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This page is about the Battle of Kosovo of 1389. For other battles, see Battle of Kosovo (disambiguation); for the 1989 film depicting the battle, see film'
Battle of Kosovo
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe and Serbian-Ottoman Wars
Battle of Kosovo 1389.PNG
Battle of Kosovo 1389, sixteenth-century Russian miniature
DateJune 15,[A] 1389
LocationKosovo field, Principality of Serbia (modern Kosovo)
  • Tactically inconclusive[1]
  • Mutual heavy losses—devastating for the less numerous Serbs[1]
  • Long-term Ottoman victory
 Ottoman Empire Serbian Principality
Commanders and leaders
Sultan Murad I
Bayezid I
Prince Lazar
Vuk Branković
Vlatko Vuković
~ 27,000-40,000[B] ~ 12,000-30,000[B][2]
Casualties and losses
Sultan Murad I and most of his troops Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović and most of his troops

The Battle of Kosovo, also known as the Battle of Kosovo Field or the Battle of Blackbird's Field (Serbian language: Косовска битка, Бој на Косову; Kosovska bitka; Boj na Kosovu; Turkish language: Kosova Meydan Savaşı), took place on St. Vitus' Day, June 15,[A] 1389, between the army led by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović, and the invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Sultan Murad I. The army under Prince Lazar consisted of his own troops, a contingent led by Serbian nobleman Vuk Branković, and a contingent sent from Bosnia by King Tvrtko I, commanded by Vlatko Vuković.[1][3] Prince Lazar was the ruler of Moravian Serbia, and the most powerful among the Serbian regional lords of the time, while Vuk Branković ruled a part of Kosovo and other areas, recognizing Lazar as his overlord. The Battle of Kosovo took place in the Kosovo Polje, about 5 kilometers northwest of modern-day Pristina.

Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce; however, a critical comparison with historically contemporaneous battles (such as Angora or Nikopolis) enables reliable reconstruction.[2] The bulk of both armies was wiped out in the battle;[1] both Lazar and Murad lost their lives in it. Although Ottomans managed to annihilate the Serbian army, they also suffered high casualties which delayed their progress. Serbs were left with too few men to effectively defend their lands, while the Turks had many more troops in the east. Consequently, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals, one after the other became so in the following years.[1]

The Battle of Kosovo is particularly important to Serbian history, tradition, and national identity.[4]


Emperor Stefan Uroš IV Dušan the Mighty (r. 1331-1355) was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V (r. 1355-1371) whose reign was characterized by decline of central power and rise of numerous virtually independent principalities; this period is known as the fall of the Serbian Empire. Uroš the Weak was not able to sustain the great empire created by his father nor to repulse the foreign threats and failed to limit the independence of the nobles. Uroš V died childless on 4 December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been destroyed by the Turks in the Battle of Maritsa earlier that year. Prince Lazar, ruler of Moravian Serbia, aware of the Ottoman threat, began diplomatic and military preparations for a campaign against the Ottomans.


Army movement

After the defeat of the Ottomans at Pločnik (1386) and Bileća (1388), Murad I, the reigning Ottoman sultan, moved his troops from Philippoupolis (Plovdiv in modern Bulgaria) in the spring of 1389 to Ihtiman. From there, the party traveled across Velbužd (Kyustendil) and Kratovo (present-day Macedonia). Though longer than the alternative route through Sofia and the Nišava Valley, this route led the Ottoman party to Kosovo, one of the most important crossroads in the Balkans. From Kosovo, Murad's party could attack the lands of either Lazar of Serbia or Vuk Branković. Having stayed in Kratovo for a time, Murad and his troops marched through Kumanovo, Preševo and Gnjilane to Pristina, where he arrived on June 14.[2]

While there is less information about Lazar's preparations, he gathered his troops near Niš, on the right bank of the South Morava River. His party likely remained there until he learned that Murad had moved to Velbužd, whereupon he moved across Prokuplje to Kosovo. This was the best place Lazar could choose as a battlefield, as it gave him control of all the routes that Murad could take.[2]

Army composition

Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović

Sultan Murad I

Murad's army numbered from 27,000 to 40,000 fighters.[B][2] These 40,000 included no more than 2,000 Janissaries,[5] 2,500 of Murad's cavalry guard, 6,000 sipahis, 20,000 azaps and akincis, and 8,000 troops from his vassals.[2] Marko and Dragaš, although Ottoman vassals, did not participate in the battle.[6]

