Stefan Nemanja

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Stefan Nemanja
The fresco of Saint Simeon (Stefan Nemanja), King's Church in Studenica monastery
Grand Prince of Serbia
Reign 1166–1196
Coronation 1166
Predecessor Stefan Tihomir
Successor Stefan II Nemanjić
Spouse Anastasia of Serbia
Issue Vukan Nemanjić of Serbia
Stefan II Nemanjić
Saint Sava
Posthumous name
Simeon the Myrrh-streaming
Dynasty Nemanjić
Father Zavida
Born 1113/4
Died February 13, 1200(1200-02-13)
Monastery of Hilandar
Burial Studenica monastery
Religion Eastern Orthodox
Signature Seal of Nemanja

Stefan Nemanja (Serbian: Стефан Немања, pronounced [stêfaːn ně̞maɲa]; ca 1113 – 13 February 1200) was the Grand Prince (Veliki Župan) of the Serbian Grand Principality (also known as Rascia) from 1166 to 1196. He was an heir of the Vukanović dynasty and was the founder of the Nemanjić dynasty. He issued the "Hilandar Charter" for the newly founded monastery at Mount Athos.

He is remembered for his contributions to Serbian culture and history, being the founder of the powerful Serbian state that would evolve into the Serbian Empire, and the national church. He was the father of Stefan Nemanjić, the first King of Serbia, and of Saint Sava, the first archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In 1196, he abdicated in favour of his son Stefan, and went to Mount Athos, where he became a monk and took the name of Simeon. Together with his son Sava, Simeon built the Hilandar Monastery from 1198-1199. The monastery later became the cradle of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

After his death, Stefan Nemanja was canonized by the Serbian Orthodox Church under the name Saint Simeon the Myrrh-streaming (Свети Симеон Мироточиви) after numerous alleged miracles following his death. He is regarded the most remarkable Serb for his literary contributions and altruistic attributes, according to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.[1]


Stefan Nemanja
St Simeon the Myrrh-streaming
Honored in
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized 1200 by Serbian Orthodox Church
Feast 26 February [O.S. 13 February]

Nemanja was born around the year 1113 AD in Ribnica, Zeta (in the vicinity of present day Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro). He was the youngest son of Zavida, a Prince of Zahumlje, who after a conflict with his brothers was sent to Ribnica where he had the title of Lord. Zavida (Beli Uroš) was most probably a son of Uroš I or Vukan. As western Zeta was under Roman Catholic jurisdiction, Nemanja received a Catholic baptism.[2]

Church of Peter on a hill of Stari Ras, the capital of Rascia (Serbia)

After the defeat of Nemanja's kinsmen Đorđe of Duklja and Desa Urošević and the exodus of that branch of the Vojislavljević family by the Byzantines, Zavida and his family went to the hereditary family estates of Rascia. Upon his arrival in Ras, the capital of Rascia, Nemanja was re-baptised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, in the Church of St. Apostles Peter and Paul which was an episcopal see.


When he reached adulthood, Nemanja became "Prince (Župan) of Ibar, Toplica, Rasina and Reke" after receiving the česti (parts of the state) by Manuel I. Manuel had appointed the first-born Tihomir as the supreme Grand Prince of the Serb lands, Stracimir ruled West Morava, Miroslav ruled Zahumlje and Travunia.[3]

In 1163, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos installed Nemanja's older brother Tihomir as Grand Župan of Rascia in Desa's place, which disappointed Nemanja greatly, as he expected that he would get the throne. Nemanja met Emperor Manuel in Niš in 1162, who gave him the region of Dubočica to rule over and declared him independent. The Emperor gave him a Byzantine court title as it was important for the Emperor to have the borderlands of the Empire ruled by loyal leaders. Nemanja's Serb squadrons fought in the Imperial Army in 1164 in Srem during the wars against the Kingdom of Hungary. Nemanja ruled independently, as he built the Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Kuršumlija and the Monastery of the Holy Mother of Christ near Kosanica-Toplica, without the approval of his older brother, the Grand Župan of Rascia. His brothers invited him to a council at Ras, supposedly to resolve the situation, but instead they imprisoned him and held him in a nearby cave. The lands of Nemanja were seized but Nemanja's supporters conspired to the church that Tihomir had done all this because of a disapproval of church building and thus became targeted by the clergy, something that would help Nemanja greatly.[4] According to a myth, Saint George himself freed him from the cave.[5]

