III.

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA.

(1356-1459.)

BEFORE he died, Dušan had made his generals swear allegiance to his only son, Uroš V., at that time a lad of nineteen. But they did not keep their word for long. Weak in character and pacific by disposition, the young Czar was not the man to keep in order the turbulent grandees whom the strong arm of his father had subordinated to the throne. The system of dividing the Empire into provinces, each under a chief of its own, which Dušan had adopted, lessened the authority of his successor. Domestic quarrels, as usual, were the bane of the Servian Court, and the worst foes of young Uroš were his mother and his uncle. The recent conquests of Dušan had not been thoroughly welded together with the older Servian lands, and were naturally the first to go. Thessaly declared itself independent; the warlike Albanians, who had recognised Dušan as their Prince, broke away from the Serb Empire after his death; the vassal state of Bulgaria recovered its former posi 283 284 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. tion; Belgrade, the future capital of Servia, was recaptured by the King of Hungary; Bosnia, under the vigorous sway of Stephen Tvartko, the ablest of all her rulers, severed her connection with the Serbs, and Tvartko assumed the rank and style of royalty. A little later, in 1376, we even find him proclaiming himself "King of Servia, Bosnia, and the sea-coast," and avowing his intention of reviving the glories of Dušan.

Meanwhile, to the foes within there were added the foes without. The Turks had occupied Adrianople in 1360, and to mark the permanent character of their occupation, had transformed the seat of government to that city. They thus became near neighbours of the Serbs, who formed an alliance with their old enemy, Paleologus, against the common danger. The combined Greek and Servian army was defeated under the walls of Adrianople, and the battlefield retains to this day the name of the "Servian rout." This ignominious reverse increased the insubordination of the chieftains. Recognising that their Czar could not protect them, they resolved to protect them-selves and each set up for himself in his own province, heedless of the central authority. One of their number, bolder than his fellows and forgetful of the benefits which Dušan had showered upon him, determined to depose his benefactor's son. Voukačin—for such was the usurper's name—wormed his way into the young Czar's confidence, and obtained from him the government of Dalmatia as a reward for his counsels. Uroš refused to believe that a relative and a friend could foster designs against his life and 285 THE TURKS APPROACH. throne, and turned a deaf ear to the warnings of his courtiers. The arrival of Voukačin before his palace at Pristina at the head of an army found him unprepared to resist. The son of Dušan fled almost alone from his capital towards the mountains of Bosnia, but perished on the way by the hand, or at any rate the command, of his rival, in 1367. Such was the inglorious end of the great Serb conqueror's son and heir. Within little more than ten years after Dušan's death his Empire was dismembered and his child a fugitive.

The usurper did not long enjoy the fruits of his crime. The Turks, under the able leadership of Amurath I., one of the greatest generals of his time, continued their career of conquest. Their advance in the direction of Servia aroused Voukačin's fears for the safety of his throne. Summoning the chieftains together, he implored them to forget their dissensions and join him in a campaign against the Turkish conqueror. An army nearly as large as that which had followed Dušan on his last expedition was collected, and Voukačin believed himself to be the leader of a new crusade. At first his efforts were successful, and Amurath received a severe check on the spot, where a few years earlier the Serbs had been routed with such loss. But in the dead of night Amurath surprised the Servian camp and completely destroyed the army of the Christians. The flower of the Serb nobility perished either by the scimitars of the Turks or in the waters of the river Marica. Voukačin, after fighting with desperate courage, fled with a handful of retainers, one of whom murdered 286 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. him for the sake of the gold chain which he wore. The news of the Servian defeat excited the greatest alarm all over Christendom. The Pope lamented loudly that nothing could withstand the onward march of the Turks. The Servians thought that the sole chance of their safety lay in the election of Lazar, a connection by marriage of Dušan's dynasty, in whose wars he had served with great distinction. Lazar, the last of the Servian Czars, ascended the throne in 1371 under gloomy circumstances. He did not deem it prudent to attack the victorious Turks until he had had time to recruit his scattered forces, and so quietly looked on while Macedonia gradually fell into their hands. But the warlike King of Hungary, instead of assisting his brother of Servia against the Ottoman armies, seized the opportunity of Servia's weakness to attack him. For the second time the Serbs repulsed his attempt; but there was little glory or satisfaction to be won from such a triumph at a time when all the Christian Powers of the East should have been banded together against the Crescent. When in 1386 the Turks invaded Servia and captured Nisch, the key of the whole country, Lazar found himself without allies, and, imitating the craven example of the Greek Emperor, purchased a disgraceful peace by promising to pay an annual tribute and to provide a thousand mercenaries for the Turkish armies. It was, indeed, a change since the days of Dušan.

