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Maximum extent of the Serbian Empire within Europe and the Mediterranean Basin
Serbian Empire under Tsar Dušan, 1355 A.D.
|Capital||Skopje, later Prizren|
|-||1346–1355||Stephen Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia|
|-||1355–1371||Stephen Uroš V of Serbia|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
|-||Coronation of Stefan Uroš IV Dušan||16 April 1346|
|-||Empire collapses||4 December 1371|
|Today part of|| Serbia
Republic of Macedonia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Serbian Empire (Serbian: Српско Царство/Srpsko Carstvo, pronounced [sr̩̂pskoː tsâːrstʋo]) was a few-decades-lived medieval empire in the Balkan peninsula that emerged from the Serbian Kingdom. It was established in 1346 by King Dušan the Mighty (Stephen Uroš IV Dušan), who significantly expanded the state. He also promoted the Serbian church to a Patriarchate. His son and successor, Stephen Uroš V the Weak, lost most of the territory (hence his epithet). The Serbian Empire effectively ended with Stephen V's death in 1371 and the break-up of the Serbian state. Some of Stephen V's successors in parts of Serbia claimed the title of Emperor until 1402.
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Part of a series on the
|History of Serbia|
In 1331, Stefan Uroš IV Dušan (known as Dušan) became King of Serbia by deposing and murdering his father, Stephen Uroš III Dečanski of Serbia. By 1345, Dušan the Mighty had expanded Serbia to cover half of the Balkans - more territory than either the Byzantine Empire or the Bulgarian Empire. Therefore, in 1345, in Serres, Dušan proclaimed himself "Tsar" ("Caesar").
On 16 April 1346, in Skopje, he had himself crowned "Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks" - a title signifying a claim to succession of the Byzantine Empire. The ceremony was performed by the newly proclaimed Serbian Patriarch Joanikie II with the help of the Bulgarian Patriarch Simeon and Nicholas, Archbishop of Ohrid.
Tsar Dušan created a set of laws known as Dušan's Code, in 1349 and 1354. The Code was based on Roman-Byzantine law and the first Serbian constitution — St. Sava's Nomocanon (1219). It was a Civil and Canon law (based on the Ecumenical Councils) for the functioning of the state and church. The Serbian Empire flourished, becoming one of the most developed countries and cultures in Europe.
Tsar Dušan doubled the size of his former kingdom, seizing territories to the south, southeast and east at the expense of the Byzantine Empire. At his time, Serbia had parts of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moravian Serbia, Kosovo, Zeta, modern Macedonia, modern Albania and half of modern Greece. He did not fight a single field battle, instead winning his empire by besieging cities.
He was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V, called the Weak, a term that might also apply to the state of the empire, as it slowly slid into feudal anarchy. The combination of sudden conquest, backwards administration, and failure to consolidate his holdings led to the fragmenting of the empire. This is a period marked by the rise of a new threat: the Ottoman Turkish sultanate gradually spreading from Asia to Europe and conquering Byzantine Thrace first, and then the other Balkan states. Too incompetent to sustain the great empire created by his father, Stefan V could neither repel attacks of foreign enemies, nor combat the independence of his nobility. The Serbian Empire of Stefan Uroš fragmented into a conglomeration of principalities, some of which did not even nominally acknowledge his rule. Stefan Uroš V died childless on 4 December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been killed by the Ottoman Turks during the Battle of Maritsa. (see Ottoman Serbia 1402–1912)
Aftermath and legacy
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The crumbling Serbian Empire under Uroš the Weak was to be of little resistance to the powerful Ottomans. In light of conflicts and decentralization of the realm, the Ottomans defeated the Serbs under Vukašin at the Battle of Maritsa in 1371, making vassals of the southern governors, and soon thereafter, the Emperor died. As Uroš was childless and the nobility could not agree on the rightful heir, the Empire continued to be ruled by semi-independent provincial lords, who often were in feud with each other. The most powerful of these, Lazar, a Duke of present-day central Serbia (which had not yet come under Ottoman rule), stood against the Ottomans at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The result was indecisive, but it resulted in the subsequent fall of Serbia. Stefan Lazarević, the son of Lazar, succeeded as ruler, but had by 1394 become an Ottoman vassal. In 1402 he renounced Ottoman rule and became an Hungarian ally; the following years are characterized by power struggle of the Ottomans and Hungary over the territory of Serbia. In 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, and in 1458 Athens was taken. In 1459, Serbia was annexed, Greece as well, a year later.
