Stefan Lazarevic

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Stefan Lazarević, Manasija Monastery 1407–1418

Stefan Lazarevic , Serbian - Cyrillic Стефан Лазаревић (* 1377 in Krusevac , † 18th July  1427 Jul. In Markovac at Crkvine , Byzantine Empire ) a Serb was Despot and writer, founder and builder of the Serbian medieval residence in Belgrade and real innovators of the late medieval Serbian Empire. At the same time, a literary circle was formed around the literary despot at Stefan's court. Stefan was given the most extensive and by far the most important hagiography in Serbian medieval literature by his biographer Constantine soon after his death , but he was only canonized 500 years after his death on August 1, 1927.


Lazarević was the son of the Serbian prince Lazar Hrebeljanović , who died in the Battle of Blackbird Field in 1389, and the princess Milica . He was married to Helena , daughter of Francesco II Gattilusio , Prince of Lesbos . Stefan remained childless and chose Đurađ Branković as his successor while still alive on the State Council in Srebrenica in 1426 . On his deathbed, Stefan ordered his servants to fetch Durda as soon as possible to ensure the succession ("Po Đurđa, po Đurđa").

Political activity

Tamerlane takes Sultan Bayezid into captivity. Miniature from the world chronicle of Ivan the Terrible

Stefan Lazarević ruled the already crumbling medieval Serbian Empire from 1389 to 1427. He was an Ottoman vassal and had to do the Ottomans armed service. a. played a key role in their victory over the Christian alliance at Nikopolis in 1396 and fought for them in the Battle of Ankara in 1402, when the Mongols under Timur Lenk inflicted a heavy defeat on the Ottomans. Stefan Lazarević then turned to Hungary and got large fiefs mainly in southern Hungary. He forced the local ruling dynasty of the Branković in Kosovo and North Macedonia under his sovereignty, won the Zeta (Montenegro) of the Balšić in 1421 and was thus able to unite most of old Serbia under his rule (central Serbia up to Skopje , Montenegro , northern Albania and a good half today's Vojvodina ). Stefan Lazarević was known for his chivalry, wrote poetry (Kosovo column, the word of love, etc.) and participated as an Orthodox Christian in the Council of Constance (1414-1418). According to some sources, he is said to have belonged to the Dragon Order . He died of a stroke in 1427. Since he had no descendants, his nephew Đurađ Branković took over the rule in Serbia .

In 1402, after the battle of Ankara, Stefan Lazarević stopped in Constantinople on his return journey , where the Byzantine emperor John VII awarded him the title of despot . He also adopted the coat of arms of the palaeologists , which has been converted to this day and is still part of the coat of arms of Serbia : A silver (or white) cross in a red field and between the bars of the cross the four letters C, Cyrillic for S.

Uprising of the nobility and campaigns against Musa

After the battle on the Amselfeld in 1389, a power vacuum arose, which many aristocrats took advantage of and de facto became independent. In order to prevent the collapse of his state, Lazarević led a rigorous policy against the nobility from 1402, which he largely disempowered. Many fled to Đurađ Branković, who was then in opposition to his uncle. In the end, his own brother Vuk Lazarević sided with the insurgents. Vuk made claims on half of the state and hoped to realize them with the help of Suleyman . He was strangled by Musa, another contender for the Ottoman throne. Due to the new threat posed by Musa, the insurgents had to accept Stefan Lazarević's rule. Lazarević himself supported Mehmed I and helped him to defeat Musa in 1413 . In recognition of Mehmed Srebrenica , Niš and areas east of Niš. Relations with Mehmed remained amicable until his death.

War with venice

After his nephew Balša III. the Zeta had bequeathed in what is now Montenegro, Lazarević had to face Venice , which made claims to the Zeta. Even under Balša, the Maritime Republic tried to seize Zetas. Following a new state doctrine from the end of the 14th century, Venice expanded its mainland power. When Lazarević inherited the Zeta, who was also related by marriage to the powerful Genoese patrician family Gattilusio , as well as a vassal of Hungary, with whom Venice was also in a military conflict, the Maritime Republic was even more encouraged in its policy towards the Zeta. In 1421 they seized the coastal cities of Kotor , Budva and Bar and moved to the hinterland. Lazarević sent his army to meet. The first victories over the Venetians were followed by a defeat. In 1422 he started a new offensive. However, fearing a new Ottoman invasion, he pushed for a separate peace that was signed in 1423 and officially signed in 1426. Venice kept Kotor, Paštrovići between Budva and Bar, Ulcinj and Shkodra , Lazarević in turn Grbalj, today's Tivat , Budva, Bar and Vau i Dejës near Shkodra.

