Battle of Kosovo
"Hott Spotts" will take a look each week at a region of the world
that is in the headlines of the day and we will approach the topic,
in most cases, from a historical context. For this first article I
must say I was slightly dismayed when I recently saw two Wall
Street Journal articles alluding to the Battle of Kosovo, the 1389
fight between the Ottoman Turks and the Serbs which has helped
shape the current crisis in Kosovo. I wondered what more I
could add. Well, upon further research, I can add quite a bit. As
with everything I write for stocksandnews.com, Hott Spotts will
be no different in that I hope you understand I''m not striving for
a Pulitzer Prize. Pilsner, maybe. Pulitzer, no. I''m going to
supply you with the facts, as best as I can ascertain, and keep the
stories as "breezy" as possible.
Back in the 1160s, Stefan Namanja founded what was to be
known as the Nemanjic dynasty, a dynasty which created an
expanding Serbian state. In 1331, Stefan Dushan ascended to the
throne. While Dushan as been described by one historian as
"ferocious," I see that Dushan also instituted a number of modern
reforms. He sanctioned religious freedom, established a taxation
system and a rule of law that featured trials by jury. His empire
comprised the current Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro,
Albania, Macedonia, northern Greece and Bulgaria. Dushan died
in 1355 and his son Uros took over. This was the beginning of
the end for Serbia''s glory days.
Uros was a weak ruler and during his reign Serbian feudal lords
increased their power at the expense of the royal court.
Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks saw an opportunity to expand
their empire and upon the death of Uros in 1371 they met the
Serbs at the Battle of the Maritsa (in modern-day Bulgaria). In
strategic terms the consequences of this battle were far greater
than the 1389 Battle of Kosovo. The Turks won Bulgaria,
Macedonia and parts of southern Serbia at Maritsa. What
remained of Serbia was divided between several feudal lords.
In the aftermath of Maritsa we also come to know of Lazar
Hrebeljanovic for the first time. Prince or Knez Lazar rose to
prominence in the region covering today''s central Serbia and
parts of Kosovo. Born around 1329, little else is known for sure.
But in the early 1370s he emerged as the most powerful of the
lords ruling the territory of what was left of the former Serbia
kingdom. And, as a feudal lord, he began to greatly expand his
territory, in battle, on the border of Bosnia. [This flies in the
face of those who write that Lazar''s only battle was the Battle of
As his power grew, Lazar started to describe himself as the "ruler
of all Serbs," though this was an ambition rather than a reality.
Ban Tvrtko had himself crowned ''King of the Serbs'' in 1377, but
the two remained on good terms.
By the time of the Battle of Kosovo, Lazar''s Serbia had been
strengthened by the arrival of refugees from the lands which had
already fallen under the Turks, but this did not mean his
principality had enough power to resist for any length of time.
Also, it was clear that Serbs, among others, made up part of the
force which faced Lazar''s army at Kosovo Polje, the Field of
Blackbirds, June 28th, 1389. [Two points. (1) Today, Serb
apologists don''t want it known that the battle wasn''t a purely
Serbian affair. (2) Historian Norman Davies is the only one I
read who claimed the date was June 15th. This is only significant
in that on June 28th of 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was
assassinated in Sarajevo, triggering World War I. June 28th is
Serbia''s National Day.]
The day of the battle was hot as the Serbian knights marched
onto the plain arrayed in heavy mail, their armor engraved in
gold and silver. The lightly clad Turks, mounted on tireless
Mongolian ponies, picked the Serbs apart in the way of guerilla
fighters cutting up a modern conventional force. In a last-ditch
attempt to save the day, a Serbian nobleman, Milos Obilic,
deserted to the Turks and is brought before Sultan Murad.
Obilic, legend has it, pulled out a hidden dagger and killed the
Turkish leader. [Another account I read had Obilic leading a raid
of 12 men against Murad''s headquarters with Murad killed in the
clash that followed.] Obilic was then beheaded by the Turks.
Command immediately passed to Murad''s heir, Bayezid, who
finished the Serbs and captured and executed their leader, Prince
The actual outcome of the Battle of Kosovo is still being
debated. While Serbs of today talk of a "glorious" defeat, some
reports at the time, including those that reached Paris, would
have one believe that the Serbs actually won the battle. Other
experts claim that the battle was really a draw because both
sides retreated after the conflict. Calling it a draw because the
forces retreated is not a fair calculation. In those days territory
was conquered and then turned over to vassals of the state who
were placed in charge. About the only thing for certain that we
do know is that both Lazar and Murad were killed.
The battle changed the course of history but it''s immediate
strategic impact was far less than many subsequently came to
believe. It''s real, lasting legacy lay in the myths and legends
which came to be woven around it, enabling Kosovo Polje to
shape the nation''s historical and national consciousness.
We will take a look at the results of the battle and tie it to
Milosevic and his rise to power next Thursday, May 20th.
Prime sources for this article and next Thursday''s are as follows:
Norman Davies "Europe: A History"
Robert Kaplan "Balkan Ghosts"
Tim Judah "The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of