The Rise And Fall Of Medieval Serbian Empire
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- Category: History
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From the year1168 the Serbian empire started becoming more and more powerful. Medieval Serbia was rich in its political, financial, and enlightening aspects throughout Europe. The empire reached its peak somewhere around the middle of the 14th century. Emperor Dusan, the ruler of the Medieval Serbian Empire, played a great role in making the state’s economy better. Serbia came up being one of the most developed countries in Europe. (Cox, 2002) The rise and fall of the Medieval Serbian Empire is discussed in this paper.
The Rise of the Medieval Serbian Empire
The condition of people and nations in the middle Ages was seldom uniform and never easily described. Like every other land, Illyricum contained many different people, layer after layer of loam deposited by regular and successive waves of migration or invasion extending from the most primitive times until the seventh century. Though the Slavs eventually gained the predominance in the Illyrian lands by their numbers and power, it was only by absorbing or expelling other races. The Slavs, who entered Greece, were immersed by the Byzantine Empire and did not transform into classical Greeks but into something different from Balkan Slavs. The Serbian Slavs never completely occupied Macedonia. It was partly settled by Bulgarians. (Anzulovic, 1999)
The Emperor Constantine VII, Porphyrogenetus, or an imperial scribe, alludes to these districts in a 10th century treatise that touches on Slavs. The work, bearing the name of Constantine, was published in 953. It places the Serbians well in the interior of modern Serbia around the sources of the Lim. They extended southwest to the Tara and the Drina, and northeast to the Ibar and Western Morava.
The evidence is scanty and conflicting, but there seems to be no doubt that in the 10th century the bulk of the Serbian race was well established in the northwest territory of Montenegro, in the Sanjak of Novibazar, and extended north of “Old Serbia” to include some of the Shumadya Mountains. Ras, near Novibazar, was the chief town, and the Ibar the eastern boundary. They did not reach to Belgrade or to the Danube, or to the great military highway of the Morava and the Vardar. In these inland regions cut off from the sea and from great rivers and protected by hills against invasion, lies the earliest Balkan home of the Serbians. (Anzulovic, 1999)
During the early Middle Ages the two great powers in the Balkans were the Bulgarian kingdom and the Byzantine Empire. It was to prove exceedingly fortunate for the rising Serbian state that they were opposed to one another. The Bulgarians had grown to be an extremely formidable power in the 9th century. They were originally of Slavonic blood but included a Romanian element, and were crossed with Asiatic or Mongolian tribes. Their faces and characteristics are clearly distinguishable today from those of the Serbians.
They have hideous features, shorter and sturdier in build, more dogged and practical in temperament. It is certainly a coincidence and perhaps not an accident that the difference between them and the Serbians was already marked even in the days of Charlemagne. (Singleton, 2004) By that time the Bulgarians had grown to be exceedingly powerful. Leo VI, in his Tactica described the Bulgars as superior in government and discipline to other Slavs. They were well armed, well disciplined, and well governed, and in every practical respect, in advance of the Serbians. They had mines, which produced precious metals; they had developed an extensive commerce; their soldiers were clad in steel and their kings were dressed in cloth of gold and jewels.
Wealth did not produce civilization, and the first of Bulgarian atrocities was in 811. In that year the Bulgarian king, Krum, destroyed a great Byzantine army and slew the Emperor Nicephorus. He set the imperial skull in silver and used it as a drinking-cup at banquets when he drank to the health of his nobles. A barbarian king who could inflict so great a disaster on the Byzantines was even more to be feared for his power than for his ferocity. The Bulgarians not only occupied all modern Bulgaria but also began to expand rapidly in every direction.