Between 1166 and 1168, Prince Nemanja rebelled against his older brother, the Grand Župan of Rascia, deposed him and exiled him with his brothers, Miroslav and Stracimir.[where?] The Byzantine Emperor raised a mercenary army for Tihomir, made up of Greeks, Francs and Turks, which was defeated by Nemanja at the Battle of Pantino, south of Zvečan. Tihomir drowned in the river of Sitnica, and the other brothers surrendered to Nemanja, continuing to rule their previous lands.[3] Nemanja assumed the title of Grand Župan of all Serbia , and took the first name Stefan (from Greek Stephanos meaning "crowned").

Nemanja married a Serbian noblewoman, Ana, with whom he had three sons: Vukan, Stefan and Rastko.

Grand Prince[edit]

Đurđevi Stupovi monastery, founded by Stefan Nemanja
Ruins of Ras Fortress a capital of Grand Župan of Stafan Nemanja.

Stefan Nemanja built the church of Đurđevi Stupovi (Pillars of St. George) in Ras in 1171. According to the legend, this was to thank Saint George for freeing him from the cave in which he was imprisoned by his brothers. The same year, Nemanja had his third son - Rastko. Nemanja attributed his rise to power to none other than Saint George.

In 1171, Grand Župan Stefan Nemanja sided with the Venetian Republic in a dispute with the Byzantine Empire, with the aim of gaining full independence from Byzantine rule. The Venetians incited the Slavs of the eastern Adriatic littoral to rebel against Byzantine rule and Nemanja wished to join them, launching an offensive towards the coastal city of Kotor. A German fleet was formed to replace the Venetian navy, and it advanced eastwards in the September 1171, capturing Ragusa. Nemanja was ready to make a full-scale rebellion. Nemanja also made an alliance with the Kingdom of Hungary, and, though the Hungarians, with the Duchy of Austria. Grand Prince Nemanja dispatched a force to the Morava valley in 1172, to jeopardise communications and the traffic between Niš and Belgrade and to instigate a rebellion amongst the local Serbs at Ravno. As a result, the Serb citizens of Ravno refused to allow passage to the King of Saxony Heinrich the Lion. The Serbs organised a surprise attack on the German camp; they then attacked their own neighbours and disturbed the peace in the local region. In 1172, Nemanja joined the anti-Byzantine coalition with the Kingdom of Hungary, the Venetian Republic and the Holy Roman Empire. The alliance, however, soon collapsed as Venice faced a mutiny and an outbreak of plague that devastated her navy, while the King of Hungary died and a new, pro-Byzantine, King ascended the throne, so the Rascian Grand Prince was left alone. The same year the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos launched an expedition against Rascia and defeated Nemanja's forces, so the Grand Župan met him in Niš to surrender. He came to the Emperor with his head and feet bare, bowed before him and gave him his own personal sword as a mark of surrender. Emperor Manuel had him imprisoned and brought him to the Imperial Capital of Constantinople as a personal slave. In the Byzantine Empire's capital, Nemanja was tutored by and befriended Manuel. Nemanja vowed to never again attack Manuel, while the Emperor in return recognized Stefan Nemanja and his bloodline as the rightful Grand Župans of the Rascian lands. William, archbishop of Tyre, who visited Constantinople in 1179, described the "rebellious Serbs" as "an uneducated people, lacking discipline, living in mountains and forests, unskilled in agriculture. They are rich in herds and flocks and unusually well supplied with milk, cheese, butter, meat, honey and wax".[6]

Maps of Stefan Nemanja's Serbia
1183-1196Serbia 1183-1196.png
Council against Bogomilism, organized by Stefan. Fresco from 1290

Nemanja used the following decade to deal with the Bogomil heresy that was present in his realm, as well as strengthening Eastern Orthodox Christianity. He declared the Bogomils heretics and punished them because of their religious beliefs, burning their books. He had their lands confiscated, burned some at the stake, and exiled others. By the end of his reign, Stefan Nemanja had completely rooted out the Bogomils. Stefan Nemanja forced his brothers, Stracimir of West Moravia and Miroslav of Zachlumia and Lim to accept his supreme rule in return for his forgiveness; he also made Tihomir's son Stefan Prvoslav give up his claim to the throne. His army was involved only in a single conflict at the request of his Byzantine liege; in Asia Minor. In the meantime, Prince Stracimir built the Monastery of the Mother of Christ in his capital at Moravian Grac (today Čačak), while Great Prince Miroslav raised the Monastery of Saint Peter on Lim. Miroslav also married the sister of Kulin Ban of Bosnia, creating an important bloodline link between the ruling dynasties of Serbia and Bosnia.

