Jovan Cvijić

Jovan Cvijić (Serbian Cyrillic: Јован Цвијић, pronounced [jɔ̌ʋan tsʋǐːjitɕ]; 12 October 1865 – 16 January 1927) was a Serbian geographer and ethnologist, president of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences and rector of the University of Belgrade. Cvijić is considered the founder of geography in Serbia. He began his scientific career as a geographer and geologist, and continued his activity as a human geographer and sociologist.

Early life and family

Cvijić was born on 11 October [O.S. 29 September] 1865 in Loznica in the westernmost part of Principality of Serbia. His family was part of the Spasojević branch of the Piva tribe (Pivljani) in Old Herzegovina (currently Montenegro). Cvijić's father, Todor, was a merchant; his grandfather, Živko, was head of Loznica and a supporter of the House of Obrenović in Mačva. Živko fought in the 1844 Katana Uprising against the Defenders of the Constitution, and died after torture.

Cvijić's great-grandfather, Cvijo Spasojević, patriarch of the Cvijić family, was a well-known hajduk leader in Old Herzegovina and fought the Ottoman Empire in the First Serbian Uprising. After its failure in 1813 he moved to Loznica, built a house and opened a store.

His father, Todor (d. 1900) was a trader before accepting a clerkship in the municipality. Cvijić's mother, Marija (born Avramović), was from a family in the village of Koremita in the Jadar region (near Tronoša and Tršić, the birthplace of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić). Todor and Marija had two sons, Živko and Jovan, and three daughters. Cvijić often said that in his childhood his spiritual education was primarily influenced by his mother and her family; he said less about his father and his father's family. However, in his works on ethnic psychology Cvijić praised the Dinaric race of his father.


Old photograph of mustachioed young man
Cvijić as a young man

After completing elementary school Cvijić attended grammar school in Loznica for two years, in Šabac for his third and fourth years, and graduated from the First Belgrade Gymnasium's department of natural sciences and mathematics in 1884. After graduation, he wanted to study medicine, but Loznica could not provide him a scholarship to study abroad. A grammar-school teacher suggested that he attend geography classes at the Velika skola in Belgrade (now the University of Belgrade). Cvijić took his advice, enrolling in the natural sciences department and graduating in 1889. Cvijić studied in several languages; in grammar school, he studied English, German and French, which was helpful at university (which had little work translated into Serbian), and wrote his scientific and other papers in those three languages.

During the 1888–89 school year Cvijić was a geography teacher at the Second Male Grammar School in Belgrade, and in 1889 enrolled to study physical geography and geology at Vienna University. At that time geomorphology was taught by Albrecht Penck, geotectonics by Professor Suess (president of the Austrian Academy) and climatology by Julius von Hann.

House of Jovan Cvijić in Belgrade, street view

Cvijić received his PhD from Vienna University in 1893. His thesis was Das Karstphänomen, introducing him to the scientific world, and was later translated into several languages (into Serbian as Karst in 1895).


In 1911, Cvijić married Ljubica Nikolić, a widow from Belgrade, née Krstić (1879–1941).


Cvijić did his first (and most important) field research in eastern Serbia, observing the structure of the Kučaj mountains and Prekonoska Cave in his PhD thesis (accepted in Vienna on 22 January 1893).

Old, multicolored map of southeastern Europe
Ethnographic map of the Balkans, co-authored by Cvijić

He was interested in geology and geomorphology. Cvijić's monograph on lime karst was well received in European scientific circles, and an introductory academic lecture established him as the first South Slavic tectonicist. The Serbian lime fields had been studied only peripherally by Otto von Pirch (1830), Ami Boué (1840), Felix Philipp Kanitz, Milan Milićević, Jovan Žujović and Vladimir Karić before him. Cvijić studied Midžor and Rila in the Balkan Mountains, recognizing the glacial origin of 102 mountain lakes. It was previously unknown that the region was influenced by the last glacial period, and Cvijić's discovery was a turning point in the study of regional dispersion.

