250 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. centuries of the Christian era small, scattered colonies



"On Kossovo lay the headless body; But the eagles touched it not, nor ravens, Nor the foot of man, nor hoof of courser."- BOWRING, Servian Popular Poetry.
"Of all the Balkan peoples, the most important and the most powerful were the Serbs: they seemed to have a great destiny before them; but this brave, poetic, careless, frivolous race never attempted to assimilate the remains of ancient culture, and incurred the hatred of the Catholic West and the penalty of isolation."- DE LA JONQUIÈRE, Histoire de l'Empire Ottoman.



THE people known as Serbs did not always inhabit the country which now bears their name. The ancient Greek geographer, Ptolemy, mentions them as living on the banks of the river Don, to the north-east of the Sea of Azov. Other authorities believe that their primitive home is to be found in the regions adjoining the Carpathians, where we hear of Serbs at the period just previous to their immigration into the Balkan lands. It is probable that in the second and third 249 250 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. centuries of the Christian era small, scattered colonies of Serbs settled in the Peninsula; some of the colonists may have come from choice, others may have been brought there as prisoners of war. But it was not till the middle of the sixth century that they appeared in South-Eastern Europe in large numbers, plundering and ravaging the country south of the Danube in all directions. The Greek Emperors of Constantinople, who at that time held the whole Peninsula as far as that river beneath their sway, were at first too much occupied with wars and invasions in other parts of their dominions to pay much heed to this new invasion of strangers. In fact, the Emperor Heraclius about the year 620 actually encouraged the Serbs to cross the Danube and settle on the right bank, in order that they might serve as a buffer against the assaults of a much more dangerous race, the Avars; who in the seventh century were the fiercest of all the Empire's barbarous foes. The Serbs were accordingly permitted to occupy a large tract of territory in the western part of the Peninsula. They displaced the old Illyrian inhabitants of the Adriatic coast, made the present city of Ragusa their capital, and stretched as far south as Macedonia, including what is now Montenegro in their settlements. Belgrade, the present Servian capital, belonged to them, but was not regarded as a place of much importance. Thus, by about 650 A.D., the Serbs had set their mark upon a considerable portion of the Balkan lands. Recognising the more or less nominal authority of the Greek Emperor, to whom they paid tribute, they lived under a government of their own, obeying their 251 OLD SERVIAN GOVERNMENT. own chiefs and following their own customs. A Greek historian of the period expressly mentions that they "had the right of choosing their rulers, who governed them in patriarchal fashion." The names of these early chieftains have not been preserved. We are not told who headed the first great migration of the Serbs into the Peninsula, or who presided over their fortunes during the first two centuries after their coming. It is not till 830 that we hear of a prince or Grand Župan, of Servia, known as Voislay.

The constitution of the Serbs at this period seems to have closely resembled that of all the Slavonic nations. The Serbs have "the defects of their qualities," and the strong spirit of independence, which they have always shown, has caused a singular disinclination to unite under the sceptre of a monarch. Throughout Servian history we may trace the misfortunes of the race to this lack of union, just as its greatest glories are due to its love of freedom. At the dawn of their history their government was framed upon this idea. The people, instead of forming a compact nation under the guidance of one man, consisted of a number of tribes; at the head of each was a chief called by the name of Župan, derived from the word šupa, which means a "district." These various Župans used to meet together in an assembly known as the Skupchtina, from a verb meaning "to assemble," for the purpose of choosing one of their number as Grand Župan, or prince. Thus we have a loose confederation of tribes, each ruled by a chieftain of its own, presided over by that chieftain who seemed tO his colleagues the strongest and most 252 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. capable, and who, in his turn, was nominally the vassal of the Greek Emperor at Constantinople. Each of the Župans enjoyed full independence in his own province, and in early times the authority of the Grand Župan over the rest of his fellows—for they hardly regarded him as their superior—was never very strict. In short, down to the accession of Stephen Nemanja in 1143, the Serbs formed a sort of aristocratic republic, a kind of government which exactly suited the national character.

