Lazar of Serbia - Life - Prince - Major Lord in Serbia

Major Lord in Serbia

After the demise of Nikola Altomanović, Prince Lazar emerged as the most powerful lord on the territory of the former Serbian Empire. Some local nobles resisted Lazar's authority, but they eventually submitted to the prince. That was the case with Nikola Zojić on Mount Rudnik, and Novak Belocrkvić in the valley of the Toplica River. Lazar's large and rich domain was a refuge for Orthodox Christian monks who fled from areas threatened by the Islamic Ottomans. This brought fame to Lazar on Mount Athos, the centre of Orthodox monasticism. The Serbian Church (Patriarchate of Peć) had since 1350 been in schism with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the central authority of the Orthodox Christianity. A Serb monk from Mount Athos named Isaija, who distinguished himself as a writer and translator, encouraged Lazar to work on the reconciliation of the two patriarchates. Through efforts of Lazar and Isaija, an ecclesiastical delegation was sent to the Constantinopolitan Patriarch to negotiate the reconciliation. The delegation was successful, and in 1375 the Serbian Church was readmitted into communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The last patriarch of the Serbian Church in schism, Sava IV, died in April of 1375. In October of the same year, Prince Lazar and Djuradj Balšić convened a synod of the Serbian Church in Peć. Patriarch Jefrem was selected for the new head of the Church. He was a candidate of Constantinople, or a compromise selection from among the candidates of powerful nobles. Patriarch Jefrem abdicated in 1379 in favour of Patriarch Spiridon, which is explained by some historians as having resulted from the influence of an undercurrent in the Church associated with Lazar. The prince and Patriarch Spiridon had an excellent cooperation. The Church was obliged to Lazar for his role in ending the schism with Constantinople. Lazar also granted lands to monasteries and built churches. His greatest legacy as a church builder is the Monastery of Ravanica completed in 1381. Some time earlier, he built the Church of St Stephen in his capital, Kruševac; the church would become known as Lazarica. After 1379, he built the Gornjak Monastery in Braničevo. He was one of the founders of the Romanian monasteries in Tismana and Vodiţa. He funded some construction works in two monasteries on Mount Athos, the Serbian Hilandar and the Russian St Panteleimon.

Lazar's domain attained its full extent in 1379, when the prince took Kučevo and Braničevo, ousting the Hungarian vassal Radič Branković Rastislalić from these regions. King Louis had earlier granted to Lazar the region of Mačva, or at least a part of it, probably when the prince accepted the king's suzerainty. Lazar's state, known in literature as Moravian Serbia, was larger than the domains of the other lords on the territory of the former Serbian Empire. It also had a better organized government and army. The state comprised the basins of the Great Morava, West Morava, and South Morava Rivers, extending from the source of South Morava northward to the Danube and Sava Rivers. Its north-western border ran along the Drina River. Besides the capital Kruševac, the state included important towns of Niš and Užice, as well as Novo Brdo and Rudnik, two richest mining centres of medieval Serbia. Of all the Serbian lands, Lazar's state lay furthest from Ottoman centres, and was least exposed to the ravages of Turkish raiding parties. This circumstance attracted immigrants from Turkish-threatened areas, who built new villages and hamlets in previously poorly inhabited and uncultivated areas of Moravian Serbia. There were also spiritual persons among the immigrants, which stimulated the revival of old ecclesiastical centres and the foundation of new ones in Lazar's state. The prince's prestige and political influence in the Balkans were contributed to by the strategic position of the Morava basins, regarding the anticipated Turkish offensives.

In charters he issued between 1379 and 1388, the prince named himself as Stefan Lazar. "Stefan" was the name borne by all Nemanjić rulers, because of which it came to be regarded as a title of Serbian rulers. Tvrtko added "Stefan" to his name when he was crowned king of the Serbs and Bosnia. From a linguistic point of view, Lazar's charters show traits of the Kosovo-Resava dialect of the Serbian language. In the charters, Lazar referred to himself as the autocrator (samodržac in Serbian) of all the Serbian land, or the autocrator of all the Serbs. Autocrator, "self-ruler" in Greek, was an epithet of the Byzantine emperors. The Nemanjić kings adopted it and applied it to themselves in its literal meaning to stress their independence from Byzantium, whose supreme suzerainty they nominally recognized. In the time of Prince Lazar, the Serbian state experienced the loss of some of its lands, the division of the remaining lands among regional lords, the end of the Nemanjić dynasty, and the Turkish attacks. These circumstances raised the question of a continuation of the Serbian state. Lazar's answer to this question could be read in the titles he applied to himself in his charters. Lazar's ideal was the reunification of the Serbian state under him as the direct successor of the Nemanjićs. Lazar had a full support from the Serbian Church for this political programme. However, powerful regional lords—the Balšićs in Zeta, Vuk Branković in Kosovo, King Marko, Konstantin Dragaš, and Radoslav Hlapen in Macedonia—ruled their domains independent from Prince Lazar. Beside that, the three lords in Macedonia became Ottoman vassals after the Battle of Marica. The same happened to Byzantium and Bulgaria. By 1388, Ottoman suzerainty was also accepted by Djuradj Stracimirović Balšić, the lord of Zeta.

A Turkish raiding party, passing unobstructed through territories of Ottoman vassals, broke into Moravian Serbia in 1381. It was routed by Lazar's nobles Crep Vukoslavić and Vitomir in the Battle of Dubravica, fought near the town of Paraćin. In 1386, the Ottoman Sultan Murad I himself led much larger forces that took Niš from Lazar. It is unclear whether the encounter between the armies of Lazar and Murad at Pločnik, a site southwest of Niš, happened shortly before or after the capture of Niš. Lazar rebuffed Murad at Pločnik. After the death of King Louis I in 1382, a civil war broke out in the Kingdom of Hungary. It seems that Lazar participated in the war as one of the opponents of Prince Sigismund of Luxemburg. Lazar may have sent some troops to fight in the regions of Belgrade and Syrmia. As the Ottoman threat increased and the support for Sigismund grew in Hungary, Lazar made peace with Sigismund, who was crowned Hungarian king in March of 1387. The peace was sealed, probably in 1387, with the marriage of Lazar's daughter Teodora to Nicholas II Garay, a powerful Hungarian noble who supported Sigismund. Around the same year, Lazar's daughter Jelena married Djuradj Stracimirović Balšić. About a year before, Lazar's daughter Dragana married Alexander, the son of Ivan Shishman, Tsar of Bulgaria.

Read more about this topic:  Lazar Of Serbia, Life, Prince

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