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Serbian Revolution
Part of the Rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire
Battle of Mišar (1806), painting by Afanasij Šeloumov
Date1804–17 (1833)
LocationThe Balkans (Central Serbia and partially Bosnia)
Result Establishment of the Principality of Serbia.
Serbia Serb revolutionaries
backed by:
Austria Habsburg volunteers
 Russian Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Serbia Karađorđe Petrović
Serbia Miloš Obrenović
Serbia Mateja Nenadović
Serbia Veljko Petrović
Serbia Stanoje Glavaš
Ottoman Empire Sultan Selim III
Ottoman Empire Maraşlı Ali Paşa
Ottoman Empire Sultan Mahmud II

Serbian revolution or Revolutionary Serbia refers to the national uprising and constitutional change in Serbia taking place between 1804 and 1835, during which this territory evolved from an Ottoman province into a constitutional monarchy and a modern Serbia.[1][2] The first part of the period, from 1804 to 1815, was marked by a violent struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire with two armed uprisings taking place, ending with a ceasefire. The later period (1815–1835) witnessed a peaceful consolidation of political power of the increasingly autonomous Serbia, culminating in the recognition of the right to hereditary rule by Serbian princes in 1830 and 1833 and the territorial expansion of the young monarchy.[3] The adoption of the first written Constitution in 1835 abolished feudalism and serfdom,[4] and made the country suzerain.[3][5] The term Serbian revolution was coined by a German academic historiographer, Leopold von Ranke, in his book Die Serbische Revolution, published in 1829.[6] These events marked the foundation of modern Serbia.[7] The period is further divided as follows:

The Proclamation[8] (1809) by Karađorđe in the capital Belgrade probably represented the apex of the first phase. It called for national unity, drawing on Serbian history to demand the freedom of religion and formal, written rule of law, both of which the Ottoman Empire had failed to provide.[8] It also called on Serbs to stop paying taxes to the Porte, deemed unfair as based on religious affiliation. Apart from dispensing with poll tax on non-Muslims (jizya), the revolutionaries also abolished all feudal obligations in 1806, only 15 years after the French revolution, peasant and serf emancipation thus representing a major social break with the past.[9] The rule of Miloš Obrenović consolidated the achievements of the Uprisings, leading to the proclamation of the first constitution in the Balkans and the establishment of the oldest Balkan institution of higher learning still in existence, the Great Academy of Belgrade (1808).[10] In 1830 and again in 1833, Serbia was recognized as an autonomous principality, with hereditary princes paying annual tribute to the Porte. Finally, de facto independence came in 1868, with the withdrawal of Ottoman garrisons from the principality; de jure independence was formally recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.


Banat uprising (1594)

In the Banat region, which then formed part of the Ottoman Eyalet of Temeşvar, in the area around Vršac, a large uprising began against the Ottoman Empire in 1594. It was the largest uprising of Serbian people against the Ottomans until then. The leader of this uprising was Teodor Nestorović, the Bishop of Vršac. Other leaders were Sava Ban and voivode Velja Mironić.

For a short time, the Serb rebels captured several cities in Banat, including Vršac, Bečkerek, and Lipova, as well as Titel and Bečej in Bačka. The size of this uprising is illustrated by the verse from one Serbian national song: "Sva se butum zemlja pobunila, Šest stotina podiglo se sela, Svak na cara pušku podigao!" ("The whole land has rebelled, a six hundred villages arose, everybody pointed his gun against the emperor"). The rebellion had the character of a holy war, the Serb rebels carrying flags with the image of Saint Sava. Sinan Pasha, who led the Ottoman army, ordered the green flag of Muhammad brought from Damascus to counter the Serbian flag, and burned the mortal remains of Saint Sava in Belgrade.

Eventually, the uprising was crushed, and most of the Serbs from this region, fearing Ottoman retaliation, fled to Transylvania, leaving the Banat region deserted. The Ottoman authorities, who needed population in this fertile land, promised clemency to all who returned. The Serb population did come back, but the authorities' mercy did not apply to the leader of the rebellion, Bishop Teodor Nestorović, who was flayed as a punishment.

Habsburg takeovers (1718–1739); (1788–1793)

From 1718 until 1739 the country was known as Kingdom of Serbia (1718–1739). The fall of Habsburg Serbia was followed by great Serbian migrations from Ottoman into Austrian Empire.

In the latter half of the century, officer Koča Andjelković led a successful rebellion against the Ottomans with the help of Austria and again placed Serbia under the rule of the Habsburgs, the territory was known as Koča's frontier. It ended with the Treaty of Sistova and the withdrawal of Austrians.


Belgrade pashaluk (Sanjak of Smederevo) in 1791

The withdrawal of the Austrians from Serbia in 1791 marked the end of the Kočina Krajina Serb rebellion, which was ignited by Austria in 1788. However Austria needed to settle the war and returned the Belgrade region to the Ottoman Empire. Despite guarantees that Austria had insisted on, many of the participants in the uprising and their families went into exile in Austria. Reforms made by the Porte to ease the pressure on Serbs were only temporary; by 1799 the Janissary corps have returned, suspended the Serb autonomy and drastically increased taxes, enforcing martial law in Serbia. Serb leaders from both sides of the Danube began to conspire against the dahias. When they found out, they rounded up and murdered tens of Serbian noblemen on the main square of Valjevo in an event known today as Seča knezova (Slaughter of the Dukes in 1804).