Religion is inseparably intermingled with the political life of every Eastern nation, and no event was of such great importance for the Serbs as their conversion to Christianity. We have shown in the last part of this book how the Bulgarians were converted by the efforts of Constantine and Methodius, the two apostles of the Balkans. The same two eloquent preachers spread the tidings of the gospel among the idolatrous Serbs. Radoslav, who held the office of Grand Župan about the middle of the ninth century, adopted the new faith, his successor followed his example, and the people imitated the lead of its chiefs. Civilisation came with the Christian missionaries, and the savage customs which the Serbs had brought from their ancient home gradually disappeared. But the religion of peace did not make them forget those warlike pursuits to which they had been always addicted. It was at this period that we hear of the first war between the Serbs and their Bulgarian neighbours.

Just as in our own time the mutual jealousies of these two kindred races have helped to maintain, the 253 FIRST QUARREL WITH BULGARIA. Ottoman Power over a large part of the Peninsula, so a thousand years ago the same motives were fully appreciated by the Greek Emperors, who occupied the position which the Sultan now holds at Constantinople. From the latter part of the ninth century, when Viastimir was head of the Servian Confederation, dates the tong series of hostilities between the two countries, which, with varying fortune and con


siderable intervals of peace, continued down to the subjugation of both races by the Turks, only to survive at the close of the nineteenth century after both had been emancipated. It was Presjam, predecessor of the Bulgarian hero, Boris, who began the attack which lasted for three years without any material advantage to either side. The river Timok, then, as now, the boundary between the two states, was presumably the principal theatre of the war, and the Serbs seem, on the whole, to have held their own in this first trial of strength. But Boris resolved to avenge this national defeat. He selected a moment when the Serbs were more than usually divided, owing to the partition of Vlastimir's power between his three sons; to fall upon them. But the three disputants sank their differences and defeated the invader, 254 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. whose son was taken prisoner. Boris sued for peace, and subsequently assisted Muntimir, the eldest of the three Servian brothers, to secure the supremacy in his own land. For a considerable period the Serbs remained unmolested by their neighbours and at peace among themselves. The power of the Grand Župans was gradually consolidating, and two principles of government became noticeable—one, that, in order to avoid competition, a near relative of the last chief should be made head of the Confederation whenever a vacancy occurred; the other, that the residence of this ruler should he at Desnica.

The accession of Simeon to the Bulgarian throne was followed by disastrous results for the Servian race. The Grand Župan, Peter, had offended the mighty Bulgarian Czar by assisting his enemy, the Greek Emperor, against him. Egged on by one of the Confederate Servian chiefs, who was Peter's bitterest foe, the Bulgarian monarch despatched a large army against his neighbour. By means of a deceitful stratagem, the Bulgarian generals induced the unsuspecting Peter to visit their camp. No sooner had he arrived, than they put him under arrest and carried him off as a prisoner to their own land, where he died by the hand of an assassin about 917. In his place the conquerors set over the Servian people Paul Brankovic, a nephew of the former Servian prince Muntimir, who had spent his life in banishment in Bulgaria, and had accompanied the Bulgarian army on its victorious march. But Paul did not prove to be a mere puppet. He took the earliest opportunity of showing his independence of Bulgarian 255 SERVIA DEVASTATED. dictation as well as of the Greek Emperor, his nominal suzerain. Unfortunately for him, a pretender appeared upon the scene in the person of Muntimir's grandson, Zacharia, whose claims were naturally supported by the indignant Greeks and Bulgarians. Paul easily defeated the former, but against the latter he was powerless. The Bulgarian Czar deposed his creature as easily as he had set him up, and Zacharia was speedily installed as ruler of the Servian stock, the chiefs accepting as law the will of the Bulgarian sovereign in their choice of a prince. But Simeon once more learnt that it was one thing to put a puppet on the throne and quite another to keep him subservient. Zacharia, like his predecessor, soon set Bulgarian tutelage at defiance. At first, his efforts were successful; the Bulgarian generals fell into his hands, and he sent their heads to his ally, the Greek Emperor, as a proof alike of his triumph and his allegiance. But Simeon took a terrible revenge. He was soon able to turn his individual attention to Servia, and in a single battle overthrew the power of Zacharia. The defeated ruler fled for ever from his country, which was ravaged as it had never been ravaged before. All the towns became the booty of the victorious army. Many of the inhabitants fled, like their prince, to Croatia; their land, to use the phrase of an old writer, "had become one vast, gloomy, uninhabited forest." Travellers who visited the country about this period could discover "no more than fifty vagrants, without women or children, who extracted a precarious subsistence from the chase." While the first Bulgarian Empire was at its 256 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. zenith, Servia was almost blotted out from the map. It was the first instance of that historical see-saw between the two adjoining Balkan states which has lasted ever since: when one is up, the other is down; what one gains is usually at the expense of the other.

