Illyrian Provinces

Illyrian Provinces
Provinces illyriennes
Autonomous province of the French Empire






Flag Coat of arms
The provinces of the French Empire in Illyria and Italy (1810)
Capital Laybach (Ljubljana)
  Treaty of Schönbrunn 1809
  Disestablished 1816
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The Illyrian Provinces (French: Provinces illyriennes) was a short-lived autonomous province of the Napoleonic French Empire, established in 1809 on the territories along the north and east coasts of the Adriatic Sea, which had been conquered in the War of the Fifth Coalition. Its capital was established at Ljubljana (Laybach). The name "Illyrian" was used to refer to ancient Illyrian tribes who once lived in the area and constitutes a Neoclassicist relabeling of the Dalmatian coast, which was known as Illyria in antiquity.


The first occupation of the Slovene Lands in the Habsburg Monarchy by the French Revolutionary Army after the Battle of Tarvis in March 1797, led by General Napoleon Bonaparte, had caused huge civil disturbances. The French troops under the command of General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte tried to calm the worried and scared population by issuing special public notices that were published also in the Slovene language. During the withdrawal of the French army, the commanding general Bonaparte and his escort made a stop in Ljubljana on April 28, 1797. Upon the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz and the Peace of Pressburg, French troops once again occupied parts of the Slovene territory. Supply of the French troops and steep war dues were a huge burden for the population of the occupied territories. The foundation of the provincial brigades in June 1808 and extensive preparations for the new war did not stop Napoleon's Grande Armée, which completely defeated the Austrian troops at the Battle of Wagram on July 6, 1809.

After the Austrian defeat, the Illyrian Provinces were created by the Treaty of Schönbrunn on 14 October 1809, when the Austrian Empire ceded the territories of western ("Upper") Carinthia with Lienz in the East Tyrol, Carniola, Gorizia and Gradisca, the Imperial Free City of Trieste, the March of Istria, and the Croatian lands southwest of the river Sava to the French Empire. These territories lying north and east of the Adriatic Sea were amalgamated with the former Venetian territories of Dalmatia and Istria, annexed by Austria in the 1797 Treaty of Campo Formio, and the former Republic of Ragusa, which all had just been adjudicated to the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy in 1805 and 1808, into the Illyrian Provinces, technically part of France.

The British Navy imposed a blockade of the Adriatic Sea, effective since the Treaty of Tilsit (July 1807), which brought merchant shipping to a standstill, a measure most seriously affecting the economy of the Dalmatian port cities. An attempt by joint French and Italian forces to seize the British-held Dalmatian island of Vis (Lissa) failed on 22 October 1810.

In August 1813, Austria declared war on France. Austrian troops led by General Franz Tomassich invaded the Illyrian Provinces. Croat troops enrolled in the French army switched sides. Zara (now called Zadar) surrendered to Austrian and British forces after a 34-day siege on 6 December 1813. At Dubrovnik an insurrection expelled the French and a provisional Ragusan administration was established, hoping for the restoration of the Republic. It was occupied by Austrian troops on 20 September 1813. The Cattaro area (now called Bay of Kotor) and its environs were occupied in 1813 by Montenegrin forces, which held it until 1814, when the appearance of an Austrian force caused the Prince of Montenegro to turn over the territory to Austrian administration on 11 June. The British withdrew from the occupied Dalmatian islands in July 1815, following the Battle of Waterloo.


The capital was established at Laybach, i.e. Ljubljana in modern Slovenia.


The area initially consisted of eleven departments, though the subdivision was never completely enacted:

Name Capital
Adelsberg Adelsberg (Postojna)
Bouches-du-Cattaro Cattaro (Kotor)
Croatie Karlstadt (Karlovac)
Dalmatie Zara (Zadar)
Fiume Fiume (Rijeka)
Gorice Gorice (Gorica)
Laybach Laybach (Ljubljana)
Neustadt Neustadt (Novo Mesto)
Raguse Raguse (Dubrovnik)
Trieste Trieste (Trst)
Willach Willach (Beljak)

In 1811 the Illyrian provinces saw an administrative reorganization, when the country was divided initially in four (Laybach, Karlstadt, Trieste, Zara), on April 15 in seven intendances. Each intendancy was further subdivided into subdélégations (districts):

Name Capital Subdélégations Former department
Willach (Villach) Willach
Laybach (Ljubljana) Adelsberg (Postojna)
Kraimbourg (Kranj)
Neustadt (Novo Mesto)
Adelsberg, Laybach, Neustadt
Croatie civile
(Civil Croatia)
Karlstadt (Karlovac)
Fiume (Rijeka)
Lussinpiccolo (Mali Lošinj)
Fiume, parts of Croatie
Croatie militaire
(Military Croatia)
Segna (Senj) parts of Croatie
Trieste Trieste
Gorice (Gorizia)
Capodistria (Koper),
Rovigno (Rovinj)
Trieste and Gorice
Zara (Zadar) Zara
Spalato (Split)
Lesina (Hvar)
Sebenico (Šibenik)
Macarsca (Makarska)
Raguse Raguse (Dubrovnik) Raguse
Cattaro (Kotor)
Curzola (Korčula)
Bouches-du-Cattaro and Raguse

Two Chambers of Commerce were established, at Trieste and at Ragusa. The ecclesiastical administration was reorganized in accordance with the new political borders; two archdioceses were established with seats at Ljubljana and Zara, with suffragan dioceses at Gorizia, Capodistria, Šibenik, Spalato and Ragusa (1811).