Bulgarian armies were already on the Danube and in modern Slavonia by 811, but the mountains of Bosnia and the Shumadya protected the Serbs from their attack on the north. It appears probable that they were threatened from the south by the Bulgarian occupation of Western Macedonia. At any rate the danger produced a semblance of union among the Serbian tribes in the Zeta-Rashka district, and a certain Vlastimir appears to have been the first head of the united Serbian race. The Serbians were still nominally subject to the Byzantine Emperor, and his diplomacy may have stirred them up against the Bulgars. In the year 840 the Serbians came into sharp conflict with the Bulgars. It is quite clear that they latter experienced a serious defeat. Some years later the Byzantines inflicted further defeats on the Bulgars and seem to have forced them to evacuate Macedonia.
The Serbians renewed the struggle in 852, who again had the advantage. The Bulgarian king, Boris, went in person to the Serbian frontier at Ras, then the northeast boundary of Serbian expansion, there the Serbian princes, sons of Vlastimir, made peace, and presented King Boris with two slaves, two falcons, two hounds, and ninety skins. This gift has been interpreted by Bulgarian pride as a seal of Serbian submission. But, in as much as the main motive of the king’s peace was to redeem his son and chief nobles from their captivity in Serbia, there seems to be no reason for this assumption. (Greenway, 2002)
There can be no doubt that the Serbians had scored a signal success in their first round with the Bulgarians. It was exceedingly important for the future of Serbia that they did so. But for these victories the Bulgars might have weighed them down in 840 when the Byzantines were weak and unable to assist them. As it was they gained a breathing space, and in the next two centuries the Byzantine Empire increased so greatly in military strength that it finally overwhelmed and crushed the Bulgarians. While Byzantine and Bulgars were fighting, the Serbians were enabled to develop unmolested, though it was only for a time that the Bulgarian danger was averted. (Carter, 1969)
The triumphs of peace were, however, to be even more important in molding the future of the Serbians. At the end of the 9th century, Constantine and Methodius, the two Slavonic apostles, traveled through the Balkans to convert and evangelize the Slavs of Moravia. These apostles were even more distinguished as scholars than as evangelists, for they composed a Slavonic alphabet apparently by adapting the Greek alphabet.
Cyril and Methodius were used as pawns by the Byzantine emperors in their political game of extending Byzantine influence among heathens by conversion to the Greek Orthodox religion. The Balkan lands and the Illyrian provinces were already a battleground between Constantinople and Rome. The Catholic Pope had firmly planted his influence on the Dalmatian coast and in Albania. The Adriatic coast had fallen, but the Orthodox Patriarch and Emperor could maintain the interior. There seems little doubt that during the years 862-863 the Byzantine Emperor used the threat of war to force the Bulgarians into the Greek communion. The instruments were the Glagolitic writing invented by Cyril and the Macedo-Slavonic tongue into which he translated the Scriptures. These made an irresistibly popular appeal to the Slavs, and eventually converted the lands around modern Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro into Greek Orthodox communities. (Hussey, 1982)
The struggle with paganism does not seem to have been a severe one. Perhaps the reason of this is that the conversion of both Serbia and Bulgaria was political and therefore superficial. The old nature worship remained in many forms, and can still be traced in national customs. Even in the 17th century a Montenegrin ballad speaks of their Orthodox ecclesiastical bishop praying to a fairy on the mountaintop.
All Serb peasants still believe in human vampires, in the corpses, which feed on human blood. There is evidence, which seems to show that the struggle with paganism was not severe among the Serbians. It is known, for instance, that the new ecclesiastical organization was weak, and that there were few churches and fewer bishops among the early Serb Christians. (Barford, 2001)
But though the Serbs accepted Christianity, they oscillated throughout the early part of the Middle Ages between the Latin and Greek form of it. It is probable that Bulgaria would have accepted the Latin form but for the fact that she was weak and that the political influence of Byzantium was strong in the years 862-863. The Serbians continued to swing backwards and forwards between the two faiths, as it suited their ignorance, prejudice, or convenience.
