The Kingdom of Serbia (Serbian: Краљевина Србија / Kraljevina Srbija), or Serbian Kingdom (Српско краљевство / Srpsko kraljevstvo), was a medieval Serbian state that existed from 1217 to 1346, ruled by the Nemanjić dynasty. The Grand Principality of Serbia was elevated with the coronation of Stefan Nemanjić as king by his brother, archbishop Sava, after inheriting all territories unified by their father, grand prince Stefan Nemanja. The kingdom was proclaimed an empire on 16 April 1346.


Coronation of Stefan Nemanjić in 1217 was not an absolute political precedent in Serbian history, since there already was a long tradition of kingship among previous Serbian rulers centered in Duklja (11th century). During the entire Nemanjić era, previous Serbian kingdom in Duklja was referred to as the "Old Kingdom of our forefathers" and such views were also reflected in royal titles of Stefan Nemanjić and his successors, who styled themselves as kings of all Serbian Lands, including Duklja. Realizing the importance of royal heritage, grand prince Stefan Nemanja (1166-1196), father of Stefan Nemanjić, granted his elder son Vukan Nemanjić the rule in Duklja, with the title of king.[1]

By that time, the "Old Kingdom" of Duklja and its former rulers from the Vojislavljević dynasty (kings Mihajlo and Constantine Bodin) were regarded as royal predecessors of the Nemanjić dynasty, that branched from the previous Vukanović dynasty in Raška. Older relations between two dynasties (Vojislavljević / Vukanović) and two regions (Duklja / Raška) were very close. In 1083, king Constantine Bodin of Duklja had appointed his nephews Vukan and Marko as vassals in Raška, one of the inner provinces of his realm.[2] Each province had its own nobility and institutions, and each acquired a member o a relative of the Vojislavljević dynasty to govern as župan.[2] Between 1089 and 1091, the Byzantine Empire launched a campaign on Duklja. An internal war broke out in the realm among Bodin's relatives, greatly weakening Duklja. Vukan of Raška took the opportunity to assert himself and broke away, claiming the title of Grand Prince of Serbia.[3]

Up to the end of 11th century, Duklja had been the center of the Serbian realm, as well as the main state resisting Byzantium.[3] From that time, Raška became the most powerful of the Serbian states, under the rule of the Vukanović dynasty, and it remained so throughout the entire 12th century.[4] Raška also replaced Duklja as the main opponent of the Byzantine Empire.[3] Bodin's heirs were forced to recognize Byzantine overlordship, and now held only the small territories of Duklja and Travunia.[3] During the reign of Vukan's successors, the Byzantines sought to conquer Raška on several occasions, but through resistance, and diplomatic ties with Hungary, that Serbian principality kept its independence. By the time when Stefan Nemanja becme the grand župan of Raška (c. 1166), old Duklja was half conquered by the Byzantines reduced to a small principality. Soon after 1180, Stefan Nemanja liberated Duklja thus reuniteing Serbian lands,[5] and invested his son Vukan with rule over Duklja with the traditional title of the king. Since Nemanja's second son Stefan became grand župan in 1196, rivalry occurred among brothers, culminating in 1202 when Stefan was overthrown.[6]


Reign of Stefan the First-Crowned

In 1204, Stefan Nemanjić regained his rule in Raška and made peace with his brother Vukan of Duklja, who died in 1208. The actual peacemaker was their youngest brother Rastko, former prince of Zahumlje who renounced his rule to became a monk, and took the name Sava, turning all his efforts to spreading Eastern Orthodoxy among his people. Since the Roman Catholic Church already had ambitions to spread its influence to the Southeaster Europe as well, Stefan used these circumstances to eventually obtain the recognition of kingship from the Pope, thereby becoming Serbian king in 1217. In Byzantium, Sava managed to secure autocephaly (independence) for the Serbian Church and became the first Serbian archbishop in 1219. In the same year Sava published the first constitution in SerbiaSt. Sava's Nomocanon (Serbian: Zakonopravilo).[7][8][9] The Nomocanon was a compilation of Civil law, based on Roman Law,[10][11] and Canon law, based on Ecumenical Councils. Its basic purpose was to organize the functions of the young Serbian kingdom and the Serbian church. Thus the Serbs acquired both political and religious independence. In 1220, grand assembly of the realm was held in Žiča, were Stefan was crowned by the Orthodox ritual and coronation was performed by archbishop Sava. That act served as a precedent for all their successors: all Serbian kings of the Nemanjić dynasty were crowned in Žiča, by Serbian archbishops.[12]

