Serbian Revolution

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The Serbian Revolution refers to a period between 1804 and 1817, during in which the Serbs of the Ottoman Sanjak of Smederevo rose up against the Ottomans and transformed the province into the largely independent Principality of Serbia. The Revolution was made up of two main revolts: the First Serbian Uprising (1804–13) and the Second Serbian Uprising (1815). The term Serbian revolution was coined by a German academic historiographer, Leopold von Ranke, in his book Die Serbische Revolution, published in 1829.[1] The events of the Serbian Revolution are a critical part of the foundation history of the modern Serbia, and an important component of Serbian nationalism.[2]

The First Uprising, led by Karađorđe Petrović, erupted against the tyranny of the local Janissary leaders, the Dahije, who defied the Sultan, but it soon evolved into a war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The revolutionaries succeeded in deposing the Dahije, after which the Sultan ordered for the revolutionaries to be suppressed. The Serbs held firm, established a government, parliament, and other important structures; the Great Academy of Belgrade was established in 1808. They were defeated by 1813, after which the short-lived Hadži Prodan's revolt erupted, and then the Second Uprising under Miloš Obrenović, which was most successful, establishing semi-independence for a newly created principality recognized by the Ottoman Empire.

Immediately following the Second Uprising, Serbia witnessed a peaceful consolidation of political power as increasingly autonomous, culminating in the recognition of the right to hereditary rule by Serbian princes in 1830 and 1833 and further territorial expansion.[3] In 1830 and again in 1833, Serbia was recognized as an autonomous principality, with hereditary princes paying annual tribute to the Porte. The Constitution (1835), the first in the Balkans, abolished feudalism and serfdom,[4] and made the country suzerain.[3] Finally, de facto independence came in 1868, with the withdrawal of Ottoman garrisons from the principality; de jure independence was formally recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.


The Habsburgs occupied the Sanjak of Smederevo (modern central Serbia), ruling it as a crownland, the Kingdom of Serbia (1718–39), until they lost south of Danube (1739). There were large migrational waves from Ottoman areas into Habsburg territory. In 1788, Koča Anđelković led a rebellion against the Ottomans with the aid of Austria and placed central Serbia under the rule of the Habsburgs (see Koča's frontier). The Treaty of Sistova (1791) ended Austrian rule and promised Ottoman reforms. However, by 1799, Janissary corps had returned to the Sanjak and removed Serbian autonomy, drastically increased taxes, and enforced martial law. In 1801, Hadži Mustafa Pasha, the vizier of the Sanjak of Smederevo, was murdered by renegade janissaries known as the Dahije, who took power in the Sanjak and defied the Sultan. The dahia feared that the Sultan would make use of the Serbs to oust them, so they decided to capture and execute Serb dukes and other notables at the main square of Valjevo, in an event known as the slaughter of the Dukes (1804). The executions outraged the Serbian people, and within days, Serb chiefs gathered in Šumadija and proclaimed the uprising, electing Karađorđe Petrović as their leader.

First Serbian Uprising (1804–13)[edit]

Karađorđe Petrović (Black George) leader of the First Serbian Uprising.

In 1804, the revolt began against the Janissaries, initially with the Christian peasantry and the Muslim landlords working together to remove the Dahije. From May 1804 to July 1806, the uprising's leaders sent several petitions to the sultan Selim III calling for a return to the more benevolent rule of the Ottoman State.[5][page needed]

However, by 1807 the demands for self-government within Ottoman Empire evolved into a war for independence backed by the military support of Russian Empire. Combining patriarchal peasant democracy with modern national goals the Serbian revolution was attracting thousands of volunteers among the Serbs from across the Balkans and Central Europe. The Serbian Revolution ultimately became a symbol of the nation-building process in the Balkans, provoking peasant unrests among the Christians in both Greece and Bulgaria.[6] Following the successful siege with 25,000 men, on 8 January 1807 the charismatic leader of the revolt Karađorđe Petrović proclaimed Belgrade the capital of Serbia.