To Česlav, the son of Paul Branković, whom the Bulgarians had carried away into captivity, belongs the honour of restoring the might of the Servian name. When Simeon died, and the power of his Empire began to wane, Česlav made his escape from his confinement and sought the aid of the Greek Emperor against their mutual foe. Following his traditional policy of playing off one Balkan race against another, the Emperor consented, and Česlav returned to Servia sure of his support. The scattered Serbs flocked to his side, and Česlav was elected as their head. He speedily drove out the Bulgarians, while he had the tact to show himself the grateful and devoted vassal of the Greek Empire, whose nominal authority he was not strong enough to throw off. From this period, about 950, down to the early years of the eleventh century, there is a complete gap in the Servian records. We hear of a certain "just, pacific, and virtuous prince," John Vladimir, who, although defeated by the great Bulgarian Czar Samuel, was fortunate enough to win his conqueror's friendship and the hand of his daughter. But he was brutally murdered by John Vladislav, the last of the early Bulgarian Czars in 1015, and his name is still cherished in Albania as that of a saint. But the Bulgarians did not hold Servia for long. Three years later their supremacy succumbed to the 257 VICTORIES OF VOISLAV. Greek Emperor, and with them the Serbs too became the subjects of the same ruler. It is not till 1040 that we find Servia once more free. The author of its freedom was a certain Stephen Voislav or Dobroslav, a chief of the sainted Vladimir's race, who escaped from his prison at Constantinople and fled to his native fastnesses among the rocks of Montenegro. From this mountain eyrie he swooped down upon the rich argosies of Constantinople, which passed to and fro along the Adriatic, while he annihilated an army which was sent against him in the narrow defiles of the limestone rocks. A simultaneous rising of the Bulgarians against their Greek masters strengthened his hands, and even when Bulgaria once more fell beneath the imperial sway, the Serbs maintained their hard-won independence. So great were the disasters which befell the Emperor's troops, that Byzantine writers could only explain them by the appearance of a cornet. The earliest Servian composition extant, a chronicle by an anonymous priest of Dioclea in Montenegro, dwells with pardonable pride and Oriental exaggeration upon these victories of the national arms. What became of Dobroslav, we are not told; but about 1050 his son, Michael Voislavić, succeeded him, and reigned uninterruptedly for thirty years. His reign is remarkable for the first evidence of political and ecclesiastical relations between the Serbs and the Italians. We find Pope Gregory VII. addressing Michael by the title of "king," and sending him a consecrated banner. Fear of the Normans prompted the Servian prince to seek the protection of the Holy See, and political reasons had quite as 18 258 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. much to do with his conversion from the Greek to the Roman faith as religious scruples. But the union with Rome was not lasting, and any hopes which Gregory may have had of bringing the Serb race permanently under the papal authority were doomed to failure. With the Greek Emperor there was peace during a great part of Michael's reign, and that prince was content to hold certain honorary posts in the official hierarchy of Constantinople. But later on he abetted the Bulgarians in an abortive revolt, which aimed at placing his son Bodin on the Bulgarian throne, and captured the important harbour of Durazzo on the Adriatic from the Greeks. His son extended his conquests, and at the beginning of the twelfth century the power of the Serbs had made itself felt. But it was with the accession of Stephen Nemanja, which is variously fixed at 1143 or 1159, that the greatness of mediæval Servia really began. This able man descended from a princely family of Dioclea, where the Servian rulers had taken up their residence, founded a new dynasty which was called after his