In 924, Czar Simeon invaded Serbian territory, annihilated the armies, and devastated the country with unheard-of cruelty. The Emperor Constantine or his scribe pictures the Serbian lands as absolutely deserted wastes, in which there were no women and children and where a few hunters eked out a precarious living. The misfortune fell chiefly on the Serbians of Rashka, though the Serbs of Croatia and Dalmatia also felt the force of Simeon’s arm. Only the death of this savage tyrant in the year 927 saved the Serbian race from extermination. Bulgarian greatness really ended with him. No subsequent ruler undertook conquests on the scale on which he planned them, and though the Serbians were still oppressed by the Bulgars, they were no longer in danger of total destruction. (Dvornik, 1992)
The destruction of the Bulgarians removed immediate danger from Rashka and Zeta, only to bring them face to face with two formidable neighbors. The fierce Magyars soon established themselves on the Danube, and gradually worked round to the southwest, subduing Croatia and Bosnia. The more immediate danger was on the east of Rashka, from the Byzantine power. The policy of the Eastern emperors now that they had conquered Bulgaria was to extend their power into Macedonia and to the Morava and the Danube. In order to do this the Serbians of Rashka must be weak or tributary. The strong Byzantine rulers led armies into the Serbian woods and mountains, and set up or pulled down puppet princelets; weaker emperors relied on diplomacy to divide and weaken the Serbian princes by supporting one against the other.
One result of this policy was to create a Serbian heptarchy in Rashka, but another one was to produce a friendly feeling and alliance between Serbians and Magyars. During the 10th to the 12th centuries the Byzantine Emperor was the most dangerous enemy of both Magyar and Serbian. Hence the Rashkan princes and peoples looked to a Hungarian alliance as a refuge against the Byzantine Emperor, and Magyar and Serbian are often found united against him. The fact is of importance, because a permanent alliance between Magyars and the Byzantine Emperor at that period must have been fatal to the Serbians.
During the 12th century its history is that of a divided state, with horrors of disputed successions, massacres at banquets, blood and anarchy such as would have delighted an Elizabethan dramatist. The only clear deduction is that the house of Zeta was waxing weaker and weaker. Nonetheless, the moral influence of Zeta had been of importance; like Montenegro in later times. It realized the idea of a wild independence to the Serb race at a time when Rashka could only dream of it.
The external history of Rashka in the 11th century is that of a long series of border raids on the part of the Serbians, of friendly co-operation on the part of the Magyars, to resist the larger and more systematic Byzantine operations against both peoples. The Rashkans and Magyars were more accessible to the Byzantines than were the Zetans. Great Byzantine armies marched up the Morava valley, and strong Byzantine garrisons watched the frontiers of Rashka from Monastir, Ochrida, and Nish.
As long as these fortresses gave the Byzantines access to the Morava valley neither Rashka nor Hungary was safe. In all the confusion of the period it is evident that the Serbians of Rashka realized the growing weakness of the Byzantine Empire and were determined to achieve their independence at its expense. It is clear that by the end of the reign of the Emperor Manuel Comnenus, they had achieved this purpose.
The wars of the Emperor Manuel are the last great military effort of the Byzantine power before it was fatally weakened by the Latin Crusaders. Manuel headed many campaigns against Magyars and Serbians, and his exploits border on the fabulous. The most skilful knights could not meet him in battle; the strongest could not wield his lance or bear the weight of his shield.
He is said to have cut his way through five hundred Turks with only two attendants; in one Hungarian battle he snatched a standard from his vanguard and occupied a bridge single-handed; in another, in which he defeated both Serbians and Magyars, he led the pursuit in his gilded Armour. History tells that more than one Serbian Grand Župan knelt at his feet in humble submission, and that more than one Magyar king owed his crown to the Emperor. But the end of these chivalrous exploits was not the triumph of Manuel but of Stephen Nemanya the Serbian.
The Eastern emperors were still further destabilized by a revolt of the Bulgarians. This was assisted by Stephen Nemanya, and led to the foundation of a second Bulgarian kingdom. Stephen’s policy thus interposed a strong buffer state between Constantinople and Rashka, which impeded further Byzantine attacks on the Serbians. It was in the course of this revolt in 1187 that Stephen Nemanya captured Nish and some of the surrounding district. Thus he had at last extended Serbian influence to the Morava valley, and by holding Nish he controlled not only the valley of the Morava and Vardar but the route to Philippopolis and Constantinople.