Lazar's army numbered from 12,000 to 30,000.[B][2] Out of approximately 30,000 fighters present, 12,000 to 15,000 were under Lazar's command, with 5,000 to 10,000 under Vuk Branković, a Serbian nobleman from Kosovo, and just as many under nobleman Vlatko Vuković.[2] The latter troops were sent by Bosnian king Tvrtko I Kotromanic. Mixed with Vuković's army was a contingent of Knights Hospitallers, whom the Croatian knight John of Palisna had led from Vrana in Croatia.[7] Several thousand were cavalry.[8] Furthermore, there has been several anachronistical accounts which have mentioned that the "Christian army" of Lazar was far greater, and that it also included contingents of other nations, although these cannot be verified.[C]


Troop Deployment

The armies met at Kosovo Field. Murad headed the Ottoman army, with his sons Bayezid on his right and Yakub on his left. Around 1,000 archers were in the front line in the wings, backed up by azap and akinci; in the front center were janissaries, behind whom was Murad, surrounded by his cavalry guard; finally, the supply train at the rear was guarded by a small number of troops.[8] One of the Ottoman commanders was Pasha Yiğit Bey.[9]

The Serbian army had Prince Lazar at its center, Vuk on the right and Vlatko on the left. At the front of the Serbian army were the heavy cavalry and archer cavalry on the flanks, with the infantry to the rear. While parallel, the dispositions of the armies were not symmetrical, as the Serbian center had a broader front than the Ottoman center.[8]


Serbian and Turkish accounts of the battle differ, making it difficult to reconstruct the course of events. It is believed that the battle commenced with Ottoman archers shooting at Serbian cavalry, who then made for the attack. After positioning in a V-shaped formation,[citation needed] the Serbian cavalry managed to break through the Ottoman left wing, but were not as successful against the center and the right wing.[8]

Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870)

Ottoman counterattack

The Serbs had the initial advantage after their first charge, which significantly damaged the Turkish wing commanded by Yakub Celebi.[3] When the knights' charge was finished, light Ottoman cavalry and light infantry counter-attacked and the Serbian heavy armour became a disadvantage. In the center, Serbian fighters managed to push back Ottoman forces, except for Bayezid's wing, which barely held off the forces commanded by Vlatko Vuković. Vuković thus inflicted disproportionately heavy losses on the Turks. The Ottomans, in a ferocious counter-attack led by Bayezid, pushed the Serbian forces back and then prevailed later in the day, routing the Serbian infantry. Both flanks still held, with Vuković's drifting toward the center to compensate for the heavy losses inflicted on the Serbian infantry.

Historic facts say that Vuk Branković had seen that there was no hope for victory, and fled to save as many men as he could. He fled after Lazar was captured, but in songs, it is said that he betrayed Lazar, and left him to death in middle of battle rather than after Lazar was captured and the center massacred.

Sometime after Branković's retreat from the battle, the remaining Bosnian and Serb forces yielded the field, believing that a victory was no longer possible.

Murad's death

Miloš Obilić, the alleged assassin of Sultan Murad I.

As the battle turned against the Serbs, one of their noblemen, a knight named Miloš Obilić, pretended to desert to the Turkish forces. When he was brought before Murad, Obilić pulled out a hidden dagger and killed the Sultan by slashing him from belly to neck. The Sultan's bodyguards immediately hacked Miloš Obilić to pieces.[10][11][12][13]

The earliest preserved record, a letter from the Florentine senate to King Tvrtko I of Bosnia dated 20 October 1389, says that Murad was killed during the battle. The killer is not named, but it was one of 12 Serbian noblemen who managed to break through the Ottoman lines:

Fortunate, most fortunate are those hands of the twelve loyal lords who, having opened their way with the sword and having penetrated the enemy lines and the circle of chained camels, heroically reached the tent of Murat himself. Fortunate above all is that one who so forcefully killed such a strong vojvoda by stabbing him with a sword in the throat and belly. And blessed are all those who gave their lives and blood through the glorious manner of martyrdom as victims of the dead leader over his ugly corpse.[14]

Another Italian account, Mignanelli's 1416 work, asserted that it was Lazar who killed Ottoman sultan.[15]

Succession of the Ottoman throne

Murad's son, Bayezid, was informed of the sultan's death before his older brother Yakub. Bayezid sent Yakub a false message, stating that their father had some new orders for them. When Yakub arrived, he was strangled to death, leaving Bayezid as the sole heir to the Ottoman throne.[16]

Aftermath and legacy

Kosovo Maiden by Uroš Predić, based on the Serbian epic poem
The dying Pavle Orlović is given water by a maiden who seeks her fiancée, he tells her that her love, Milan, and his two blood-brothers Miloš and Ivan are dead.