name. He could truly boast that he was "no less a man than his forefathers," for he governed all the territory that they had ever possessed, and more besides. He united Bosnia to Servia in 1169, and humbled all the chieftains beneath him, founded many churches and monasteries, and persecuted those who did not follow the tenets of the orthodox Greek Church, But it was long before he succeeded in making much headway against the Greek Emperor, who was still the suzerain of Servia. While Manuel Comnenus sat upon the throne of Constantinople, rebellion was useless. After twice 259 STEPHEN NEMANJA. attempting to throw off his allegiance, the Servian prince came to the Emperor's camp with bare feet and arms, a halter round his neck, and his drawn sword pointed to the earth, in token of submission. He became the ally of his liege lord against the Venetians, and received as a reward the district of Rascia, the modern Novibazar, which separates Servia from Montenegro. But when Manuel died in 1180, Nemanja at once availed himself of the weakness of the Empire to extend his power. Pristina became his capital, Nisch was added to his dominions, which were now double of what they had been at his accession. He refused to pay tribute any longer, and in 1185 proclaimed his complete independence and assumed the title of "King of Servia," but was never crowned. The attempts of the Emperor to reduce him to his former position of a vassal failed, and the Greeks were compelled to sue for peace. Nemanja now treated the Emperor as an equal, and the marriage of his son with the daughter of his former suzerain showed that Servia was no longer a subordinate state. It is curious to see the desire which he showed for a closer friendship with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, who was then setting out on the third crusade. Nemanja despatched a Servian embassy to Germany and offered Barbarossa a free passage through his dominions and his best town to rest in by the way. An ancient writer has expressed the utter astonishment which this offer created in Germany, where the very name of Servia was at that time unknown; in fact, the common opinion was that it was situated between Russia and Hungary! Barbarossa, however, 260 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. came to Belgrade, where Nemanja met him, and the two monarchs held numerous friendly conversations. Tired of the world and satiated with his conquests, Nemanja resolved to devote the evening of his days to the exercises of religion. In 1195 he abdicated in favour of his eldest son, who, like all the Servian kings, bore the name of Stephen, which, from its literal meaning of a "crown," had come to mean "the man who is crowned." This done, Nemanja retired to the monastery of Chilander, which he had founded on Mount Athos. He died five years later under the name of Simeon, which he had adopted when he became a monk. His youngest son, who had already retired to a cloister on the Holy Mount, is known as the first Archbishop of Servia, and was canonised as St. Sava. He played a very important part in the history of his time and exercised a great influence upon the Servian people. It was owing to his efforts that the Greek patriarch of Constantinople allowed the Serbs to elect an archbishop from among the members of their own priesthood, and he cast a halo over the Servian crown which made the nation respect it as they had never respected it before. Sava crowned his eldest brother Stephen with his own hands in the midst of a great assembly, and cried aloud, "Long live the first-crowned king and autocrat of Servia, Stephen." And all the people cried "Amen," and repeated the Creed after the fashion of the Eastern Church. From that moment Stephen Uroš bore the title of "the first-crowned," for he was the first of his race , who was solemnly anointed king. From that moment, too, the supremacy of the Eastern Church 261 UNION WITH BOSNIA. was established in Servia. Pope Innocent III. made strenuous efforts to induce Stephen to enter the Catholic fold. But his arguments were in vain, and Servia remained attached to the Eastern communion.

