History Files
 

European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe

 

Serbia

Before the Roman occupation of the northern Balkans, various tribes had occupied the region, including the Celtic Anarti and the Scordisci, who were of mixed origin. Northern areas of Serbia later formed part of the Germanic kingdom of Gepidia during the late fifth and the first half of the six centuries, but this was destroyed by the Langobards and the territory was soon occupied by the Avars. Serbia itself was founded by Slavs in the sixth century as they moved southwards to take possession of territory between the Bulgars and the Adriatic. They were in part drawn southwards by the Byzantines, who were eager to stem the advance of the Avars.

Some Serb elements remained in the north-eastern regions of Europe (known as White Serbs), including western Poland, eastern Germany and Saxony. They can still be found in Lausitz in Germany, and are now known as the Laustiz Serbs.

The early Serbian homeland was in the vicinity of Serbia’s Kopaonik Mountains, including the Kosovo Basin and the region around the ancient capital of Ras (near modern Novi Pazar). After Ottoman armies overran this region in the 14th century, many Serb families fled the southern basins and found shelter northward in the hills of Šumadija. Albanian tribal groups then moved into former Serbian settlements.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804-1920, Charles Jelavich & Barbara Jelavich (A History of East Central Europe, University of Washington Press, 1986), from The Collapse of Yugoslavia, 1991-1999, Alastair Finlan (Osprey Publishing, 2004), from The Death of Yugoslavia, Laura Silber & Allan Little (Penguin Books, 1996), and from External Links: Yugoslavia: death of a federation (The Guardian), and Nation-Building in Croatia and the Treatment of Minorities: Rights and Wrongs, Antonija Petricusic (L'Europe en Formation, 2008/3-4, No 349-350, available via Cairn.info), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

509 - 512

Members of the Heruli tribes who do not join the migration to Scandinavia initially seek refuge with the Gepids. Subsequently, some of them are allowed to resettle depopulated land in Singidunum (modern Belgrade) by the Byzantines in 512.

Singidunum
An artist's reconstruction of the Roman city of Singidunum (Belgrade)

530s

After one generation, the minor federate Heruli kingdom in Singidunum disappears from the historical record. These 'South Heruli' merge into surrounding populations or unite with the Langobards.

Kingdom of Serbia
AD 1217 - 1345

1151 - 1196

Stephan I Nemanja

1163 - 1180

The Serbs and Bosnians fall to Byzantium.

1196 - 1228

Stephen II the First-Crowned

First king of Serbia in 1217.

1204

The capture of Constantinople is the Fourth Crusade's 'success', and Latin emperors are established in the city. The Byzantines withdraw to Nicća in Anatolia, but rival claimants also established holdings in Trebizond and Epirus so that, at one point, there are four claimants to the Byzantine throne, as well as the Bulgar and Serb states. Close allies of Constantinople through intermarriage and trade, including Alania and the Rus, are badly affected by this disaster.

1228 - 1234

Stephen III Radoslav

1234 - 1243

Stephen IV Vladislav

1243 - 1276

Stephen Urosh I

1276 - 1282

Stephen Dragutin

1282 - 1321

Stephen Urosh II Milutin

1321 - 1331

Stephen Urosh III Dechanski

1331 - 1345

Stephen Urosh IV Dushan

Empire declared.

Empire of Serbia
AD 1345 - 1459

1345 - 1355

Stephen Urosh IV Dushan

First tsar of Serbia.

1355 - 1374

Stephen Urosh V the Weak

1374

The dynasty collapses and with it royal authority.

1371 - 1389

Lazar

Prince of Serbia

1389

The Battle of Kosovo, 'Field of the Blackbirds', takes place where the Serbs are defeated by the Ottomans.

1389 - 1427

Stephen Lazarevich

Despot. Ottoman vassal from 1396.

1427 - 1456

George Brankovich

1456 - 1458

Lazar Brankovich

1459 - 1878

Serbia is annexed and ruled by Ottoman Turks.