The Proclamation (1809) by Karađorđe in the capital Belgrade probably represented the apex of the first phase. It called for national unity, drawing on Serbian history to demand the freedom of religion and formal, written rule of law, both of which the Ottoman Empire had failed to provide.[7] It also called on Serbs to stop paying taxes to the Porte, deemed unfair as based on religious affiliation. Apart from dispensing with poll tax on non-Muslims (jizya), the revolutionaries also abolished all feudal obligations in 1806, only 15 years after the French revolution, peasant and serf emancipation thus representing a major social break with the past.[8]

Serbs responded to the Ottoman brutalities by establishing its separate institutions: Governing Council (Praviteljstvujušči Sovjet), the Great Academy (Velika škola), the Theological Academy (Bogoslovija) and other administrative bodies. Karađorđe and other revolutionary leaders sent their children to the Great Academy, which had among its students also Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), the reformer of Serbian alphabet. Belgrade was repopulated by local military leaders, merchants and craftsmen but also by an important group of enlightened Serbs from the Habsburg Empire who gave a new cultural and political framework to the egalitarian peasant society of Serbia. Dositej Obradović, a prominent figure of the Balkan Enlightenment, the founder of the Great Academy, became the first Minister of Education of Serbia in 1811.[6]

Under the pressure of French invasion in 1812, the Russian Empire withdrew its support for the Serb rebels, and the revolution quickly collapsed. With the reestablishement of Ottoman control, many of the revolutionaries,(around a quarter of the population) including Karađorđe Petrović, fled to Habsburg Empire.[9] Recaptured by the Ottomans in October 1813, Belgrade became a scene of brutal revenge, with hundreds of its citizens massacred and thousands sold into slavery as far as Asia. Direct Ottoman rule also meant the abolition of all Serbian institutions and the return of Ottoman Turks to Serbia.[6]

Tensions persisted. In 1814, veteran Hadži Prodan launched a revolt which failed. After a riot at a Turkish estate in 1814, the Ottoman authorities massacred the local population and publicly impaled 200 prisoners at Belgrade.[9] By March 1815, Serbs held several meetings and decided upon continued revolt.

Events of the first revolution, such as the construction of the Skull Tower, would later become important symbols of national pride in the Serbian state.

Second Serbian Uprising (1815–17)[edit]

The Second Serbian Uprising (1815–17) was a second revolution, proclaimed by a revolutionary council in Takovo on April 23, 1815. The coincil named Milos Obrenović as the leader, while Karađorđe was still in exile in Austria. The decision of the Serb leaders was based on two reasons. First, they feared a general massacre of knezes. Second, they learned that Karađorđe was planning to return from exile in Russia. The anti-Karađorđe faction, including Miloš Obrenović, was anxious to forestall Karađorđe and keep him out of power.[9]

Fighting resumed at Easter in 1815. When the Ottomans discovered this they sentenced all of its leaders to death. The Serbs fought in battles at Ljubic, Čačak, Palez, Požarevac and Dublje and managed to reconquer the Pashaluk of Belgrade. Milos advocated a policy of restraint:[9] captured Ottoman soldiers were not killed and civilians were released. His announced goal was not independence but an end to abusive misrule.

Wider European events now helped the Serbian cause. Political and diplomatic means in negotiations between the Prince of Serbia and the Ottoman Porte, instead of further war clashes coincided with the political rules within the framework of Metternich's Europe. Prince Miloš Obrenović, an astute politician and able diplomat, in order to confirm his hard won loyalty to the Porte in 1817 ordered the assassination of Karađorđe Petrović. The final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 raised Turkish fears that Russia might again intervene in the Balkans. To avoid this the sultan agreed to make Serbia suzerain- semi independent state nominally responsible to the Porte.[6]

Negotiations and legal status of Serbia[edit]

In mid-1815, the first negotiations began between Obrenović and Marashli Ali Pasha, the Ottoman governor. The result was acknowledgment of a Serbian Principality by the Ottoman Empire. Although a suzerain of the Porte (yearly tax tribute), it was, in most means, an independent state.

By 1817, Obrenović succeeded in forcing Marashli Ali Pasha to negotiate an unwritten agreement, thus ending the Second Serbian uprising. The same year, Karađorđe, the leader of the First Uprising (and Obrenović's rival for the throne) returned to Serbia and was assassinated by Obrenović's orders; Obrenović consequently received the title of Prince of Serbia.

