Turkish Conquest of Serbia Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Turkish conquest of Serbia heralded the end of Serbia’s golden age as a major power in the Balkan Peninsula and the beginning of more than four hundred years of Ottoman occupation and domination of southeast Europe.

Summary of Event

The Ottoman Turks Ottomans conquered Serbia between 1389 and 1459. The conquest began less than a century after the Ottoman Turks first appeared in Europe from their homeland in Asia Minor where they had emerged around 1290 under the leadership of Osman I Osman I . In 1345, John Cantacuzenus John Cantacuzenus , one of the claimants to the throne of the shrinking Byzantine Empire, had called on the Turks for military support as mercenaries, but they had seized on the opportunity to extend their domains into southeastern Europe. They captured the city of Gallipoli and under Murad I Murad I occupied Byzantine Thrace, clashing for the first time with Slavic kingdoms in the central Balkans. [kw]Turkish Conquest of Serbia (June 28, 1389) [kw]Serbia, Turkish Conquest of (June 28, 1389) Serbia;Turkish conquest of Serbia;June 28, 1389: Turkish Conquest of Serbia[3010] Expansion and land acquisition;June 28, 1389: Turkish Conquest of Serbia[3010] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 28, 1389: Turkish Conquest of Serbia[3010] Lazar I Hrebeljanovič Stefan Dušan Murad I Lazarevich, Stefan Bayezid I George Brankovich Mehmed II Milica Tvrtko I

The condition of these kingdoms made them ripe for conquest by Murad. Serbia, Bosnia, and Bulgaria were racked by the internal strife of rival pretenders, rival religions, rebellious nobles, and oppressed peasants. Under the strong Serbian Nemanjid Dynasty Nemanjid Dynasty , particularly the Serbian czar of the Serbs and Greeks, Stefan Dušan Stefan Dušan , the Serbs had extended their state to include Albania, Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia, and most of the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. The Serbian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church;Serbia under its patriarchate at Pech, was autocephalous and a center of cultural life. Serbia had a strong economy, with considerable activity in mining, trade, and agriculture. Ostensibly the strongest state in the Balkans at the time of the Turkish arrival in Europe, Serbia had in reality overextended itself; to some of the peoples languishing under Serbian oppression, the Turks appeared as liberators.

In 1365, Murad captured Adrianople and made it the Ottoman capital, a status it retained until the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in the fifteenth century. Having smashed a Christian crusading army of Hungarians, Serbs, Bosnians, and Walachians that had set out to recapture the city, Murad overran western Bulgaria in 1366, forcing its leaders to become his vassals. After disastrously defeating the Serbs in 1371 at the Battle of Marica Marica, Battle of (1371) near Adrianople, the strong Nemanjid Dynasty of the Serbs was at an end, and the throne of Serbia passed to weaker incumbents.

The Ottomans turned their attentions to Anatolia and the dynastic troubles of the Byzantine Empire after 1371. Then they again entered the Balkans, conquering Sofija in Bulgaria and the Byzantine city Salonika (Thessaloniki). Finally, the sultan invaded Serbian Macedonia and the Serbian homeland itself. Murad had left most of Serbia under the rule of its prince, Lazar I Hrebeljanovič Lazar I Hrebeljanović , as a vassal. Unwilling to accept Turkish suzerainty, Lazar I formed an alliance with the king of Bosnia, Tvrtko I Tvrtko I , and John Stratsimir John Stratsimir of Vidin Bulgaria. While Murad was quieting disorders in Asia Minor, the two Slavic rulers organized a military coalition of Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Walachians, and Albanians. In 1388, the coalition won three successive victories over the Turks. Murad, in response to this challenge, hurried back to Europe and on June 28, 1389, inflicted an overwhelming defeat upon the South Slavic and other Balkan forces at Kosovo, Kosovo, Battle of (1389) although he was assassinated in the course of the battle.

Battle on the Kosovo Plain.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

The Battle of Kosovo, because of its dramatic consequences for the entire Balkan Peninsula, and especially for the Serbs, has been the subject of myth and legend since shortly after its occurrence. It is the subject of an oral epic cycle, Prince Lazar I and other combatants have been given semilegendary status, and the region of Kosovo, the site of the battle as well as the location of a number of ancient Serbian monasteries and other monuments, has achieved an importance to the Serbs that goes beyond the merely geographical.

After the decisive Battle of Kosovo, or the Field of Blackbirds, Bayezid I Bayezid I , the new sultan, avenged his father Murad’s death by ordering the execution of the captive Lazar I. Princess Milica Milica , Lazar’s wife, ruled Serbia until her infant son, Stefan Lazarevich Stefan Lazarevich , was of age. She founded several monasteries, became a nun, and assembled around her the widows of men who died at Kosovo.

