History of Medieval Kosovo

Great migrations and interregnums

Slavs came to the territories that form modern Kosovo in the seventh-century migrations of White Serbs, with the largest influx of migrants in the 630s; although the region was increasingly populated by Serbs since the sixth or even fifth century. Serbs were Christianized in several waves between the seventh and ninth century, with the last wave taking place between 867 and 874.

The northwestern part Kosovo became part of the Serbian Principality of Rascia, nominally under Byzantine fiefdom, with Dostinik as the principality's capital, whilst the south- although populated by Slavs- remained part Byzantine empire.

In the late 830s and 840s, the whole of Kosovo was seized by the Bulgarian Empire, during its expansion to the south-west under Presian. The region remained part of Bulgaria during the 10th century when numerous churches and monasteries were constructed after the Christianization of Bulgaria. However, after 50 years of constant war between the Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires, led by Samuil and Basil II, Bulgaria was fully conquered and Kosovo fell under Byzantine rule once more. In 1040-1041, the Bulgarians, led by the Samuil's grandson Peter Delyan staged a rebellion against the Eastern Roman Empire that temporarily encompassed Kosovo. After the rebellion was crushed, the Byzantine control over the region continued.

In 1072, the Bulgarians, under Georgi Voiteh, pushed a final attempt to restore Imperial Bulgarian power and invited the last heir of the House of Comitopuli - Duklja's prince Konstantin Bodin of the House of Vojislavljevic, son of the Serbian King Mihailo Voislav - to assume power. The Serbs decided to conquer the entire Byzantine region of Bulgaria. King Mihailo dispatched his son with three hundred elite Serb fighters led by Duke Petrilo. Constantine Bodin was crowned in Prizren as "Petar III", Tsar of the Bulgarians by George Voiteh and the Slavic Boyars. The Empire swept across Byzantine territories in months, until the significant losses on the south had forced Czar Petar to withdraw. In 1073, the Byzantine forces chased Constantine Bodin, defeated his army at Pauni, and imprisoned him.

Incorporation into Serbia

Kosovo finally became independent from Byzantium after uprisings led by the Serbian House of Vojislavljević, Grand Princes of Rascia. In 1093, Prince Vukan advanced on Lipljan, burned it down and raided the neighbouring areas. The Byzantine Emperor himself came to Zvečan for negotiations. Zvečan served as the Byzantine line-of-defence against constant invasions from the neighboring Rascians. A peace agreement was made, but Vukan broke it and defeated the army of John Comnenus, the Emperor's nephew. Vukan's armies stormed Kosovo. In 1094, Byzantine Emperor Alexius attempted to renew peace negotiations in Ulpiana. A new peace agreement was concluded and Vukan handed over hostages to the Emperor, including his two nephews Uroš and Stefan Vukan. Prince Vukan renewed the conflict in 1106, once again defeating John Comnenus's army. However, his death halted the total Rascian conquest of Kosovo.

In 1166, a Serbian nobleman from Zeta, Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the House of Nemanjić (cadet branch of the House of Vojislavljević) ascended to the Rascian Grand Princely throne and conquered most of Kosovo, in an uprising against the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. He defeated the previous Grand Prince of Rascia Tihomir's army at Pantino, near Pauni. Tihomir, who was Stefan's brother, was drowned in the Sitnica river. Stefan was eventually defeated and had to return some of his conquests. He pledged to the Emperor that he would not renew hostilities, but in 1183, Stefan Nemanja embarked on a new offensive with the Hungarians after the death of Manuel I Comnenus in 1180, marking the end of Byzantine domination of Kosovo.

Nemanja's son, Stefan II, recorded that the border of the Serbian realm reached the river of Lab. Grand Prince Stephen II completed the inclusion of the Kosovo territories under Serb rule in 1208, by which time he had conquered Prizren and Lipljan, and moved the border of territory under his control to the Šar mountain.

