Slavic Migration into the Balkans


870 Jan 1
, Duklja

According to the De Administrando Imperio, the Serbs settled the Balkans under the protection of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–41), and were ruled by a dynasty known in historiography as the Vlastimirović dynasty. Slavs had begun settling the region in the early 6th century, after raiding deep into the Empire. They settled "baptized Serbia", which included Bosnia, and the maritime lands of Travunija, Zahumlje and Paganija, while maritime Duklja was held by the Byzantines, it was presumably settled with Serbs as well. All of the maritime lands bordered "baptized Serbia" to the north.

In the mid-9th century, the hitherto peaceful neighbour of Bulgaria invaded but was defeated in war. Serbia was Christianized in ca. 870, although missions had been made during Heraclius' reign. In the following decades, members of the dynasty fought succession wars, and Serbia became a matter of Byzantine-Bulgarian rivalry. The written information regarding the dynasty ends with the DAI and Prince Časlav's death (ca. 950), after which the realm crumbled into pieces.

Meanwhile, Duklja emerged as the dominant Serbian principality, that gradually also including Travunija, Zahumlje, Bosnia and Raška. Initially a vassal of the Byzantine Empire, Stefan Vojislav (1034–1043) rose up and managed to take over the territories of the earlier Serbian principality, founding the Vojislavljević dynasty. Between 1043 and 1080, under Mihailo Vojislavljević (r. 1050–1081), and his son, Constantine Bodin (r. 1081–1101), Duklja saw its apogee. Mihailo was given the nominal title King of Slavs by the Pope after having left the Byzantine camp and supported a Slavic uprising in the Balkans, in which his son Bodin played a central part. Having incorporated the Serbian hinterland and installed vassal rulers there, it emerged as the most powerful Serb polity, seen in the titles used by its rulers ("Prince of Serbia", "of Serbs"). However, its rise was short-lived, as Bodin was defeated by the Byzantines and imprisoned; pushed to the background, his relative and vassal Vukan became independent in Raška, which continued the fight against the Byzantines while Duklja was struck with civil wars.

Časlav of Serbia | ©Kosta Mandrović

Serbia gains independence from Bulgaria

933 Jan 1
, Serbia

The initial successes of Peter's reign were followed by several minor setbacks. Around 930, Peter faced a revolt led by his younger brother Ivan, who was defeated and sent into exile in Byzantium. Perhaps taking advantage of these challenges to Peter's rule, the Prince of Serbia Časlav Klonimirović escaped the Bulgarian capital Preslav in 933 and, with tacit Byzantine support, managed to raise a Serbian revolt against Bulgarian rule. The revolt succeeded and Serbia recovered its independence from Bulgarian Empire.

Great Schism in Serbian lands

Great Schism in Serbian lands

1077 Jan 1
, Duklja

After the uprising, Mihailo began looking for support westward - to the Pope. This came as a result not only of his alienation from the Byzantines, but also from a desire to create an independent archbishopric within his realm and to finally to obtain a royal title.

In the aftermath of the Church schism of 1054, Pope Gregory VII was interested in bestowing royal crown on rulers in the rift area and Mihailo was granted his in 1077. Thereafter, Duklja was referred to as a kingdom, a situation that lasted until its reduction in the following century.

Duklja becomes a Catholic region while Raska becomes an Orthodox one.

Grand Principality of Serbia | ©Angus McBride

Grand Principality of Serbia

1091 Jan 1
, Novi Pazar

In 1091 or 1092, Vukan became independent, taking the title of Grand Prince (veliki župan). His state was centered at Ras, around present-day Novi Pazar. Subordinate to him were local counts (titled župan), who seem to have been more or less autonomous in the internal affairs of their counties, but who obliged loyalty, and support in warfare. It seems that the counts were hereditary holders, holding their land before Duklja annexed Raška. Vukan began raiding Byzantine territory in the vicinity of Kosovo in ca. 1090, the Byzantines initially being unable to take counter-measures as they faced invading Pechenegs.

The Vukanović dynasty was a medieval Serbian dynasty that ruled over inner Serbia, centered in the Raška region during the 11th and 12th century.

