History of Medieval Kosovo
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Тhe medieval history of Kosovo begins in the 5th century AD with the arrival of the Slavs in the Balkans, and ends with the occupation of the region by the Ottoman Empire in 1455. The area which is today Kosovo was occupied by the Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires, next by the Serbians, and finally by the Ottomans at the end of the medieval era.
Great migrations and interregnums
In the first millennium CE, Europe saw an era of great migrations. Slavs came to the territories that form modern Kosovo in the 5–7th centuries, along with migrations of White Serbs, with the largest influx of migrants in the 630s and they mixed with the local population (Illyrians, Thracians, Dacians, Romans, Celts). Serbs were Christianized in several waves between the 7th and 9th century, with the last wave taking place between 867 and 874.
The northwestern part of Kosovo became part of the Serbian Principality of Rascia, nominally under Byzantine fiefdom, with Dostinika as the principality's capital, whilst the south, although populated by Slavs, remained part of the Byzantine empire.
In the late 830s and 840s, Kosovo was seized by the Bulgarian Empire, during its expansion to the south-west under Presian. The region remained part of Bulgaria during the 10th century when numerous churches and monasteries were constructed after the Christianization of Bulgaria. However, after 50 years of constant war between the Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires, led by Samuil and Basil II, Bulgaria was fully conquered and fell under Byzantine rule once more. In 1040–1041, the Bulgarians, led by the Samuil's grandson Peter Delyan staged a rebellion against the Eastern Roman Empire that temporarily encompassed Kosovo. After the rebellion was crushed, the Byzantine control over the region continued.
In 1072, the Bulgarians, under Georgi Voiteh, pushed a final attempt to restore Imperial Bulgarian power. Prince Konstantin Bodin of the Vojislavljević dynasty, son of the Serbian King Mihailo Voislav was invited to assume power. Bodin was crowned in Prizren as Petar III, Tsar of the Bulgarians by George Voiteh and the Slavic Boyars. The Bulgarian elite, deciding to conquer the entire Byzantine region of Bulgaria, dispatched Bodin with three hundred elite Serb fighters led by Duke Petrilo. Bodin and his forces swept across Byzantine territories in months, until significant losses on the south forced them to withdraw. In 1073, the Byzantine forces chased Bodin, defeated his army at Pauni, and imprisoned him. Bodin survived to succeed his father as king of Duklja.
Incorporation into Serbia
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Serbian Grand Prince Vukan advanced on the town of Lipljan, burned it down, and raided the neighbouring areas in 1093. The Byzantine Emperor himself came to Zvečan for negotiations. Zvečan served as the Byzantine line of defence against constant invasions from the neighboring Rascians. A peace agreement was made, but Vukan broke it and defeated the army of John Comnenus, the Emperor's nephew. Vukan's armies stormed Kosovo. In 1094, Byzantine Emperor Alexius attempted to renew peace negotiations in Ulpiana. A new peace agreement was concluded and Vukan handed over hostages to the Emperor, including his two nephews Uroš and Stefan Vukan. Prince Vukan renewed the conflict in 1106, once again defeating John Comnenus's army.
In 1166, a Serbian nobleman from Zeta, Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the House of Nemanjić, ascended to the Rascian Grand Princely throne and conquered most of Kosovo in an uprising against the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. He defeated his brother, the previous Grand Prince of Rascia Tihomir, at the Battle of Pantino. Tihomir was drowned in the Sitnica river. Stefan was eventually defeated and had to return some of his conquests. He pledged to the Emperor that he would not renew hostilities, but in 1183, Stefan Nemanja embarked on a new offensive with the Hungarians after the death of Manuel I Comnenus in 1180, marking the end of Byzantine domination of Kosovo.
Nemanja's son, Stefan II, recorded that the border of the Serbian realm reached the Lab River. He conquered Prizren and Lipljan, and moved the border of territory under his control to the Šar Mountains. By 1208, all Kosovo was under Serbian control.
Kingdom of the Serbs
Pope Honorius III granted Stefan II the title of the King of Rascia in 1217. In 1219, an autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church was created, with Hvosno, Prizren and Lipljan being the Orthodox Christian Episcopates in Kosovo. By the end of the 13th century, the centre of the Serbian Orthodox Church was moved to Peć from Žiča.
