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Kingdom of Serbia (13th - 15th cent.)

Serbia became a kingdom with the coronation of Stefan II Nemanjic (1217-1228) and was afterwards ruled by the Nemanjic Dynasty. In compare to Stefan II his sons and successors Stefan Radoslav (1228-1233/34) and Stefan Vladislav I (1234-1243) were less active rulers. Stefan Radoslav was completely under influence of his father-in-law Theodore Komnenos Doukas of Epirus. He was deposed after the defeat of Epirus against the Bulgarians and replaced by his brother Stefan Vladislav I. However, later was son-in-law of Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria and Greek influence was replaced by Bulgarian.

Stefan Vladislav I was deposed after the Mongolian invasion in 1241/42 and Serbian crown was offered to the youngest son of Stefan the First-Crowned, Stefan Uros I (1243-1276). His reign was characterized by economic progress and very active foreign politics, while the Kingdom of Serbia emerged as an important power in the Balkans. However, the rise of Serbia was for a short period halted by the dynastic struggles which resulted in the deposition of Stefan Uros I by his son Stefan Dragutin (1276-1282) who was supported by the Hungarians. In 1282, Stefan Dragutin abdicated and left over the throne to his younger brother Stefan Milutin (1282-1321) who started the expansion of Serbia on expense of the Byzantine Empire reaching the Aegean Sea in 1282. The Byzantine Empire that was unable to stop Milutin's advancement ceded the lost lands to Serbia as a dowry for Simonis, the daughter of Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos who became Milutin's fourth wife. Milutin's relations with the Byzantine Empire were afterwards mostly friendly although he tried to take advantage of every Byzantine weakness. Milutin's brother Stefan Dragutin kept the northern lands of the country and gained Macva with Belgrade, and the Bosnian areas Soli and Usora through marriage of his son Vladislav to the member of the Hungarian royal family. Thus at the Sava and Danube Rivers on the north emerged a second Serbian state that existed until Dragutin's death in 1314.

Fresco of Stefan Decanski at Visoki Decani monastery
Stefan Decanski
Milutin and Dragutin initially get along well with one another but at the beginning of the 14th century broke out rivalry between the brothers which provoked an armed conflict which lasted from 1301 to 1314. Milutin's attempt to assure the succession to his son Stefan Decanski broke the agreement that was reached between the two brothers in 1282. Stefan Dragutin agreed to abdicate in Milutin's favor, while Dragutin’s son Stefan Vladislav II has been designated as Milutin’s successor. The war between the brothers lasted with occasional cease-fires until Dragutin's death in 1314. Meanwhile Milutin appointed his son Stefan Decanski as regent of Zeta (today's Montenegro), and after his brother's death seized his lands and imprisoned his nephew Stefan Vladislav II. However, Milutin’s act disturbed Hungary and its king Charles I who invaded Serbia and regained control over Belgrade and Banate of Macva, while Milutin retained Branicevo with the border at the Danube River. At the same time broke out a rebellion of his son Stefan Decanski but Milutin captured his son, blinded him and sent him in exile in Constantinople.

Milutin's sudden death in 1321 was followed by severe conflicts for the Serbian throne. The Serbian nobility split into three fractions supporting one of the three pretenders to the Serbian throne: Milutin's sons Stefan Decanski (never blinded properly) and Stefan Constantine, and Dragutin's son Vladislav II. The throne was won by Stefan Decanski (1321-1331) but the dynastic struggles greatly weakened the central power and temporary halted the Serbian territorial expansion. Bulgarians and Byzantines tried to take advantage of domestic difficulties in Serbia and prepared for a major invasion of Serbia in 1330. In the Battle of Velbuzhd (Velbazhd) Stefan Decanski defeated the Bulgarians and killed the Bulgarian Emperor Michael Asen III but the Serbian nobility discontented with his policy began to conspire against him.

Wall painting of Dusan Silni at Lesnovo monastery
Dusan Silni
Stefan Decanski was deposed and imprisoned in 1331 by his son Stefan Uros IV Dusan Silni (the Mighty) (1331-1355) who became one of the greatest Serbian rulers. During his rule Serbia reached its territorial peak and became one of the largest states in Medieval Europe. However, during the first years of his reign Dusan concentrated on strengthening of central royal power and started preparations for the campaign against the Byzantine Empire. He conquered Macedonia with exception of Thessaloniki by 1334 and captured from the Byzantines the western Balkans to Kavala except for the Peloponnesus and Thessaloniki by 1342. Following his successful military campaigns Stefan Dusan proclaimed himself emperor and was solemnly crowned Emperor and Autocrat of Serbs and Greeks in Skopje in 1346. Dusan continued military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire also after his imperial coronation, and conquered Epirus and Thessaly in 1348. However, his great plans were cut short by his premature death in 1355.

