Battle of Kosovo

On June 28, 1389, Battle of Kosovo between Serbian forces gathered on Kosovo Polje and engaged the Ottoman invaders in a historic battle. They were defeated, betrayed by a Serbian traitor, and their magnificent kingdom was obliterated. Thus started the lengthy Turkish hegemony, according to the mythology commonly held among Serbs.

Under Emperor Dusan, the Serbs ruled an empire that spanned from the Danube to the Peloponnese for around twenty years. However, with Dusan’s untimely death in 1355, the empire collapsed.

Powerful feudal families grabbed control of outlying regions in Greece, Albania, and Montenegro from his weak successor, and warlord princes soon split the entirety of Serbia.

The Ottomans, who were now moving out of Anatolia, could easily exploit this discord. Since there was no native Muslim population in this region of Europe then, their strategy was to keep the local Christian king in the power wherever possible. In exchange, he was forced to contribute men to the Sultan’s army.

Numerous Christian princes favoured this subordinate position over risking their lives in combat. In 1389, when Sultan Murad assembled his forces in Kosovo Polje, a significant number were Serbs.

In opposition to Murad was a coalition. They were led by Lazar Hrebeljanovic, who had become the most powerful warlord in Serbia by dividing up Nikola Altomanovic’s territory in collusion with Ban Tvrtko, the Bosnian king. However, Kosovo Polje was not part of Lazar’s dominion but belonged to his son-in-law Vuk Brankovic.

Alongside Lazar’s forces were those of Brankovic, a Bosnian contingent dispatched by Tvrtko, and, most likely, Albanians. Even though both Lazar and Murad perished during the conflict, legend has it that the Serbs lost because Brankovic deserted them at a crucial juncture.

Given the positive relationship between Brankovic and Lazar’s wife Milica in the years following the fight, it appears improbable that this occurred. In addition, the war did not appear to be a loss at the time. In fact, on August 1, Tvrtko informed the senate of the Dalmatian city of Trogir of his triumph. The Florentine senate wrote him a letter of congratulations shortly after that. When word of the victory reached Paris, church bells were rung in joy.

Even though Kosovo was not viewed as a loss at the time, it became evident that the conflict had gravely damaged the Serbs. With much superior personnel reserves, the Turks quickly recovered from their losses. Milica, therefore, bowed to the new reality and, with Hungarians threatening her territory from the north, surrendered to Ottoman rule.

After the Kosovo conflict, most of Serbia remained controlled by its rulers. Occasionally, they evaded vassal status entirely. Even though these decades were marked by political unpredictability, they were also marked by an abundance of cultural vitality. During the so-called Serbian Despotate, scholarship and the arts flourished in the magnificent monasteries of the Morava valley.

The last remnants of Serbian independence were extinguished in 1459. In the years that followed, however, the myth of Kosovo and the great “defeat” grew, crystallising in the words of nineteenth-century academics and artists.

Today, many feel that “poor history” has played a significant role in forming the Serbian worldview, which has influenced the present Balkan political landscape. Who knows, British pilots and soldiers may soon be waging their battle in Kosovo as a result.

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