History of the Serbs

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Not to be confused with History of Serbia.

The History of the Serbs (Serbian: Историја српског народа) spans from the first mention of the people by Roman historians to present.

Serbs (Срби, Srbi) are a South Slavic people who live mainly in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and, to a lesser extent, in Croatia. They are also a significant minority in the Republic of Macedonia. A Serbian diaspora dispersed people of Serbian descent to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the United States, Canada and Slovenia.


The origin of their ethnonym is unclear (see Names of the Serbs and Serbia). Genetic studies on Serbs show that they share genetic traits with the rest of the Balkan peoples, especially those of former Yugoslavia. There are various theories and views of the origin of the Serbs.

Early Middle Ages[edit]

Slavs settled the Balkans in the 6th century. The earliest found mention of the Serbs is from Einhard's Royal Frankish Annals, written in 822, when Ljudevit went from his seat at Sisak to the Serbs (believed to have been somewhere in western Bosnia),[1] with Einhard mentioning "the Serbs, who control the greater part of Dalmatia" (ad Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur[2]).[1] De Administrando Imperio (DAI), written by Constantine VII in the mid-10th century, tells of the early history of the Serbs. According to it, the Serbs were led by an unnamed prince from "White Serbia" and settled in the Balkans during the reign of Emperor Heraclius (610-641). They received territory in the desolate lands of Roman Dalmatia encompassing parts of modern Croatia (Dalmatia), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, a polity known in historiography as the Serbian Principality.

The Serbs were subjects of the Byzantine Empire. Serbs were resettled by the Byzantines in the mid-7th century to Asia Minor (see also Asia Minor Slavs), where the town of Gordoservon was mentioned in 680.[3] The first ruler of the Serbian dynasty (the Vlastimirović) known by name was Višeslav who began his rule around 780, being a contemporary of Charlemagne (fl. 768–814).[4] Although Višeslav is only mentioned by name, the DAI mentions that the Serbs served the Byzantine Emperor, and that they were at this time at peace with the Bulgars, whose neighbours they were and with whom they shared a common frontier.[5] Višeslav's great-grandson Vlastimir began his rule in c. 830, and he is the oldest Serbian ruler of which there is substantial data on.[6] The Bulgars launched an invasion into Serbia in 839, ending after three years with a Serb decisive victory (see Bulgar-Serb War (839–42)).

Basil I with a delegation of Serbs and Croats[7]

The establishment of Christianity as state-religion dates to the time of Prince Mutimir and Byzantine Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886),[8][9] who, after managing to put the Serbs under his nominal rule, sends priests together with admiral Niketas Ooryphas, before the operations against the Saracens in 869 when Dalmatian fleets were sent to defend the town of Ragusa).[10]

Late Middle Ages[edit]

Serbia experienced its golden age under the Nemanjic, with the Serbian state reaching its apogee of power in the reign of Tsar Stefan Uros Dusan, when the Serbian Empire dominated the Balkans. Serbia's power subsequently dwindled amid interminable conflict between the nobility, rendering the country unable to resist the steady incursion of the Ottoman Empire into south-eastern Europe. The Battle of Kosovo in 1389 is commonly regarded in Serbian national mythology as the key event in the country's defeat by the Turks, although in fact Ottoman rule was not fully imposed until some time later. After Serbia fell, the kings of Bosnia used the title of "King of the Serbs" until Bosnia was also overrun.

Ottoman period[edit]

See also: Ottoman Serbia

As Christians, the Serbs were regarded as a "protected people" under Ottoman law but in practice were treated as second-class citizens and often harshly treated.[citation needed] They were subjected to considerable pressure to convert to Islam;[citation needed] some did, while others migrated to the north and west, to seek refuge in Austria-Hungary.

In early 1594, the Serbs in Banat rose up against the Ottomans.[11] The rebels had, in the character of a holy war, carried war flags with the icon of Saint Sava.[12] After suppressing the uprising, the Ottomans publicly incinerated the relics of Saint Sava at the Vračar plateau on April 27, 1595.[12] The incineration of Sava's relics provoked the Serbs, and empowered the Serb liberation movement. From 1596, the center of anti-Ottoman activity in Herzegovina was the Tvrdoš Monastery in Trebinje.[13] An uprising broke out in 1596, but the rebels were defeated at the field of Gacko in 1597, and were forced to capitulate due to the lack of foreign support.[13]

At the beginning of the 19th century, the First Serbian Uprising succeeded in liberating at least some Serbs, for a limited time. The Second Serbian Uprising was much more successful, creating a powerful Serbia that became a modern European kingdom.