Death of the Emperor[edit]

Following the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, Stefan Nemanja no longer considered he owed any allegiance to the Byzantines since he viewed his vows as being to the Emperor, not the Empire, so he took advantage of the Empire's weakened state. Prince Miroslav put under his protection the Narentine Kačić family, the pirates that had robbed and murdered Rainer (Arnerius), the archbishop of Split. The pope complained to Miroslav, demanding death to the perpetrators and giving back the sum taken. Miroslav refused, and expelled the Bishop of Ston. Because of this, Miroslav was excommunicated by the Papacy, but he was not troubled by this, and replaced the vacant church buildings in the vicinity of Ston.[5]

In 1183, Stefan Nemanja formed alliances with King Bela III of Hungary and invaded Byzantine soil. The main reason was the new usurper to the Imperial throne, Andronicus Comnenus, who was not recognized; as well as the Massacre of the Latins in Constantinople. Nemanja was also assisted by his relative, Kulin Ban of Bosnia. The Byzantine forces in the eastern Serb borderlands were led by Alexios Branas and Andronicus Lapardas[citation needed]. Inner fights occurred, as Brannes supported the new Emperor and Lapardas, opposing, deserted with his troops. Without difficulties the Hungaro-Serbian military pushed the Greeks out of the Valley of Morava, advanced all the way to Sofia, raiding Belgrade, Braničevo, Ravno, Niš and Sophia itself. But the Hungarians soon withdrew from the war, leaving Nemanja's forces raiding across western Bulgaria.

In 1184, the Great Prince of Zahumlje Miroslav went to retake the islands of Korčula and Vis. On 18 August 1184, Miroslav's fleet was devastated by the Ragusian navy at Poljice near Koločep, and signed peace with the Republic of Ragusa. He channelled the order to his brother, Prince Stracimir. In 1185, Prince Stracimir raided Korčula and Vis with the Doclean fleet. He joined the war against the Republic of Ragusa, but was forced to withdraw because Miroslav already made peace by the time Stracimir marshaled his forces. The same year the Byzantines launched a counter-attack on Serbia, but a Bulgarian uprising was raised in the Danubian areas which made the offensive get called-off, so Stefan Nemanja utilized the situation and conquered the Timok Frontier with Niš and sacked Svrljig, Ravno and Koželj. While Stefan Nemanja held Niš, it served as his capital and base of operations.

Third Crusade[edit]

Meeting with Barbarossa in 1189.

In 1188 Stefan Nemanja sent an envoy to Nuremberg, Friedrich Barbarossa's Capital of the Holy Roman Empire, inviting him to stay during while Crusading to the Holy Land with Count Berthold Andechs of Istria's Krain who was at the same time Duke of Croatia and Slavonia. The Holy Roman Emperor disembarked on the Third Crusade and arrived on 27 July 1189 to Niš with 100,000 Crusaders, where Stefan Nemanja and Stracimir accepted and guested Emperor Friedrich. A marriage was arranged between Barthold Andex's daughter and Miroslav's son Toljen to strengthen Serbian-German relations. Nemanja's proposals to Barbarossa that he should abandon the Holy War and strike at the Byzantines with him met little approval. Friedrich needed Byzantine help to move his military might to Asia. Friedrich's plans changed when a Byzantine force stopped him from reaching his next stop - Sophia. The Greeks also started raiding his Army, which infuriated the Emperor so much that he planned an offensive to Constantinople itself. Stefan Nemanja offered 20,000 men to support the Emperor's military campaign, while the Bulgarians offered more than twice that amount. Despite being in his early 70s, Stefan Nemanja followed the Crusaders with his Army to the border at Gate of Trajan, when he moved to new conquests and dispatched envoys to Adrianopolis to officialize the Alliance with Emperor Friedrich. While his envoys were negotiating with Berthold Andex, who was negoatiating in Friedrich's place, Nemanja took Pernik, Zemen, Velbužd, Žitomisk, Stobi, Prizren and rest of Kosovo and Metohija and even Skopje. The alliance with the Crusaders was not forged, because Friedrich signed peace with the Byzantines on 14 February 1190 in Adrianopolis.

