The Rise of The
Kingdom (1199 – 1321)
Serbia's grand zupan Stefan Nemanja, founder of the Nemanjic
dynasty, died in 1199. He left behind the foundations of the
Serbian state and three sons -- Vukan, Stevan, and Rastko -- to
preserve and consolidate his ruler's work.
Nemanja's heritage was neither easy nor simple. Power struggles
between the two elder brothers escalated into a conflict. The
dispute smoldered until the early years of the 13th century,
sometimes breaking out into an open intolerance. First Vukan
managed to maintain rule in Serbia for a while, governing from
his safe refuge in Zeta, which he had inherited from his father.
The youngest son, Rastko, better known by his monastic name Sava,
arbitrated from the very beginning who between the elder
brothers should rule Serbia.
Even though Nemanja had chosen Stevan as his successor, Vukan
grew predominant in Serbia and banished Stevan in 1202. Thus he
became the grand zupan. A few years later, in 1204 or 1205,
Stevan succeeded, by gradually conquering Serbian lands, to take
over rule in Serbia. Nemanja had fulfilled his wish at last:
that Stevan rule the lands and Vukan be the "grand prince" of
one region. The transfer of Stefan Nemanja's relics from
Chilandar to the Studenica monastery brought reconciliation
between the two brothers. Sava played the key role in their
Stevan's final inauguration as head of the Serbian state marked
the beginning of a new era not only in the Serbian history, but
in the history of the entire Balkan peninsula. The destruction
of the Byzantium by the Crusades (the Fourth Crusade) and the
creation of several new states on the soil of the old empire
changed the balance of power in southeastern Europe. The Balkans
divided into two worlds with states that belonged to the
Byzantine spirit (Serbia, Bulgaria, and others) standing on the
one side of the divide and new states of the Latin crusades or
small Greek states, on the other. There from Stevan's
pro-western policy developed. The most important step Stevan
took as part of this commitment was marrying, for the second
time, the Venetian princess Ana Dandolo in 1207 or 1208. His
first wife was the Byzantine princess Evdokia. Both his
marriages were of political convenience. The second one
indicated clearly which path Stevan intended to take.
Stevan's first attempt at obtaining the regal crown from Pope
Innocent III failed, but his persistence paid off in 1217. That
year Sava sent to Rome his disciple Methodius, who won Pope
Honorius' blessing for the coronation. At an assembly in the
monastery of Zica, Sava crowned his brother Stevan with the
crown he had brought from Rome. In 1217 Stevan became the first
king of Serbia -- there from his name Stevan the First Crowned
-- and Serbia became the kingdom.
An event even more crucial than the inauguration of Serbia as a
kingdom was the creation of the Serbian autocephalous
(independent) Orthodox Church. Sava Nemanjic played the key role
in this, perhaps most far-reaching decision in the Serbian
history. In 1219, Sava traveled to Nicaea. He succeeded to
obtain the act on the independence of the Serbian church from
Emperor Theodore I Lascaris and Patriarch Manuel Saranten
Haritopul. This meant that Serbian arch priests achieved the
right to elect their own archbishops themselves. Sava became the
first Serbian archbishop in 1219. Immediately after that, he
undertook the onerous task of consolidating the internal and
external organization of the Serbian church. He was the one to
lay the foundations of the Serbian Orthodoxy -- the one we know
and recognize today -- both in the spiritual and organizational
senses. After the death of the first Serbian king, Stevan the
First Crowned, in 1228, his elder son Radoslav succeeded to the
throne according to the explicit wish of his father. His short
reign (1228-1233) was full of internal misunderstandings and
struggles. Radoslav married the daughter of John I Angelus, the
governor of Epirus. An unexpected shift in Serbia's foreign
policy under the new king -- from the West to the East --
probably disturbed the stability of Stevan's former state.
The Serbian feudal landlords could not accept King Radoslav's
probyzantine policy. Their discontent culminated in toppling
Radoslav and replacing him with Stevan's younger son Vladislav.
Radoslav subsequently became a monk, and Sava had him buried in
the monastery of Studenica.
The change on Serbia's throne shifted its external policy once
again. Vladislav sought -- and found -- support in Bulgaria. He
married Bulgarian princess Beloslava, the daughter of John Asen
II. Soon Sava withdrew from the position of Serbian archbishop.
He retired at an assembly in Zica, leaving the vacancy to his
disciple Arsenije. Then he left Serbia and set out to the East
again, visiting Palestine, Alexandria and Nicaea. He died in
Trnovo on January 14, 1236. Despite many difficulties and the
opposition from his father-in-law, Vladislav managed to bring
Sava's relics back to Serbia and had them buried in the royal
monastery of Mileseva in 1237.