Cvijić conducted a pioneering human-geographical survey in "Balkan Peninsula 1918", 1922–I, 1931–II, based on his research of Balkan personality types. He researched for 38 years, leading expeditions in the Balkans, the southern Carpathian Mountains and Anatolia which produced a number of research papers. Cvijić's two-volume Geomorphology is an important starting point for research into the Balkan peninsula.

Karst geomorphology

When studying under Albrecht Penck's tutelage he was encouraged to focus on the study of karst phenomena in the northern Dinaric Alps which was a region Penck was already acknowledged with. His first major work was Das Karstphänomen published in 1893. This work was a publication of the key points of his doctoral thesis. Das Karstphänomen was published as a slightly modified translation in Serbo-Croat in 1895. This work describes landforms such as karren, dolines and poljes. In a 1918 publication, Cvijić proposed a cyclical model for karstic landscape development. The results of this work written in French were made accessible to English-language scientists in 1921 when it was commented by E.M. Sanders. Differences in climate and geology were used by Cvijić to explain various shapes and types of karst landforms, sometimes incorrectly. Nevertheless, his views on the role of climate on the development of karst were more accurate than those of various climatic geomorphologists that succeeded him and who greatly exaggerated the role of climate.

It has been attributed to Cvijić that the term karst prevailed over Edouard Martel's proposed term "Le Causse". Another terminology usage indebted to Cvijić is that of doline, a term he introduced, and that overlaps with that of sinkhole. Eventually, Cvijić emerged as the "father of karst geomorphology".

Human geography

Portrait of Cvijić by Uroš Predić

In his human-geographical research, Cvijić studied migrations, village and town habitat, types of housing and the culture of populations in regions influenced by a variety of civilizations, psychological types, folklore and dress. He traveled during difficult social and political times, exposing himself to unpleasant and life-threatening situations (especially in countries under Ottoman and Austrian rule before World War I). During these trips Cvijić became acquainted with the living conditions of the Balkan population, leading to his interest in ethnographic and psycho-social issues; he noted how little he had known about the difficulty of life in Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia until 1896–1898. Until then, he later said, he had little of the interest in folklore, ethnology and national politics he later developed. Cvijić organized a number of research expeditions to dangerous, unexplored regions.

In 1896 Cvijić published "Instructions for studying villages in Serbia and other Serbian lands", which was later revised to apply to other Balkan regions. In Serbia, interest developed in folkloric research; this encouraged the first systematically-gathered data in ethnology. The research was conducted by Cvijić's students and colleagues and interested laypeople (primarily village teachers and priests), constituting a large, unified scientific effort.

Cvijić's thesis on the effects of climate and geography on human life is the basis of his approach to human geography, where he emphasizes that humankind is ecologically sensitive. When classifying anthropological types Cvijić considered social structure (work, endogamy, exogamy and migration) the primary factor, stressing the effects of the physical environment on a population's psyche. His basic concepts are presented in the 1902 Balkan-peninsula paper, "Human-geography problems". Influenced by Cvijić's paper, Milorad Dragić (a former student) elaborated on psychological anthropological research in his 1911 paper "Instructions for studying settlements and psychological characteristics" (after which Cvijić expanded his thesis on "The Balkan peninsula and South Slavic lands" in Serbian).

Cvijić introduced the term 'metanastasic movements', which referred to slow, gradual, a place-to-place human movement. He and his students took wide exploration of this phenomenon, eventually establishing the Serbian ethnological-historic school which gathered ethnological material from all around the Balkan peninsula and encompassed exploration of written sources.

The sparking of interest in human-geographical and ethnographical research was one of the greatest achievements of Cvijić's scientific career. His efforts and research helped him gather crucial data, which he used during negotiations on the state borders of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia after World War I.

Influence on Yugoslav state borders

After World War I Cvijić helped determine the state borders of the new Yugoslav state, using his research in demography and human geography in the negotiations; his data was used in determining the ethnic expansion of the South Slavs.