Conflict with Byzantines and successions[edit]

Donor's portrait of Stefan Nemanja, fresco in the Virgin's Church of the Studenica Monastery

In 1190, the new Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus prepared a massive and experienced Army to strike against Nemanja. The same year, Stefan Nemanja finished his magnificent Virgin's Church in the Studenica monastery out of the White Marble as his dynasty's endowment. It became the Temple of the Nemanjić dynasty. Also in 1190 Prince Miroslav died of old age, so Stefan Nemanja implaced his own son Rastko as the new Prince of Zahumlje in Ston, who induced the religious spirit of the populace greatly.

In fall of 1191, this well-prepared Byzantine Army, led by the Emperor himself, clashed with Nemanja and his forces in South Moravia. Stefan Nemanja suffered a terrifying defeat, which made him retreat to the mountains. The Byzantines raided all lands around the bank of the river and even burned down Stefan's Court in Kuršumlija. Nemanja had the tactical advantage and began raiding the Byzantine armies, so Emperor Isaac decided to negotiate a final peace treaty. Stefan Nemanja had to give up a large part of his conquests, east of the river of Velika Morava and recognize the Byzantine Emperor's supreme rule, while the Emperor recognized him as the rightful Grand Župan. To signify the final peace, Nemanja's son Stefan married the Byzantine Princess Eudokia Angelina and received the title of Sebastokrator - among the highest Byzantine Courtier titles, only given to the Emperor's family members. The Emperor only wanted to separate the Serbs from the Bulgarians, so he kept Niš and Ravno; while the Greek Lands of Zeta, Kosovo with Lipljan, Metohija to Prizren and the Arbanass Pilot were kept by Stefan Nemanja.

In 1192 Rastko fled his Monastery in Ston to Mount Athos in the Byzantine Empire where he accepted monastic vows and asserted the name Sava. This greatly saddened Nemanja. In Rastko's place, Miroslav's son Toljen became Prince of Zahumlje and founded a local dynasty. Rascia was in danger once more as Nemanja's former ally, King Bela of Hungary invaded his realm from the north. Nemanja's quick military activities pushed the Hungarians across the border northwards in 1193.

In 1195, Stefan Nemanja's brother-in-law Alexius III inherited the Eastern Roman Imperial throne. Nemanja, tired of ruling, expanded the power and lands of his son Vukan. He put Zeta with Trebinje, Hvosno and his capital of Toplica under Vukan's absolute rule.

Abdication, later life and death[edit]

Saint Symeon (Stefan Nemanja), fresco from Bogorodica Ljeviška church in Prizren (1307—1309)
Scanned copy of Monk Simeon's edict to Hilandar from 1198-1199, from the Dubrovnik Archive

On March 25, 1196, Stefan Nemanja summoned a Council in Ras, where he officially abdicated in favour of his second son, Stefan, to whom he bequeathed all his earthly possessions. Although Vukan was Nemanja's eldest son, Nemanja preferred to see Stefan II on the Serbian throne mostly because Stefan was married to Byzantine princess Eudokia. This decision was not in accordance with the traditional right of primogeniture, according to which Vukan, his first son, should inherited the throne. This was not accepted lightly by Vukan as he reacted on this change in succession by declaring himself King of Duklja. Nemanja took monastic vows with his wife Ana in the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Ras and adopted the monastic name of Simeon. His wife took the name Anastasia. Simeon subsequently retired to his Studenica monastery and Anastasia retired to the Monastery of the Mother of Christ in Kuršumlija. After numerous pleas by his son Sava (originally Rastko), Simeon left to the Mount Athos, and joined his son in 1197 in the Vatopedi monastery. In 1199, the two rebuilt together the ruined Eastern Orthodox Monastery of Hilandar given to the Serbian people by the Byzantine Emperor, which became the heart of Serbian spiritual culture. Simeon died in front of his son Sava, on 13 February 1200, in front of the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria in his 86th year of life. He was buried in the grounds of Hilandar monastery. His last words were to request that Sava take his remains to Serbia, "when God permits it, after a certain period of time". Nemanja's son Sava wrote the Liturgy of Saint Simeon in Nemanja's honour.