But at last the Christian states of the Balkans, when too late, discovered that they must unite against the Ottoman power, Tvartko, King of 287 BATTLE OF KOSSOVO. Bosnia, sent a detachment of soldiers to aid the Serbs; the Bulgarians created a diversion in favour of their neighbours; the Prince of the Zeta joined with the Servian monarch. In the fastnesses of the Black Mountain, where the Turks were in the coming centuries to receive so many fatal reverses, a body of Albanians and Serbs utterly routed the Ottoman force. Amurath I., who was celebrating his marriage in Asia Minor when the news reached him, vowed vengeance. Hurrying back to Europe, he collected an enormous army and marched against the Serbs. The battle, which was to decide for five centuries the fate of the Balkan Peninsula, was fought on the plain of Kossovo, the "field of blackbirds," as it is called in Serb, from the flocks of those creatures which frequent it. Kossovo is at the present day a part of the Turkish Empire, and gives its name to an Ottoman vilayet or province. Shut in by a chain of mountains, and of vast extent, the plain seemed intended by nature for an Armageddon of nations. Around this spot, the Waterloo of Balkan freedom, clusters a whole literature of patriotic ballads, from which it is no easy task to discern the true story of that fatal day. "Amurath," says One of the national bards, "had so many men that a horseman could not ride from one wing of his army to the other in a fortnight; the plain of Kossovo was one mass of steel; horse stood against horse, man against man; the spears form a thick forest; the banners obscure the sun, there was no space for a drop of water to fall between them." On the other side Serbs, Bosniaks, and Albanians were banded together in the common 288 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. cause under Lazar's leadership. On the morning of June 15, 1389, the battle began. Amurath had hesitated at the last moment to attack the allied host, but a dream, in which the angel of victory had appeared to his most trusted counsellor and bade him "conquer the infidels," confirmed his wavering mind. The struggle was furious on both sides, and Lazar held his own against the Ottoman chivalry. But there was treachery in the Servian camp. Vouk Branković, to whom one wing of the Servian army had been entrusted, had long been jealous of his sovereign. It was said that he had already arranged with Amurath to betray his master, and had been promised the crown of Servia as a reward. The Turkish victory was the result of this "great betrayal." At a critical moment, when the future of the clay was still undecided, the traitor turned his horse's head and rode off the field, followed by his detachment of 12,000 men. Lazar in vain attempted to sustain the contest against fearful odds. Slowly but surely the Turkish numbers told, and all was confusion in the Servian ranks. Lazar's horse stumbled and fell, and his rider expired beneath the blows of the Turkish soldiers. With him his nine brothers-in-law and the flower of the Servian aristocracy perished. The victory of the Turks would have been complete but for the death of their own sovereign in the hour of his triumph.

Amurath, it is said, was walking over the battlefield after the fight was over, when a wounded Serb, seeing the Sultan approach, crawled to his feet and pretended to make obeisance to him. Suddenly 289 AMURATH ASSASSINATED. springing up, the man drew a dagger from under his garments and plunged it into the conqueror's breast. The Sultan had received his death wound, and his assassin, Milosh Obilić, after a desperate struggle, was slain by Amurath's guards. Another version of the Sultan's death is given by the Servian bards. According to them, Milosh, taunted with cowardice by the traitor Vouk on the eve of battle, had vowed to prove his loyalty by his conduct next day. Early in the morning he visited the Turkish camp, and prayed to be admitted as a deserter to the Sultan's tent. His request was granted, whereupon he smote the Turkish commander to the heart. To this day his name is held in honour by the national poets, while that of Vouk Branković has been banded clown to perpetual infamy. But the assassination of Amurath I. had little practical result; for his son Bajazet I. was proclaimed his successor on the field of battle, and showed by the murder of his brother that there would be no division in the Turkish ranks. As for the traitor Vouk, he was poisoned a few years later by the Sultan's orders.

