engendered confusion and a lot of time was lost.

Finally, all the objections were overcome; on June 6th, under the commanding authority of Colonel Delort, the French detachment entered Bosnia.  The leading-head of these territories, the pasha, received the French troops with the greatest care, and the location of Travnik was reached by the detachments in excellent state. However, it happened the catastrophe of the sultan Selim[2], and Delort was countermanded back to Dalmatia by General Sebastiani; almost unexpectedly, this composite military force was obliged having the same road marched a further time.

But the hatre of the Turks against any foreigner, and the incertitute of the political system which would have kept the succesor of Selim (Mustapha IV, 29 May 1807 – 28 July 1808), made raising in Marmont growing apprehensions about the safety of his soldiers[3].

Time was gained; the French General-officer marched to the border with some troops, in order to give them tactic back up and strategic support in case insurrectional hostilities started against the expeditionary force in Bosnia. Without incurring any adversity, the French came back to Dalmatia; having the Russians taken up arms once more, and open the course of the hostilities, this force performed as a precious fighting reinforcement.

Further Reading

Marmont, Maréchal, duc de Raguse. Mémoires de 1792 à 1841. Paris, Perrotin, 1857.


[1] Marmont, Auguste-Frédéric-Louis Viesse de (born at Châtillon-sur-Seine, 20 July 1774, died in Venice, 3 March, 1852). 

1792: on leaving Châlons Artillery School, became Officer;

1793: served at Toulon; 12 November, capitaine;

1795, 29 October, fought under Desaix at Mainz;

1796, 3 February: aide de camp of Bonaparte; 1798, 10 June: Général de brigade.
1799, 25 December: for his role in the Brumaire coup d’ Etat he was made conseiller d’Etat (war section);

1805, 2 February: grand aigle of the Légion d’honneur; 30 August: commandant en chef of the 2nd corps of the Grande Armée.  

1806, 7 July: Governor General and commandant en chef of the armée of Dalmatia;

1808: drove the Russians out of Ragusa, and consequently awarded the aristocratic title of duc de Raguse (15 April, 1808);

1809: commander of the 11th Corps of the Grande Armée; 20 May: victor at Göspich; 9 July: victor at Znaïm; 12 July: Maréchal d’ Empire; October: governor of the Illyrian provinces. 
1811, 9 April: replaced Ney as commander of the 6th Corps of the armée de Portugal, under Masséna; 7 May: commandant en chef of the armée de Portugal, in place of Masséna.
1812, end of March: invaded Portugal; 3 April: took Almeida, and reached Castel-Branco; 23 April: retreated back into Spain; 18 July: victor at Tordesillas; 22 July: beaten at Arapiles, was wounded and left the army.
1813, May to October: fought at Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Leipzig, and Hanau.

1814: heavily involved in the campagne de France; fought with Moncey and Mortier on the outskirts of Paris; 30 March: capitulating at Belleville.  
1814, 4 June: went over to the Allied side with his corps; made captaine in the 6th company of Louis XVIII’s guardes de corps and pair de France.

1815, 12 March: proscribed by Napoleon; 20 March: fled with Louis XVIII to Gand at the end of the First Restoration; 10 April: removed from the list of maréchaux.
1817, 30 November: ministre d’ Etat
29 August, 1821 to 30 July, 1830: governor of the 1re division militaire in Paris.

1826, April: ambassador extraordinary at the coronation of the Tsar Nikolas I.

1830: during the July Revolution, when his troops failed to hold Paris for Charles X, he was accused of treachery.
He followed Charles X to Rambouillet, and then to England; he never returned to France.
1830-1834: he lived in Vienna.

The name of Marmont is written on the southern façade of the Arc de Triomphe de l’ Etoile.

[2] Nephew and successor of Abd al-Hamid I to the throne of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey; 7 April 1789 – 29 May 1807.

[3] A revolt of the Janissaries and conservatives who opposed his reforms led to Selim’s deposition and imprisonment in 1807; Selim was then strangled on Mustafa’s orders in 1808.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2006

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