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History of Serbia

Early History

The Vinča and Starčevo cultures were early neolithic civilisations in Serbia between the 7th and the 3rd millennium BC. Many Archeological sites show a long history of culture in Serbia, such as the Lepenski Vir. The ancient (Paleo-Balkan) Illyrians, Thracians, Dacians and Celts inhabited Serbia prior to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC. The Celts had built many fortifications, foundations of many modern cities in Serbia, such as Kalemegdan (Singidunum, Belgrade). Greeks expanded into the south of modern Serbia in the 4th century BC, the northernmost point of the empire of Alexander the Great being the town of Kale-Krševica. Contemporary Serbia comprises,in total or in part, classical provinces of Moesia, Pannonia, Praevalitana, Dalmatia, Dacia and Macedonia. The northern Serbian city of Sirmium was one of the capitals of the Roman Empire during the Tetrarchy. No less than 17 Roman Emperors were born in what is now Serbia.

Medieval Kingdoms & Serbian Empire

The beginning of the Serbian state starts with the White Serbs settling the Balkans led by the Unknown Archont, who was asked to defend the frontiers from invading Avars. Emperor Heraclius granted the Serbs a permanent dominion in the Sclavinias of Western Balkans upon completing their task. At first heavily dependent on the Byzantine Empire as its vassal, Raška gained independence by expulsion of the Byzantine troops and heavy defeat of the Bulgarian army. The last and full Christianisation of Serbia took place in 867-869 when Byzantine Emperor Basil I sent priests after Knez Mutimir had acknowledged Byzantine suzerainty. At about the same time, the western Serbs were subjugated to the Frankish Empire. The First dynasty died out in 960 AD: the wars of succession for the Serb throne led to incorporation into the Byzantine Empire (971). Around 1040 AD an uprising in the medieval state of Duklja overthrew Byzantine rule. Duklja then assumed domination over the Serbian lands between the 11-12th centuries. In 1077 AD, Duklja became the first Serb Kingdom following the establishment of the Catholic Bishopric of Bar. From late 12th century onwards Raska rose to become the paramount Serb state. Over the 13th and 14th century, it ruled over the other Serb lands. During this time, Serbia began to expand eastward and southward into Kosovo and northern Macedonia and northward for the first time.

The Serbian Empire was proclaimed in 1346 under Stefan Dušan. During Dušan's rule, Serbia reached its territorial peak, becoming one of the larger states in Europe. Dušan's Code, a universal system of laws, was enforced. Dušan was succeeded as emperor by his son Uroš Nejaki (the Feeble). Rather young and too incompetent to maintain a strong grip on the empire created by his father, he watched the Serbian Empire fragment into a conglomeration of principalities. Stefan died childless in December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been destroyed by the Turks in the Battle of Marica earlier that year. Some of Serbia's greatest Medieval arts were created during this period, most notably St. Sava's Nomocanon.

The Houses of Mrnjavčević, Lazarević and Branković ruled the Serbian lands in the 15th and 16th centuries. Constant struggles took place between various Serbian kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and the Siege of Belgrade, the Serbian Despotate fell in 1459 following the siege of the provisional capital of Smederevo. After repelling Ottoman attacks for over 70 years, Belgrade finally fell in 1521. Forceful conversion to Islam became imminent, especially in the southwest (Raška, Kosovo and Bosnia). To the south, the Republic of Venice grew stronger in importance, gradually taking over the coastal areas.

Ottoman & Austrian Rule

After the loss of independence to the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, Serbia briefly regained sovereignty under Emperor Jovan Nenad in the 16th century. Three Austrian invasions and numerous rebellions, such as the Banat Uprising, constantly challenged Ottoman rule. Vojvodina endured a century long Ottoman occupation before being ceded to the Habsburg Empire in the 17th-18th centuries under the Treaty of Karlowitz. As the Great Serb Migrations depopulated most of Kosovo and Serbia proper, the Serbs sought refuge in the more prosperous Vojvodina in the north and Military Frontier in the West where they were granted imperial rights by the Austrian crown under measures such as the Statuta Wallachorum of 1630. The Ottoman persecutions of Christians culminated in the abolition and plunder of the Patriarchate of Peć in 1766. As Ottoman rule in the Pashaluk of Belgrade grew ever more brutal, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I formally granted the Serbs the right to their autonomous crown land.

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