Kingdom of Serbia (10th – 13th c.)
The early history of the Medieval Serbian state is mostly unknown. The Serbs settled in several lands: Rascia/Raska (today’s southern Serbia and northern Montenegro), today’s south-central and southeastern Bosnia, Zachumlie/Zahumlje (today’s western Herzegovina), Trebounia/Travunija (today’s eastern Herzegovina), Pagania/Paganija (today’s middle Dalmatia) and Duklja/Zeta (today’s Montenegro). The process of the establishment of the Medieval Serbian Kingdom in the mentioned lands mostly took place under domination of Raska and Duklja. Zahumlje and Travunija had during that process inferior role, while the territory of today’s south-central and southeastern Bosnia and Paganija developed separately from the beginning of the 12th century onwards.
The first unified Serbian state emerged under Caslav Klonimirovic (c. 930-960) in the first half of the 10th century but the Serbian state achieved independence under Stefan Nemanja who proclaimed himself Grand Prince (grand zhupan) of Serbia around 1170. Stefan Nemanja gained independence from the Byzantine Empire after the death of the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Komnenos in 1180 and expanded the territory of Serbia to Kosovo and Duklja. The Byzantine Empire felt threatened by the Serbian expansion but failed to recapture the lost lands despite defeating the Serbian forces in the battle at Morava River in 1190. Nemanja’s foreign activities and successful internal politics resulted in the strengthening of feudal system and suppression of the Bogomil heresy, and became the basis for the future rise of Serbia.
Stefan Nemanja founded the Nemanjic Dynasty and is widely regarded as the founder of Serbia. Shortly after reconciliation with the Byzantine Empire – marriage between niece of Isaac II Angelus and Nemanja’s son Stefan (later Stefan II Prvovencani) Nemanja abdicated, retired to his Studenica monastery and adopted the monastic name Simeon. His son Stefan was elected Grand Prince, while his first born son Vukan became the ruler of the province of Zeta (1196). However, brothers soon came into conflict, while Stefan II broke off relations with the Byzantine Empire, separated from his wife Eudocia and turned to the Holy See. Hungary that was disturbed by Stefan’s plans helped Vukan who overthrown his brother and proclaimed himself the Grand Prince of Serbia in 1202. Stefan II emigrated to Bulgaria where he gained support for his return in Serbia, probably in exchange for Serbian eastern territories. The rivalry between Vukan and Stefan II finally ended with Stefan’s restoration to the Serbian throne after intervention of Saint Sava, their youngest brother and the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Serbia developed rapidly after the reconciliation between Vukan and Stefan II and successfully withstood the attacks of the Latin Empire, the Bulgarian Empire and the Despotate of Epirus which greatly lifted its foreign prestige. Stefan II connected himself with Venice through marriage with Ana Dandolo, grand-daughter of Venetian doge. Stefan’s successful diplomacy and good relations with Venice also helped him receive the crown from Pope Innocent III in 1217. Stefan II assumed the title Prvovencani (“the First-Crowned”), while Serbia became a kingdom ruled by the Nemanjic Dynasty over the following two centuries.