Kingdom of the Serbs

In 1217, the Serbian Kingdom achieved recognition. In 1219, an autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church was created, with Hvosno, Prizren and Lipljan being the Orthodox Christian Episcopates on Kosovo. By the end of the 13th century, the centre of the Serbian Church was moved to Peć from Žiča.

In the thirteenth century, Kosovo became the heart of the Serbian political and religious life, with the Šar mountain becoming the political center of the Serbian rulers. The main chatteu was in Pauni. On an island was Svrčin, and on the coast Štimlji, and in the mountains was the Castle of Nerodimlje. The Complexes were used for counciling, negotiating, and as the rulers' living quarters. After 1291, the Tartars broke all the way to Peć. Serbian King Stefan Milutin managed to defeat them and then chase them further. He raised the Temple of the Mother of Christ of Ljeviška in Prizren around 1307, which became the seat of the Prizren Bishopric, and the magnificent Gračanica monastery in 1335, the seat of the Lipljan Bishopric. In 1331, the juvenile King Dušan attacked his father, Serbian King Stefan of Dechani at his castle in Nerodimlje. King Stefan closed in his neighbouring fortress of Petrič, but Dušan captured him and closed him with his second wife Maria Palaiologos and their children in Zvečan, where the dethroned King died on 11 November 1331.

In 1327 and 1328, Serbian King Stefan of Dechani started forming the vast Dečani domain, although, Serbian King Dušan would finish it in 1335. Stefan of Dechani issued the Dechani Charter in 1330, listing every single citizen in every household under the Church Land's demesne.

Serbian Empire and Despotate

King Stefan Dušan founded the vast Monastery of Saint Archangel near Prizren in 13421352. The Kingdom was transformed into an Empire in 1345 and officially in 1346. It stretched all the way into Greece (excluding Thessaly and the Peloponesus) and Stefan Dusan was crowned Czar of Serbs and Greeks. Stefan Dušan received John VI Cantacuzenus in 1342 in his Castle in Pauni to discuss a joint War against the Byzantine Emperor. In 1346, the Serbian Archepiscopric at Peć was upgraded into a Patriarchate, but it was not recognized before 1370. However, the empire would not survive his death.

After the Empire fell into disarray prior to Dušan's death in 1355, feudal anarchy caught up with the country during the reign of Tsar Stefan Uroš V. Kosovo became a domain of the House of Mrnjavčević, but Prince Voislav Voinović expanded his demesne further into Kosovo. The armies of King Vukašin Mrnjavčević from Pristina and his allies defeated Voislav's forces in 1369, putting a halt to his advances. After the Battle of Marica on 26 September 1371, in which the Mrnjavčević brothers lost their lives, Đurađ I Balšić of Zeta took Prizren and Peć in 1372. A part of Kosovo became the demesne of the House of Lazarević.

The Ottomans under Sultan Murad 1, invaded and met the Christian army of Serbs under Prince Lazar on 28 June 1389, near Pristina, at Gazi Mestan. The Serbian Army was assisted by various allies. The epic Battle of Kosovo followed, in which Prince Lazar himself lost his life. Prince Lazar amassed 70,000 men on the battlefield and the Ottomans had 140,000. Through the cunning of Miloš Obilić, Sultan Murad was killed and the new Sultan Beyazid had, despite winning the battle, to retreat to consolidate his power. The Ottoman Sultan was buried with his other son, Yakub - who was killed by his brother Bayezid in order to inherit the Ottoman Empire immediately after Murad's death - at Gazi Mestan. Both Prince Lazar and Miloš Obilić were canonised by the Serbian Orthodox Church for their efforts in the battle. The local House of Branković came to prominence as the local lords of Kosovo, under Vuk Branković, with the temporary fall of the Serbian Despotate in 1439. Another great battle occurred between the Hungarian troops , and Ottoman troops in 1448. Hungarian King John Hunyadi lost the battle after a two-day fight, but essentially stopped the Ottoman advance northwards. Kosovo then became vassalaged to the Ottoman Empire, until its direct incorporation after the final fall of Serbia in 1459.

