The Formation of the Kingdom of Serbia

The Kingdom of Serbia was a medieval Serbian Kingdom that existed from 1217 to 1346. It was ruled by the Nemanjić dynasty and was formed from the previous Serbian Grand Principality that was based in Raška. The Kingdom lasted until 1346 when it became The Serbian Empire.

The Grand Principality of Serbia in the Raška region had already been in conflict with the Byzantines for many years, and there had been a long history of Byzantine control over the area. However, it is partially thanks to the Byzantine attacks on the previously most powerful Serb region of Duklja that Raška rose to the top. There would have been another invasion on Raška, but through diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Hungary, Serbia managed to keep independence.

In the years shortly after this, Serbian leaders fought against the Byzantines, and continued to turn towards Hungary for support. However this was planned to be stopped by the Byzantine Emperor who put a new Grand Prince on the throne in 1166 called Stefan Tihomir, who was of a lower line of Serb nobles. Tihomir ruled jointly with his brothers, the most important of which was Stefan Nemanja. Nemanja swore allegiance to the Byzantine emperor and became a vassal of Byzantium. He aided the Imperial army in many campaigns, including one against the Hungarians. Tihomir saw the tie between Nemanja and the Emperor as a threat.

Stefan Nemanja was eventually imprisoned by his brother. This was supposedly because Nemanja had ordered the construction of two monasteries without the Grand Prince’s permission. However, it is most likely that Tihomir felt threatened by his brother’s allegiance to the Emperor and thought that he was trying to assert his own independence. Nemanja’s supporters conspired to the church that Tihomir had done this because he disapproved of church building in general, so the church turned on Tihomir, which allowed Nemanja to escape.

Eventually, Stefan Nemanja formed an army with Byzantine help in order to overthrow Tihomir. This was a success, and Tihomir and his other two brothers were banished from Serbia. They went to Byzantium in 1167. In the next few years, Nemanja became a powerful figure as the single ruler of Serbia. However, the Byzantine Emperor did not approve of this, and turned to Tihomir and his brothers. Planning to see Serbia divided between the princes in order to keep it weak, The Emperor provided Tihomir with an army to take back Serbia. In 1171, Nemanja had gathered his own army and defeated his brother’s forces at the battle of Pantino. Tihomir was killed by drowning in the Sitnica river at the end of the battle, and Nemanja made peace with his other brothers, returning their old lands to them. After this Nemanja was recognized as the only ruler of Serbia, and at this point begins the Nemanjić dynasty.

Stefan Nemanja planned to gain full independence from Byzantine rule, so he joined the anti-Byzantine coalition with the Kingdom of Hungary, the Venetian republic and the Holy Roman Empire. However, this alliance was short-lived, as Venice faced mutiny and an outbreak of plague destroying their fleet, and the Hungarian King was replaced by a pro-Byzantine successor. Shortly after this, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I launched an attack on Raška, and defeated Nemanja’s forces. Nemanja surrendered to the Emperor, and was imprisoned and brought to Constantinople to be his personal slave. During his time in Constantinople, Nemanja befriended Manuel I, and vowed to never again attack him. In return The Emperor recognized Stefan Nemanja as the rightful ruler of Serbia, and let him return. However, this peace only lasted 9 years, until 1180 when Manuel I died, and Nemanja no longer considered he owed any allegiance to the Byzantines since his vows were to Emperor Manuel I and not the Empire.

Over the next decade, Nemanja worked on the expansion of his territory, and continued to fight with the Byzantines successfully. Although, in 1191, a large Byzantine army led by the new emperor Isaac II Angelus fought and defeated Stefan Nemanja. Nemanja retreated into the mountains with his remaining men and began raiding the Byzantine forces in the area. Nemanja had the tactical advantage at this point, so this prompted the Emperor to negotiate final peace treaty, in which Nemanja had to give up most of his Eastern conquest, and recognize the Emperor’s supreme rule.

On March 25, 1196, Stefan Nemanja summoned a council where he officially abdicated in favour of his second son, Stefan II. Although Vukan was his eldest son, Nemanja preferred to see Stefan II on the throne due to him being married to a Byzantine princess, which allowed them to have peace with Byzantium. Stefan Nemanja would later begin to establish the Serbian church in 1199 with his third son; Sava. Sava would later become ‘Saint Sava’, and Stefan Nemanja himself also later became a monk and took up the name ‘Simeon’, eventually becoming a Saint of Serbia too.

During the beginning of his reign, Stefan II had to deal with the heir conflict with his older Brother Vukan. While Nemanja was still alive, Vukan didn’t oppose Stefan II’s rule, but as soon as Nemanja died in 1199, he started to plot against Stefan II in order to become Grand Prince himself. Vukan used the help of the Hungarian Kingdom to overthrow Stefan II in 1202 and became ruler, while Stefan fled into Bulgaria. Vukan later became a Hungarian vassal and promised to convert to Catholicism if the Pope would give him the title of king. However, Vukan became involved in the Hungarian conflict with Bulgaria, leading to Stefan taking the opportunity to return to Serbia and overthrow Vukan, becoming ruler once again in 1204. The conflict power struggle between the two brothers only ended when the third brother, Sava, returned to Serbia from his work on founding Serbian Christianity. Sava brought with him the remains of their father, Stefan Nemanja, which convinces Vukan and Stefan II to make peace. Sava subsequently asked to stay in Serbia by Stefan, and he does so, starting his widespread education of the people of Serbia. In the following years, Stefan II still had to deal with the tension between himself and Vukan’s son Đorđe after Vukan’s death in 1209. This eventually led to Đorđe’s lands being taken from him in 1216.

In 1217 Stefan, Stefan II managed to secure the title of king from Pope Honorius III. Sava brought the regal crown from Rome, and crowned his brother himself as ‘King of all Serbia’. In 1218, Sava began the real formation of the Serbian Church, and was consecrated as the first Archbishop of Serbia in 1219. In the same year, Sava published ‘Zakanopravilo’; the first constitution of Serbia, thus acquiring the Serbs both political and religious forms of independence. The Nemanjić dynasty continued to rule Serbian lands for the next 200 years, which emerged into a powerful state that would dominate the entire Balkan peninsula, eventually becoming the Serbian Empire on 1346.

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