The reign of Stephen Uroš was of great benefit to the Servian nation. Essentially a pacific ruler, the sovereign devoted his whole attention to the consolidation of the dominions which his father had conquered. He never once voluntarily drew the sword during the quarter of a century for which he sat on the throne, but founded monasteries and strengthened the internal organisation of the country. The earliest Servian coins date from this period and bear his superscription. By means of alliances with the Bulgarians and the Greek Emperor, he greatly raised the position of Servia abroad, and when the Latin conquest of Constantinople placed the Emperor Baldwin on the throne, one of his first acts was to recognise Stephen Uroš as "independent king of Servia, Dalmatia, Bosnia," and other adjoining districts.

But this union of Bosnia and Dalmatia with the Servian crown brought down upon the peace-loving Stephen the enmity of Andrew II., King of Hungary. Hitherto Servia and Hungary had been separated from one another, except at one point, by a "buffer state," consisting of Bosnia, the Herzegovina and Dalmatia. But when these territories were merged in the new Servian kingdom, the two rivals were brought face to face. Andrew II. stirred up Stephen's second brother, Vouk, against him, promising to make him an independent prince. But St. Sava once more appeared on the scene as the good angel of Servia, 262 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. and reconciled the two brothers. The Hungarian monarch's attempt failed, and the reign of Stephen Uroš ended peacefully in 1224. His two sons, Stephen III. and Ladislas, who succeeded him at brief intervals upon the throne, left comparatively little mark on the history of their country. The elder of the two rounded off his dominions to the east and west by the capture of the important town of Vidin from the Bulgarian Czars—a place which has always been an object of discord between the two nations—and by the addition of Syrmia, the district between the Save and the Danube, which was ceded to Servia by the King of Hungary. But Stephen III. was compelled by a mental malady to resign, and his younger brother, Lad islas, abandoned the Bulgarian conquest on his marriage with the daughter of Asên, the great Czar. Peace, however, was established by means of this matrimonial alliance between the rival nationalities, to the great advantage of both. Ladislas availed himself of the opportunity to improve the education of his people, to make laws and encourage commerce. The Servian mines, of which much has lately been written, date from his reign. Ladislas, like Milosh six hundred years later, sent to Germany for mining experts to report on the mineral wealth of Servia, and the roads and excavations which are found at the present day show that at an early period attempts were made to develop the natural resources of the country.

A third brother of the last two sovereigns followed them on the throne in 1237, under the title of Stephen IV., surnamed "the Great." Stephen IV. was a wise and prudent monarch, a lover of peace like his father, 263 INROADS OF THE MONGOLS. and a patron of schools and such learning as there was. Ably seconded by his French wife, Helena, a niece of the first Latin Emperor of Constantinople, he laboured hard for the civilisation of his warlike people. But he could not escape the terrible inroads of the Mongols, which threatened the kingdom of Hungary with destruction, and were a grave source of danger to Servia as well. Stephen gave the Hungarian king a refuge in his domains, and thus called down upon himself the vengeance of the barbarian hordes. In a great battle the Serbs and Dalmatians drove them back to Spalato, but on their way home bands of stragglers traversed Servia and levied blackmail upon its unfortunate inhabitants. Freed from these marauders, Stephen found a greater source of trouble in the rebellious spirit of his eldest son. Not content to wait until his father's crown descended to him, the heir-apparent intrigued with the ungrateful King of Hungary, whose daughter he had married. The old King Stephen refused to resign, whereupon his son marched into Servia at the head of a Hungarian army, deposed his father and put the crown on his own had, assuming the title of Stephen V. The aged monarch, abandoned by his retainers and naturally a man of peace, accepted his fate, and lived, till his death in 1272, as a subject of his treacherous son. But the young king did not long enjoy his ill-gotten title. Stung by remorse, and believing himself to be the object of divine vengeance, he abdicated in 1275, and his brother took his place under the style of Stephen VI. With him begins what may be called the "great century" of the Servian kingdom, when Servia be 264 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. came the dominant factor in Balkan politics and enjoyed an influence such as she has never possessed either before or since. The events of the long reign of Stephen VI. led up to the culmination of Servia's power under the greatest of all her monarchs, Stephen Dušan.

The first gains of Servia were made at the expense of the Greek Empire, which the Serbs were now strong enough to despise. During the war between the Emperor Michael Paleologus and the Bulgarians in 1278, the Byzantine troops violated the territory of the Servian monarch. Stephen VI. was not the man to suffer such an insult without a protest, and when he found that his protests were unavailing he sent an army to protect his frontiers. The Greek Emperor swore that he would "sweep him off the face of the earth," and as soon as he had made peace with the Bulgarians, set out in 1282 to carry out his vow of vengeance. His sister had been affianced at his desire to the Servian king, at a time when he was not yet on the throne. But the Byzantine princess, accustomed to the luxury of Constantinople, took such a dislike to the monotony and simplicity of life at the Servian Court of Pristina, that she refused to marry its future master. The Emperor laid the whole blame of his sister's refusal upon Stephen, who, however, was a Lothario rather than an ascetic. The tales which are told of his private life certainly do not accord with the patriarchal manners and primitive virtues which usually prevailed in the Royal family of mediaeval Servia. But, whatever were the motives of the Greek Emperor, he was destined to fail in his 265 WAR WITH THE GREEKS. designs. Stephen at once convoked an Assembly of his chieftains, and, encouraged by their support, assumed the offensive against his antagonist. All the strongholds of the Empire along the valley of the Vardar fell into the hands of the Serbs, while