French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache invited Cvijić to Paris on behalf of the University of Paris twice (in 1917 and at the beginning of 1919), where he lectured on Balkan physical and political geography. At the end of 1918, the Serbian government named him their chief expert on ethnographic borders; in 1919, he was elected president of a unit dealing with territorial issues as part of the state delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. Here, with Mihajlo Pupin (another influential scientist), Cvijić's efforts in creating ethnographic charts of the Yugoslav countries in 1918–1919 helped determine the borders of a new country: the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. It was agreed that the new country should incorporate Banat, Bačka, Baranya and Carniola as well as the Bled triangle (Bled, Bohinj and Triglav).


After Cvijić's return from Vienna in March 1893 he became a professor in the Faculty of Philosophy of the Velika Skola in Belgrade, teaching geography, physical geography and ethnography. Traveling as a student and a professor throughout the Balkans later in life, he developed an interest in folklore and culture and organized ethnographical research in the department of geography.

After the Velika Skola became the University of Belgrade on 12 October 1905, Cvijić was one of eight tenured professors; the others were Jovan Žujović, Sima Lozanić, Mihailo Petrović Alas, Andra Stevanović, Dragoljub Pavlović, Milić Radovanović and Ljubomir Jovanović, and they chose other colleagues for tenured positions.

Cvijić played an active role in reforming the school, helping found an ethnography department whose first professor was his oldest student and assistant, Jovan Erdeljanović (followed by Tihomir Đorđević); Cvijić remained in the geography department. He was influential in establishing five new faculties: medicine, agriculture and theology in Belgrade, philosophy in Skopje and the Subotica Law School.


Critique of education

Cvijić thought that the grammar-school education of that era should last seven years, instead of eight, and felt that young men should be included early in adult life and independent work.

He published detailed instructions for conducting field research into populations and habitats to help his colleagues, including the 1907 article "On scientific research and our University".

Territorial expansion

Cvijić' s scientific impartiality has been criticized for his support of Serbia's political advancement; his geographic work was used to scientifically justify politics of territorial expansion and further territorial claims.

According to Cvijić, Bulgarians were "different from the other South Slavs in their ethnic composition". He described as Slav three ethnographic groups previously considered Bulgarians: the Macedonian Slavs, the Shopi and the Torlaks. Cvijić excluded the region around Sofia (Bulgaria's capital) from the Bulgarian group, maintained that the aforementioned groups were Slavic (and therefore Serbian). He believed that Serbia could govern a much larger area than the territory it held.


With a group of geographers and biologists, Cvijić founded the Serbian Geographic Society in Belgrade in 1910 and was its president until his death. In 1912 he began a magazine, the Serbian Geographic Society Herald, which is still published. Cvijić conducted weekly seminars for science students, which were also attended by teachers from Belgrade grammar schools. He founded the Faculty of Philosophy's Geographical Institute in 1923 (the first such organization in the Balkans), managing it until his death.

Statue of Cvijić in Belgrade
Cvijić's grave

In 1947, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts founded the Jovan Cvijić Geographical Institute in Belgrade to advance the science of geography. On 21–22 November 2002, the Academy hosted a meeting on "the socio-political work of Jovan Cvijić".

The Jovan Cvijić's house is housed in his family's house in Belgrade at 5 Jelena Ćetković Street. Since 1996, the house (built in 1905) has been declared a cultural monument by the state and was decorated by Dragutin Inkiostri Medenjak; Cvijić favored a decorative style based on Balkan folklore. The museum features manuscripts, letters, notes, books, paintings, geographical charts, atlases and personal items, and occasional lectures are presented.

In Serbia, a number of schools and streets are named after Cvijić and he is still considered the most important Serbian geographer. His work has been continued by his students, six of whom later became members of the Serbian Academy (including Pavle Vujević, Borivoje Z. Milojević and Milisav Lutovac). The scientist's life and work were researched by geographer Milorad Vasović for his 454-page book, Jovan Cvijić: Scientist, Public Worker, Statesman (1994).