The bulk of both armies were wiped out in the battle;[1] both Lazar and Murad lost their lives, and the remnants of their armies eventually retreated from the battlefield. The Serbs were left with too few men to defend their lands effectively, while the Turks had many more troops in the east. Consequently, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals, one after the other became so in the following years.[1] Furthermore, in response to Turkish pressure,[17] some Serbian noblemen wed their daughters, including the daughter of Prince Lazar, to Bayezid.[18][19] In the wake of these marriages, Stefan Lazarević became a loyal ally of Bayezid, going on to contribute significant forces to many of Bayezid's future military engagements, including the Battle of Nicopolis. Eventually, the Serbian Despotate would, on numerous occasions, attempt to defeat the Ottomans in conjunction with the Hungarians until its final defeat in 1459 and again in 1540.

The Battle of Kosovo came to be seen as a symbol of Serbian patriotism and desire for independence in the 19th century rise of nationalism under Ottoman rule, including the Kosovo curse, and its significance for Serbian nationalism returned to prominence during the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo War when Slobodan Milošević invoked it during an important speech.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Date: Some sources attempt to give the date as June 28 in the New-Style Gregorian calendar, but that was not adopted for another two centuries. If it had been, the New-Style date in 1389 would have been only June 23. (see: Proleptic Gregorian calendar)
  2. ^ a b c Strength: Estimate vary, although with the Ottomans having greater numbers;
    • According to Sedlar: "Nearly the entire Christian fighting force (between 12,000 and 20,000 men) had been present at Kosovo, while the Ottomans (with 27,000 to 30,000 on the battlefield) retained numerous reserves in Anatolia."[21]
    • According to Cox: "The Ottoman army probably numbered between 30,000 and 40,000. They faced something like 15,000 to 25,000 Eastern Orthodox soldiers."[22]
    • According to Cowley: "On June 28, 1389, an Ottoman army of between thirty thousand and forty thousand under the command of Sultan Murad I defeated an army of Balkan allies numbering twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand under the command of Prince Lazar of Serbia at Kosovo Polje (Field of Blackbirds) in the central Balkans."[23]
  3. ^ According to some sources, the Christian army led by Prince Lazar included contingents sent from Poland and Hungary,[24] and contingents of Albanians led by Đurađ Balšić, Dhimitër Jonima, and Teodor II Muzaka, as well as Wallachian troops of Voivode Mircea the Elder.[25][page needed] Claims about such a coalition of Christian rulers first appeared about eighty years after the battle in a book written by an Ottoman author, Oruç of Edirne, and were repeated by later Turkish historians.[26] Some of them added also Franks, Czechs, and Bulgarians to the aforementioned troops, claiming that there were 500,000 soldiers in the "Christian coalition". The reason for the Ottomans to represent the Battle of Kosovo in this way might lie in the fact that it was the only battle in which an Ottoman sultan was killed.[26]
    The alleged participation of Đurađ II Balšić, the lord of Zeta, in Lazar's army is improbable: he had previously become an Ottoman vassal; he was in hostility with Lazar's ally Tvrtko I; and at the time of the battle he was most likely in Ulcinj.[27] The participation of Teodor Muzaka and other Albanians is suggested by a family history of the Muzaka (Musachi) family,[27] written in Naples in c. 1515 by John Musachi, who stated the following: "Lazar, the Despot of Serbia, and King Marko of Bulgaria (Bulgaria's monarch in 1389 was Tsar Ivan Shishman, who had been under the Ottoman overlordship since 1373. King Marko is referred to also as the king of Serbia in John Musachi's chronicle.) and Theodore Musachi, (Theodore Musachi is the younger brother of John Musachi's father, Gjin. According to the chronicle, Theodore died in the Battle of Kosovo, about 125 years before his nephew wrote the chronicle.) and the other Lords of Albania united and set off for battle, which the Christians lost."[28] Robert Elsie, expert on Albanian studies, characterizes John Musachi's chronicle as "no work of great scholarship" whose historical accounts are confusing, although it is an important source for late 15th-century Albania.[28]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Fine, pp. 409–11
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Kosovska Bitka, p. 659
  3. 3.0 3.1 Emmert, Thomas A. (1991). "The Battle of Kosovo: Early Reports of Victory and Defeat". Kosovo: Legacy of a Medieval Battle. De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History.
  4. Duijzings, G., Religion and the Politics of Identity in Kosovo (London: Hurst, 2000)
  5. Hans-Henning Kortüm, Transcultural Wars from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century, Akademie Verlag, 231. "But having been established under Murad I (1362-1389), essentially as a bodyguard, the Janissaries cannot have been present in large numbers at Nicopolis (there were no more than 2,000 at Kosovo in 1389)."
  6. Popović, Tatyana (1988). Prince Marko. New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-2444-1. p. 21
  7. Hunyadi and Laszlovszky, Zsolt and József (2001). The Crusades and the military orders: expanding the frontiers of medieval Latin Christianity. Budapest: Central European University Press. Dept. of Medieval Studies. pp. 285–290. ISBN 963-9241-42-3. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Kosovska Bitka, p. 660
  9. Evliya Çelebi; Hazim Šabanović (1996). Putopisi: odlomci o jugoslovenskim zemljama. Sarajevo-Publishing. p. 280. Retrieved 26 July 2013. "Paša Jigit- -beg, koji se prvi put pominje kao jedan između turskih komandanata u kosovskoj bici." 
  10. The Desperate Act: The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo By Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht, pg. 22
  11. Commission of the European Communities. Delegation (U.S.), p. 24, 1999, "As the battle turned against the Serbs, one of their noblemen, Miloš Obilić pretended to desert to the Turkish forces. When he was brought before Murad, Obilic pulled out a hidden dagger and killed him."
  12. A global chronology of conflict: from the ancient world to the modern middle east, Part 2, p. 314, Spencer Tucker, 2009
  13. Orientations: an anthology of East European travel writing, ca. 1550-2000, p. 22, Wendy Bracewell
  14. Wayne S. Vucinich & Thomas A. Emmert, Kosovo: Legacy of a Medieval Battle, University of Minnesota. 1991.
  15. Sima M. Ćirković (1990). Kosovska bitka u istoriografiji: Redakcioni odbor Sima Ćirković (urednik izdanja) [... et al..]. Zmaj. p. 38. Retrieved 11 September 2013. "Код Мињанелиjа, кнез је претходно заробл>ен и принуЬен да Мурату положи заклетву верности! и тада је један од њих, кажу да је то био Лазар, зарио Мурату мач у прса" 
  16. Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire: The Structure of Power, 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. 85. ISBN 0-230-57451-3.
  17. Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism By Vamik D. Volkan, p. 61
  18. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 By Donald Quataert, p. 26
  19. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey By Stanford Jay Shaw, Ezel Kural Shaw, p. 24
  20. "Milosevic's Speech, Kosovo, 28 June 1989 BBC Translation." (accessed 22 January 2007).
  21. Sedlar, p. 244
  22. Cox, p. 30
  23. Cowley, p. 249
  24. Military history of Hungary (Magyarország hadtörténete), Ed.: Ervin Liptai, Zrínyi Military Publisher, 1985 Budapest ISBN 963-05-0929-6
  25. Georges Castellan, Histoire des Balkans
  26. 26.0 26.1 Antić, Čedomir (25 November 2010). "Bitka za bitku" (in Serbian). Politika Online.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Malcolm, Noel (1998). Kosovo: A Short History. London: Macmillan. p. 62.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Elsie, Robert (2003). "1515. John Musachi: Brief Chronicle on the Descendants of our Musachi Dynasty". Documents 16th to 18th centuries. Texts and Documents of Albanian History.