His culminating triumph came in July 1189, when he received the Holy Roman Emperor at Nish. Frederic Barbarossa, the most splendid of German Medieval rulers, was on his way to a crusade. Perhaps his own passions misled him into a quarrel with the Eastern Emperor; at any rate Nemanya profited by their hostility to conquer a long row of Byzantine fortresses stretching from Prisrend to Serdica. The Eastern Emperor attacked Nemanya in the following year and forced him to sue for peace. Though Nemanya was forced to surrender some of his conquests, he had recovered much territory, which had long been considered Byzantine.
The territory definitely ceded to Nemanya included part of Northern Albania as well as Scutari. The Byzantine boundary was defined as running from Alessio to Prisrend and to Uskub then up the Morava to Nish and Belgrade. Thus the great fortresses of the border were still imperial, but the interior of Rashka was permanently Serbian. The old boundary town had been Ras, but Nemanya now acquired territory beyond the Western Morava up to Kragujevatz and below Nish to Leskovatz.
For the first time there is a recognizable outline of a united Serbian kingdom. The treaty was sealed by the marriage of Stephen’s son to a Byzantine princess, an event that showed the Emperor’s desire to conciliate the powerful Serbian prince. In result, this treaty was to prove the last effective appearance of an Eastern emperor in the Morava valley. In 14 years the Latin Crusaders sacked Constantinople, and the continued revolts of Bulgaria interposed an effective barrier between Rashka and a Latin or Greek Empire. (Dvornik, 1992)
The fall of the Medieval Serbian Empire
The splendid empire of Serbia finally broke into fragments. The crowd of Despots, Sebastocrats, and Caesar’s hastened to assert their independence of the young Urosh, the youthful heir of the great Dushan. They took advantage of a disputed succession to question his title as Czar, and only ultimately acquiesced in his rule when his actual power was gone. However, the empire of Dushan had permanent results on the history of the Balkans. As this is the fact, it is well to understand its extent and the racial elements contained in it.
On the west, Dushan’s empire was not as extensive as that of Urosh II, the vale of the Narenta was not under his control, and the Prince of Bosnia was not permanently his subject. His control of a few ports like Stagno and Cattaro, and his alliances with Venice and Ragusa, gave him an important influence on the North Adriatic shore. The kingdoms of Zeta and Rashka were his as of old. Of the new districts added, the most important were Macedonia from Ochrida to Monastir and part of Thrace as far as Serres. All Albania, except Durazzo, nearly all Epirus, and Thessaly were under his rule. Bulgaria was in practice an ally or a tributary.
In fact, it may be said that with the exception of districts around seaports like Durazzo, Salonica, Cavalla, and Constantinople, the whole Balkan Peninsula was his. From the Danube to the gulfs of Arta and Volo, which was the boundary of modern Greece in 1878, the sway of Dushan was acknowledged and supreme. When his empire fell, the practical effects of his conquests did not altogether pass away. His wars with the Albanians produced a great migration of these tribes into Northern Greece and Thessaly.
His conquest of Macedonia introduced a new and Serbian element into that district, which has subsequently contended for the mastery with Greeks and Bulgars. His laws and his power undoubtedly consolidated the authority of the Serbs in districts where their conquests were relatively recent, as at Skopljé and Prisrend. There can be no question that his great renown and the glory with which he invested the Serbian arms gave the Serbian nation a tradition and a memory which has proved stronger than all the armies of Islam. (Cox, 2002)
Urosh III., the youthful King of Rashka, was not recognized as Serbo-Roman Emperor by Simeon, the half-brother of Stephen Dushan. Simeon, who was Despot of Epirus, declared war on Urosh, but the motley crowd of Despots, Caesar’s, and Sebastocrats who ruled the dependent provinces of the new empire paid real allegiance to neither party.
