THE reign of Stephen Dušan is the apotheosis of the South Slavonic race. Never has the power of Servia been so great or the Servian dominions so vast as under the sway of this mighty ruler, who raised his country to the rank of an Empire, equipped it with a complete code of laws and made it respected and honoured all over Eastern Europe. With excusable pride the Servian patriots of to-day look back to the age of Dušan as the most glorious epoch of their national history, and regard that monarch, with all his faults, as a national hero. The memories of his exploits inspire some ardent enthusiasts with the desire to revive the ancient splendour of his sovereignty, and the "great Servian idea," which from time to time threatens to disturb the peace of the Balkans, is based upon the expansion of Servia under his auspices. When King Milan declared war on Bulgaria in 1885, it was with shouts of "Dušan" that his soldiers set out from Belgrade.


Stephen Dušan was little more than twenty when his father's murder left him in undisturbed possession of the throne. Tall of stature and of a fine presence, he had early proved himself to be a leader of men. When quite a boy he had commanded a wing of the Servian army at the great battle which laid the Bulgarian Empire in the dust, and one account states that he slew the Bulgarian Czar with his own hand. The devotion of his followers to his person was only equalled by the terror of his enemies at his approach. When he once asked his nobles whether he should lead them against the Greeks or the Germans, they at once replied, "Whithersoever thou goest, most glorious prince, we will follow." The Byzantine chroniclers compare his career of conquest to a raging fire or the course of a river in flood. Even the wild Albanians were docile at his command, and rich and cultured communities like Ragusa were proud to own him as their protector. In his double capacity of conqueror and lawgiver, he presents more than one analogy with Napoleon, and his Empire rose and fell with a rapidity which recalls the meteoric flight of the great French Emperor.

Dušan did not commence with any cut-and-dried plan for making himself master of the Eastern world. One of his conquests led to another, until at last he conceived the idea of making Constantinople itself the seat of his government and putting its feeble rulers beneath his feet. His first and most pressing need was an outlet on the Ægean, and the struggle between the Greek Empire and the Turks gave him an opportunity of gaining his object. Entering 19 274 THE ZENITH OF SERVIA UNDER STEPHEN DUŠAN. Macedonia, he penetrated as far as the Gulf of Volo, and besieged the Emperor Andronicus III. in Salonica. Andronicus obtained peace by the sacrifice of most of the territory which Dušan had conquered. By the treaty of 1340 the Servian monarch obtained such large acquisitions that his dominions stretched from


the Danube to the Gulf of Corinth and from the Adriatic to within a short distance of Adrianople. When it is remembered that, in addition to this huge tract of country, Bulgaria was practically under his control, it will be seen by a glance at the map that 275 DUŠAN'S EMPIRE. he was master of the Balkan Peninsula from sea to sea. Here and there a few coast towns, like Salonica and Durazzo, held out against him, but the Byzantine possessions had shrunk to nothing as compared with his mighty realm. Filled with pride, the conqueror comported himself like an Eastern Emperor. He modelled his Court on that at Constantinople, distributed honorary offices to his most distinguished generals, and created an order of merit which he called by the name of St. Stephen. But he had not learnt the great secret of keeping an empire together. He divided his dominions into provinces, each under the government of a powerful chieftain. In this arrangement it is easy to detect the cause of Servia's brief supremacy. So long as there was a strong man like Dušan at the head of this composite state, all went well; but it needed no gift of prophecy to foresee the inevitable dissensions which would break out whenever his iron hand was withdrawn. When it was attacked later on by an enemy, like the Turks, absolutely united under the authority of one man, the loosely constructed Servian Empire fell.