Conflict with Byzantine Empire | ©Angus McBride

Conflict with Byzantine Empire

1092 Jan 1
, Raška

After defeating the Pechenegs, Alexios I Komnenos sent an army with the strategos of Dyrrhachium, which was defeated by Vukan in 1092. Alexios then mobilized a much larger army, led by himself, and marched onto Raška; Vukan sent envoys, seeking peace, which Alexios quickly accepted as problems arose at home with Cumans plundering as far as Adrianople.

Civil War in Duklja

Civil War in Duklja

1118 Jan 1
, Duklja

The Byzantines installed Grubeša Branislavljević after 1118, banishing Dorđe to Raška. Đorđe claimed protection of Uroš, and in the 1125 the two led an army against Grubeša, meeting in the Battle of Antivari. Grubeša was killed and Đorđe retained his realm, although not all of it. Small parts were ruled by cousins, among them the three brothers of Grubeša, who would soon quarrel with Đorđe. The Byzantines again invaded the coastlands of Duklja, giving nominal rule to Gradinja, resulting in a guerilla war in the woods. The second expedition captured Đorđe. He was taken to Constantinople where he died. Gradinja strengthened the ties with Serbia.

Byzantine Heavy Cavalry vs Hungarian Knight | ©Angus McBride

Byzantine–Hungarian War

1127 Jan 1
, Plovdiv

In ca. 1127, a Byzantine–Hungarian war broke out, with the Hungarians taking over Belgrade, then penetrating to Niš, Sofia, and Philippopolis, after which John II Komnenos defeated them with infantry and navy on the Danube. The Serbs, who had in the meantime recognized Byzantine rule, expelled the Byzantine governor at Ras, Kritopl, who fled to Constantinople where he was ridiculed.

Norman Invasion | ©Angus McBride

Reign of Uroš II

1145 Jan 1
, Raška

Uroš II was Serbian Grand Prince from c.1145 to 1162, with brief interruptions as ruler by Desa, his brother. His rule was characterized by a period of power struggle, not only of the Serbian throne between the brothers but between the Byzantine Empire and Kingdom of Hungary, of which he took advantage. He had two brothers Desa and Beloš, and a sister Helena of Serbia, Queen of Hungary. Furthermore, Uroš II also had to contend with the Second Norman invasion of the Balkans (1147-1149).

Norman Invasion of the Balkans | ©Angus McBride

Second Norman invasion of the Balkans

1147 Jan 1
, Corfu

In 1147 the Byzantine empire under Manuel I Comnenus was faced with war by Roger II of Sicily, whose fleet had captured the Byzantine island of Corfu and plundered Thebes and Corinth. However, despite being distracted by a Cuman attack in the Balkans, in 1148 Manuel enlisted the alliance of Conrad III of Germany, and the help of the Venetians, who quickly defeated Roger with their powerful fleet.

Normans, Hungarians, and Serbians | ©Angus McBride

Normans, Hungarians, and Serbians

1148 Jan 1
, Hungary

Uroš I was succeeded by his son, Uroš II. Beloš had close ties with Uroš II, and they were able to count on each other in times of trouble. In ca. 1148, the political situation in the Balkans was divided by two sides, one being the alliance of the Byzantines and Venice, the other the Normans and Hungarians. The Normans were sure of the danger that the battlefield would move from the Balkans to their area in Italy. Emperor Manuel I Komnenos also allied himself with the Germans after defeating the Cumans in 1148. The Serbs, Hungarians and Normans exchanged envoys, being in the interest of the Normans to stop Manuel's plans to recover Italy.

Serbia revolts

Serbia revolts

1149 Jan 1
, Kotor

In 1149, Beloš's Hungarian army aided Uroš II against the Byzantines. The Serbs under brothers Uroš II and Desa revolted against the Byzantines, when Manuel was in Avlona planning an offensive across the Adriatic, and this revolt posed danger to the Emperor if he would attack Italy, as the Serbs could strike at the Adriatic bases.

