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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Short Lived Serbo-Greek Empire

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The Serbo-Greek Empire is the name of a medieval Serb state that significantly expanded its territory and took most of Byzantine Balkan possessions in 1250-1355. It reached its end in 1355-1356.

Stephen Dushan, who took Adrianople, died suddenly. An important feature of the creation of the Serbian-Greek Empire was that the Serbian units created it virtually bloodlessly, that is, without a single historically important battle: the former Byzantine cities either voluntarily surrendered to the Serbian army that besieged them, or defected to the side of the Serbs during the chaotic Byzantine civil war, or were occupied by the Serbs after their population was devastated by a plague.

Pursuing the goal of conquering Byzantium and Constantinople, Dushan in 1345 proclaimed himself “the Emperor of Serbs and Greeks,” and divided his possessions into two parts: Serbia, which he handed over to his son Urosh, proclaimed the king; and the “Greek lands” of former Byzantium, which he ruled. The capitals of the Empire were Skopje and Prizren.

The period of the Empire was the culmination of the development of the political power of medieval Serbia, which for a time was the largest state in the southeast of Europe. It fell apart during the reign of King Urosh, who died in 1371. Historical legends tell of the death of the Serbian Empire was due to the battle of Kosovo Field in 1389. Meanwhile, the final conquest of feudally divided Serbia by the Turks occurred in 1459.

History

By the end of the 12th century, Byzantium, dependent on the Italian trading republics, weakened so much that the Serbian lands were able to free themselves from Byzantine rule and its taxes. The Serbian feudal lords, relying on support from the popular masses, gradually began to increase their power. The defeat of Byzantium by the Crusaders, the demographic decline of the Greek people and the formation of a vast geopolitical vacuum in the southern Balkans attracted the close attention of the Serbian feudal lords.

In 1299, Byzantium and Serbia concluded an important international treaty, generally beneficial for the Serbian side, which, among other things, confirmed the shift of the border to the south, but with some voluntary concessions in favor of Byzantium in exchange for recognizing the international authority of Serbia. The peace treaty with the Serbs was extremely important for Byzantium, since it was no longer possible to wage war on two fronts.

Conquest

Becoming a king at the age of about 23, Stefan already had a clearly defined program for the conquest of Byzantine lands and the creation of a new Serbian-Greek Empire. Taking advantage of the turmoil in Byzantium, in 1334 Stephen moved his troops to Macedonia. Emperor Andronicus III concluded peace with Dushan, giving him the cities of Prilep and Ohrid. When in 1341 Andronicus III died, Dushan resumed hostilities and occupied new cities. He conquered almost all of Albania, and in 1345 completely controlled Macedonia, with the exception of the city of Thessaloniki.

Empire

In 1345, the Serbian king took the title of Emperor of Serbs and Greeks. In April 1346, he was crowned by the head of the Serbian Church who was proclaimed the patriarch without the knowledge of the Church of Constantinople. This title of the Serbian ruler, as well as the new rank of the head of the Serbian church, were not recognized by the Byzantines.
Complete failure in the east encouraged the Byzantine Emperor to pay more attention to his European affairs. In 1340 Byzantium, at last, managed to annex considerable territory from Epirus. It would seem that now the empire had the potential to continue its existence as a compact but self-sufficient Greek state. But the civil war destroyed these plans. Dushan skillfully maneuvered among the various Byzantine lords who preferred to surrender their cities to him, rather than to the warring Greek side. Thus, he actually assumed the role of supreme judge over the smaller participants of the Byzantine conflict, becoming the winner of the conflict.

At the first opportunity, the Greek cities of Edessa and Vera sought to escape Serbian control. And in Constantinople, long-held disdain for the Serbs, by the former subjects of the empire, gave rise to the paradoxical desire for an alliance with the Turks. In 1348, Dusan conquered Thessaly, Epirus and from Byzantium and in 1355, Adrianople was conquered.

Government Structure

The distinction between the old Serbian and Greek lands, which became part of the Serbian state as a result of the conquest of Byzantium, was that allies of the king received land holdings of enormous size. The influence of Byzantine culture in the Serb lands was found in court ceremonies, legislation, art, and literature. The governors in the Byzantine lands received the titles of Caesars, despots, sevastokrators. The highest posts in the Greek possessions were given to the Greeks, who probably retained their feudal possessions. The Macedonian cities, whose populations were mostly Greek, retained their former privileges. Greek monasteries and priests received rich gifts from the Serbian king. Legislation was introduced in the Greek model, including the translation of the Code of Justinian into the Serbian language. The Serbian-Greek kingdom was the largest state in southeast Europe.

Disintegration of the Empire

After Dusan, under the rule of Emperor Urosh, a rapid disintegration of the state occurred. The brother of the deceased Dushan, Simeon, intended to overthrow Urosh. In 1356, he proclaimed himself Emperor. However, Simeon’s dream was not destined to come true because of the struggle for power that began in the Greek lands. The old Serbian lands were torn apart by feudal internecine strife and intervention by Hungary.

The disintegration of power created by the death of Emperor Dusan was not the end of the Serbian state. Under Stefan Lazarevic, 1389-1427, Serbia was temporarily restored within its’ original borders. The Serbian Empire remains the most important part of Serbian medieval history and it laid the seeds for the future of Serbian state. After the fall of Serbia, the Balkans remained under Ottoman control for centuries.

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