The reign of King Vladislav lasted ten years precisely. Relying
on Bulgaria, Vladislav lasted as long as his main ally. With the
penetration of the Mongols into Hungary and Serbia, his power
grew weak. Once again the Serbian feudal landlords decided the
destiny of the throne. Rising against Vladislav, they toppled
him and brought the third son of Stevan the First Crowned, Uros
I, to the throne. All this took place in 1243.
Uros remained at the helm of the Serbian kingdom for more than
thirty years. Throughout his reign he witnessed the fundamental
change in the situation in the Balkans. Byzantium was restored
in 1261, while Hungary rapidly grew into a first-rate power.
Despite being under pressures from both north and south, Serbia
was large enough a state to feel imminently threatened. Uros I
conducted ostensibly a reconciliatory policy with his neighbors,
but actually a calculated one.
In the first period of his rule he secured the borders of the
Serbian state. His relations with Dubrovnik were particularly
important. They deteriorated repeatedly only to be restored
again. Twice did he mount attacks on the city, thus forcing the
residents of Dubrovnik to respect their ancient duties towards
the Serbian ruler. Uros was adroit enough to maintain friendly
relations with the Nicaean Empire, though the Nicaean Emperor
was never quite sure of his true intentions.
In the mid-13th century, the greatest threat to Serbia came from
Bulgaria, but it did not escalate into an open conflict.
Pressures came from the north and southwest, but eased gradually
after the death of Tsar Michael Asen of Bulgaria.
However, Uros was not successful in all his efforts. His biggest
failure was the attack on Macva in 1267-68, when the lord of
Macva, with the help of King Bela IV of Hungary, defeated him
and took him as a prisoner. The Serbian king had to pay ransom
to return to his land. After this, as a sign of reconciliation,
Uros's son Dragutin married the Hungarian Princess Catalina
In 1275, Uros entered yet another war with Dubrovnik. Even
though he won, peace was only restored on the insistence of the
Uros was dethroned by his son Dragutin, who was deeply
dissatisfied with his father's distrust. Dragutin persistently
demanded that he rule one of the Serbian regions. As his demands
went unanswered, Dragutin warred against his father and defeated
him. Pardoned by his mother, he became the king of Serbia in
1276. His ousted father became a monk and died one year later.
Dragutin, however, did not hold the power for long. He was
unfortunate to fall off a horse in Jelaca in 1282 and the
accident left him crippled. Discouraged both physically and
morally, he soon left the throne to his younger brother Milutin.
The change on the Serbian throne took place at an assembly in
The longest reigning ruler in Serbia's medieval history was
Milutin. He remained in power for almost forty years
Milutin early on came into conflict with his brother Dragutin.
It lasted throughout the 13th century and continued into the
14th. The precise date of their reconciliation is unclear though
we know that they acted together in 1313. However, Dragutin died
not long after that, leaving his lands to his son Vladislav.
Milutin took advantage of it, mounted an attack on his nephew,
defeated him, threw him in captivity and conquered Rudnik, the
mining village of Lipnik, the city of Macva and, probably,
Belgrade. This caused the deterioration of relations between
Milutin and King Charles Robert of Hungary. First the Hungarian
army penetrated into Serbia in 1319, occupying all Dragutin's
former lands and advancing through the Kolubara River valley.
However, the success of the Hungarian campaign was short-lived.
In a counterattack, Milutin won back some of the conquered
lands. By 1320, however, Charles Robert still held Macva under
Milutin too had trouble with Dubrovnik. He warred against the
city in 1317, but the provisions of the subsequent peace
agreement remained unclear. One thing is certain, though:
Milutin owed about 4,000 perpers to the Dubrovnik merchants and
extended his debt payments until 1318, when Dubrovnik obtained
permission for free trade in Serbia.
The Serbian King also had to withstand onslaughts from Albanian
catholic landlords, who obeyed the Pope's order to overthrow him
in 1319. The outcome of that action, however, remains unclear,
though it is highly unlikely that the putsch ended successfully.
Once again Milutin managed to save his life, this time with the
help of Despot Thomas of Epirus.
The most important legacy of King Milutin's long reign is the
large number of endowments and churches he erected. No other
king of the Nemanjic dynasty did leave such an opulent
architectural and artistic legacy as Milutin.
However, the Serbian state Milutin left behind after forty years
of rule had neither the internal glitter nor the eternity of the
buildings he erected. The Serbian state under the rule of
Nemanjic dynasty would see its true rise in the mid-14th