Ottoman invasion and Bosnian war

Unlike his father Mehmed I, Murad II pursued a more aggressive policy towards his neighboring states, especially Byzantium. In 1422 Constantinople was besieged, and incursions into Wallachia were the order of the day. King Sigismund planned a new crusade against the Ottomans, which Lazarević also supported. Courtesy of this, Murad went on the offensive and began a large-scale campaign against Serbia in 1425. With Hungarian help, the Ottomans were finally pushed back from Serbia. Taking advantage of the Ottoman attack, the Bosnian king Tvrtko II attacked Srebrenica in order to seize this rich mining town. Having just defeated the Ottomans, Lazarević surprised the Bosnian king and his troops. Tvrtko had to withdraw as far as Jajce and agree to a peace.

Cultural meaning

Text on the death of the despot Stefan Lazarević on the marble obelisk in Crkvina from 1427

Scholars from all over Southeast Europe who sought refuge from the Ottomans worked at the court and in the monasteries of Stefan Lazarević. They stimulated the last cultural bloom of medieval Serbia. Her literary work, mainly translations from the Greek, is known today as the Resava School (middle name of the Manasija monastery). Stefan Lazarević also worked as a translator and tried his hand at poet.

The architecture and paintings are attributed to the Morava school , which also influenced the neighboring Wallachia .

The most important scholar was the Bulgarian Konstantin von Kostenec , also called Constantine the Philosopher, who was considered one of the last Byzantine polymaths and who wrote the vita of the despot Stefan Lazarević . In addition to his lives and translations, he reformed the Serbian editing of the Church Slavonic script. This Serbian-Church Slavonic was the main written language in Serbia until the 18th century, Wallachia until the 16th century and one of the official languages ​​in the early days of the Ottoman Empire.

The most important buildings of that time are the Manasija and Kalenić monasteries . The Metropolitan Church of Belgrade, also built under Stefan Lazarević, was destroyed in later centuries.

In spite of this cultural activity, Lazarević's puritanical austerity prevailed at court . So were z. B. Loud laughter and music prohibited. He determined clothing and fashion. According to tradition, he had a knight school, more likely a combat school, which was more common in Europe at the time (gladiatores etc.). The way in which Serbia was fought speaks for an orientation towards German fighting methods. German knights and mercenaries like Palman Bracht already served under Tsar Stefan Dušan . The so-called heavy armored riders were Lazarević's elite troop, who u. a. the decisive factor was the victory of the Ottomans at Nikopolis in 1396. During this time, the Spada schiavonesca , the Slavic sword , appeared for the first time in Serbia and southeastern Europe .

After Stefan had enforced the central power over the autocracy of the nobility, he ordered that the nobility had to stay in the capital Belgrade. This gave him control over the nobility at all times. Twice a year the population had to pay a gold coin as a "stove tax". Half of this went to the Ottomans as tribute; it was 50,000 gold coins a year. In addition to the stove tax, the population also had to pay fees for the fortification of Belgrade. Despite this heavy taxation, a lot has improved for the people, especially in the case law. Most of the financial income Lazarević had from the mines of Serbia. The mining town of Srebrenica alone issued over 20,000 gold coins annually, which is why it was the biggest impetus for the conflicts with Bosnia, as Bosnia claimed Srebrenica for itself. Nevertheless, Serbia was economically dependent in many ways on the commercial republic of Dubrovnik , which dominated the markets in Serbia. Lazarević tried to promote domestic trade and thus create a counterweight to Dubrovnik. Under his successor, Đurađ Branković, these plans failed, and Dubrovnik remained the “banker” of Serbia.

Determination of Belgrade as a residence and spiritual center

One of Stefan's far-reaching decisions for the history of Serbia was the choice of Belgrade as the new residence of his despotate, for which, in addition to the fundamental rebuilding of the Belgrade Fortress, five churches were erected, including the Belgrade Metropolitan Church with the translation of universal Christian Constantinople relics - Emperor Constantine the Great and the Byzantine Empress Theophano - in the palace chapel of Stefans, which made the city a spiritual center and supraregional Christian pilgrimage site. In addition to these universal cults and those of local Orthodox saints were found with the transfer of the Petka Paraskeva from Veliko Tarnovo the ambition of domination Stefan in relation to the reestablishment of Belgrade as - umbiculus mundi as in the of - (Center of the Earth) Constantine of Kostenets written The most complete and extensive historical source of Serbian medieval literature is interpreted in the vita of the despot Stefan Lazarević .

Belgrade formed the center of the late medieval Serbian state from 1404 to 1427. Stefan set up an elaborate settlement and development program for the largely dilapidated, formerly late antique Byzantine fort, in which the Belgrade fortress was lavishly expanded and based on the architectural findings of Byzantine, oriental and western fortifications. In the center was the despot's castle with the great donjon and the palace chapel as an important shrine. In the three-part city of upper and lower town and the castle district, there were a total of five churches in which the Belgrade mitropolis formed the central spiritual place.