When Lazar’s son and successor, Stefan Lazarevich, was made a tributary vassal of the Ottoman Turks, Serbia’s real independence ended, though the ruling dynasty and some measure of limited autonomy were retained. Stefan Lazarevich even took part in later battles on the side of the Turks, although he visited the Byzantine emperor on his return from Bayezid’s battle at Ankara in 1402.

In the wake of the Battle of Kosovo, Bayezid managed by 1395 to incorporate eastern Bulgaria, to extend his influence over Walachia, and to begin the first Turkish siege of Constantinople.

The Ottoman Turks continued to strengthen their hold over the Balkans during the fifteenth century. In 1402, Bayezid’s devastating defeat at Ankara at the hands of the great Mongol conqueror Tamerlane Tamerlane marked a temporary setback for Ottoman fortunes in Asia Minor, but in Europe, the Turks remained strong, waging war intermittently with the Venetian Republic, Hungary, Serbia, and the Byzantine Empire. When Stefan Lazarevich died without heirs, his nephew George Brankovich George Brankovich became ruler of Serbia, which by this time had the status of a despotate, a title conferred on Stefan Lazarevich by the Byzantine emperor. Brankovich built a new fortified city at Smederovo, on the Danube, in 1430.

With the help of his Hungarian ally János Hunyadi, Hunyadi, János Brankovich was able to throw off the Turkish yoke in 1444. Yet the Turks more than recovered their losses within a few years, and at a second battle at Kosovo, in 1448, defeated the forces of the Hungarian leader Hunyadi. In the meantime, Murad II had died, and the new sultan, Mehmed II Mehmed II , set about capturing the silver mining town of Novo Brdo, the source of Brankovich’s wealth. In 1456, the Serbian despot Brankovich died at Smederovo. Three years later, Mehmed led his troops to the fortress and captured it. This signaled the final defeat of Serbia, which was not to revive as a nation until the nineteenth century. In Europe, the fall of the fortress at Smederovo was considered a disaster equal to the fall of Constantinople, because it signaled the fact that what was called the Turkish menace had the potential of overrunning the entire continent. Under Sultan Mehmed II, the Ottoman Turks finally captured Constantinople Constantinople;fall of (1453) in May, 1453, thus terminating the thousand-year-old Byzantine state.


The definitive Turkish conquest of Serbia in 1459 had several important consequences. It gave the Ottoman Empire control over the entire southern bank of the lower Danube River. Fearing Hungarian attacks, the Turks extended their complete sway over Walachia in 1462, to gain control over most of the northern bank of the lower Danube. The Turkish occupation of Serbia facilitated Mehmed’s conquest of Bosnia in 1463 and neighboring Herzegovina by his successor some twenty years later. These Turkish acquisitions had the net effect of transforming Hungary, as Byzantium of old, into an outpost of Christian civilization against the infidels. In its subsequent defeat by the Turks in 1526, Hungary abdicated this mission to neighboring Habsburg Austria. Against the impenetrable walls of Vienna, the Turkish advance was finally shattered toward the end of the seventeenth century, and Turkish power thereafter declined at the hands of Austria, Russia, and the reemerging Balkan states.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cox, John K. The History of Serbia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. This comprehensive history of the region includes chapters on Serbia’s golden age and the Ottoman rule of the Balkans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edwards, Lovett. Yugoslavia. New York: Hastings House, 1971. Chapters 3 and 4 contain an account of the aftermath of the Kosovo battle as well as cultural history of the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Emmert, Thomas A. Serbian Golgotha: Kosovo, 1389. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. A book-length study of the Battle of Kosovo, including the decline of Serbia in the years leading up to the battle, the event itself, the legends to which it gave rise, and the effects of those legends on nineteenth and twentieth century Balkan history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fine, John V. A. The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987. Scholarly work covering the rise of the Serbian state and the Ottoman invasion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gerolymatos, André. The Balkan Wars: Conquest, Revolution, and Retribution from the Ottoman Era to the Twentieth Century and Beyond. New York: Basic Books, 2002. A history of the region that includes discussion of the Battle of Kosovo and the Ottoman era. Asserts that Balkan wars throughout history have been motivated by the same forces: religion and nationalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Singleton, Fred. A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Chapters 3 and 4 cover the Ottoman invasion and occupation of the Yugoslav lands.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sugar, Peter F. Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977. A detailed scholarly treatment of the changes wrought in the Balkans by the introduction of Ottoman rule.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Temperley, Harold W. V. History of Serbia. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1970. First published in 1917, this historical survey includes in Chapter 6 a detailed discussion of the battle at Kosovo and its importance for the Serbs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">West, Rebecca. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia. New York: Viking Press, 1943. A discussion of the Kosovo myth and its importance for the Serbs.

Categories: History