Serbian Grand Principality

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This article is about the state founded in 1090. For the first Serbian Principality (768–960), see Principality of Serbia (medieval). For the Serbian Principality or Duklja (960–1101), see Duklja. For the modern Serbian Principality (1817–1882), see Principality of Serbia. For the crownland, Raška, see Rascia.
Serbian Grand Principality / Rascia
Велика кнежевина Србија / Рашка
Velika kneževina Srbija / Raška




Coat of arms

Serbia, during the rule of Stefan Nemanja (1183–1196)
Capital Ras
Languages Serbian (Old Serbian)
Religion Eastern Orthodoxy
Government Monarchy
Grand Prince↓
 •  1083–1115 Vukan (first) de facto
 •  1115–1145 Uroš I (first) de jure
 •  1196–1217 Stefan II (crowned King)
Historical era Medieval
 •  Strongest Serbian entity 1101
 •  Promotion to Kingdom 1217
Today part of  Serbia
Part of a series on the
History of Serbia
Serbian cross
Serbia portal

The Serbian Grand Principality or Rascia[n] (Serbian: Велика кнежевина Србија / Velika kneževina Srbija) was a medieval state that was founded in 1090, and ended with the elevation to Kingdom in 1217. During the reign of Constantine Bodin, the King of Duklja, Vukan was appointed to rule Rascia as a vassal, and when Bodin was captured by the Byzantines, Vukan became independent and took the title of Grand Prince. When Bodin had died, Rascia became the strongest entity, in which the Serbian realm would be seated, in hands of the Vukanović dynasty.

Uroš I, the son of Vukan, ruled Serbia when the Byzantines invaded Duklja, and Rascia would be next in line, but with diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Hungary, Serbia retained its independence. Uroš II initially fought the Byzantines, but after a defeat soon gives oaths of servitude to the Emperor. Desa, the brother of Uroš II and an initial Byzantine ally, turned to Hungarian support, but was deposed in 1163, when Stefan Tihomir of a cadet line (which would become Nemanjić dynasty), was put on the throne by the Emperor.

Stefan Nemanja, the eponymous founder of the Nemanjić dynasty, wrestled the throne through defeating his three brothers, who were backed by the Emperor. Nemanja would begin to establish the Serbian church in 1199 alongside his son, Saint Sava, the first Archbishop of Serbs (1219), and the author of the oldest known constitution of Serbia, Zakonopravilo. Sava heavily influenced and prospered Serbian medieval literature. Sava's older brother, Stefan The first-crowned, became King in 1217.


First Serbian Principality (768–960)[edit]

Byzantine annexation 969–1043[edit]

After Časlav's death the realm crumbled, local nobles restored the control of each province, and according to the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, his son-in-law, Tihomir, ruled Rascia.[1] Soon the Croats, Bulgarians and Byzantines annex the Serbian territories. The written information about the first dynasty ends with the death of Časlav.[2] The Catepanate of Ras is established between 971–976, during the rule of John Tzimiskes (r. 969–976).[3] A seal of a strategos of Ras has been dated to Tzimiskes' reign, making it possible for Tzimiskes' predecessor Nikephoros II Phokas to have enjoyed recognition in Rascia.[4][5] The protospatharios and katepano of Ras was a Byzantine governor named John.[6] Data on the katepano of Ras during Tzimiskes' reign is missing.[7] Byzantine military presence ended soon thereafter with the wars with Bulgaria, and was re-established only ca. 1018 with the short-lived Theme of Sirmium, which however did not extend much into Rascia proper.[4]

Emergence and fall of Duklja[edit]

Main article: Duklja

The Serbian diplomatic mission whose arrival in Constantinople in 992 was recorded in a charter of the Great Lavra Monastery written in 993, was most likely sent from Duklja.[8]