Academic honors

Internation medals awarded to Cvijić

Cvijić received a number of awards. He belonged to 30 scientific societies (academies, geographical and natural societies), receiving ten decorations. Cvijić received a gold medal for his work in 1924 from the New York Geographical Society and medals from England and France. Two varieties of saffron were named after him.

Cvijić was awarded:

Cvijić was named:


In more than 30 years of scientific study, Cvijić published many works. One of the best-known is The Balkan Peninsula. Other publications include:

  • Ka poznavanju krša istočne Srbije, 1889.
  • Prekonoška pećina, 1891.
  • Geografska ispitivanja u oblasti Kučaja, 1893.
  • Das Karstphänomen, Geographiche Abhandlungen, Wien, 1893.
  • Karst, geografska monografija, Belgrade 1895.
  • Pećine i podzemna hidrografija u istočnoj Srbiji, 1895.
  • Izvori, tresave i vodopadi u istočnoj Srbiji, 1896.
  • Tragovi starih glečera na Rili, 1897.
  • Glacijalne i morfološke studije o planinama Bosne, Hercegovine i Crne Gore, 1899.
  • Karsna polja zapadne Bosne i Hercegovine, 1900.
  • Struktura i podela planina Balkanskog poluostrva, 1902.
  • Antropogeografski problemi Balkanskog poluostrva, 1902.
  • Novi rezultati o glacijalnoj eposi Balkanskog poluostrva, 1903.
  • Balkanska, alpijska i karpatska glacijacija, 1903.
  • "Die Tektonik der Balkanhalbinsel mit besonderer Berückichtigung der neueren Fortschritte in der Kenntnis der Geologie von *Bulgarien, Serbien und Mazedonien". C.R. IX. Cong. géol. intern. de Vienne. Wien: Hollinek Fréres. 1904. pp. 348–370. Retrieved 21 May 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  • Nekolika posmatranja o etnografiji makedonskih Slovena, 1906.
  • Osnove za geografiju i geologiju Makedonije i Stare Srbije, 1, 1906; 2, 1906; 3, 1911.
  • Grundlinien der Geographie und Geologie von Mazedonien und Alt-Serbien. Nebst Beobachtungen in Thrazien, Thessalien, Epirus und *Nordalbanien, 1908.
  • Jezerska plastika Šumadije, 1909.
  • L'anexion de la Bosnie et la question Serbe, Paris, 1909.
  • Dinarski Srbi, 1912.
  • Izlazak Srbije na Jadransko More, 1912.
  • Raspored Balkanskih naroda, 1913.
  • Ledeno doba u Prokletijama i okolnim planinama, 1913.
  • Jedinstvo i psihički tipovi dinarskih južnih Slavena, 1914.
  • Mouvements metanastasiques dans la Peninsule Balkanique, La Monde Slave, 1917.
  • Hydrographie souterraine et évolution morphologique du Karst, 1918.
  • La Peninsule Balkanique, Geographie Humaine, 1918.
  • Etnogeografske karte jugoslovenskih zemalja, 1918.
  • Severna granica južnih Slavena (La frontiere septentrionale des Jugoslaves), 1919.
  • Đerdapske terase, 1922.
  • Balkansko poluostrvo i južnoslovenske zemlje, 1922.
  • Metanastazička kretanja, njihov uzrok i posledice, 1922.
  • Geomorfologija I-II, 1924. and 1926.
  • Karst i čovek, 1925.
  • Karst i srpske narodne pripovetke, 1925.
  • Seobe i etnički procesi u našem narodu, 1927.
  • Balkansko poluostrvo i južnoslavenske zemlje, 1931.

See also



  • Džaja, Srećko M. (1999). Konfesionalnost i nacionalnost Bosne i Hercegovine (in Croatian). Mostar: Ziral. ISBN 9536364212.
  • Radojević, Mira (2015). "Jovan Cvijić in social and political life of the Serbian and Yugoslav States". Jovan Cvijić: Life, work, times. Belgrade: Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. pp. 79–95. ISBN 9788670256781.

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article Jovan Cvijić, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.