1804 - 1878

Two Serbs lead a long revolt which ultimately leads to Serbian independence. There is a bitter inter-rivalry between the two revolutionaries' families (Karageorgevich and Obrenovic), and this leads to much bloody in-fighting.

Principality of Serbia
AD 1811 - 1882

1804 - 1813

Djordje Petrovic / Kara ('Black') George

Lord. Led anti-Ottoman revolt. Confirmed as ruler in 1811.

1815 - 1817

Milos Obrenovic

Led anti-Ottoman revolt.

1817 - 1839

Milos Obrenovic

Prince.

1828 - 1829

The Russo-Turkish War, triggered by the fighting in Greece and the Danubian principalities, ends in the Peace of Adrianople. The Ottoman sultan closes the Dardanelles to Russian vessels but the Russians lay siege to three major Ottoman cities in Bulgaria. In the end, despite an embarrassing defeat along the way, Russia wins the mouth of the Danube and much of the Black Sea's western coast under the terms of the peace, or Treaty of Adrianople. Serbia also achieves autonomy.

1839

Milan I Obrenovic

Prince. Son.

1839 - 1842

Michael Obrenovic

Prince. Second son of Milos.

1842 - 1858

Alexander Karadjordjevic (Karageorgevich)

Prince. Son of Djordje Petrovic.

1858 - 1860

Milos Obrenovic

Restored.

1860 - 1868

Michael

Restored.

1868 - 1882

Milan II Obrenovic

Prince. First cousin, once removed, of Michael.

1875 - 1878

The Treaty of San Stephano makes most of the Balkans independent of Ottoman control, and the Congress of Berlin (1878) officially creates an independent Serbian state.

1882

The independent state is elevated to a kingdom.

Kingdom of Serbia (Restored)
AD 1882 - 1918

1868 - 1882

Milan II Obrenovic

Elevated to king.

1882 - 1903

Alexander I

Son. Murdered.

1903 - 1918

Peter I Karadjordjevic

Son of Alexander Karadjordjevic.

1914

The heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is assassinated by Serb nationalists. The murder is used by Austria to declare war on Serbia, from which declaration the First World War results, with Germany becoming immediately involved as a close ally.

1915

Bulgaria joins the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary, agreeing to attack Serbia in exchange for territory. Britain and France land troops in neutral Greece in an attempt to support Serbia, but the help comes too late. Belgrade is taken on 9 October, with the king and the army heading into Monte Negro rather than surrender.

1918

On 6 October, a 'Southern-Slav' kingdom is declared by the Serb, Croat, and Slovene subjects of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This includes the Kosovo region (liberated in 1913), Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Monte Negro. Serbia is the dominant member of the new Yugoslavia and views much of the territory as being part of a traditional 'Greater Serbia'.

Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Serbs, Croats & Slovenes)
AD 1918 - 1941

The kingdom of 'Southern Slavs' was founded as the kingdom of Serbs, Croats & Slovenes in 1918. Its second king, Alexander II, altered the name in 1929 to the kingdom of Yugoslavia (Kraljevina Jugoslavija).

From the outset, in the wake of the First World War, the concept of a nation of the southern Slavs, the broad translation of 'Yugoslavia', was an alien one. It was foisted on the disparate and mutually suspicious peoples of the region by a European diplomatic establishment which was desperate to create order out of chaos. The war itself had been sparked by Balkan jealousies and passions, and the role played during it by Balkans states had done little to settle the ageless grievances within the turbulent region. The well-meaning but simplistic answer was to draw a line around the disputed territories on the north-eastern shores of the Adriatic, and call the area Yugoslavia. Within the new nation, essentially an expanded kingdom of Serbia, were Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Albanians, Hungarians, and Macedonians. Very few would ever call themselves Yugoslavians.

(Additional information from External Link: Yugoslavia: death of a federation (The Guardian).)

1918 - 1921

Peter I Karadjordjevic

Territory expanded.

1918 - 1921

Alexander II

Regent.

1921 - 1934

Alexander II

Son of Peter I. m Marie, dau of King Ferdinand of Rumania.