In 1000, Jovan Vladimir emerges at the most powerful Serbian noble. With his court centered in Bar on the Adriatic coast, he had much of the Serbian Pomorje ('maritime') under his control including Travunia and Zachlumia. His realm may have stretched west- and northwards to include some parts of the Zagorje ('hinterlands', inland Serbia and Bosnia) as well. Cedrenus calls his realm "Trymalia or Serbia",[9] according to Radojicic and Ostrogorski, the Byzantines calls Zeta – Serbia, and its inhabitants Serbs.[10] Vladimir’s pre-eminent position over other Slavic nobles in the area explains why Emperor Basil II approached him for an anti-Bulgarian alliance. With his hands tied by war in Anatolia, Emperor Basil required allies for his war against Tsar Samuel, who had much of Macedonia. In retaliation, Samuel invaded Duklja in 1009, and pushed through Dalmatia up to the city of Zadar, incorporating Bosnia and Serbia into his realm. After defeating Vladimir, Samuel reinstated him as a vassal Prince. The Byzantines defeated Bulgaria in 1014. In 1016, Jovan Vladimir is murdered by Ivan Vladislav of Bulgaria.

Around 1034, the Serbs retaliated against the Byzantines. Stefan Vojislav, a Travunian Serb and archon of "Dalmatia, Zeta, and Ston", possibly kin to Jovan Vladimir, organized a revolt when there was a throne switch in the Empire. He was defeated in 1036, and was sent to jail in Constantinople. The administration of Duklja was restored to Theophilos Erotikos, the strategos of Serbia. In 1038, Vojislav escaped and returned to Duklja, instigating another revolt, now also turning to the Byzantine allies in the neighbouring Serbian provinces. Vojislav defeats Erotikos in 1039, and in July, Ljutovid of Zahumlje receives the title "strategos of Serbia and Zahumlje", with the Emperor granting Ljutovid right to all Serbian principalities. In 1042, Vojislav defeats Ljutovid, and rules independently until his death in 1043.

Mihailo I, the son of Vojislav, succeeds as Grand Prince. In 1052, he received the title of protospatharios and married the niece of Constantine IX, which brought peace between Serbs and Byzantines for the next 20 years. In 1068–1071, the Byzantines were in trouble after losing to the Seljuks at Manzikert, the invasion of the Italian Normans and the coup of Michael VII Doukas in 1072. In the same year, Mihailo aided the Slav Uprising in Pomoravlje by sending his son Constantine Bodin, a descendant of the Cometopuli, to take the throne as Emperor of Bulgaria and to lead the revolt. Bodin takes Naissus, ruling briefly before being defeated by Michael Saronites, who sent him in chains to Constantinople. In 1060–1074, Mihailo put his son Petrislav as the Grand Prince of Rascia. In 1077, he turned west, to the Pope, to ensure his independence and a royal title. After the Great Schism, the Pope gladly wanted to expand his jurisdiction, and, that same year, Mihailo was given the title of King. In 1078, Venetian sailors rescued Mihailo and he returned to Duklja, where he died in 1081.

Constantine Bodin first supported the Byzantine Empire in its war against the Normans in Dyrrhachium, but then stays idle so the Normans take the city in 1081. Bodin married the daughter of a pro-Norman nobleman from Bari. He named his nephews Vukan and Marko as župans in Raška, and in Bosna he also named a relative, Stefan. In 1085, the Byzantines recovered Dyrrhachium and Duklja was in their sight.


Vukan's rule[edit]

In 1091 or 1092, Vukan became independent,[11] taking the title of Grand Prince (Veliki Župan).[12] His state was centered around present-day Novi Pazar.[12] Subordinate to him were local dukes (Župan, holding a territory equivalent of a county), who seem to have been more or less autonomous in the internal affairs of their counties, but who were obliged to be loyal to Vukan, and supporting him in battle.[12] It seems that the dukes were hereditary holders of their counties, holding their land before Duklja annexed Rascia.[12]

In about 1090, Vukan began raiding Byzantine territory, first in the vicinity of Kosovo.[12] Initially the Byzantines were unable to take steps against Vukan, as they faced a serious threat in the invading Pechenegs.[13] On 29 April 1091, the Byzantines destroyed the Pecheneg force.[13] With the defeat of the Pechenegs, Alexios I Komnenos could now turn to the Serbs.[13]