Every ruler aimed at establishing his own independence in his own lands, and seized the opportunity of the civil war to gain it, taking one side or another as occasion served. It would be tedious to relate the strife in detail, but the immediate result was the revolt of the untamable Albanians and the permanent loss of Thessaly. In Zeta, three brothers of the name of Balshi established their power by the year 1360, and their descendants laid the foundations of the modern kingdom of Montenegro. In the same way the districts in Macedonia and Thrace fell away, ultimately to be swallowed piecemeal by the Turk.
The two most important of these independent rulers were Vukashin and Lazar Hrbelianovitch. Vukashin was Despot of Prilep. Lazar, who is known merely by the title of Knez or Lord, ruled the Rudnik district in the north. Between these two chieftains the feeble Czar was powerless, and it is not surprising to learn that Vukashin assumed the title of King in 1366 and occupied the cities of Prisrend and Skopljé. The only difference between him and his master was that he called himself Dominus Rex Slavoniae, while Urosh was still Dominus Imperator Slavoniae. Each used documents, proclamations and officials separately but apparently with joint authority. The probability is that the growing Turkish danger induced the minor rulers to acquiesce in the authority of a strong man who might be able to avert it.
While the Serbian Empire was falling to pieces, its rivals, the Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empires, were being consumed by civil wars and divided by heresies. The powerful Louis of Hungary wasted his armies and injured Christendom by attacking the Bulgars. During the same period the Ottoman Sultans were laying the foundations of power by a policy of consummate wisdom and shrewdness, and slowly acquiring the strategic points from which to master the Balkans. Having their origin in the northwest corner of Asia Minor, under the shadow of the Asiatic Olympus, they were naturally tempted to attack the Byzantine Empire and to pass the Dardanelles. In fact, their advance and their aim was for long European rather than Asiatic.
Their first ruler, Othman, whose name in the corrupt form of Osmanli still describes the Turkish race, conquered Brusa before his death in 1326. Orkhan, his successor, expelled the Byzantines from the last corner of their Asiatic dominions, and entered into those relations with Cantacuzenus. The Turks had twice defeated the Serbians before Dushan died. Then the great step of permanently occupying and fortifying the town of Gallipoli was taken either in 1354 or 1358. By holding this bridgehead the Ottomans were able to pass into Europe, and so many availed the opportunity that its temporary loss in 1366 did not seriously interrupt their plans. Sultan Amurath, the third in succession from Othman, had already based his power firmly in Europe.
In the years 1360-61 a large Ottoman force advanced on Bulgaria and heavily defeated a combined army of Bulgars and Byzantines at the first famous battle of Lule Burgas. The fall of Philippopolis and Adrianople were the immediate results of this victory, which was soon followed by the loss of all Bulgaria south of the Balkans and of most of Thrace. Thus the Ottomans severed connection between Bulgars, Byzantines, and Serbians. By occupying Philippopolis they threatened all three powers. As against Bulgars and Serbians they had the advantage of interior lines, but they were exposed to an attack in the rear from Constantinople.
Had the feeble Byzantine seized this golden opportunity, the fate of Eastern Europe might have been very different. As it was the news of the fall of Adrianople startled the Balkan world and made it for moments forget its feuds. A league was speedily formed. Vukashin, Lazar, and Czar Urosh were the Serb representatives, the Bulgarians promised aid, and some Hungarian troops were present. In 1371, by Tchermen, about twenty miles away, west of Adrianople and on the banks of the Maritza, the armies met. Legend has been busy with the details of the fight, but there seems general agreement that the Serbs were surprised in camp by an attack at dawn. The slaughter was certainly terrific. (Hussey, 1982)
King Vukashin was drowned along with thousands of his men in the river, for the battle derives its name from the Maritza, which ran scarlet with blood. The political results were as immense as the slaughter. The Serbian Empire, already broken in all its limbs, received a finishing stroke. The Ottomans, who profited by the defeat of the Serbians, reconquered Serres. Macedonia and its princes came entirely under Turkish influence. Thessaly and Albania were already lost. Within fifteen years all the conquests of Dushan had vanished, and his unworthy son died in the same year that witnessed his shame.
