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27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Transylvania (Hungarian Erdely and German Siebenburgen) located in today’s Romania northern from the Carpathian Mountains was conquered by the Hungarians about year 900. A short period of independence at the beginning of the 11th century was followed by incorporation of Transylvania into the Kingdom of Hungary as an autonomous vassal duchy ruled by a prince or voivod responsible to the Hungarian King. Transylvania was settled by the German Saxons who were invited by the Hungarian King Geza II in the 12th and 13th century. The Saxons, the Szeklers (a Hungarian-speaking community of unknown origin) and Hungarian nobility formed the Union of the Three Nations as a ruling social class in Transylvania. The Romanian population mostly belonged to the class of serfs and was excluded from the political life.

A portrait of John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi

Like the Balkan Peninsula, Transylvania was faced with the Ottoman threat at the end of the 14th century. The leader of the resistance against the Ottomans became John Hunyadi who was rewarded with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and the governorship (voivodship) of Transylvania in 1440 for his support to the candidacy of Ladislaus III of Poland to the Hungarian throne. He decisively defeated the Ottoman forces at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 and repulsed the Ottoman threat to southern Hungary for the next seven decades. John Hunyadi died of plague three weeks after the lifting of the Siege of Belgrade, while his younger son Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490) succeeded Ladislaus the Posthumous as King of Hungary in 1458.


27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Bosnia enters history as the last of the Southeast European Medieval states. Its original territory (the central part of today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina and the area at the upper Vrbas River) was initially an integral part of Serbia. The territory of Bosnia was afterwards incorporated into the First Bulgarian Empire and then annexed by the Principality of Zeta. Bosnia was captured by the Byzantines after the collapse of the First Bulgarian Empire but eventually the Hungarian influence became predominant. The territory of future Medieval Bosnia became a semi-independent Banate under Hungarian sovereignty by the middle of 12th century.

The reign of the first prominent Bosnian Ban, Kulin (1180-1204) was characterized by strengthening of central power as well as by the emergence and rise of the Bogomil (“Baboons”) movement resulting in foundation of an unique Bosnian Church which was neither Catholic nor Orthodox and has been considered heretical. The rise of the Bogomils in Bosnia disturbed the Popes who appealed to the Hungarian Kings. Ban Kulin rejected Bogomilism in the presence of the Pope’s legate in 1203 to avoid an eventual crusade but his act did not stop the spread of the Bogomil movement in Bosnia.

The period from Kulin’s death in 1204 until accession of Matej Ninoslav (1232-1250) was probably ruled by Ban Stephen who was most likely Kulin’s son. His reign was marked by further growth of Bogomilism and rise of power of local nobles. The spread of Bogomilism in Bosnia disturbed the Catholic Church which launched several campaigns to destroy the Bogomil movement. The pressure of the Catholic Church continued during the reign of Ban Matej Ninoslav who had to face a crusade led by Hungarian Herzog and son of Andrew II of Hungary, Coloman. Matej Ninoslav recognized the Hungarian rule and granted numerous lands in Bosnia to the Catholic Church in 1244 but the position of the Catholic Church in Bosnia did not improve. In 1247, he wrote to the Pope and claimed that he had always been a Catholic but the main purpose of his letter to the Pope was probably prevention of another military campaign against Bosnia. Matej Ninoslav died in 1250 but his successor was chosen by the Hungarians after four years of struggles in 1254.

Matej Ninoslav was succeeded by Prijezda I (1254-1287) who is considered the founder of the Kontroman Dynasty. The territory of Bosnia was at the time divided into several political units and the central power was greatly weakened. The crisis in Hungary at the end of the 13th century was taken advantage by the powerful lords in Croatia and Dalmatia. Paul I Subic Bribirski extended his domain to Bosnia and assumed the title Lord of the all Bosnia in 1299, while his brother Mladen I Subic was granted the title Bosnian Ban. However, a rebellion of the Bogomils broke out shortly afterwards and Mladen I was killed in a battle in 1304. Mladen I was succeeded by Paul’s son Mladen II who managed to retain his power in Bosnia until 1322 when he was decisively defeated in the Croatian civil war.

The defeat of Mladen II in the Croatian civil war enabled the restoration of the Kontroman Dynasty to the Bosnian throne. Stephen II Kotromanovic (1322-1353) managed to restore peace and order, and started the territorial expansion of Bosnia by conquering Usora and Soli on the north and capturing Zavrsje, lands from Cetina to Neretva and Zahumlje (medieval Serbian principality that was located in today’s Herzegovina and southern Dalmatia) reaching the Adriatic Sea. Bosnia reached its territorial peak under his successor Tvrtko I (1353-1391) who defeated Prince Nikola Altomanovic in alliance with the Serbian Prince Lazar and gained the Upper Drina area and the Lim area with Mileseva in 1373, and Konavle, Trebinje and Dracevica shortly afterwards. Tvrtko I crowned himself King of Serbs and Bosnia in Monastery of Mileseva in 1377 and took advantage of the political crisis in Hungary after death of Louis I (1382) to expand his territory westwards. The Hungarian Queen and Louis’s widow Elizabeth ceded him Kotor (1385) in return for his support against the rebellious Croatian nobility. However, Tvrtko I allied himself with the Croatian magnates, conquered Dalmatian cities except for Zadar and great part of Croatia, and assumed title King of Rascia, Bosnia, Dalmatia, Croatia and the Seaside.