Alexios I first sent an army with the strategos of Durazzo, which was defeated by Vukan in 1092.[13] The Emperor now mobilized a much larger army, led by himself, marching onto Rascia.[13] Vukan sends envoys, seeking peace which Alexios I quickly accepted, as a new problem had arisen at home in the Cumans who plundered the lands as far as Adrianople.[13] Immediately after the Emperor's departure, Vukan breaks the treaty, and began to expand along the Vardar, obtaining much booty and taking the cities of Vranje, Skopje and Tetovo.[13] In 1094 or 1095, Alexios I marched out to meet the Serbs. Vukan and his dukes arrive at the Emperor's tent and offer peace, with his own son Uros I as hostage (throughout the 12th century it was usual for relatives of the Grand Prince to stay at the imperial court as hostages of peace).[13]

At this time, Rascia was independent – Vukan acted entirely on his own, no longer a vassal of Duklja.[13] Duklja, because of its civil war, did not involve itself in the Rascian-Byzantine wars.[13]

Vukan again marched south, into Macedonia. Alexios could not do anything about him as the Crusade took place. In 1106 Vukan submitted to Alexios.[14]



William, the archbishop of Tyre, when crossing Serbia for the Holy Land in 1168, he described the Serbs: "They are rich in herds and flocks and unusually well supplied with milk, cheese, butter, meat, honey and wax".[15]

See also[edit]

Part of a series on the
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  1. ^ Name: The state was known in contemporary Serbian and Greek sources as simply Serbia (modern Serbian sources name it either "Кнежевина Србија" or "Рашка"). Western sources from the 14th century, during the rule of the Nemanjići, also call the Serbian realm Rascia, after the crownland region around Ras (pars pro toto). In Anna Komnene's Alexiad, written in 1148, during the rule of the Vukanovići, the realm is also called Dalmatia. (see Names of Serbia)


  1. ^ Živković, Portreti srpskih vladara, p. 57
  2. ^ Srbi između Vizantije, Hrvatske i Bugarske;
  3. ^ GK, Abstract: "the establishment of catepanate in Ras between 971 and 976"
  4. ^ a b Stephenson, Paul. The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-slayer. p. 42. 
  5. ^ Paul Magdalino, Byzantium in the year 1000, p. 122
  6. ^ Academia, 2007, Byzantinoslavica, Volumes 65-66, p. 132
  7. ^ Bojana Krsmanović, Ljubomir Maksimović, Taxiarchis G. Kolias (2008), The Byzantine province in change: on the threshold between the 10th and the 11th century, p. 189, Institute for Byzantine Studies, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts,
  8. ^ Ostrogorsky 1956, pp.273–5.
  9. ^ Cedrenus II, col. 195.
  10. ^ Nikola Banasevic, Letopis popa Dukqanina i narodna predawa, p. 79, Document
  11. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 224
  12. ^ a b c d e The early medieval Balkans, p. 225
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The early medieval Balkans, p. 226
  14. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 228
  15. ^ William of Tyre, Historia Transmarina 20.4.


  • Fine, John Van Antwerp (1991), The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 978-0-472-08149-3 
  • Fine, Jr., John V.A. (2006), When Ethnicity did not matter in the Balkans. A study of Identity in pre-Nationalist Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0-472-11414-X 
  • Hupchik, Dennis P. (2002), The Balkans. From Constantinople to Communism., Palgrave MacMillan, ISBN 1-4039-6417-3 
  • Stephenson, Paul (2003), The Legend of Basil the Bulgar -Slayer, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-81530-4 
  • Curta, Florin (2006), Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-81539-0 
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  • Whittow, Mark (1996), The Making of Byzantium, 600–1025, MacMillan Press, ISBN 0-520-20496-4 
  • Vladimir Ćorović, Ilustrovana istorija Srba, knjige 1–6, Beograd, 2005–2006.
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  • Tim Judah, The Serbs, Belgrade, 2000/2003