The French administration, headed by a Governor-General, introduced civil law (Code civil) across the provinces. The seat of the Governor-General was at Laybach. The Governors-General were:


The population (1811) was given at 460,116 for the intendancy of Ljubljana, 381,000 for the intendancy of Karlovac, 357,857 for the intendancy of Trieste and 305,285 for the intendancy of Zara, in total 1,504,258 for all of Illyria. A French decree emancipated the Jews; in effect the decree abolished a Habsburg regulation which had forbidden Jews to settle within Carniola.

Social and political arrangements

Despite the fact that not all French laws applied to the territory of the Illyrian Provinces, Illyrian offices were accountable to ministries in Paris and to the Higher Court of Paris. Inhabitants of the Illyrian Provinces had Illyrian nationality. Initially the official languages were French, Italian and German, but in 1811 Slovenian was added for the first time in history.

Among the main changes the French empire brought were the overhaul of administration, the changing of the schooling system – creating universities and making Slovene a learning language – and the usage of the Napoleonic code (the French Code Civil) and the Penal Code.

French Empire with the Illyrian Provinces in 1811

Although the French did not entirely abolish the feudal system, their rule familiarized in more detail the inhabitants of the Illyrian Provinces with the achievements of the French revolution and with contemporary bourgeois society. They introduced equality before the law, compulsory military service and a uniform tax system, and also abolished certain tax privileges, introduced modern administration, separated powers between the state and the church (the introduction of the civil wedding, keeping civil registration of births etc.), and nationalized the judiciary. The occupants made all the citizens theoretically equal under the law for the first time.

The French also founded a university ("École centrale") in 1810 (which was disbanded in 1813, when Austria regained control, but whose Basic Decree of 4 July 1810, which ordered the reorganization of the former Austrian lycees in Ljubljana and Zara into ecoles centrales, is now considered the charter of the University of Ljubljana).[1] They established the first botanic garden at the city’s edge, redesigned the streets and made vaccination of children obligatory. At Karlovac, the headquarters of the Croatian military, a special French-language military school was established in 1811.

The linguist Jernej Kopitar and the poet Valentin Vodnik succeeded in instructing the authorities at that time that the language of the inhabitants living in the present-day Slovenian part of the Illyrian Provinces was actually the Slovene language.

Although at the time of the Illyrian Provinces the educational reform did not come to life to its fullest ability, it was nevertheless of considerable social significance. The plan for reorganisation of the school system provided for education in elementary and secondary schools in the provincial Slovene language in Slovenian areas. There were 25 gymnasia in the Illyrian provinces.

Proclamations were published in the provinces' official newspaper, Official Telegraph of the Illyrian Provinces (Télégraphe officiel des Provinces Illyriennes). The newspaper was established by Marmont. In 1813, the French author Charles Nodier worked in Ljubljana as the last editor of the journal, significantly renovated it, and published it in French, Italian, and German.[2]

The “French gift” of letting the Slovene language be used at school was one of the most important reforms and it won the sympathy of members of the so-called Slovene National Awakening Movement. The Marmont's school reform introduced, in the fall of 1810, a uniform four-year primary school and an extended network of lower and upper gymnasiums and crafts schools. Valentin Vodnik, author of the poem "Illyria Arise", wrote numerous school books for primary schools and lower gymnasiums; since textbooks (and teachers) were scarce, these books made the realization of the idea of Slovene language as a teaching language possible.


Although French rule in the Illyrian Provinces was short-lived and did not enjoy the same level of popularity among people, it significantly contributed to greater national self-confidence and awareness of freedoms, especially in the Slovene lands. The opinion of Napoleon's rule and the Illyrian Provinces changed significantly at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, when liberal Slovene intellectuals began to praise the French for liberation from Austrian rule.

It could also be established today that the short period of the Illyrian Provinces was the beginning of a period of an enhanced awareness of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.


The Congress of Vienna confirmed Austria in the possession of the former Illyrian Provinces. In 1816 they were reconstituted without Dalmatia and Croatia, yet now with all of Carinthia, as a Kingdom of Illyria, which was formally abolished only in 1849, even though the civil administration of the Croatian districts had already been placed under Hungarian administration in 1822.

The memory of the French and of the Emperor Napoleon is embedded in Slovene traditions, in their folk art and folk songs. The presence of the French on Slovene territories reflects also in the surnames and house names of French origin, in frescoes, bee hive paintings and other paintings depicting French soldiers as well as in rich immovable cultural heritage (roads, bridges, fountains).

In 1929, a great national ceremony was held in Ljubljana during which a monument was erected to Napoleon and Illyria at French Revolution Square. It was filmed by Janko Ravnik.

One of the central streets in Split city centre is named after marshal Marmont, in appreciation of his enlightened rule in Dalmatia.

See also


  1. Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, 1750-1850, Tallahassee, Fla., University of Florida Press etc, 1990, vol.1, p. 604
  2. Juvan, Andreja (2003). "Charles Nodier in Ilirija" [Charles Nodier and Illyria]. Kronika: časopis za slovensko krajevno zgodovino (in Slovenian). Section for the History of Places, Union of Historical Societies of Slovenia. 51: 181. ISSN 0023-4923.


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