Bosnia fell into decline after Trvtko’s death in 1391. The nobles refused to recognize his son as his successor and chosen his nephew Stjepan Dabisa (1391-1395). Struggles between the powerful noble families and Ottoman invasions after the Battle of Kosovo severely weakened the central power which was taken advantage by the Hungarian King Sigismund who took control over most of Bosnia in 1395. The central authority almost completely collapsed during the reign of Queen Jelena Gruba (1395-1398) and Bosnia wasde facto ruled by the three powerful noble families – Hrvatinici, Kosace and Pavlovici over the following four decades.

The Hungarian influence in Bosnia was replaced by Ottoman at the beginning of the 15th century. The Bosnian nobles appealed to the Ottomans for military assistance in their struggles against each other, while some of them even accepted the vassalage to the Ottoman Sultan. Stjepan Tomas (1443-1461) tried to repulse the Ottoman threat by converting to Catholicism and allying himself with Hungary, while his successor Stefan Tomasevic (1461-1463) turned for help to Pope Pius II. However, the help from the West never arrived and the Ottomans led by Mehmed II invaded and conquered Bosnia in 1463.

Second Bulgarian Empire (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012
Portrait of Ivan Asen II

Ivan Asen II

Kaloyan’s successor Boril (1207-1218) failed to pursue his predecessor’s policy and great part of Bulgarian territory was captured by Hungary, Latin Empire and the Despotate of Epirus. In 1218, Boril was captured and blinded by Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) who proclaimed himself tsar and made the Second Bulgarian Empire the dominant power in the Balkan Peninsula. He strengthened the central power, captured Thrace from the Latin Empire and made the despotate of Epirus a Bulgarian vassal state after defeating Theodore Komnenos Doukas of Epirus in the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230. Ivan Asen II captured Belgrade and Branicevo from Hungary by the end of his rule and gained great political influence in Serbia through marriage of his daughter Beloslava to Stefan Vladislav I of Serbia.

The Second Bulgarian Empire fell into severe crisis and lost all the lands that were conquered by Ivan Asen II under his successors Kaliman Asen I (1241-1246), Michael Asen I (1246-1256), Kaliman Asen II (1256), Mitso Asen (1256-1257) and Constantine I (1257-1277). Decline of central power was taken advantage by local nobles who established local principalities, while Mongol raids from the 1270’s onwards caused economic instability leading to the peasant revolt led by Ivailo (1277-1280) in 1277. The rebellion failed but Ivailo established himself as tsar. He married the widowed Empress Maria Kantakouzena and was crowned Emperor of Bulgaria in 1278 without deposing or disinheriting the minor Michael Asen II (1277-1279). Ivailo temporally stopped the Mongol raids and repulsed the Byzantine attempts to install Ivan Asen III, a descendant of Bulgarian ruling dynasty married to the Byzantine Princess Eirene. However, when rumors occurred that he had died the Bulgarian nobility proclaimed Ivan Asen III (1279-1280) the Bulgarian tsar, while Maria Kantakouzena and Michael Asen II were sent into exile. Ivailo appeared before Tarnovo with an army in 1279 but he failed to capture the city.

Ivan Asen III fled to the Byzantine Empire in 1280 and Bulgarian throne was seized by his brother-in-law George Terter I (1280-1292). His reign was characterized by further decline of the Second Bulgarian Empire although he managed to retain the throne for more than a decade. The Mongol overlordship collapsed during the reign of Theodore Svetoslav (1300-1322) who managed to strengthen the central power and recover some of the lost lands. His son and successor George Terter II (1322-1323) died one year after ascending to the Bulgarian throne. He was succeeded by his distant cousin Michael Asen III (1323-1330) who was threatened by the rising power of Hungary on the north and Serbia on the west. His campaign against Serbia failed and Bulgarian army was decisively defeated by the Serbian forces in 1330. Michael Asen III was severely wounded during the battle and died shortly afterwards.

Medieval miniature depicting Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria.

Ivan Alexander

Michael Asen III was succeeded by Ivan Stefan (1330-1331) who was overthrown within one year. He was succeeded by Ivan Alexander (1331-1371) whose reign was marked by a cultural renaissance sometimes referred as the Second Golden Age. He established friendly relations with Serbia and married his sister Helena to the new Serbian King Stefan Uros IV Dusan. Ivan Alexander defeated the Byzantine forces in the Battle of Rusokastro, recaptured the lost lands in Thrace and restored the Bulgarian Empire as one of the leading powers in the Balkans. However, his successful foreign policy came to an end by the middle of the 1340’s when southern Bulgaria was invaded and raided by the Ottoman Turks. Ivan Alexander prepared for a joined action with Serbia against the Ottomans but he died before launching the campaign. He was succeeded by his sons Ivan Sratsimir (1356-1397) in Vidin and Ivan Sisman in Tarnovo (1371-1395) who did not manage to withstand the Ottoman expansion in the Balkans. Tarnovo was occupied by Ottomans in 1393, while Vidin fell in 1396. The Second Bulgarian Empire came to an end and Bulgaria fell under the Ottoman yoke until 1878.

Kingdom of Serbia (10th – 13th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

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

Stefan Nemanja

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.

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