Reign of Radoslav, Vladislav, Uroš I and Dragutin

The next generation of Serbian rulers — the sons of Stefan Prvovenčani, Radoslav, Vladislav, and Uroš I — marked a period of stagnation of the state structure. All three kings were more or less dependent on some of the neighbouring states — Byzantium, Bulgaria, or Hungary. The ties with the Hungarians played a decisive role as Uroš I was succeeded by his son Dragutin, whose wife was a Hungarian princess. Later, when Dragutin abdicated in favour of his younger brother Milutin, in 1282, the Hungarian king Ladislaus IV gave him lands in northeastern Bosnia, the region of Mačva, and the city of Belgrade, whilst he managed to conquer and annex lands in northeastern Serbia. Thus, some of these territories became part of the Serbian state for the first time. His new state was named Kingdom of Srem. In that time the name Srem was a designation for two territories: Upper Srem (present day Srem) and Lower Srem (present day Mačva). The Kingdom of Srem under the rule of Stefan Dragutin was actually Lower Srem, but some historical sources mention that Stefan Dragutin also ruled over Upper Srem and Slavonia. After Dragutin died in 1316, his son, king Vladislav II, became king and ruled until 1325.

Reign of Milutin

Under Dragutin's younger brother, King Milutin, Serbia grew stronger despite having to occasionally fight wars on three different fronts. King Milutin was an apt diplomat much inclined to the use of a customary medieval diplomatic and dynastic marriages. He was married five times, with Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Byzantine princesses. He is also famous for building churches, some of which are the finest examples of Medieval Serbian architecture, including the Gračanica monastery in Kosovo, the Cathedral in Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, and the St. Archangel Church in Jerusalem. Because of his endowments, King Milutin has been proclaimed a saint, in spite of his tumultuous life. He was succeeded on the throne by his son Stefan, later dubbed Stefan Dečanski.

Reign of Stefan Dečanski

Stefan Dečanski spread the kingdom to the east by winning the town of Nis and surrounding counties, and to the south by acquiring territories in Macedonia, He built the Visoki Dečani monastery in Metohija, the most monumental example of Serbian Medieval architecture, earning him his moniker. Stefan Dečanski defeated the Bulgarians in Battle of Velbužd in 1330.

Serbian Empire

Corronation of Tsar Dušan

Stefan Dečanski was overthrown in 1331 by his son, Stefan Dušan. Taking advantage of the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347, Dušan doubled the size of his kingdom, seizing territories to the south, southeast, and east at the expense of Byzantium. He conquered almost the entire territory of present-day Greece, except for the Peloponnese and the islands. After he conquered the city of Serres, he was crowned the Emperor of Serbs and Greeks in Skoplje by the Serbian Patriarch, on April 16, 1346. His goal was to become the successor of the Byzantine Emperors, and he tried to organize a Crusade with the Pope against the threatening Turks.

The Imperial constitution, Dušan's Code (Serbian: Dušanov zakonik),[13] was enacted in 1349 and amended in 1354. The Code was based on Roman-Byzantine law. The legal transplanting is notable within articles 171 and 172 of Dušan's Code, which regulated the juridical independence. They were taken from the Byzantine code Basilika (book VII, 1, 16-17). Dušan opened new trade routes and strengthened the economy of the state. Serbia flourished, becoming one of the most developed countries and cultures in Europe, with a high political, economic, and cultural reputation.

Dušan died suddenly in December 1355 at age 47.