  • "Kosovska bitka" (in Serbo-Croatian). Vojna Enciklopedija. Belgrade: Vojnoizdavacki zavod. 1972. 
  • John V.A. Fine. (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08260-4
  • Sedlar, Jean W.. East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500. University of Washington Press. p. 244. "Nearly the entire Christian fighting force (between 12,000 and 20,000 men) had been present at Kosovo, while the Ottomans (with 27,000 to 30,000 on the battlefield) retained numerous reserves in Anatolia." 
  • Cox, John K.. The History of Serbia. Greenwood Press. p. 30. "The Ottoman army probably numbered between 30,000 and 40,000. They faced something like 15,000 to 25,000 Eastern Orthodox soldiers." 
  • Cowley, Robert; Geoffrey Parker. The Reader's Companion to Military History. Houghton Mifflin Books. p. 249. "On June 28, 1389, an Ottoman army of between thirty thousand and forty thousand under the command of Sultan Murad I defeated an army of Balkan allies numbering twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand under the command of Prince Lazar of Serbia at Kosovo Polje (Blackbird's Field) in the central Balkans." 

Further reading

  • Lellio, Anna Di (2009). "The Battle of Kosovo 1389: An Albanian Epic". I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-094-1. 
  • Emmert, Thomas A. (1990). "Serbian Golgotha: Kosovo, 1389". New York: Columbia University Press.. 

External links

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