Kosovo Before the Turks

From the September/October 1998 Trumpet Print Edition

Prior to 1389, the medieval Serbian state had developed from an agglomeration of Slavic peoples descended from the Slavs who settled in the Balkans following their westward migrations from the northern and northeastern areas of the Black Sea.

By the fifth century a.d., Slavic tribes, of which the Serbs and Croats were two in particular, occupied areas north of the Danube in Central Europe. The Croats had migrated to the area of modern Croatia and Western Bosnia by the early seventh century. The Serbs had settled by this time in Rascia to the northwest of Kosovo and in the region of Montenegro (see map). The Albanians, who comprise the majority of Kosovo’s population, appear to be of Illyrian descent. Settling in the mountainous area along the Adriatic, opposite the heel of the Italian “boot,” Albanians seem to have, through the proof of numerous versions of history and the longevity of the Albanian language in the region, a significant presence in Kosovo which predates that of the Serbs.

From the ninth to the early eleventh centuries a.d., a succession of Bulgarian Khans ruled Kosovo. With the rise of the Byzantine empire, Byzantine emperors ruled the region from the eleventh century until the closing decades of the twelfth.

It was in the 1160s a.d. that Serbian domination in Kosovo commenced, under the aggressive territorial gains of Stefan Nemanji, leader of a new Rascian-ruling dynasty that held sway in the region for 200 years.

Taking advantage of the Balkan instability resulting from the shock seizure of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, 1204, Stefan’s successor, his son (also named Stefan) took over the whole of Kosovo by 1216. This Stefan’s brother gained autonomy for the Serbian Orthodox Church from its Greek Orthodox parent. The Serbian Empire reached the peak of its power, with both church and state combining to strengthen its dominance in the Balkans, from 1219 to the 1380s.

It is thus that we arrive at the crucial turning point in Serbian history and in the history of strife-torn Kosovo, the famous Battle of Kosovo of 1389, which marked the beginning of over 400 years rule of the region by the Turks.