King Reign Notes
Stefan the First-Crowned, Ljeviška.jpg Stefan Nemanjić
the First-crowned
  • second son of Stefan Nemanja. He inherited the title of Grand Prince in 1196 when his father retired as a monk. His reign began with a struggle against his brother Vukan II, who expelled Stefan to Bulgaria.
  • Kaloyan gave him an army of Cumans in exchange for some eastern territories. The crisis ended when Sava negotiated a peace between the brothers and Stefan's power was cemented.
  • He was crowned King in 1217, and then Sava gains autocephaly, becoming the first Archbishop of Serbs in 1219, thus Serbia retained full independence.
Stefanradoslav.jpg Stefan Radoslav
  • son of Stefan II. He ruled Zahumlje during the reign of his father, and also held a governor status of Zeta. He was the co-founder of the Žiča monastery with his father, who would abdicate in 1227 due to illness, taking monastic vows.
  • Radoslav was crowned by his uncle Sava, the Archbishop of Serbia.
  • His marriage to Anna Doukaina Angelina would prove unpopular as she undermined his authority, he lost the loyalty of the people and in 1233 a revolt against them prompted the couple to flee to Dubrovnik.
Fresco of Stefan Vladislav, Mileševa, edited.jpg Stefan Vladislav
  • son of Stefan II. He succeeded his brother Radoslav in 1233 and ruled for 10 years, before being overthrown by his younger brother Uroš. He continued to rule Zeta.
  • The first known flag design of Serbia was found in his treasury.
King Stefan Uroš I with his son Stefan Dragutin.jpg Stefan Uroš I
  • son of Stefan II. He succeeded his brother Vladislav.
  • He boosted trade with Dubrovnik and Kotor, marking a beginning of economic prosperity.
  • In 1253 a war was fought against Dubrovnik, peace was signed in 1254, and in the 1260s a second war begun that ended in 1268.
  • Uroš immediately turned towards Hungary, successfully taking Mačva, he was however captured and peace was ensured between the two Kings through marriage of Dragutin and Catherine, the daughter of Stephen V of Hungary.
  • His oldest son Dragutin would have succeeded his rule, but Uroš favored Stefan Milutin, the younger son, as successor. He was overthrown by Dragutin in 1276.
Stefan Dragutin, Arilje.jpg Stefan Dragutin
  • son of Stefan Uroš I. He overthrew his father with help from the Hungarian royalty (through his marriage to Catherine of Hungary) after the Battle of Gacko.
  • He was injured in 1282, and gave the supreme rule to his younger brother Milutin, but continued to rule what would later become the Kingdom of Srem with the capital at Belgrade.
  • Milutin boosted relations with the Byzantine Emperor, and refused to give the rule to Vladislav II (Dragutin's son), causing a split of the Kingdom. Dragutin continued to rule the northern frontier in Hungarian alliance, but in the last years re-connected with Serbia, acting as a vassal.
Milutinst.jpg Stefan Milutin
  • son of Stefan Uroš I. He succeeded his brother Dragutin.
  • Upon his accession, he immediately turned towards Macedonia, conquering the northern part with Skoplje, which became his capital. He continued deep into Byzantine lands, taking northern Albania and as far as Kavala. He also took Bulgarian Vidin, and later Durres.
  • He was in a succession war with Dragutin after peace was signed with the Byzantines in 1299. Milutin aids the Byzantines against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Gallipoli (1312), which ended in a victory. When Dragutin died he put most of his lands with Belgrade under his rule, in the same year his son Stefan Uroš III tried to overthrow him, resulting in him being exiled to Constantinople. In 1319 the Hungarians took all of Dragutin's lands but Braničevo.
  • Stefan Konstantin was to be King, but Uroš III returns to Serbia in 1321, being pardoned, retaining the rule.
Stefan Decanski ktitor.jpg Stefan Dečanski
  • son of Stefan Uroš II Milutin
Serbian Emperor Stefan Dušan, cropped.jpg Stefan Dušan
the Mighty
  • son of Uroš III. He was a very skilled military leader, and defeated Bosnia and Bulgaria at the age of 20. As his father was not an able conqueror, Dušan removed him from the throne.
  • Dušan doubled the size of the realm, taking Byzantine lands as far as the Peloponnese. He was crowned Emperor in 1346. The Serbian Empire flourished, becoming one of the most developed countries and cultures in Europe.
  • He enacted the constitution - Dušan's Code in 1349.

See also

Part of a series on the
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  1. ^ Ćirković 2004, p. 32.
  2. ^ a b Fine 1991, p. 223.
  3. ^ a b c d Fine 1991, p. 224.
  4. ^ Fine 1991, p. 225.
  5. ^ Ćirković 2004, p. 31-32.
  6. ^ Ćirković 2004, p. 32, 42.
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-01.  Alan Watson Foundation
  8. ^ "Nomocanon". Search.com Reference. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  9. ^ Fine 1994, p. 116.
  10. ^ S. P. Scott (1932). The Civil Law: Vol. I. Constitution.org. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  11. ^ Yves LASSARD, Alexandr KOPTEV. "The Roman Law Library". Web.upmf-grenoble.fr. Archived from the original on 31 August 2012. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  12. ^ Ćirković 2004.
  13. ^ "Serbian Culture of the 14th Century. Volume I". Dusanov Zakonik. Retrieved 2010-07-25.