1928 - 1929

Albania slips out of Alexander's grasp with its own proclamation of a kingdom. The Serb-born king, Alexander, renames the kingdom. All citizens are required to declare themselves as Yugoslavs in the subsequent census.

1934

The dictatorial, and anti-fascist, Alexander is assassinated in Marseille by a Croatian, at least partially in revenge for the Serb killing of the Croatian parliamentary leader in 1928, but probably also because of his resistance to fascism.

1934 - 1941

Peter II

Son. Went into exile in 1941. Maintained claim until 1945.

1934 - 1941

Paul

Regent. Grandson of Alexander Karadjordjevic.

1941 - 1945

The Nazi German and Italian occupation of Yugoslavia brings the kingdom to an end. Croatia, which has always regarded itself (with legal justification) as autonomous, is granted a puppet king by its Italian pro-Nazi occupiers. However, this is extremely hard-line fascist in nature, and ethnic Serbs are soon the targets of a campaign of terror. The kingdom of Yugoslavia itself surrenders with barely a fight, and is occupied until a new, federal state of Yugoslavia can be established after the war.

1943 - 1945

The Nazi Germans occupy Serbia alone after the Italian surrender.

Federal & Socialist Yugoslavia
AD 1945 - 2006
Incorporating the Union of Serbia and Montenegro

The fragile stability of the artificial creation of the post-First World War period that was the kingdom of Yugoslavia had been threatened many times between the world wars. Invasion by Nazi Germany in 1941 destroyed that stability and led to two simultaneous regional wars: one of resistance against the invaders, and a parallel one between royalists (the Chetniks) and communists. The latter won, under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito and with the help of generous military aid from the British and their allies who simply wanted Germany and Italy defeated. The communist leader, Marshal Tito, was able to crush his internal rivals and install his regime in Belgrade in the wake of the German retreat.

He inherited a state that was quickly reorganised into a remarkably open and progressive federation of six nominally equal republics, while the two Serbian provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina were given autonomous status in order to acknowledge specific interests of their ethnic majority populations of Albanians and Hungarians respectively. In 1946 Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of those constituent republics of the 'Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia'. In 1963 a new constitution was drawn up which dictated a more loosely-coordinated union (the second of three such constitutional changes, the others being in 1953 and 1974). At the same time the 'Federal People's Republic' became the 'Socialist Federal Republic'.

Fragmentation of the socialist state began in 1991 with the departure of Croatia, Istria, Macedonia, and Slovenia. Belgrade briefly attempted to strong-arm Slovenia back into the fold, being met with almost immediate failure. Its attempts with Croatia were much more damaging and long-running. In the meantime Bosnia and Herzegovina also departed (in 1992) and faced the same hostile treatment from Belgrade. Economic sanctions and a reorganisation in the Yugoslav parliament finally ended support for Serb rebellions in Bosnia and Croatia in 1995. Kosovo was effectively lost in 1999, and Yugoslavia was reorganised in 2003 into the 'Union of Serbia and Montenegro' which, as suggested, only included Montenegro. That too left, in 2006, signalling the final end of any concept of Yugoslavia.

At one time a large number of Germans lived alongside Hungarians in the Vojvodina, the northern end of modern Serbia which begins almost immediately to the north of Belgrade and abuts Hungary at the Serbian border. The post-war communist government expelled virtually all German speakers in 1945. This group had descended from Austrian and German families which had been brought in by Austria's Empress Maria Theresa during the eighteenth century.

King Peter II of Yugoslavia retained his title in exile until 1945-1946 and the creation of the federal state. Following that he maintained his claim on the former throne until his death in 1970, after which he was succeeded by his son. He and successive claimants to the throne are shown with a shaded background. From 2001 they were allowed back into Belgrade as late-Yugoslavian Serbia adjusted to its still-forming change of identity.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804-1920, Charles Jelavich & Barbara Jelavich (A History of East Central Europe, University of Washington Press, 1986), from The Collapse of Yugoslavia, 1991-1999, Alastair Finlan (Osprey Publishing, 2004), from The Death of Yugoslavia, Laura Silber & Allan Little (Penguin Books, 1996), and from External Links: Yugoslavia: death of a federation (The Guardian), and Nation-Building in Croatia and the Treatment of Minorities: Rights and Wrongs, Antonija Petricusic (L'Europe en Formation, 2008/3-4, No 349-350, available via Cairn.info), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Yugoslavia: 1918 - 2003, Tim Judah (available via the BBC, 2011).)

