Serbian Empire

Serbian Empire
Serbian Empire
Српско Царство
Srpsko Carstvo



Serbian Empire of Tsar Dušan, 1355 A.D.
Capital Skopje and Prizren
Language(s) Serbian
Religion Serbian Orthodoxy
Government Absolute Monarchy
Tsar (Emperor)
 - 1346–1355 Stefan Uroš IV Dušan
 - 1355–1371 Stefan Uroš V
 - Established 16th April 1346
 - Disestablished 04 December 1371
Currency Serbian perper
Preceded by Succeeded by
Kingdom of Serbia (medieval)
Moravian Serbia
District of Branković
Principality of Zeta
Kingdom of Prilep
Despotate of Velbazhd
Despotate of Epirus
Nikola Altomanović
Today part of  Serbia
 Republic of Macedonia
 Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Serbian Empire (Serbian: Српско Царство, Srpsko Carstvo, pronounced [sr̩̂pskɔ̝ː tsâːrstʋɔ̝]) was a short-lived medieval empire in the Balkans that emerged from the Serbian Kingdom. Stephen Uroš IV Dušan was crowned Emperor of Serbs and Greeks on 16 April, 1346, a title signifying a successorship to the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines). Dušan the Mighty significantly expanded the state, stretching over half of the Balkan peninsula, also promoting the church to a Patriarchate. The Empire crumbled during Uroš V the Weak (hence his epithet). The Serbian Empire existed from 1346 to 1371, although nominally until 1402.



Stefan Uroš IV Dušan,
Tsar of Serbia (1346–1355)

Stefan Uroš IV Dušan of Serbia, before ascending the throne as king of all Serbs, proved himself as a very skilled military leader in the Battle of Velbazhd, in which Serbia memorably defeated the Bulgarian Empire. As his father was not an able conqueror, Dušan, with the help of Serbian nobility, removed his father from the throne, ordering his people to strangle him. The medieval Serbian state reached its apex in the mid-14th century, during the rule of Stefan Dušan, who proclaimed himself in 1345 tsar in Serres and was crowned in Skopje on the 16th April 1346 as the "Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks" by the newly proclaimed Serbian Patriach Joanikie II with the help of the Bulgarian Patriarch Simeon and the Archbishop of Ohrid, Nicholas.

Tsar Dušan enacted Dušan's Code, a medieval constitution, in 1349 and 1354. The Code was based on Roman-Byzantine law and the first Serbian constitution — St. Sava's Nomocanon (1219). It was a Civil and Canon law (based on the Ecumenical Councils) for the functioning of the state and church. The Serbian Empire flourished, becoming one of the most developed countries and cultures in Europe.

Tsar Dušan doubled the size of his former kingdom, seizing territories to the south, southeast and east at the expense of Byzantium. He did not fight a single field battle, instead winning his empire by besieging cities. He was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V, called the Weak, a term that might also apply to the state of the empire, as it slowly slid into feudal anarchy. The combination of sudden conquest, backwards administration, and failure to consolidate his holdings led to the fragmenting of the empire. This is a period marked by the rise of a new threat: the Ottoman Turkish sultanate gradually spreading from Asia to Europe and conquering Byzantine Thrace first, and then the other Balkans states. Too incompetent to sustain the great empire created by his father, Stefan V could neither repel attacks of foreign enemies, nor combat the independence of his nobility. The Serbian Empire of Stefan Uroš fragmented into a conglomeration of principalities, some of which did not even nominally acknowledge his rule. Stefan Uroš V died childless on 4 December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Maritsa earlier that year.

Aftermath and legacy

The crumbling Serbian Empire under Uroš the Weak was to be of little resistance to the powerful Ottomans. In light of conflicts and decentralization of the realm, the Ottomans defeated the Serbs under Vukašin at the Battle of Maritsa in 1371, making vassals of the southern governors, and soon thereafter, the Emperor died. As Uroš was childless and the nobility could not agree on the rightful heir, the Empire was ruled by semi-independent provincial lords, who often were in feuds with each other. The most powerful of these, Tsar Lazar, a Duke of present-day central Serbia (which had not yet come under the Ottoman yoke), stood against the Ottomans at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The result was indecisive, but it resulted in the subsequent fall of Serbia. Stefan Lazarević, the son of Lazar, succeeded as ruler, but had by 1394 become an Ottoman vassal. In 1402 he renounced Ottoman rule and became an Hungarian ally, the years following are characterized by the Ottomans and Hungary battling over the territory of Serbia. In 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, and in 1458 Athens was taken. In 1459, Serbia was annexed, Greece as well, a year later.

With the fall of Serbia, migrations began to the north. Serbs fought in guerilla units of Hajduks and Uskoks within Balkans, other joined the foreign armies; Hussars, Seimeni, etc.

Jovan Nenad, a Serbian military commander in Hungarian service, proclaimed himself Emperor in 1527, ruling a region of southern Pannonian Plains.



The east-west Roman roads carried a variety of commodities: wine, manufactures, and luxury goods from the coast; metals, cattle, timber, wool, skins and leather from the interior.[1] This economic development made it possible for the creation of the Empire.[1] Important roads were the ancient Roman Via Militaris, Via Egnatia, the Via de Zenta, and the Kopaonik road among others. Ragusan merchants in particular had trading privileges throughout the realm.[1]

Srebrenica, Rudnik, Trepca, Novo Brdo, Kopaonik, Majdanpek, Brskovo and Samokov were the main centers of the mining of iron, copper and lead ores, and silver and gold placers.[2] The silver mines provided much of the royal income, and were worked by slave-labour, managed by Saxons.[3] A colony of Saxons worked the Novo Brdo mines and traded charcoal burners.[1] The silver mines processed an annual 0.5 million dollars (1919 comparation).[4] In East Serbia were mainly copper mines.

