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1207-1371 - Serbian Macedonia

While Macedonia after losing her independence in 1018 was first under Byzantium and then for a short time under Bulgaria, two young and vigorous Serbian States grew up and developed to the north of her — RaSka and Zeta. In the second half of the twelfth century they were united to form the one State of Serbia, which then entered upon the most brilliant epoch of the Serbian past. Slowly but surely, the native rulers of the new Serbian State emancipated the Serbian nation from Byzantium and united the Serbian lands. The first Serbian ruler who set about to accomplish the systematic union of all the Serbian lands into one polity was the Grand Zupan Stephan Nemanja (1169-1196). His successor went far beyond him. The complete union of the Serbian lands was especially apparent during the reigns of King Milutin (1282-1321) and Tsar Dusan (1331-1355). During these reigns Macedonia was also incorporated with Serbia.

Under Strez (1207-1215) Macedonia was for a short time under Serbian suzerainty. In 1258 King Uros of Serbia took Skoplje, Prilep, and Kicevo from Byzantium, but lost them again shortly afterwards in 1261.1 But this was only the prelude to the complete union of Macedonia with Serbia. In 1282, King Milutin, the son of Uros, took Skoplje from Byzantium, together with the districts of Gornji and Donji Polog, in the upper Vardar valley, and subsequently Ovce Polje, Zletovo and Pijanac, round about the Bregalnica. No sooner had Milutin taken Skoplje than it became the capital and chief city of all Serbia. In 1283 King Milutin made further progress in liberating Serbian lands from Byzantium. He conquered the entire territory as far as Ser (the Seres of to-day), Morunac (Krestopolje, or Kavala of to-day), and the neighbourhood of Mount Athos, and afterwards added Porec, Kicevo, and Debar in Macedonia to these conquests. Milutin's son Stephan Decanski (1321-1331) took the town of Prosek on the lower Vardar.

During the whole of this Serbian progress in Macedonia, the Bulgars did not appear as Serbia's rivals nor did they attempt to hinder the Serbian advance in Macedonia. They waited, as before, for a convenient opportunity of success without difficulty. Such an opportunity was given them when trouble arose between Stephan Decanski and the Emperor Andronikos III of Byzantium. Thinking that this was a propitious moment for an attack upon Stephan, the Bulgarian Tsar Mihajlo &isman, who was married to Stephan's sister, put away his wife, married the sister of Andronikos in her stead, concluded an alliance with his new brother-in-law and attacked Stephan. Stephan begged Mihajlo to avoid war, but Mihajlo was obdurate. Trusting finally to defeat Stephan, Mihajlo, in the words of a contemporary, boasted that " he would set up his throne" in Serbia. Stephan was compelled to go to war. The Bulgars and the Byzantines advanced against him simultaneously, but their forces failed to establish a junction. Andronikos was late, and the Bulgars were defeated ere he could come to their rescue.

This war was of great importance, because it decided not only the question of the supremacy of Serbia over Bulgaria during the rest of the Middle Ages, but also the fate of Macedonia. The Serbs expected the Bulgars to attack from the east, but they turned southwards, towards Macedonia. Where the frontier between Serbia and Bulgaria follows the course of the river Struma, north-east of Velbuzd (now called Custendil), the Bulgarian forces crossed the frontier into Serbia and went as far as Velbuzd, "committing many evil deeds in that district."1 The battle of Velbuzd took place on July 28, 1330. The Bulgarian army was completely overthrown and Tsar Mihajlo himself slain in the battle. The Serbs were left victors and masters of the situation.

King Stephan showed himself magnanimous towards the Bulgars. Directly after the battle he caused the body of the Bulgarian Tsar to be interred in the Monastery of Nagori6ino, near Kumanovo, "in our country," as his son Tsar Dusan used to say in after-years. Dusan's reign marks an epoch in the history of Macedonia, one more brilliant and prosperous than any she had hitherto passed through. At the very outset of his reign he took Ochrid, Strumica, Kostur, and many other towns in Macedonia from Byzantium, right up to Salonica. In Salonica there was already a considerable party prepared to open the gates and surrender the city to him; but the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III arrived with a large army and prevented the Serbs from entering Salonica. Later on, in 1342, Dusan took Voden and Melnik; in 1345 he took Ser (Seres), Drama, Philippi, Hristopolje (now called Orfano). Thus the whole of Macedonia became a Serbian province. The eastern frontiers of Dusan's empire extended from the crest of Mount Rilo along the slopes of the Dospat and the left basin of the River Mesta down to the sea.

Dusan was constantly at war, first with Byzantium and then with Hungary. Had the Bulgars been conscious of a right to Macedonia, these would have been suitable opportunities for allying themselves to either of these two Powers, and not only to rise in defence of Macedonia, but also to emancipate themselves from the Serbian supremacy. In the meantime they did neither, but remained on the best of terms with Dusan, even at a time when the throne of Bulgaria was not occupied by Dusan's kinsman.

When in 1346 the Archbishop of Serbia was precisely in Macedonia raised to the rank of "Patriarch of the Serbs and Greeks"—the expression used at that time to define the Serbian Empire—the Bulgars would certainly have protested had they looked upon the Macedonian population as Bulgarian. As a matter of fact they did nothing of the kind, but the promotion of the Archbishop of Serbia to the Patriarchate was carried out with the full approval of the Bulgarian Patriarch of Trnovo.

In the north-east of Macedonia, after having renounced their allegiance to him, two cousins of Uros, the brothers Despot Jovan ^Dragas and Konstantin Dejanovic ruled independently in the territory around Ktip, Strumica, Kumanovo, Kratovo, and Velbuzd. It was after this Konstantin that Velbuzd was renamed Custendil. Konstantin's daughter Helen speaks of him in 1395 as "the most pious and the most illustrious of the Serbian lords." In 1401 an envoy arrived in Venice from "Konstantin (Dejanovic), lord of Serbia, of that territory which surrounds our own territory of Durazzo" (" Constantini domini Servise, territorii, quod est circa territorium nostrum Durachii "). Besides the aforesaid princes there were also in Uros's time several lesser territorial lords in Macedonia, such as Srbin Novak, the "Kesar" (treasurer) around Lake Prespa, Branko Mladenovic of Ochrid, and Bogdan, lord of the territory between Salonica and Seres.

The Turks conquered Macedonia as a Serbian country. Contemporaneously with the breaking-up of the Serbian Empire after Dusan's death came the spreading of the Turks in Europe. Already during Dusan's lifetime the Turks took Gallipoli from the Greeks. (1354) and thence began to attack both Byzantine and Serbian territory. During the feeble reign of Tsar Uros they had already overrun a considerable part. During the summer of 1371 Ugljesa Mrnjavic made preparations to expel the Turks from Thrace. He was joined by his brother Vukasm. The advance against the Turks began in the autumn of that year. On September 26th a decisive encounter took place between the Serbs and Turks on the left bank of the River Marica, to the east of the Mustafa-Pasha Palanka of to-day, north of Cernomen (now called Cirmen). The Serbs were defeated and Ugljesa and VukaSin perished on the field. After this battle the Turks conquered Macedonia.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2012 16:22:31 ZULU