The battle of Kossovo has never been forgotten in the lands of the Southern Slavs. The most mournful songs of the Servian muse are inspired by the sad memories of that day. Whenever they have risen against the Turk, the cry of "revenge for Kossovo" has been emblazoned on their banners, and the Serbs of Montenegro still wear mourning on their caps for that fatal defeat. The Servian Empire had fallen for ever, though the Turks permitted riders, or "despots," of Servia to exercise nominal power for seventy years 20 290 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. longer. Many noble families fled to the fastnesses of Montenegro, and maintained their faith and freedom from the Ottoman conquerors amid the impenetrable recesses of the Black Mountain. Others migrated to Hungary, and formed those Serb colonies on the banks of the river Theiss from which, much later, succour came to Servia in her struggle for independence. A third body of emigrants found a home in Bosnia, whose rulers had not yet fallen beneath the sway of the all-conquering Turks.

The Sultan Bajazet did not pursue his conquests farther after the battle of Kossovo. His own army had suffered severely, and he permitted Stephen Lazarevic, son of the dead Czar, to reign over Servia on condition that he became his vassal. Stephen promised to pay an annual tribute from the Servian silver mines, to relinquish the whole of Macedonia, to put at the service of his suzerain a body of Servian troops under the command of his younger brother Vouk, and to give to Bajazet the hand of his sister Mileva. The vanquished nation had no option but to accept these terms, and Stephen faithfully kept his promise as long as he lived. We find him fighting by the side of the Turks at the great battle of Angora in 1402, where Bajazet became the prisoner of Timour the Tartar. His intervention in favour of his Turkish brother-in-law at a critical moment at the great battle of Nicopolis in 1396 riveted the chains of the Bulgarians; his subjects joined the Turks in their attack upon Miretschea the Old of Wallachia. Thus, such strength as. Servia still had was used on the side of her foes. Even more fatal was the marriage 291 SERVIAN ADMINISTRATION. of Stephen's sister to Bajazet, for it provided the Turks with a claim, which they afterwards put forward, to the Servian throne. It was a humiliating position for Stephen and his people; but thus only could they retain even a shadow of independence.

The dissensions which broke out between the sons of Bajazet after his death, gave a further respite to Servia and Bosnia. Stephen availed himself of this opportunity to improve the internal condition of his country. Attempts have been matte to depict him as the founder of constitutional government in Servia, and he is said to have created two legislative chambers, one composed of chiefs or nobles, the other representative of the people. This is an obvious anachronism; but it is clear that he divided his servants into three classes. The first class formed a sort of cabinet, which conferred with him in an inner room, and discussed the affairs of the realm; the second, in an adjoining department, acted as secretaries, and issued the orders of their superiors to the third class, whose duty it was to carry out those orders at once. It is upon this fact that the theory of a Servian constitution in the early years of the fifteenth century has been based. He secured the restoration of Belgrade by the Hungarians and made it his residence, strengthening it with fortifications and adorning it with fine buildings. Like most rulers of his house, he was a friend of the clergy, and his benevolence and simple life excited the admiration of monastic chroniclers.

But the mutual quarrels of Bajazet's heirs soon tempted the Serbs to intervene. Stephen's younger 292 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. brother Vouk believed that, by making himself useful to one of the Turkish factions, he could obtain the Servian throne as a reward for himself. But he committed the mistake of choosing the losing side. The victorious faction visited his misdeeds upon his innocent brother, no less than on himself A new Turkish invasion of Servia under Moussa in 1413 led to the defeat of the Serbs in the plain of Verbica and the loss of more territory on the upper waters of the Morava. But Moussa's rival, Mohammed I., enlisted the Servian "despot" on his side, and the latter assisted him to subdue all the Turkish factions and make himself Sultan. Mindful of the benefits which he had received from Stephen, he restored to the Serbs the territory which Moussa had so recently taken away, and confirmed Stephen in his government. But the tribute continued, and too late the Serbs discovered that by their action in helping Mohammed they had restored unity and strength to the Turkish Empire. In their desire to obtain a temporary advantage, they had permanently injured their own prospects of independence.