With the fall of Serbia, migrations began to the north. Serbs became mercenaries in foreign armies, and fought in the irregular militias and guerrilla units of Hajduks and Uskoks within the Balkans (Habsburg Monarchy), while others joined the Hussars, Seimeni, Stratioti etc.
The east-west Roman roads carried a variety of commodities: wine, manufactures, and luxury goods from the coast; metals, cattle, timber, wool, skins and leather from the interior. This economic development made it possible for the creation of the Empire. Important roads were the ancient Roman Via Militaris, Via Egnatia, the Via de Zenta, and the Kopaonik road among others. Ragusan merchants in particular had trading privileges throughout the realm.
Srebrenica, Rudnik, Trepca, Novo Brdo, Kopaonik, Majdanpek, Brskovo and Samokov were the main centers of the mining of iron, copper and lead ores, and silver and gold placers. The silver mines provided much of the royal income, and were worked by slave-labour, managed by Saxons. A colony of Saxons worked the Novo Brdo mines and traded charcoal burners. The silver mines processed an annual 0.5 million dollars (1919 comparation). In East Serbia were mainly copper mines.
The currency used was called dinars, an alternative name was perper, derived from the Byzantine hyperpyron. The golden dinar was the largest unit; the imperial tax was one dinar coin, per house, annually.
Dušan's Code was enacted in two state congresses: in May 21, 1349 in Skopje and amended in 1354 in Serres. It regulated all social spheres, thus it is considered a medieval constitution. The Code included 201 articles. The Code was based on Roman-Byzantine law. The legal transplanting is notable with the articles 172 and 174 of Dušan's Code, which regulated juridical independence. They were taken from the Byzantine code Basilika (book VII, 1, 16-17). The Code had its roots in the first Serbian constitution — St. Sava's Nomocanon (Serbian: Zakonopravilo) from 1219, enacted by Saint Sava. This legal act was well developed. St. Sava's Nomocanon was the compilation of Civil law, based on Roman Law and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils. Its basic purpose was to organize the functions of the state and Church.
The monarch had wide autocratic powers, but was surrounded and advised by a permanent council of magnates and prelates. The court, chancellery and administration were rough copies of those of Constantinople.
Dušan's Code (1349), the constitution, named the administrative hierarchy as following: "lands, cities, župas and krajištes", the župas and krajištes were one and the same, with the župas on the borders were called krajištes (frontier). The župa consisted of villages, and their status, rights and obligations were regulated in the constitution. The ruling nobility possessed hereditary allodial estates, which were worked by dependent sebri, the equivalent of Greek paroikoi; peasants owing labour services, formally bound by decree. The earlier župan title was abolished and replaced with the Greek-derived kefalija (kephale, "head, master").
Serbian military tactics consisted of wedge shaped heavy cavalry attacks with horse archers on the flanks. Many foreign mercenaries were in the Serbian army, mostly Germans as cavalry and Spaniards as infantry. He also had personal mercenary guards, mainly German knights. A German knight named Palman became the commander of the Serbian "Alemannic Guard" in 1331 upon crossing Serbia to Jerusalem; he became leader of all mercenaries in the Serbian Army. The main strength of the Serbian army was the armoured knight feared for their ferocious charge and fighting skills.
For a list of magnates, feudal lords and officials, see Nobility of the Serbian Empire,
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