In 1455, new castles rose to prominence in Priština and Vučitrn, centres of the Ottoman vassalaged House of Branković.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans brought Islamisation with them, particularly in towns, and later also created the Vilayet of Kosovo as one of the Ottoman territorial entities. Ottoman rule lasted for about 500 years, in which time the Ottomans were the absolute paramount power in the region. Many Slavs accepted Islam and served under Ottomans. Kosovo was taken temporarily by the Austrian forces during the War of 1683–1699 with help of serbs, so after the retreat of this army, serbs had to flee from Kosovo . In 1690, the Serbian Patriarch of Peć Arsenije III, who previously escaped a certain death, led 37,000 families from Kosovo, to evade Ottoman wrath since Kosovo had just been retaken by the Ottomans. The people that followed him were mostly Serbs —but they were likely followed by other ethnic groups. Due to the oppression from the Ottomans, other migrations of Orthodox people from the Kosovo area continued throughout the 18th century. It is also noted that many Albanians adopted Islam, whilst only a very small minority of Serbs did so.

In 1766, the Ottomans abolished the Patriarchate of Peć and the position of Christians in Kosovo was greatly reduced. All previous privileges were lost, and the Christian population had to suffer the full weight of the Empire's extensive and losing wars, even having blame forced upon them for the losses. But overall the Ottoman rule was very tolerant of other religions. This is important, especially in the era when religious persecution for other faiths and sects was going on in the rest of Catholic Europe.

Battles of Kosovo

First Battle of Kosovo

The First Battle of Kosovo occurred on the field of Kosovo Polje on June 28 1389, when the puling "knez" (prince) of Serbia, Lazar Hrebeljanović, marshalled a coalition of Christian soldiers, made up of Serbs, but also of Bosnians, Magyars, Albanians, and a troop of Saxon mercenaries. Sultan Murad I also gathered a coalition of soldiers and volunteers from neighboring countries in Anatolia and Rumelia. Exact numbers are difficult to come by, but most reliable historical accounts suggest that the Christian army was heavily outnumbered by the Ottomans. The combined numbers of the two armies are believed to be less than 100,000. The Serbian-led armies were defeated and Lazar was slain, although Murad I was killed by Miloš Obilić, whose origin is disputed. Although the battle has been mythologised as a great Serbian defeat, at the time opinion was divided as to whether it was a Serbian defeat, a stalemate or possibly even a Serbian victory. Serbia maintained its independence and sporadic control of Kosovo until a final defeat in 1455, following which Serbia and Kosovo became part of the Ottoman Empire.

econd Battle of Kosovo

The Second Battle of Kosovo was fought over the course of a two-day period in October 1448, between a Hungarian force lead by John Hunyadi and an Ottoman army lead by Murad II. Significantly larger than the first battle, with both armies numbering twice that of the first battle, the ending was the same, and the Hungarian army was defeated in the battle and pushed from the field. Contray to popular myth, the Albanian hero Skanderbeg did not take part in the battle. When his Albanian troops moved to join the Hungarian army, they were delayed by the ambush of Đurađ Branković and never reached the battlefield. Although the loss of the battle was a setback for those resisting the Ottoman invasion of Europe at that time, it was not a 'crushing blow to the cause'. Hunyadi was able to maintain Hungarian resistance to the Ottomans during his lifetime.


Both of these battles were significant in the overall resistance against the Ottoman advance through the Balkans. Had the Serbian and Hungarian-led coalition armies been victorious in either or both of the battles, it could have changed the course that Kosovo eventually took under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The First Battle of Kosovo sealed the fate of the Serbian resistance, and became a national symbol for heroism and the admirable 'fight against all odds'.

Although he lost the Second Battle of Kosovo, eventually Hunyadi was victorious in his resistance and defeat of the Ottomans in the Kingdom of Hungary. Skanderbeg was also successful in his resistance in his home country of Albania (which then included large portions of Kosovo), a cause that was lost following his death in 1468. Both of these leaders were significant (as was Wallachian leader Vlad III Dracula) in that their resistance gave Austria and Italy greater time to prepare for the Ottoman advance.

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