1945 - 1980

Josip Broz Tito

Communist dictator. Died 4 May 1980.

1945 - 1970

Peter II

Exiled former king of Yugoslavia. Retained claim.

1945 - 1946

The communist forces under the half-Slovene half-Croat leader, Josip Broz Tito, take over the state after fighting off the Nazi Germans. Yugoslavia gains Istria from Italy but otherwise largely retains its pre-war borders. What it does not retain is its monarchy which, in the form of King Peter II, has been exiled.

Josip Broz Tito
Josip Broz Tito, president and marshal of the federal republic of Yugoslavia in 1947, dressed to celebrate the second anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany

The 'People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina' becomes one of the constituent republics of the new 'Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia', and life in Bosnia and Herzegovina undergoes all the social, economic, and political changes that are imposed across the whole of Yugoslavia by its new communist government.

1947

Italy loses sections of its eastern territory to Yugoslavia under the terms of the Paris peace treaties. This includes Dalmatia, with that and most of Istria today being part of Croatia.

1948

The communist leadership in Albania has always been plagued by factional division, and by now has split into two camps. A growing rift between Josip Tito and Joseph Stalin in this year gives Enver Hoxha a Soviet ally with whose support he can now act to preserve his own position, and he soon manages to eliminate his rivals. By June 1948, after several years of Yugoslavian tutelage, Albania enters the Soviet fold while Yugoslavia is expelled from it.

1963

The 'Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia' becomes the 'Socialist Federal Republic', and Josip Tito becomes president for life, abandoning any pretence (if any remains) of being an accountable leader with any form of fixed term of office.

1970 - 2006

Crown Prince Alexander II

Son of Peter II. Born 1945 London. In Belgrade from 2001.

1980

The death of Tito, the president for life, brings changes to the top level of Yugoslavia's administration. Instead of nominating or suffering a successor as president (dictator in all but name), a collective presidency is established. This consists of representatives of the leadership of all of the republics within the socialist state, with one state holding the presidency for a year on a pre-agreed rotating basis.

The state funeral of Josip Broz Tito in 1980
Tito was honoured with a state funeral following his death in 1980: viewed by many as the father and saviour of the Yugoslav state, his loss meant the beginning of great changes in the Balkans

1989

The fiction of a united Yugoslavia is finally exposed, not by events from within, but by the geopolitical seismic shift of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the machine-gun rapidity of events thereafter, leads to a sea change in how nations are recognised. Yugoslavia itself has already abandoned the one-party political system and has initiated market reforms.

1990

The growing divisions within communist Yugoslavia finally fracture along national lines. A democratically-elected Sabor is re-established in Croatia on 22 December. Non-Serbian groups openly call for independence from Belgrade.

1991

On 25 June, Croatia, Istria, Macedonia, and Slovenia leave Yugoslavia and declare themselves independent. Although Macedonia is not a focus of any military action, troops are instantly sent into Slovenia, resulting in the Ten Day War (the Slovenian War of Independence). The Brioni (Brijuni) Declaration implements a truce and a three-month pause to independence, with the last Yugoslav troops leaving by the end of the month.

The president of Serbia (rather than Yugoslavia), Slobodan Milošević, has been defeated at the first throw of the dice. However, Croatia will not be abandoned so lightly, triggering the Croatian War of Independence, or Croatian War. An initial attempt is made by Serb-dominated forces to sweep across Croatia to occupy it entirely. This fails when Croatian defence proves to be quite capable and stubborn. Even so, by the end of the year Croatia has lost approximately one third of its entire territory, with ethnic Croats in the occupied zone being subjected to a reign of terror. Much of the occupied zone is quickly reorganised into the self-proclaimed republic of Serbian Krajina.