John Cantacuzene, who had acted as Regent of the Greek Empire during the minority of young John Paleologus, usurped sovereign power in 1341, and, finding no support at Constantinople, retreated to seek the aid of Dušan. Stephen received him in his Court at Pristina with the most elaborate ceremonial and the most profuse hospitality, but declined to assist his distinguished guest except upon his own terms. To his credit it must be said, that the Servian monarch magnanimously rejected the offer of the 276 THE ZENITH OF SERVIA UNDER STEPHEN DUŠAN. Greek Empress Anne, who professed herself willing to divide the Greek Empire with him, on condition that he would rid her and her son of their hated rival. She even sent him the poison for the purpose, and urged him to use it. But Dušan's wife, Helena, pleaded for the life of the guest. Her husband made an alliance with Cantacuzene and assisted him for a time; but mutual suspicions soon alienated the allies, and Cantacuzene did not hesitate to invoke the aid of the Turks against his former host. At this, Dušan changed sides in the civil war, and joined his arms to those of the Empress Anne and the Bulgarians. In 1346 he for the first time adopted the Imperial title —Imperial power he had long enjoyed-and styled himself "Emperor of the Greeks and Servians." Upon his son he conferred the title of King or Kral, which he and his predecessors had borne since the days of Stephen Nemanja. On his head he wore a tiara; on his coins, minted at Cattaro, we see him seated on a throne, with the orb surmounted by a cross in his hand. In the East the dignity of an Emperor implies as its ecclesiastical counterpart that of a Patriarch. Dušan assembled the clergy of his Empire together with that of Bulgaria in a Synod, and bade them elect an independent Servian Patriarch. Servia was free in things spiritual no less than in things temporal from the Greeks. The first duty of the Patriarch was to crown his sovereign as Emperor at Skopje, in the midst of a brilliant gathering. So great was his fame, that the proud Commonwealth of Venice conferred the title of patrician upon him.

The conclusion of the civil war, which had rent the 277 WAR WITH HUNGARY. Byzantine Empire in twain, checked the successes of Dušan over the Greeks. Cantacuzene won back from him a considerable part of Macedonia, and in 1350 negotiations for peace began. Cantacuzene demanded Thessaly in addition to what he had already recovered. But Dušan refused to be hound by these proposals, which he had at first felt inclined to accept. Once more the rivalry of Cantacuzene and young Palcologus, whose guardian he was, gave the Servian Emperor a chance of recovering his territory. But the arrival of a Turkish army at Adrianople altered the whole condition of affairs, and from that moment to the last year of his reign he engaged in no further campaigns against the Greeks.

On the West, however, he found ample compensation for his later reverses in the East. Louis the Great of Hungary was anxious to avenge the defeat of his father by the Servians under Stephen VII., and was filled with jealousy of Dušan's power. In spite of Venetian intervention—for peace was the greatest interest of the commercial Republic of St. Mark Louis crossed the Save and took up a position in Bosnia. Dušan suddenly appeared with a large army in front of the Hungarian King, who retreated beyond the Save with considerable loss. In order to keep his dominions secure from a repetition of this attack, Dugan pretended to have qualms of conscience, and sent a royal messenger to the Pope with fulsome promises. But as soon as he found that the King of Hungary was quiet, he threw off the mask and disavowed all intention of becoming a faithful son of Rome. One result of his victory over Louis was 278 THE ZENITH OF SERVIA UNDER STEPHEN DUŠAN. the incorporation of Belgrade, previously a part of the Hungarian kingdom, with Servia. Another was his subjugation of Bosnia, which had maintained its independence under rulers of its own, called Bans, for many years, and had then fallen under the sway of Hungary. In 1350 it passed to Dušan, together with the sister province of the Herzegovina, which had in early days been Servian, but had been united with Bosnia since 1325. This rounded off the great Empire over which Dušan reigned. The zenith of Servia was attained.

But the Servian Emperor knew that peace had her victories no less than war. Constant as were his campaigns, he yet found time to draw up a complete code of law for his subjects, based upon the national characteristics of the Southern Slavs. This code, promulgated in 1349, is still preserved, and throws a curious light upon the manners and customs of the Serbs at this period. As becomes a "Christian Macedonian Czar" —so the lawgiver styles himself in the preamble—Stephen begins by prescribing for the good government of the Servian Church. "Latin heretics" are to be sent to work in "the deepest mines" or else banished, and any "Latin Priest" found proselytising is sentenced to death. Provision is made for the establishment of an ecclesiastical court, and civil marriages are strictly prohibited. We recognise at once the aristocratic basis of medi.ceval Servian society in the unequal positions of nobles and peasants in the eye of the law. To kill a peasant is a much slighter offence than to kill a noble; to pluck a chieftain's beard means the loss of a hand; 279 DUŠAN'S CODE. to pluck that of a common man costs nothing more than a small fine. But the Czar was careful to protect the merchants who travelled through his dominions. None of his subjects, however exalted