This became evident when Amurath II. became Sultan on Mohammed's death. Stephen Lazarević had died in 1427 without heirs, and had named George Brankovic, son of the traitor of Kossovo, as his successor. But Amurath II. at once claimed a prior right to the Servian throne as the grandson of the Servian princess Mileva, whose marriage with the Sultan Bajazet had been one of the conditions of peace fifty years earlier. The Serbs refused to acknowledged his pretensions, and he replied by 293 SEMENDRIA BUILT. invading their country. His success was not, however, so complete as he had expected, and he accordingly offered his protection to Servia and demanded the hand of George Branković's daughter in marriage. But this sacrifice did not secure peace for long. Anxious to conquer the rich kingdom of Hungary, Amurath saw that he must occupy Servia first, more especially as Brankovic had lately made an alliance with the King of Hungary and had built a strong fortress at Semendria on the Danube for the use of himself and his new ally. Amurath requested that this stronghold should be given up to him; and, when Branković refused, overran the country and placed garrisons in the principal towns. A Turkish mosque was built in Krusevac, the famous residence of many a Servian monarch; Branković, unable to obtain aid from Hungary, which was at that moment distracted by internal dissensions and a terrible epidemic, fled to Ragusa, where an inscription on one of the gates tells to this day how he "came in with all his treasures." Servia in 1440 was entirely in the Turkish power, and Amurath appointed one of his followers to govern it as Pasha in his absence. Yet just at that moment the heroic efforts of a foreign soldier procured a further brief respite for the unhappy Serbs. This was John Hunyad, the celebrated "white knight of Wallachia," whom the Christians of the East looked upon as a deliverer, while the hosts of Islam believed that he was none other than the evil spirit. At the head of a combined Servian and Hungarian army, Hunyad drove Amurath from the Danube and raised the siege of Belgrade, at that time a Hungarian fortress, which 294 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. the Turks had besieged for six weary months. The King of Hungary joined in the campaign, and one success after another attended the march of the allies. It was well nigh the last triumph that Servian arms ever won over the Turks till the clay of awakening came in our own century. The severe winter, most valuable of all allies in a Balkan campaign, alone prevented the utter annihilation of the Turkish army. Amurath begged for peace, and it was signed at Szegedin in the middle of 1444. Hostilities were to cease for ten years, Servia was evacuated by the Turks and once more governed by its native prince. Never since the defeat of Kossovo had the Serbs enjoyed so much independence.

But it was not for long. In spite of the warnings and entreaties of the Servian ruler, the impetuous King of Hungary tore up the treaty almost as soon as it had been signed, and attacked the Turks. In this brief campaign, which was ended by the overwhelming victory of the Turks at Varna in November, 1444, George Branković took no part; for he foresaw from the first the folly, and deplored the treachery, of this wanton breach of the newly signed peace. But he ultimately suffered even more than the Hungarian people by this defeat, which they had provoked. For Varna speedily completed what Kossovo had begun. The Turks made no difference between Magyars and Serbs when the battle was over. Hunyad once more came to the assistance of the latter, and kept Amurath in check for a time, and Amurath II.'s successor, Mohammed II., made a temporary peace with Servia until he had captured Constantinople. The fall of 295 JOHN HUNYAD. the Imperial city in 1453 paved the way for the final annexation of the Servian territory to the Turkish dominions. Semendria, the residence of George Branković, was the first object of Mohammed's attack. The Ottoman artillery soon left nothing but a heap of ruins to mark the spot, and the Servian prince was once more a fugitive. Again the heroic Hunyad came forward as the champion of Christendom. Again he saved Belgrade, the "City of the Holy War," as the Turks called it. Serbs and Magyars fought side by side in its defence with the courage of despair, and a brave Franciscan monk, crucifix in hand, urged them to protect the outpost of Christianity. A battle on the Danube gained Hunyad access to the citadel; a successful sally from the walls completed the rout of the Turks. Mohammed II. was wounded, while thousands of Ottoman corpses covered the outskirts of Belgrade. Leaving his baggage and artillery in the hands of the gallant garrison, the Sultan retreated to Adrianople, glad to escape with his life, which he owed to the devotion of his bodyguard. George Branković re-entered into possession of his country, and died shortly afterwards in 1457 at the great age of ninety-one. Servian independence survived him little more than a year, for in 1459 the Turks formally annexed the land, for which a long line of warrior princes had striven so well.