Uroš II and Desa next undertook an offensive against Radoslav of Duklja, who was a loyal Byzantine vassal. Radoslav was pushed to the southwestern corner of Duklja, to Kotor, and retained only the coastal area, with the brothers holding much of inland Duklja and Trebinje – over two thirds of Duklja. Radoslav sought help from the Emperor, who sent aid from Dyrrhachium. At this moment, the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja ends, presumably because the author of the original text had died. A major war was about to erupt in the Balkans; Uroš II and Desa, in light of Byzantine retaliation, sought aid from their brother Beloš, the count palatine of Hungary. By 1150, Hungarian troops played an active role in Serbia.

Manuel I declares war on Hungary

Manuel I declares war on Hungary

1151 Jan 1
, Syrmia

In 1151, Manuel I declares war on Hungary. This was due to the fact that Hungary had aided Serbia in its revolts against Byzantine rule. Byzantine troops are sent into Srem and across the Danube. The Byzantines caused great destruction and then withdrew, the operation being strictly punitive, with no occupation of lands. Geza soon signed a peace treaty. Over the next 20 years, there were to be 10 campaigns against Hungary. Manuel I was able to keep the Hungarians under control in the Balkans, at the expense of abandoning the Norman conflict.

Battle of Pantina

Battle of Pantina

1166 Jan 1
, Zveçan

Prince Nemanja of Ibar, Toplica, Rasina and Reke was the inferior of his lord and older brother, Grand Prince Tihomir of Serbia. When Nemanja had built monasteries without consulting Tihomir, the latter had Nemanja captured and chained, and his lands seized as well. But Nemanja's supporters within the clergy, who had welcomed his construction of churches and thus granted him their respect, conspired to have him released. Nemanja was later freed, and regained rule in some of his previous lands. Next, he successfully overthrew Tihomir, who fled to the Byzantines with his brothers.

The Battle of Pantina was fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Grand Principality of Serbia in 1167. It was part of a war of succession within Serbia, in which the Byzantines intervened on behalf of the deposed Grand Prince Tihomir of Serbia against his rebellious younger brother, Prince Nemanja, who emerged victorious and was crowned afterwards.

A Byzantine army was assembled for the Byzantine ally Tihomir, who came in from Skopje. The two armies collided at Pantina near Zvečan, present-day Kosovo. After a decisive battle, the Byzantine force was crushed and quickly began retreating. Tihomir drowned in the Sitnica river and Nemanja's remaining brothers were pardoned, recognising Stefan Nemanja as the supreme ruler of Serbia, crowned as "Ruler of All Serbia". The battle was decisive in the fact that it ensured the unity of all Serbian princes and their ultimate loyalty to Stefan Nemanja. This later paved the way for the consolidation of Serbia and its eventual formation into a kingdom.

Reign of Stefan Nemanja

Reign of Stefan Nemanja

1166 Jan 1
, Raška

Stefan Nemanja was the Grand Prince of the Serbian Grand Principality from 1166 to 1196. A member of the Vukanović dynasty, Nemanja founded the Nemanjić dynasty, and is remembered for his contributions to Serbian culture and history, founding what would evolve into the Serbian Empire, as well as the national church. According to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Nemanja is also among the most remarkable Serbs for his literary contributions and altruistic attributes.

In 1196, after three decades of warfare and negotiations, including the Third Norman invasion of the Balkans (1185-1186) which consolidated Serbia while distinguishing it from both Western and Byzantine spheres of influence, Nemanja abdicated in favour of his middle son Stefan Nemanjić, who later became the first King of Serbia.

Byzantine-Venetian war

Byzantine-Venetian war

1171 Sep 1
, Chios

The Byzantine–Venetian War of 1171 was fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Republic of Venice as a result of the Byzantine imprisonment of Venetian merchants and citizens across the Empire. 10,000 Venetians were imprisoned in the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, alone. Despite Doge Michiel's apparent will to pursue a peaceful solution, outrage in Venice itself swung popular opinion in the favour of full scale war against Byzantium. Doge Michiel had no choice but to set out for war, which he did in mid-late 1171.