The Belgrade Charter, in which Stefan calls it the most beautiful place in the world, has survived from the written evidence from that time. For the city as the capital of the despot, an eulogy (encomium) of Belgrade was written as the only one in Serbian literature and in echo of the lauds of Constantinople and Jerusalem in Byzantine literature in the Vita despot by Konstantin Kostenezki. Belgrade is explicitly compared to Jerusalem and is a place of theophany and the pact between God and the Serbian people. The city's topography is explicitly described as an image of New Jerusalem, in which the holy cities are associated with those in Belgrade. The donjon of the castle is identified with Zion, the Metropolitan Church of the Dormition of Mary, who, like Constantinople of the same name, was the protector of the city, with Gethsemane and Kirdron. Even the events after the despot's death are described in Constantine's Vita as scenes of the Apocalypse, a thundercloud surrounded the city and demonstrated the presence of God; a Deesis was formed in heaven with the icon of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist, which rose from the altar bar of the Belgrade Metropolitan Church high above the city.

With the clear intention of depicting the Serbian capital as umbilicus mundi , Constantine describes how the despot populated the city, how the despot's palace is an image of the heavenly palace, of paradise, Jerusalem and at the same time like the imperial palace of Constantinople, holy and protected by God ( hieron palation , theophylacton palation ). Here the palace is the sublimation of the city of the empire and of ecumenism. Constantine also tries to name the topos of the seven hills of Belgrade in analogy to Jerusalem and Constantinople. Belgrade is confirmed in the metaphor as New Jerusalem and New Constantinople in particular through the relics that the despot collected and kept in Belgrade. Of these, the right hand of Constantine the Great was by far the most important. Stefan himself tried to claim a genealogy for the first and most important Christian emperor. Relics of the Byzantine emperors Theophano simultaneously formed a demonstration of the ideology of the despot as ruler, as well as the ideal way of life for which the Serbian despot zealously and reflected state ideology as well as his own personal spirituality. Empress Theophano as an example of angelikos bios ( angelic life in monasticism) formed the actual ideal that Stefan wanted to realize within his palace. With the eschatological expectation of the end times, in connection with the approaching of the Byzantine year 7,000, which in Byzantine theology was connected with the beginning of the post-historical era in the Eschaton (according to the calendar calculation in the Serbian Empire at that time after the Byzantine era , the Byzantine year corresponds to 7,000 According to today's Gregorian calendar, the year 1492), the essential threat to the Serbian Empire from the Ottomans was also interpreted as its portent. The spiritual consecration of Belgrade under the patron saint of St. Mary emerged visually clearly in the city topology in the Belgrade icon of Maria Hodegetria , which was attached as a protective icon on the eastern city gate. With the further topological determination of the individual newly built churches and reliquary places, these sacred places represented an ideal sacred topography of the city, which they were supposed to depict as "New Jerusalem" and which marked the spiritualization of late Byzantine culture in the age of Stephen.


Much of the memories of Stefan Lazarević were later transferred to the epic person King's son Marko in ballads in the Bugarštice genre as legends and sagas . So u. a. one of his closest allies is called Philippo Scolari as the blood brother of Markos Filip Mađarin. Furthermore, in Serbian legends Johann Hunyadi is considered to be the illegitimate son of Stefan Lazarević.


Web links

  • Manasija Monastery
  • Radio Beograd 1, May 17, 2014: U središtu pažnje. Interview with Jelena Erdeljan on the occasion of the publication of her book Izabrana mesta - Konstruisanje novih Jerusalima kod južnih Slovena and on the city foundation festival - Spasovdan - Belgrade. Audio recording (54 min.)
  • Radio Beograd 1, July 31, 2014: Kod dva bela goluba: radio documentary on Stefan Lazarevic audio recording (59 min.)

Individual evidence

  1. U sredistu paznje (audio 59 min) Radio Beograd 1, August 3, 2015.
  2. Jelena Erdeljan 2014: Strategies of Constructing Jerusalem in Medieval Serbia . In: Bianca Kühnel, Galit Noga-Banai and Hanna Vorholt (eds.) 2014: Visual Constructs of Jerusalem . Pp. 231-240, Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Vol. 18, Brepols, Turnhout. ISBN 978-2-503-55104-3
  3. Jelena Erdeljan 2014: Strategies of Constructing Jerusalem in Medieval Serbia . In: Bianca Kühnel, Galit Noga-Banai and Hanna Vorholt (eds.) 2014: Visual Constructs of Jerusalem . P. 239
predecessor Office successor
Lazar Hrebeljanović Despot of Serbia
Đurađ Branković