Portrait of Prince Lazar by Dura Jaksic
Prince Lazar
Dusan Silni was succeeded by his son Stefan Uros V (1355-1371) whose reign was characterized by weakening of central power and rise of numerous more or less independent principalities. Uros V was not able to sustain the great empire created by his father neither to repulse the foreign threats nor to restrict the independence of the nobles. Stefan Uros V was succeeded by Stefan Lazar also known as Knez Lazar (1371-1389) who was at the time the most powerful Serbian noble, while his reign was marked by the Ottoman threat. Serbian army and much of the Serbian nobility had been destroyed in the Battle of Maritsa in 1371 by the Ottoman forces which afterwards started to invade the Serbian lands. Aware of the Ottoman threat Prince Lazar began diplomatic and military preparations for a campaign against the Ottomans. Both forces met in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 in which was killed much of Serbian political elite including Lazar himself.

Although winning the Battle of Kosovo the Ottomans could not take advantage of their victory. Lazar's widow Milica Nemanjic agreed to became a vassal of Sultan Bayezid who married Olivera Despina, the daughter of Prince Lazar. However, during the Ottoman conquest of the Balkan Peninsula assumed power Stefan Lazarevic (1389-1427) who was the son and heir of Prince Lazar. Stefan Lazarevic took advantage of the Mongol invasion in the Ottoman Empire in 1404, revoked the vassalage and went to Constantinople where he was granted the title despot by the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos. However, the attempts of Sultan Suleiman to restore the vassal status of Serbia and opposition within Serbia forced Stefan Lazarevic to accept vassalage to the Hungarian King Sigismund who ceded him Macva with Belgrade. Shortly afterwards Stefan Lazarevic reconciled also with Ottoman Sultan Suleiman and the Brankovic family but the rivalry between the Lazarevic and Brankovic families continued. Besides that Sultan Suleiman supported his brother Vuk (Lazarevic) to whom Stefan was forced to cede the southern part of the Serbian Despotate.

The Balkan Peninsula was meanwhile invaded by Suleiman's brother Musa who attacked Serbia in 1412 but he was defeated by joined Christian forces under leadership of the nephew of Stefan Lazarevic and the first Serbian ruler of the House of Brankovic, Durad Brankovic (1427-1457). He moved the Serbian capital to Smederevo but the city was captured by the Ottomans after a three-month siege in 1439. Durad retreated to Hungary, while the Serbian Despotate was devastated. Durad restored his rule in Serbia with the Peace of Szeged (1444) signed between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire but he failed to restore Serbia in its former extent. One year after the fall of Constantinople (1453) Serbia was invaded by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror who captured great part of Serbian Despotate, devastated the state and enslaved about 50, 000 people. Mehmed II failed to seize Smederevo but he captured Novo Brdo in 1454 and forced Durad to cede him the entire southern section of Serbia.

After Durad's death in 1456 Serbia was unable to repulse the Ottoman threat, while Serbian nobility was divided in two fractions. The first tried to create closer ties with Hungary, while the other supported friendlier politics towards Ottomans. Durad's successor Lazar Brankovic (1456-1458) was under influence of pro-Ottoman fraction and made a deal with sultan Mehmed II who granted him the lands of his predecessor with exception of Novo Brdo. Because of the threat of an eventual Hungarian invasion a pro-Ottoman member of the regency open the gates of Smederevo to the Ottoman forces but pro-Hungarian fraction killed the Ottomans, deposed Lazar Brankovic and replaced him by Stefan Brankovic (1458-1459). Stefan Brankovic tried to unite Serbia and Bosnia through marriage of his niece and late despot Lazar's daughter, Jelaca to the heir of Bosnia, Stefan Tomacevic. However, later proclaimed himself despot and expelled Stefan Brankovic already before the marriage, while the plan of an union between Bosnia and Serbia failed. The Ottoman forces conquered Smederevo without a fight in 1459 and Serbia fell under four centuries-long Ottoman yoke.