Venice launched a Venetian navy with about 120 ships to Byzantine possessions. The Venetian fleet headed east in September of that year, conquering, by the way, Byzantine Trogir and Dubrovnik. Then Nemanja entered into closer ties with the Venetians and began attacks on Byzantine Kotor, simultaneously carrying out raids through the Moravian valley through which the main public road passes between Byzantine Belgrade and Niš.

After indecisive battles in Euboea, Michiel was forced to withdraw his fleet to Chios. After a number of months on Chios, whilst waiting for a Venetian embassy to be received in Constantinople, plague began to set in. However, the emperor of Byzantium, Manuel I Komnenos, was well aware of the plague, and continued to stall negotiations. The Venetians attempted to move from island to island to avoid the plague. Doge Michiel's efforts, however, were fruitless, and in May 1172, he returned to Venice with what was left of the fleet. The Venetians were decisively defeated.

Manuel I leads Stefan Nemanja during his triumph in 1172

Byzantine Vassalage

1172 Jun 1
, Niš

This conflict ended with Nemanja's surrender to Emperor Manuel. One day, Nemanja ritually obeyed Manuel I Komnenus in Niš . Barefoot, with his clothes torn to the elbows, a rope around his neck and a sword in his hands, he entered the Byzantine camp and went out to the emperor. Arriving in front of Manuel, he fell on his knees in front of him, handing him his sword, to do with him what he wanted. The Byzantine emperor accepted his humility, agreeing to the renewal of vassal obligations and leaving Nemanja in the position of grand zoupan. The final part of this episode took place in Constantinople, where Nemanja was taken as a slave in Manoel's triumphal procession, while the gathered people ridiculed him.

The Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus returned Nemanja to the position of grand zoupan, and he confirmed to his brothers their areas - Stracimir around the West Moravia and Miroslav Zachlumia. Upon his return to Raška, Nemanja turned to consolidating the central government, and forced Tihomir's son and successor Prvoslav to renounce the ruler's claims in his favor.

Serbia in the Byzantine Wars | ©Tyson Roberts

Serbia in the Byzantine Wars

1176 Sep 17
, Antakya

In accordance with his vassal duties, Nemanja regularly sent auxiliary detachments to Byzantine military campaigns. Serbian detachments were also part of the Byzantine army that defeated the troops of the Sultanate of Rum in the battle of Myriokephalon on September 17, 1176, in the gorges of Asia Minor.

Stefan Nemanja | ©Darko Stojanovic

Nemanja allies with Hungary

1183 Jan 1
, Dubrovnik

After the death of Emperor Manuel on September 24, 1180, the Hungarian king Bela III considered that he had no more obligations to Byzantium. The following 1181, he launched an offensive against Byzantium and conquered Srem (Sirmium) the northeastern part of the Adriatic coast (Including Zara) and Zemun. Byzantium was then occupied by internal conflicts, so that there was no military response to the Hungarian conquests. In 1182, Bela III ordered an attack on Byzantine Belgrade and Braničevo.

The usurpation of Andronikos I freed Nemanja from subordination to the Byzantine emperor. Stefan Nemanja, in alliance with the Hungarian king Bela III, launched a great offensive on Byzantium in 1183. Also, the commander of the Byzantine army, Andronicus Lampardis in Niš and Braničevo, renounced obedience to the new central authorities. At the same time, the Hungarian king Bela III conquered Byzantine Belgrade, Niš and Serdica (Sofia). According to the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates, the Serbs, led by Nemanja, joined this campaign. The following year, Nemanja launched an offensive on the southeastern Adriatic coast and conquered Byzantine Skadar and besieged Dubrovnik (Ragusa).

Bulgarian Uprising of Peter and Asen

Bulgarian Uprising of Peter and Asen

1185 Oct 1
, Turnovo

In October 1185, in the Lower Danube, in northern Bulgaria, an uprising began, led by the brothers Peter and Ivan I Asen, one of the reasons for which was an extraordinary tribute that Emperor Isaac II ordered to be collected for his wedding. Nemanja then coordinated actions with the Asen brothers against Byzantium.