Serbian Revolution[edit]

Main article: Serbian Revolution

20th century[edit]

At the beginning of the 20th century, many Serbs were still under foreign rule – that of the Ottomans in the south and of the Austrians in the north and west. The southern Serbs were liberated in the First Balkan War of 1912, while the question of Austrian Serbs' independence was the spark that lit the First World War two years later. A Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip killed the Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, initiating a chain of declarations of war that produced a continent-wide conflict. During the war, the Serbian army fought fiercely, eventually retreated through Albania to regroup in Greece and launched a counter-offensive through Macedonia. Though they were eventually victorious, the war devastated Serbia and killed a huge proportion of its population – by some estimates, over the half of the male Serbian population died in the conflict, influencing the region's demographics to this day.

After the war, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later called Yugoslavia) was created. Almost all Serbs now finally lived in one state. The new state had its capital in Belgrade and was ruled by a Serbian king; it was, however, unstable and prone to ethnic tensions. An interesting, if somewhat pro-Serb, window on Yugoslavia between the wars is provided by Rebecca West's classic of travel literature, "Black Lamb & Grey Falcon".

During Second World War, the Axis Powers occupied Yugoslavia, dismembering the country. Serbia was occupied by the Germans, while in Bosnia and Croatia Serbs were put under the rule of the Italians and the fascist Ustase regime in the Independent State of Croatia. Under Ustase rule in particular, Serbs and other non-Croats were subjected to systematic genocide in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

After the war, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed. As with the pre-war Yugoslavia, the country's capital was at Belgrade. Serbia was the largest republic, however, the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito diluted its power by establishing two autonomous provinces in Serbia, Kosovo and Vojvodina.

Communist Yugoslavia collapsed in the early 1990s, with four of its six republics becoming independent states. This led to several bloody civil wars as the large Serbian communities in Croatia and Bosnia attempted to remain within Yugoslavia, which now consisted of only Serbia and Montenegro. Another war broke out in Kosovo (see Kosovo War) after years of tensions between Serbs and Albanians. About 200,000 Serbs left Croatia during the "Operation Storm" in 1995, and another 200,000 left Kosovo after the Kosovo War, and settled mostly in Central Serbia and Vojvodina as refugees.


See also[edit]

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  1. ^ a b Sima M. Cirkovic (15 April 2008). The Serbs. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-1-4051-4291-5. 
  2. ^ Einhard (1845). Einhardi Annales. Hahn. pp. 83–. ad Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur 
  3. ^ Ivan Ninić (1989). Migrations in Balkan history. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Institute for Balkan Studies. p. 61. ISBN 978-86-7179-006-2. 
  4. ^ Radovan Samardžić; Milan Duškov (1993). Serbs in European civilization. Nova. p. 24. ISBN 978-86-7583-015-3. 
  5. ^ Moravcsik 1967, p. 155
  6. ^ Živković 2006, p. 11
  7. ^ http://www.rastko.rs/rastko-bl/istorija/corovic/istorija/2_4_l.html
  8. ^ The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, p. 208
  9. ^ De Administrando Imperio, ch. 29 [Of Dalmatia and of the adjacent nations in it]: "...the majority of these Slavs [Serbs, Croats] were not even baptized, and remained unbaptized for long enough. But in the time of Basil, the Christ-loving emperor, they sent diplomatic agents, begging and praying him that those of them who were unbaptized might receive baptism and that they might be, as they had originally been, subject to the empire of the Romans; and that glorious emperor, of blessed memory, gave ear to them and sent out an imperial agent and priests with him and baptized all of them that were unbaptized of the aforesaid nations..."
  10. ^ Rastko.rs
  11. ^ Rajko L. Veselinović (1966). (1219-1766). Udžbenik za IV razred srpskih pravoslavnih bogoslovija. (Yu 68-1914). Sv. Arh. Sinod Srpske pravoslavne crkve. pp. 70–71. 
  12. ^ a b Nikolaj Velimirović (January 1989). The Life of St. Sava. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-88141-065-5. 
  13. ^ a b Ćorović 2001, Преокрет у држању Срба

Further reading[edit]