The Turks showed their usual caution in their campaigns in Macedonia. Turkish armies devastated the land so thoroughly that packs of wolves followed in their train to feast on the corpses. As a terrible contemporary account says, they wasted the land like vultures, till the hearts of warriors turned to water and all wept for the happier dead. Punitive expeditions seem to have penetrated even to Albania, “Old Serbia,” or Bosnia. But the shrewd Amurath was not yet ready for the conquest of the whole of Macedonia. He had cowed all the Serb rulers, and he made those of West Macedonia dependent upon him.
Macedonia east of the Vardar and Thrace were all that he was as yet prepared to conquer and to assimilate. In pursuance of this policy Turkish settlers were imported, and Drama and Serres were made military colonies or Turkish garrisons. The Ottoman laws and habits were also introduced, and the whole country east of the Vardar was gradually Osmanised. In Macedonia west of the Vardar a number of Serb princes retained a shadowy and precarious independence. All were tributary to Sultan Amurath in fact if not in name. Of these the most famous is Marko Kraljevitch, the son of King Vukashin and his successor in the kingdom of Prilep. (Pears, 2004)
This hero is the favorite of all Serb legends, and has left a name at which every Serb heart thrills. His fame even extends far beyond the boundaries of the Southern Slav races, and Bulgars and Albanians admire him as a hero. He is celebrated as the perfect Balkan knight, unrivalled in strength, beloved of the nymphs for his beauty and of the eagles for his valour. All nature is marked with his imprints. The passes through mountains are cut asunder by his sword, isolated rocks are the balls, which he tossed from the mountains when playing at bowls with the giants. Rounded hills are his petrified bell-tents; the hollows of craters are the watering places for his famous grey horse Shabatz. All Serbs love the tale of how he cheated the Doge of his bride, defended the Sultan’s daughter from assault, and slew Moussa the bully and the giant Moor.
Historically little is known of him except that he was King of Prilep, and it is certainly something of an irony that the national Serb hero should have been a Turkish vassal. It is quite probable that he fought against his countrymen on the fatal day of Kossovo, and there is some real evidence for showing that he died in battle in the year 1394.
Before the battle, in which he was compelled to fight on the Turkish side, he is said to have remarked to a friend, “I pray God that He may aid the Christians and that I may be among the first to fall.” He had his wish, and died while the Christian shouts of victory were ringing in his ears. So deeply was this legend written in Serbian hearts, that thousands of soldiers saw Marko leading them to victory on his famous white horse at the time they drove the Turks from Prilep in 1912. (Pears, 2004)
The work of assimilation and settlement went steadily on. Turkish troops captured Ochrida and invaded Albania, and all Bulgaria south of the Balkans submitted by 1382. At some time subsequent to this date Sultan Amurath must have permanently occupied Nish. Once this central strategic point was in Turkish hands, the whole Balkan Peninsula was controlled. At Nish four ways met, the way to Constantinople through Philippopolis, the way to Salonica down the Vardar, to Belgrade down the Morava, and to Skopljé down it. He who held Nish prevented all communication along the best roads between Bulgaria, Salonica, Serbia, and Byzantium. Either Nish must be re-conquered, or all the Balkan princes would become vassals of the Turks.
The sole hope now lay in Lazar, the ruler of North Serbia, and in his ability to unite the still independent Slav princes against the Ottoman. Lazar’s weakness is evinced by the fact that he owes the title of Czar entirely to legend; he did not even claim that of Kral (king) but was content with that of Knez. His efforts were praiseworthy. He had succeeded in reconciling Serbia with Byzantium, and in 1274 the Greek Patriarch withdrew the ban of excommunication, which he had laid, on the Serbs in the days of Dushan. He had been beaten and forced to sue for peace at Nish, and compelled to send a thousand horsemen as auxiliaries.