Vukovar, Croatia, in 1991
One of the first casualties of war was the infrastructure of areas of southern and south-eastern Croatia which were occupied by Serbian-dominated militia groups and rebels, with Vukovar being especially heavily bombed

1992

Bosnia and Herzegovina holds its own referendum on departure. It is largely boycotted by the region's Serb population, but the remainder show enthusiastic support. Independence is officially announced on 3 March 1992. The rotating presidency of Yugoslavia is abandoned in June 1992.

Thanks to forward planning by Yugoslavia, the Bosnian War soon consumes the region, as ethnic nationalists within Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the support of Serbia (mainly) and Croatia (to a limited extent) in some cases, attempt to take control of territories they claim as their own. Horrific ethnic cleansing campaigns between 1992 and the end of 1995 kill thousands and violently displace more than two million people across much of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

1993 - 1995

The situation in Serbian Krajina gradually declines, with newly-rearmed and retrained Croatia inflicting a notable territorial loss on it at the start of 1993 around Maslenica, and another in September when the Medak pocket in southern Krajina falls. By 1994 it has ninety-two percent unemployment, little operable industry, and subsistence-level agriculture. Its existence is terminated in August 1995 when Croatian forces quickly overrun the remainder of the territory.

In 1995 international intervention into the Bosnian conflict leads finally to a peace agreement, the Dayton Accords, in late 1995. This, however, is not before the UN safe zone of Srebrenica is breached by Bosnian Serb forces and more than seven thousand Bosniak men and boys are massacred while UN ground forces are refused clearance to attempt to save them.

Grbavica, a suburb of Sarajevo
Grbavica, a suburb of Sarajevo, showed the full distress of the Bosnian War by 1995 when a ceasefire could finally be arranged between the two bitterly hostile sides

1998 - 1999

The Kosovo War is triggered due to intensive Serbianisation of ethnic Albanian territory within the federal republic of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) had been formed in the early 1990s to oppose Serbia's increasingly violent repression with its own militarised forces, albeit against the wishes of the president of the Kosovo region. Much of the weaponry being used by the Kosovan Albanians has come from state Albanian weapons stores, looted during its 1997 troubles.

With casualty numbers increasing rapidly and thousands of Kosovans pouring into FYROM and Albania, Nato intervenes, using its air superiority to push back Serbian troops. The war ends in the Kumanovo Treaty which sees Yugoslav Serb forces withdraw and a Nato peace-keeping force being assembled to police and protect the Kosovan autonomous region.

2003 - 2006

To all intents and purposes, the Yugoslav state is terminated when the 'Union of Serbia and Montenegro' replaces it as an acceptance that Serbia has certainly lost its former dominance over the other constituent parts of the kingdom.

The EU-brokered deal that forms the union is intended to stabilise the region by settling Montenegrin demands for independence from Serbia and also to prevent further changes to Balkan borders. The same deal also contains the seeds of the union's dissolution. It stipulates that after three years the two republics can hold referenda on whether to keep or scrap it. It is scrapped, and a new Serbia emerges.

Modern Serbia
AD 2006 - Present Day
Incorporating Kosovo

The modern Serbian state sits at the western centre of the Balkans. Officially known as the republic of Serbia, it is bordered by Romania to the north-east, Bulgaria to the south-east, North Macedonia to the south, Montenegro to the south-west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west, Croatia to the north-west, and Hungary to the north. The autonomous region of Kosovo in its south-western corner, bordering Albania, having seceded in 2008. The capital, Belgrade (Beograd), sits at the northern centre of the country.

Serbia's history essentially begins in the fifth and sixth centuries AD, when Slavs migrated gradually into the Balkans to take possession of territory between the Bulgars and the Adriatic. They were in part drawn southwards by the Eastern Roman empire which was eager to stem the advance of the Avars. Some Serb elements did remain in the north-eastern regions of Europe (known as White Serbs), including western Poland, eastern Germany and Saxony. They can still be found in Lausitz in Germany, and are now known as the Laustiz Serbs.