The currency used was called dinars, an alternative name was perper, derived from the Byzantine hyperpyron. The golden dinar was the largest unit; the imperial tax was one dinar coin, per house, annually.[5]


Dušan's Code was enacted in two state congresses: in May 21, 1349 in Skopje and amended in 1354 in Serres.[6] It regulated all social spheres, thus it is considered a medieval constitution. The Code included 201 articles. The Code was based on Roman-Byzantine law. The legal transplanting is notable with the articles 171 and 172 of Dušan's Code, which regulated juridical independence. They were taken from the Byzantine code Basilika (book VII, 1, 16-17). The Code had its roots in the first Serbian constitutionSt. Sava's Nomocanon (Serbian: Zakonopravilo) from 1219, enacted by Saint Sava.[7][8] This legal act was well developed. St. Sava's Nomocanon was the compilation of Civil law, based on Roman Law[9] and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils. Its basic purpose was to organize the functions of the state and Church.


The monarch had wide autocratic powers, but was surrounded and adviced by a permanent council of magnates and prelates.[3] The court, chancellery and administration were rough copies of those of Constantinople.[3]

In Dušan's Code, the constitution, named the administrative hierarchy as following: "lands, cities, župas and krajištes", the župas and krajištes were one and the same, with the župas on the borders were called krajištes (frontier). The župa consisted of villages, and their status, rights and obligations were regulated in the constitution.

The ruling nobility possessed hereditary allodial estates, which were worked by dependent sebri, the equivalent of Greek paroiko; peasants owing labour services, formally bound by decree.[3]

The earlier župan-title was abolished and replaced with the Greek kephalus (kefalija, "head, master").[3]


  • župas in modern Serbia: Preševo,
    • Kosovo and Metohia: Topolnica, Letnica, Lab, Lugovi, Nerodimlje, Paunpolje, Sitnica, Zagorje, Zvečan, Banjska, Ibarski Kolašin, Jelci, Drenica, Lapušnik, Altin, Vokš, Drškovina, Hvosno, Patkovo, Reka, Zatrnava, Suhogrlo, Trnava, Prizrenski Podgor, Gora, Opolje, Sredska, Sirinić.



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Magnates, feudal lords and officials

  • knight Palman, bodyguard and mercenary commander
  • knight Đuraš Ilijić, Lord of Upper Zeta (d. 1356, son of kephale Ilija)
  • great voivode Jovan Oliver, sebastocrator and despotes of Štip and Strumica (d. after 1356)
  • voivode Dejan Dragaš, sebastocrator and despot of province between Kumanovo and Velbazhd (d. before 1371)
  • voivode Altoman Vojinović, Grand Duke of Hum (d. 1359, son of voivode Vojin)
  • voivode Vukašin Mrnjavčević, despot of Prilep (d. 1371, son of Mrnjava)
  • voivode Preljub, caesar of Epirus (d. 1356)
  • voivode Voihna, caesar of Drama (d. ca 1360)
  • voivode Grgur Golubić, caesar of Polog (d. after 1361)
  • voivode Branko Rastislalić, domestikos of Podunavlje (d. 1352)
  • voivode Vratko, Lord of Prokuplje (d. after 1347, great-grandson of Vukan of Serbia)
  • voivode Radoslav Hlapen, Lord of Veria, Voden and Kastoria (d. 1383-1385)
  • voivode Hrelja, Lord of Rila
  • voivode Vojin, Lord of Gacko
  • voivode Bogut, Lord of Ugljevik
  • voivode Milutin, Lord of Rudnik
  • voivode Vuk Kosača, Lord of Rogatica
  • Branko Mladenović, sebastocrator of Ohrid (d. before 1371, son of voivode Mladen)
  • Jovan Dragaš, despot of Kumanovo (d. 1378, son of voivode Dejan)
  • Vlatko Paskačić, sebastocrator of Slavište (d. after 1365, son of kephale Paskač)
  • Lazar, chancellor at the court of Dušan and gospodar of Morava (d. 1389, son of Pribac)
  • Andrea Gropa, Lord of Ohrid (d. after 1371)
  • Balša I, Lord of Scodra (d. before 1362)
  • Pribac Hrebeljanović, chancellor at the court of Dušan

See also


  1. ^ a b c d p. 96
  2. ^ University of Colorado, 1968, East European quarterly, Vol 2, p. 14
  3. ^ a b c d e p. 290
  4. ^ National City Bank of New York, 1919, The Americas, Vol 6, p. 27
  5. ^ Vladimir Ćorović: Историја српског народа: V.I Турски замах
  6. ^ Dusanov Zakonik. Dusanov Zakonik. Retrieved on 2011-04-17.
  8. ^ Fine, 1994, p. 118
  9. ^
  • John V.A. Fine, Jr., The Late Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1987.
  • George C. Soulis, The Serbs and Byzantium during the reign of Emperor Stephen Dusan (1331–1355) and his successors, Athens, 1995. ISBN 0-88402-137-8

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