But he broke with Amurath again in 1387, and prepared to resist him. His ally Turtko, the Bosnian ruler who called himself King, came to his aid. The Turks were caught at a disadvantage, because their main army was in Asia and at Plotchnik on the Toplitsa an army of Ottomans was practically annihilated. Great joy was caused by this first and last victory of the Jugo-Slav League, and Bulgarians threw off their enforced allegiance to the Turk and openly joined the union.
Bulgaria took a year to subdue, and in 1389 Amurath marched straight against Lazar. On the 15th of June the two armies met on the fatal “Field of Blackbirds, in the plain of Kossovo, which won so sad a glory on that day. Serbs, Bulgars, Albanians, Croats, and even Roumans fought on one side; the Turks and their Christian vassals, including probably the famous Serb hero King Marko himself, on the other. The leaders on each side, Knez Lazar and Sultan Amurath, were killed; but victory declared itself for the Turks. (Pears, 2004)
Another famous legend of the battle is concerned with Milosh Obilitch. Stung by Lazar’s reproaches on the evening before the battle, he determined to show his patriotism. With this view he sought out Sultan Amurath at daybreak in his tent, and there murdered him. The death of Murad did not affect the result of the battle, though it considerably increased the severity of Bayezid’s treatment of his Serbian captives. The whole cycle of legends of Kossovo abounds in pictures of dramatic or tragic force, drawn with a tender beauty and pathos.
The real Ottoman conquest was inevitable after Kossovo. Her own efforts had failed and these of neighboring powers were not to succeed. The great league formed by the Emperor Sigismund was dissolved in blood on the field of Nicopolis, his defeat being assured by the Serbians, who fought on the ‘Turkish side in 1396. Serbian princes became Turkish subjects, Serbian contingents now regularly fought in the Turkish armies, and the Serbian cavalry greatly distinguished themselves in their service. Only on the famous Black Mountain did the Balshitch dynasty maintain their independence of the Turk, and this was at the cost of ceding Scutari to Venice.
Those Christian princes who remained independent fought with one another, and were conquered in detail by the Turk as it suited his convenience. George Brankovitch became despot of North Serbia in 1427, but found the Belgrade district already ceded to Hungary. Accordingly he fortified Semendria, at the head of the Morava valley in 1430. The place was chosen with a military eye, but unfortunately for him, the Turks obtained Salonica in the same year. As they already held Nish they commanded two-thirds of that MoravaVardar road which is the easiest way of approach to Hungary.
A formidable expedition, organized by George Brankovitch and the great Hungarian leader John Hunyadi, inflicted severe losses on the Turks in 1443, but in the next year their forces were almost annihilated at Varna. The capture of Constantinople in 1453 greatly facilitated further Turkish conquests, and the ever-increasing disorder and anarchy completed the disaster.
The aged despot, George Brankovitch, the last really vigorous and patriotic Serbian ruler, died in 1458. Smederevo, the last great Serbian fortress, fell in 1459, and with it all hope of an independent Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina fell within a few years, and Serbian freedom was confined within the narrow walls of the Black Mountain, from which wave after wave of Turkish onslaught rolled sullenly back. (Gerolymatos, 2002)
The reasons for the collapse of the imposing Serbian Empire, only 30 years after its greatest glory, are both near and far to seek. The Serbian Empire was exposed to attack from Hungary in the north, from Venice in the west, from the Byzantines, Bulgars, and Turks in the south. Even the most skilful diplomacy could hardly prevent an enemy on both front and rear. The enmity of Rome separated Serbia from the Croats, Magyars and Bosnians, and the Imperial pretensions of Stephen Dushan had estranged Byzantium. Finally the Turks confronted the Serbians, the one power in the fourteenth century, which really possessed a professional army. These explanations do not, however, wholly suffice. The Serbs have always been great warriors, and their unfortunate situation between upper and lower millstones was no worse than that of some other medieval peoples.
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