in station, might detain a trader by force or take his money, and the Czar's officials were bidden to grant every facility for the sale of goods. This was quite in keeping with the enlightened policy which attracted the merchants of Ragusa to the country by mineral 280 THE ZENITH OF SERVIA UNDER STEPHEN DUŠAN. concessions, and thus introduced the superior culture of the Dalmatian coast-towns far into the interior of the Peninsula. When a wandering trader arrived in a Servian village at night, it was the. bounden duty of the chief roan to give him food and lodging in his house or else pay for all that he required outside. And if robbers fell upon him, he could make complaint to the Czar, who would exact punishment from the guardians of the peace. The most stringent enactments for the suppression of brigandage are to be found in the code; the chief inhabitants in each town and village are held personally responsible for the public safety. Drunken assaults were punished with a sound beating, and comers of false money were burnt alive. Judges were appointed to go on circuit throughout the land, and advocates forbidden to "abuse the plaintiff's attorney." In short, the great Czar had an eye for the smallest as well as the most important affairs of state, and his code, stern though it was, shows that his country was governed according to fixed principles and not by arbitrary rules. The law-book, or Zakonik, of 1349 was far superior to the jurisprudence of most Eastern countries of that period.

Dušan was not only a lawgiver, but a patron of literature and learning. He increased the number of schools and welcomed foreign scholars at his court, as well as native historians like Archbishop Danilo, who has painted his portrait in flattering colours. Like his father before him, he encouraged the building of churches and the multiplication of religious books. His finances must have been well managed, 281 THE MARCH ON CONSTANTINOPLE. for he could afford to have French, German, and Italian mercenaries in his pay, to whom his successes were not a little due.

Meanwhile the Byzantine Empire was tottering before the attacks of the Turks, who had crossed into Europe and were rapidly reducing the Imperial dominions to a single city. Dušan knew the weakness of the Greeks and the strength of the Turks, and conceived the bold idea of ousting the former from their capital and reigning there himself as Eastern Emperor. He believed that no other sovereign could beat back the tide of Ottoman invasion, and he looked with longing eyes on Constantinople, then as now the cynosure of Slavonic aspirations. It was a magnificent scheme, and had it succeeded the whole course of European history would have been changed. New blood would have been infused into the decrepit frame of the Eastern Empire, and a strong and vigorous race might have held the city of Constantine against the Ottoman foe. Dušan made his preparations on a scale commensurate with his great enterprise. He summoned his chieftains together from every part of his vast realm on the feast of St. Michael, 1356. First of all, the holy festival was kept with prayer and praise; then the Czar took the banner of the Servian Empire in his hand and addressed the throng. The utmost enthusiasm greeted his appeal, and an army of 80,000 men was soon at his disposal. Never before had a Servian prince commanded so large a force or started on a campaign with such hopes of success. The feeble Paleologus, who occupied the Byzantine throne, made little 282 THE ZENITH OF SERVIA UNDER STEPHEN DUŠAN. attempt at resistance. Thrace with Adrianople fell; the advanced guard of the Serb host reached the outskirts of Constantinople. There was treachery within the gates, for a considerable portion of the garrison was known to side with Dušan. But, just at the moment when the prize was within his grasp, the Servian conqueror succumbed himself. On December 18, 1356, he was suddenly seized with a violent fever at the village of Diavoli, some forty miles from Constantinople, and expired the same night in the arms of his trusty comrades. His sudden death has been attributed to poison, secretly administered by the instructions of Paleologus. There is no direct proof of this theory, but the event certainly benefited the Greek Emperor, and the use of poisons was frequent at the Byzantine Court. Cut off in the full possession of all his powers—for he was not yet fifty —Dušan might, with his vigorous constitution, have had a long and glorious career before him. The expedition, which he had led, came to an end with his death. Constantinople was saved from the Serbs; and instead of following their sovereign in triumph through the gates of the Imperial city, the sorrowing chieftains escorted his dead body to the monastery which he had built at Frisrend. The might of the Servian Empire lay buried with him. The decline of the nation, which he had made so great, had already begun.