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II 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 reconciliation.

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 around 1270.

In 1275, Uros entered yet another war with Dubrovnik. Even though he won, peace was only restored on the insistence of the Venetian doge.

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 Dezevo.

The longest reigning ruler in Serbia's medieval history was Milutin. He remained in power for almost forty years (1282-1321).

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 his control.

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 century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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