In the 13th century, Kosovo became the heart of the Serbian political and religious life. The main castle was in Pauni. On an island was Svrčin, and on the coast Štimlji, and in the mountains was the Castle of Nerodimlje. After 1291, the Golden Horde advanced all the way to Peć. King Stefan Milutin managed to defeat them. He raised the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš in Prizren around 1307, which became the seat of the Prizren Bishopric. He also founded the magnificent Gračanica monastery, which was placed on UNESCO's World Heritage List on 13 July 2006. In 1321, Stefan Milutin was succeeded by his son, Stefan Dečanski.
In 1327 and 1328, Stefan Dečanski started forming the vast Dečani domain. His conquests allowed him to push the Serbian borders to the south into Byzantine Macedonia. Stefan Dečanski issued the Dechani Charter in 1330, listing every single citizen in every household under the Church Land's demesne.
King Stefan Dušan founded the vast Saint Archangels Monastery near Prizren in 1342–1352. The Kingdom was declared an Empire in 1345 and Stefan Dušan crowned Emperor in 1346. The empire stretched all the way into Greece (excluding the Peloponesus). Stefan Dušan received John VI Cantacuzenus in 1342 in his Castle in Pauni to discuss a joint war against the Byzantine Emperor. In 1346, the Serbian Archepiscopric at Peć was upgraded into a Patriarchate, but it was not recognized before 1370. The Empire slowly fell into disarray after Dušan's death in 1355. Feudal anarchy led to the fragmentation of the empire during the reign of Tsar Stefan Uroš V.
Kosovo next became a domain of the House of Mrnjavčević, as Prince Voislav Voinović expanded his demesne. The armies of King Vukašin Mrnjavčević from Pristina and his allies defeated Voislav's forces in 1369, putting a halt to his advances. After the Battle of Maritsa on 26 September 1371, in which the Mrnjavčević brothers lost their lives, Đurađ I Balšić of Zeta took Prizren and Peć in 1372. A part of Kosovo became a property of the House of Lazarević.
First Battle of Kosovo
The Ottomans under Sultan Murad I invaded on 28 June 1389, and were met by the Serbs under Lazar Hrebeljanović at Gazi Mestan, near Pristina. The epic Battle of Kosovo followed, in which Prince Lazar lost his life. Through the cunning of Miloš Obilić, Sultan Murad was also killed and his son Sultan Beyazid I ascended to the throne. Both Prince Lazar and Miloš Obilić were canonised by the Serbian Orthodox Church for their efforts in the battle. The Ottomans won the battle. The area that is now Kosovo became part of the Serbian Despotate. The local House of Branković came to prominence as the lords of Kosovo, under Vuk Branković.
Second Battle of Kosovo
Another great battle occurred between a coalition of the Kingdom of Hungary and Wallachia, against an Ottoman-led coalition under Sultan Murad II in 1448. Hungarian King John Hunyadi lost the battle after a two-day fight, but essentially stopped the Ottoman advance northwards. Kosovo then became a vassal territory of the Ottoman Empire, until its direct incorporation after the final fall of Serbia in 1455.
Both of these battles were significant in the overall resistance against the Ottoman advance through the Balkans. Had the Serbian and Hungarian-led coalition armies been victorious in either or both of the battles, it could have changed the course that Kosovo, and the entire region, took under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The First Battle of Kosovo sealed the fate of the Serbian resistance, and became a national symbol for heroism and the admirable 'fight against all odds'.
Although he lost the Second Battle of Kosovo, eventually Hunyadi was victorious in his resistance against the Ottomans in this own Kingdom of Hungary. Skanderbeg was also successful in his resistance in his home country of Albania, a cause that was lost following his death in 1468. Both of these leaders were significant (as was Wallachian leader Vlad III Dracula) in that their resistance gave Austria and Italy greater time to prepare for the Ottoman advance.
- John V.A. Fine Jr., The Early Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1983.
- Sedlar, Jean W., East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000–1500, (University of Washington Press, 1996), 53.