According to a belief, a holy oil (myrrh) seeped from his tomb. This is how he gained the epithet the Myrrh-streaming. This miracle is said to have not occurred in the past 300 years. His body is, however, even in modern times supposed to give off "a sweet smell, like violets".[7] It is because of this and numerous miracles that occurred over his dead body that the Serbian Orthodox Church canonised him in 1200, and declared his feast-day on 26 February [O.S. 13 February]. In 1206 his son Sava brought his remains to Rascia. The civil war between Nemanja's other sons Stefan and Vukan was tearing apart the Serb lands. It is over Simeon's deceased body that the two brothers made peace and returned to their demesnes. Simeon was re-buried in 1207 in his personal foundation, the Studenica monastery, where holy oil again seeped, from his new grave. The cult of Saint Simeon that was founded maintained his heritage and the foundations of a firm national identity amongst the Serbs. The Cult still lives on in Studenica and among the monks of Mount Athos, cherishing his life, works and remains.

Name and title[edit]

Shield of Nemanja, symbol of Serbia

Various names have been used to refer to Stefan Nemanja, including Stefan I and the Latin Stephanus Nemanja. Sometimes the spelling of his name is anglicised, to become Stephen Nemanya. In the latter part of his life, he became a monk and hence was referred to as Monk Simeon or Monk Symeon. After his death, he was canonised by the Orthodox Church, and became St. Symeon the Myrrh-streaming. His son and successor, Stefan the First-Crowned, called him The Gatherer of the Lost Pieces of the Land of his Grandfathers, and also their Rebuilder. His other son Sava, called him Our Lord and Autocrat, and ruler of the whole Serbian land.[8]


Nemanja was married to a Serb noblewoman by the name of Ana. They had three sons and three daughters:

And possibly:


Saint Sava and Saint Simeon, founder of Hilandar.

Stefan Nemanja founded, restored and reconstructed several monasteries. He also established the Rascian architectural style, that spanned from 1170-1300.



See also[edit]

Stefan Nemanja
Born: 1114 Died: 13 February 1200
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Grand Prince of Serbia
Succeeded by
Stefan Nemanjić
Royal titles
Preceded by
Mihailo III
Prince of Doclea
cc 1186–1190
Succeeded by



  1. ^ 100 najznamenitijih Srba. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. 1993. ISBN 86-82273-08-X. ; 1st place
  2. ^ Fine 1994, p. 3
  3. ^ a b Judah 1997, p. 31
  4. ^ Fine 1994, p. 4
  5. ^ a b Fine 1994, p. 20
  6. ^ William of Tyre, Historia Transmarina 20.4.
  7. ^ Kindersley, 23
  8. ^ Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, p. 390
  9. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Genealogy of the Nemanjić". Genealogy.EU. [self-published source][better source needed]
  10. ^


  • John V.A. Fine. (1991). The early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the 6th to the Late 12th Century. The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08149-7
  • John V.A. Fine. (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08260-4
  • Judah, Tim (1997). The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Yale University Press.
  • Kindersley, Anne (1976). The Mountains of Serbia: Travels through Inland Yugoslavia, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.
  • Mandic, O. Dominic (1970). Croats and Serbs: Two old and different Nations. Translated by Vicko Rendic and Jacques Perret. Available at:
  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (2002). Serbia: the History behind the Name, Hurst & Company.
  • The Serbian Unity Congress.
  • Servia/Serbia, Catholic Encyclopedia (1907)
  • Veselinović, Andrija & Ljušić, Radoš (2001). Српске династије, Platoneum.
  • CD Chilandar by Studio A, Aetos, Library of Serb Patriarchate and Chilandar monastery, Belgrade, 1998
  • Ćorović, Vladimir, Istorija srpskog naroda, Book I, (In Serbian) Electric Book, Rastko Electronic Book, Antikvarneknjige (Cyrillic)
    • Treci Period, I, Stevan Nemanja

External links[edit]