The Balkans Serbs were able to form their own kingdom of Serbia in 1217. This quickly expanded into a regional empire before being subjugated by the Ottoman Turks in 1459. The beginnings of restored independence saw the creation of a principality at the start of the nineteenth century, which led to the restoration of the kingdom of Serbia in 1882. The collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 saw the Serbian kingdom rearranged into the 'Kingdom of Serbs, Croats & Slovenes', and then Yugoslavia in 1928. The Nazi German and Italian occupation of 1941 brought the kingdom to an end, but it was replaced by a federal, Socialist Yugoslavia which persisted until the break-up of the Soviet Union generated a similar break-up of the constituent Balkan states, some of which had never wanted to be in a Belgrade-dominated super-state anyway.

The Balkans wars of the first half of the 1990s were brutal and merciless. From Belgrade, the fragmenting Yugoslavia attempted to hold onto its territories, partially by creating Serb-dominated enclaves which then fell, one-by-one. To all intents and purposes, the former Yugoslav state had been terminated when the 'Union of Serbia and Montenegro' replaced it in 2003 as an acceptance that Serbia had certainly lost its former dominance over the other constituent parts of the state. The EU-brokered deal behind this updated union was intended to stabilise the region by settling Montenegrin demands for full independence and also to prevent further changes to Balkan borders. The same deal also contained the seeds of the union's dissolution when the stipulated referenda on a full split could be held - in 2006. Montenegro decided to go its own way.

FeatureSince then, having also effectively lost Kosovo in 2008 when its people voted for full detachment from Belgrade, twenty-first century Serbia is gradually putting behind it the tragedy of its recent past to rebuild as a singular, independent country in a dramatically different Balkans. The Montenegrin 'divorce' of 2006 and the opportunity of a fresh start for Serbia gave rise to some speculation that the monarchy may be restored. Crown Prince Alexander had already moved back from exile in the UK in 2001 (see feature link). He supports a constitutional monarchy, but has made no overt attempt to establish one. Successive claimants to the Serbian throne are shown below with a shaded background.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804-1920, Charles Jelavich & Barbara Jelavich (A History of East Central Europe, University of Washington Press, 1986), from The Collapse of Yugoslavia, 1991-1999, Alastair Finlan (Osprey Publishing, 2004), from The Death of Yugoslavia, Laura Silber & Allan Little (Penguin Books, 1996), and from External Links: Yugoslavia: death of a federation (The Guardian), and Nation-Building in Croatia and the Treatment of Minorities: Rights and Wrongs, Antonija Petricusic (L'Europe en Formation, 2008/3-4, No 349-350, available via Cairn.info), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

2006 - Present

Crown Prince Alexander II

Claimant since 1970. In Belgrade from 2001.

2006

Serbia loses Montenegro following a vote by the populace of the latter for full independence, completing the break-up of the Yugoslav state. In the lead up to the vote on independence, there had been fears of unrest in areas of Montenegro in which ethnic Serbs, who make up roughly a third of the country's population, had formed a majority opposition to separation from Serbia. Most ethnic Montenegrins and ethnic Albanians living in Montenegro had supported the move. In the event, no such unrest takes place.

2006 independence
Unlike much of the separation of the Balkan states from Serbia, Montenegro's course towards independence was free of violence

2008

Multilateral talks to determine Kosovo's future status have failed to yield a solution that is acceptable both to Serbs and Kosovars. Despite Serbia's opposition, Kosovo formally secedes from the country in February 2008.

2018 - 2020

Despite only being elected to office in 2017, President Aleksandar Vučić and his governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) have already ably demonstrated their intention to be anything but progressive. They oversee an increase in repression, and a degradation of press freedom and civil liberties. Mass protests break out in 2018 and continue into 2020, only to be suspended with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. June 2020 elections are largely boycotted by anyone other than diehard SNS supporters.

Crown Prince Peter

Son and heir. Born 1980 Chicago.