Michael Paleologus, delayed by stress of weather and the state of his own health, was powerless to save his Macedonian possessions. The whole nation was in arms against the Greek Emperor; even Stephen's elder brother, who had abdicated, contributed his services to the common cause. But, before the motley army of many nationalities and creeds which the 266 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. Greek Emperor had gathered together could come to close quarters with the Serbs, Michael himself was no more "God," says the old Servian historian, Archbishop Danilo, "allowed him not so much as to see Servia even from afar." He had only advanced three days' journey from Constantinople when he died, leaving his successor, Andronicus II., to carry on the war. But Andronicus was too much occupied with theological controversies to attend to the less important business of defending his Empire. Stephen continued to pursue his victorious course unchecked, Macedonia lay at his feet, and he penetrated to the shores of Ægean and set up his standard on the holy mount of Athos, where his great ancestor, Stephen Nemanja, had died. For some years this desultory warfare went on, until at last the Greek Emperor sued for peace. Not desiring to occupy the whole of Macedonia, the Serbs contented themselves with retaining the frontier fortresses as a bulwark of their realm. For the rest of his long reign, Stephen VI. had nothing to fear from the Byzantine rulers. On the contrary, Andronicus was reduced to beg his aid against a new and terrible enemy, who was destined to overthrow both the Greek Empire and the Servian Kingdom by the middle of the following century.

The power of the Turks, of whom we now hear for the first time in connection with Servian history, had grown at the beginning of the fourteenth century to be a standing menace to the Greek Empire. In 1301 Andronicus implored the assistance of his former adversary Stephen, and, after the fashion of the time, proposed to the Servian monarch a matrimonial 267 A BYZANTINE BRIDE. alliance between the two houses as a precursor of a political union. Stephen was at the moment a widower and had no particular objection to a Byzantine marriage, strenuously though this was resisted by many of his friends. They foresaw that the introduction of a Greek princess into the Servian Court would infallibly lead to those feminine intrigues in which the ladies of the Imperial family were adepts. But Stephen refused to listen to his advisers; and the marriage between himself and the Greek Emperor's daughter Simonis, who was no less than thirty-four years younger than her husband, was celebrated with great pomp at Salonica. Before many years had passed, the Servian sovereign had good cause to rue that day.

He lost no time in performing his promise to his Imperial father-in-law and assisting him against the Turks. A Serb army crossed into Asia Minor, and in 1303 their efforts drove back the Ottoman invaders. Covered with glory, the victorious Serbs returned to their own land. But the danger which menaced the Greek Empire had been only temporarily averted. Twelve years later Andronicus once more applied to Stephen for help. The Servian army entered Thrace and swept the Turks into the sea. Few of the Ottoman soldiers escaped with their lives, none regained their liberty. Twice had Servian arms saved the Byzantine Empire. No less successful was the short campaign against the Bulgarians, who invaded Servia with a body of Tartar allies. The Archbishop called forth the people and led them in person. His efforts prevailed; the Bulgarians were 268 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. defeated, and compelled by King Stephen, who had now come up, to beg for peace. From this time dates the removal of the archiepiscopal see of Servia from Ušica, on the river Morava, to Ipek, in what is now called Old Servia and no longer part of the Serivian Kingdom.