The final blow to Servian freedom was dealt by one of Servia's princes. The old story of domestic dissension repeated itself on the death of George Branković. His widow and three sons, to whom he had conjointly entrusted the government, soon 296 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. quarrelled. Lazar, the youngest of the three, poisoned his mother and expelled his brothers, in order to reign alone, while he promised to pay an annual tribute of twenty thousand gold pieces to the Sultan. But Mohammed II. was not long content with this partial sovereignty. When Lazar died in 1458, he resolved to incorporate Servia with the Turkish Empire. There was no longer any obstacle to the accomplishment of his plan. Hunyad, who might have prevented it, was now dead; the Serbs had lost all heart, and were ready to purchase peace at any price after the constant struggles of the last seventy years; they had no leader and no enthusiasm. Lazar's widow, Helena, tried to preserve the political independence of her country by offering it as a fief to the Papacy. But the Serbs declared that they would rather be Turkish than Roman Catholic. The same effect was produced in Bosnia by the king's proposal to place his throne under the protection of the Pope, and to form, by a matrimonial alliance with Servia, one united Catholic monarchy out of the two Serb states. There too the people, mindful of the terrible persecutions which they had suffered at the hands of the Popes, welcomed the Turks as deliverers. Thus theological bitterness, alike in Servia and in Bosnia, contributed to the subjugation of both lands beneath the rule of the Sultan. The Serb nobles invited a Turkish magnate, brother of the Grand Vizier, to be their lord, and when Helena put him in prison, threw themselves into the Sultan's arms. Semendria opened its gates to him; city after city followed its example; Helena was allowed to Ieave the country, and in 1459 297 FALL OF SERVIA. Servia had ceased to exist as a separate state. Four years later the last King of Bosnia lost his life and throne, and his dominions, too, became a Turkish province. In Montenegro alone a handful of mountaineers preserved the vestiges of Servian freedom. The people of the old Servian kingdom had either bowed their necks to the conqueror or migrated across the Danube to join the colonies founded in Hungary after the battle of Kossovo, where they maintained in a foreign land their language and customs under a chief of their own.

Thus fell the once mighty Servian state. Lack of unity, alike in politics and religion, was the chief cause of its fall. The feudal system, which allowed the great nobles almost royal power in their own dominions, weakened the central authority and rendered it liable to defeat at the hands of a Turkish autocrat, who took care to remove every rival out of his path. It was only when a strong man, like Dušan, was on the throne, or when, as happened after the death of Bajazet, a civil war broke out among the Turks, that Servia was secure. The mutual jealousies of the Christian rulers of Servia and Hungary hindered, except on rare occasions, a really effective alliance for the common cause. The Serbs, firmly attached to the Greek Church, suspected the Magyars, who came to assist them, of desiring to introduce the Roman Catholic faith. Throughout the history of the Balkans this distinction of creeds proved a real obstacle to a political union. It was so in Servia, it was so in Bosnia, and we shall see it to be the same in Montenegro and Albania. Well organised, strongly united 298 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF SERVIA. in their devotion to their leader and their religion, the Turks had little difficulty in overthrowing the brave Servian nation, which at one moment had seemed likely to combine all the Balkan lands under a Czar of its own, with Constantinople as its capital.