Medieval Serbia: Life in Medieval Serbia

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In those days medieval writers and historians paid more attention to the life of the kings and noblemen than to the common people. We know when the kings waged war, whom they married and, hmmm, whom they divorced, but it is almost an impossible mission to find out what an ordinary peasant had for his lunch.

Nowadays we can make certain assumptions or try to find the facts by studying old manuscripts, looking at the frescoes in the monasteries etc.

The ring of Stefan I

It's not easy to find out how ordinary people lived back in the medieval Serbia because all written sources deal with the rulers, battles and religious issues.

However, we know that the noblemen had great control over the peasants who worked on their land and had to give a part of their harvest to their local duke and even had to work for a certain number of weeks for their lords.

Serbia was well developed country of the time and it had its own coins. Starting from Uros I (1243-1276) the country had more than 800 different types of coins, which were used until the end of the 15th century.

Coins of (from left to right): King Stefan I, Prince Lazar and Vuk Brankovic

Coins of the Mrnjavcevics family

German's miners came to Serbia in 1254 and they brought with them the most advanced tools of the time. Novo Brdo's miners were going 190m deep into the ground and the highest European "record" back than was 200m. They even knew for the acid which successfully separated gold from silver. Serbian miners were highly respected and they even were going to the south Italy to examine the potential new mine facilities.

 Serbian royal court gave permission for the free practice of other religions (mainly Catholic) but they were forbidden to convert the dominant orthodox Christians into their faith. This is a unique example because all over medieval Europe religious wars were led. Stefan Nemanja welcomed German's Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa on his way to Jerusalem during the Crusades. They even signed a mutual declaration.

We don't know for sure what they ate, but most probably meat and vegetables were on the menu. While peasants could afford bread, eggs, milk and cheese, noblemen enjoyed in game, fruits and fish. Sugar wasn't used and it was substituted with honey. Red wine was the favorite drink and it is mentioned many times in Serbian folk songs.

Trade was expanded and regulated by the Law. The Law of the Emperor Dusan guaranteed complete freedom for the traders and protected their interest from the greedy noblemen and thieves.

Art and literature were the pleasure of the rich, although St. Sava tried to make it more available for the common people. Medieval Serbia can be considered as a highly educated country and it left numerous written documents and illuminated manuscripts. Several printing presses were acquired and books were published in the monasteries. Prince Stefan Lazarevic owned a huge library and wrote several poems himself.