Fortunate in his foreign policy, Stephen VI. was most unhappy in his domestic affairs. His Greek wife, Simonis, intrigued, on behalf of her son Constantine, whom she wished to see as her husband's successor instead of her stepson Stephen, who was the heir-apparent. The Queen was supported by the, members of her own family, who wanted a tool of their own as King of Servia; the claims of Stephen, the rightful heir, found champions among the nobility and priesthood of Servia, who had from the first feared Greek interference. Urged by them, the heir-apparent declared civil war. But the King succeeded in dispersing his eldest son's followers without bloodshed, and the penitent heir returned to the palace and asked forgiveness. But his crafty stepmother, fearing lest he should prevail upon his father to reinstate him in his former position, procured his arrest. This done, she ordered his eyes to be put out, and sent him in chains for safe keeping to her father, who threw him into a Greek monastery. But the orders of the savage queen had been only half executed. After seven years of imprisonment her stepson reappeared in his father's kingdom with eyesight unimpaired. The people believed that a miracle had taken place, and ascribed the marvellous restoration of the prince's sight to the intervention of a 269 THE SERBS ATTACK BULGARIA. saint. But the executioner entrusted with the work of blinding him had only pretended to perform his odious task. He had held the hot plate of metal, which was used for the purpose, at so great a distance from the prisoner's eyes that they had not been injured. The treacherous designs of the Queen had thus been frustrated. The Serb clergy, whose leader, Archbislulp Danilo, the chronicler of his times, had procured the release of the heir-apparent, resolved to place their favourite upon the throne. The national party, which had been formed to resist the insidious influence of the Greeks, carried the day, and when the old king died in 1321, the clergy at once proclaimed his eldest son king under the title of Stephen VII., to which he added the surname of Uroš.

His first act was to subdue his half-brother Constantine, who attempted to dispute his right to the throne, But the removal of his rival did not bring peace to the land. The short reign of Stephen VII. is one uninterrupted succession of wars with the. King of Hungary, the Bulgarian Czar, and the Greek Emperor,in which the Servian monarch met with invariable success. Instigated by the Bulgarians, the ambitious Hungarian sovereign attacked the Wallachs, who were allies of the Serbs. Stephen VII. crossed the Danube to the relief of his friends, and inflicted, an overwhelming defeat upon the Hungarian troops. He then turned his arms against the Bulgarian Czar Michael, who had mortally offended him by divorcing his sister Neda, and sending; her and her son Alexander back to Servia. We have described in the second part of the book the terrible disaster which 270 ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE SERBS. befell the Bulgarian army on the fatal field of Velbužd on the 28th of June, 1330. The Bulgarian Czar fell and his Empire with him. The Serbs did not, indeed, incorporate Bulgaria with their own country, but they took care to keep a tight hold upon its government. Stephen put his sister as regent on the Bulgarian throne for her son Alexander, and for the next generation Bulgaria followed the lead of Servia and recognised the practical supremacy of the Servian kings. Time had, indeed, brought its revenge; the Servian domination over Bulgaria in the fourteenth century was the compensation for the Bulgarian influence over Servia in the tenth and eleventh.

The Hungarian and Bulgarian victories of Stephen Uroš were followed by a successful campaign against the Greek Emperor, which led to the annexation of half Macedonia. But the conqueror committed the mistake of his father and became entangled in the wiles of the Byzantine Court. If any man had had a sad experience of Greek alliances, that man was Stephen Uroš. Yet he chose a second wife from among the Byzantine princesses. No sooner had the fair Greek borne him a son than she began to plot against her stepson, Stephen, afterwards known as Dušan, the most famous name in Servian history. The latter took up arms against his father and fortified himself in Montenegro against the Royal troops. The struggle between father and son, which had already been the greatest blot upon the pages of Servian history, once more began. Backed by the nobles, who were jealous of Greek influence, the heir- 271 DUŠAN'S ACCESSION. apparent besieged his sire in his own residence and compelled him to surrender. It is said that he was ready to spare his father's life, but that his partisans urged him to secure the throne by a parricide. The old king was imprisoned in a castle, and there strangled by his son's minions in 1336. With the death rattle in his throat, he cursed his cruel child and all his house. Attempts have been made to extenuate the crime; but nothing can palliate it before the tribunal of posterity. The murderer's horrible deed is branded in letters of blood in the annals of his country, for from that moment he received the surname of Dušan, or "the throttler," from the Serb verb dušiti, which means to "suffocate." In vain did Dušan endeavour to atone for his crime by building countless churches and convents. His father's curse was fulfilled, not in the days of Dušan but in succeeding generations, and the mighty Empire, which he founded, fell to pieces when its founder was no more.

The first period of Servian history is over. We have seen the gradual development of the Servian monarchy out of a loose federation of chiefs owing nominal obedience to the Greek Emperor. We have traced the struggles of the Servian rulers with their Bulgarian rivals and their Byzantine suzerains. With the accession of Stephen Dušan in 1336 begins the golden age of the old Servian monarchy.