The Convention of Ackerman (1828), the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) and finally, the Hatt-i Sharif (1830), formally recognized the suzerainty of Principality of Serbia with Miloš Obrenović I as its hereditary Prince.

State organs[edit]

Constitution of 15 February 1835.

During the intermezzo period ("virtual autonomy" - the negotiation process between Belgrade and Constantinople 1817–1830) Prince Miloš Obrenović I secured a gradual but effective reduction of Turkish power and Serbian institutions inevitably filled the vacuum. Despite opposition from the Porte, Miloš created the Serbian army, transferred properties to the young Serbian bourgeoisie and passed the "homestead laws" which protected peasants from usurers and bankruptcies.[9]

New school curriculum and the re-establishment of the Serbian Orthodox Church reflected the Serbian national interest. Unlike the Serbian medieval tradition, Prince Miloš had separated the education from religion, on the merits that he could oppose the Church through independent education (secularism) more easily. By that time the Great Academy in Belgrade had been in operation for decades (since 1808).[9]

Western ideas (1789–1817)[edit]

Matica Srpska, first Slavic Matrix (1826), founded in Pest, moved to Novi Sad in 1864

The new circumstances, such as the Austrian occupation of Serbia, rise of the Serbian elite across the Danube, Napoleon's conquests in the Balkans and the reforms in Russian Empire also meant exposure to new ideas. Serbs could now clearly compare how their compatriots make progress in Christian Austria, Illyrian provinces etc. while the Ottoman Serbs were still subjects to a religion-based tax which treated them as second class citizens.[9]

During the Austrian occupation of Serbia (1788–1791), many Serbs served as soldiers and officers in Habsburg armies, where they acquired knowledge about military tactics, organization and weapons. Others were employed in administrative offices in Hungary or in the occupied zone. They began to travel in search of trade and education, and were exposed to European ideas about secular society, politics, law and philosophy, including both rationalism and Romanticism. There they met with the values of the French Revolution, which will affect a lot of Serbian merchants and educated people. There was an active Serbian community in southern Habsburg Empire, from where ideas made their way southwards (across the Danube). Another role model was the Russian Empire, the only independent Slavic and Orthodox country, which had recently reformed itself and was now a serious menace to the Turks. The Russian experience implied hope for Serbia.[9]

Serbian Cyrillic and Serbian Latin, from Comparative orthography of European languages. Source: Vuk Stefanović Karadžić Srpske narodne pjesme (Serbian folk poems), Vienna, 1841

Other Serbian thinkers found strengths in the Serbian nation itself. Two top Serbian scholars were influenced by Western learning to turn their attention to Serbia's own language and literature. One was Dositej Obradović (1743), a former priest who left for Western Europe. Shocked that his people had no modern secular literature, he assembled grammars and dictionaries to create a modern Serbian language, wrote some books himself and translated others. Others followed his lead and revived tales of Serbia's medieval glory. He later became the first Minister of Education of modern Serbia (1805).

The second figure was Vuk Karadžić (1787). Vuk was less influenced by Enlightenment rationalism like Dositej Obradović and more by Romanticism which romanticized rural and peasant communities. Vuk collected and published Serbian epic poetry, work that helped to build Serbian awareness of a common identity based in shared customs and shared history. This kind of linguistic and cultural self-awareness was a central feature of German nationalism in this period, and Serbian intellectuals now applied the same ideas to the Balkans.


Belgrade pashaluk (Sanjak of Smederevo) in 1791 
Revolutionary Serbia in 1809 
Revolutionary Serbia in 1813 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ English translation: Leopold Ranke, A History of Serbia and the Serbian Revolution. Translated from the German by Mrs Alexander Kerr (London: John Murray, 1847)
  2. ^ L. S. Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453 (London: Hurst and Co., 2000), pp. 248–250.
  3. ^ a b Plamen Mitev (2010). Empires and Peninsulas: Southeastern Europe Between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699-1829. LIT Verlag Münster. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Misha Glenny (1999). The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999. Penguin Group. 
  6. ^ a b c d
  7. ^ Povest - Prikljucenije
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h

External links[edit]