The 1189 Meeting of Stefan Nemanja and Frederick Barbarossa (19th century) by Kosta Mandrović

Nemanja meets Barbarossa

1189 Jul 1
, Niš

In Niš, in the new capital of Stefan Nemanja, the German emperor and the grand zoupan met at the end of July 1189. At the meeting, Nemanja asked Barbarossa for the Crusaders to go to war against Byzantium. However, Barbarossa rejected this proposal in a diplomatic manner, wanting to ensure only a safe passage for his army through Byzantium.

Serbian Civil War | ©Darko Stojanovic

Serbian Civil War

1198 Jan 1
, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The new Pope Innocent III, who in a letter in 1198 called on the entire West to liberate the Holy Land, was not satisfied with the fact that the Serbs were subordinated to the Patriarch of Constantinople, but wanted to return them to Rome through Vukan.

In 1198, the Hungarian dux Andrew conquered Hum (Hercegovina) of grand zoupan Stefan and rebelled against brother king Emeric but did not gain legitimacy from Rome. In any case, the Hungarians became dominant on the eastern Adriatic coast. But Venice, because of its business interests, did not like the eastern coast of the Adriatic to be controlled by the mighty Byzantium or Hungary. Vukan and the Hungarian king Emeric (1196-1204) make an alliance against Stefan, after which a civil war breaks out in Serbia.

Chilandar Monastery

Charter of Hilandar

1198 Jan 1
, Hilandar Ι.Μ.Χιλανδαρίου

Together with his son Saint Sava, Nemanja restored the Hilandar Monastery at Mount Athos from 1198 to 1199, and issued the "Charter of Hilandar". The Charter of Hilandar is the founding charter of the Hilandar monastery, the cradle of the Serbian Orthodox Church and main endowment of Stefan Nemanja and Saint Sava.

The monastery thus became the center of Serbian Orthodox monasticism at Athos. Shortly after his death, Serbian Orthodox Church canonized Stefan Nemanja, under the name Saint Simeon the Myrrh-streaming.

The crusaders conquering the City of Zara (Zadar) in 1202, painted by Andrea Vicentino

Siege of Zara

1202 Jan 1
, Zadar

In the meantime, control of the newly formed crusade army was taken over by the powerful Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo, who, to the surprise of all, including the pope himself, in the Fourth Crusade first sent an attack on Hungarian Zara in 1202.

The siege of Zara was the first major action of the Fourth Crusade and the first attack against a Catholic city by Catholic crusaders. The crusaders had an agreement with Venice for transport across the sea, but the price far exceeded what they were able to pay. Venice set the condition that the crusaders help them capture Zadar (or Zara), a constant battleground between Venice on one side and Croatia and Hungary on the other, whose king, Emeric, pledged himself to join the Crusade.

Although some of the crusaders refused to take part in the siege, the attack on Zadar began in November 1202 despite letters from Pope Innocent III forbidding such an action and threatening excommunication. Zadar fell on 24 November and the Venetians and the crusaders sacked the city. After wintering in Zadar, the Fourth Crusade continued its campaign, which led to the siege of Constantinople.

Kingdom of Serbia | ©Darko Stojanovic

Kingdom of Serbia

1217 Jan 1
, Stari Ras

Having long wanted to call himself king, Stefan set about procuring a royal crown from the papacy. It is not clear what Stefan promised in regard to the status of the Catholic Church, which had numerous adherents in the western and coastal parts of his realm, but a papal legate finally arrived in 1217.

Since the Roman Catholic Church already had ambitions to spread its influence to Southeastern Europe as well, Stefan used these circumstances to eventually obtain the recognition of kingship from the Pope. Stefan the First-Crowned is crowned the King of the Serbs by Pope Honorius III establishing the Second Serbian Realm. The influence of the Catholic Church in Serbia did not last long but angered Serbian clergy. Many opposed Stefan's coronation, with Sava protesting by leaving Serbia and returning to Mount Athos. 

Stefan Nemanjić declared his independence from Byzantium and was crowned as king, adopting the title: "Crowned King and Autocrat of all Serbian and coastal lands".


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