"Therefore, dear Serb when it's only up to us, take an example from those peoples who foster unity and order, for they have become mighty and prosperous; offer advises to each other, as the priests do, when they teach their flock: teach them the words of Christ, the ones which say: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. Not so much by words, but by your deeds... by doing so, the end of our quest will bring out the old glory of Serbia to show, who we indeed are: the children of our glorious and brave ancestors"

Karađorđe Petrović in liberated Belgrade (1809), The Proclamation[11]

The massacre outraged the Serbian people and incited the revolt across the Pashaluk of Belgrade. Within days, in the small Šumadija village of Orašac, the Serbs gathered to proclaim the uprising, electing Karađorđe Petrović as the leader. That afternoon, a Turkish inn (caravanserai) in Orašac was burned and its residents fled or were killed, followed by similar actions country-wide. Rebels soon captured Rudnik, Valjevo and Požarevac and besieged Belgrade.

Initially fighting to restore their local privileges within the Ottoman system (until 1807), the revolutionaries – supported by the wealthy Serbian community from southern Austrian Empire (present-day Vojvodina) and Serb officers from Austrian Military Frontier – offered themselves to be placed under the protection of Habsburg-, Russian- and French Empires respectively, entering, as a new political factor, into the converging aspirations of the Great Powers during the Napoleonic wars in Europe.[12]

Renewal of Serbian state according to Intelligentsia

In Montenegro

  • Petar I Petrović-Njegoš, the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro (Serbian Orthodox Episcop of Cetinje) was the conceiver of a plan to form a new Serbian Empire out of Bosnia, Serbia, Herzegovina and Montenegro with Boka, with Dubrovnik as its Imperial Capital. In 1807, he sent a letter to the Russian General of the Danube Army regarding this subject: "The Russian Czar would be recognized as the Tsar of the Serbs and the Metropolitan of Montenegro would be his assistant. The leading role in the restoration of the Serbian Empire belongs to Montenegro."

Sava Tekelija

  • Sava Tekelija, Serbian nobleman, doctor of law and patron of arts, had a significant role in the cultural life of Serbs in the Habsburg monarchy, as well as the overall political life of the realm. In the Timisioara meeting in 1790, he made a famous speech in which he pleaded for the legal inclusion of Serbian privileges. He supported his standpoint with thorough analysis of privileges with legal arguments, stating that the law presented a higher authority than the will of individuals, rulers, thus the privileges would be better protected if included in the Hungarian laws. At the time of the First Uprising, he made the map of the Serbian lands, which acted as a political programme. He sent letters to Napoleon, proposing the establishment of a South Slavic political unit, with Serbia as core, including the parts conquered by France - of which the Illyrian provinces would be formed out of. To achieve the goal of this political unit, he proposed that France would help the Serbian Revolution, because it would prevent the Russian penetration and influence in these territories. He sent a similar letter to Austrian Emperor Francis I in 1805 proposing other political alliances, also with the goal of preventing Russian influence. His project implies an establishment of a Serbian state, or more precisely, a South Slavic state. His works show his view of potential future of the South Slavic nations.[13]

First Serbian Uprising (1804–1813)

Karađorđe Petrović (Black George) leader of the First Serbian Uprising.

The Skull Tower, built by Ottomans near Niš, 1809. Made out of Serbian revolutionairies' skulls.

"My eyes and my heart greeted the remains of those brave men whose cut-off heads made the cornerstone of the independence of their homeland. May the Serbs keep this monument! It will always teach their children the value of the independence of a people, showing them the real price their fathers had to pay for it."
by Alphonse de Lamartine (1833)[14]

During almost 10 years of the First Serbian Uprising (1804–1813), Serbia perceived itself as an independent state for the first time after 300 years of Ottoman and short-lasting Austrian occupations. Encouraged by the Russian Empire, the demands for self-government within Ottoman Empire in 1804 evolved into a war for independence by 1807. Combining patriarchal peasant democracy with modern national goals the Serbian revolution was attracting thousands of volunteers among the Serbs from across the Balkans and Central Europe. The Serbian Revolution ultimately became a symbol of the nation-building process in the Balkans, provoking peasant unrests among the Christians in both Greece and Bulgaria.[12] Following the successful siege with 25,000 men, on 8 January 1807 the charismatic leader of the revolt Karađorđe Petrović proclaimed Belgrade the capital of Serbia.

Revolutionary Serbia in 1809

Revolutionary Serbia in 1813

Serbs responded to the Ottoman brutalities by establishing its separate institutions: Governing Council (Praviteljstvujušči Sovjet), the Great Academy (Velika škola), the Theological Academy (Bogoslovija) and other administrative bodies. Karađorđe and other revolutionary leaders sent their children to the Great Academy, which had among its students also Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787–1864), the famous reformer of Serbian alphabet. Belgrade was repopulated by local military leaders, merchants and craftsmen but also by an important group of enlightened Serbs from the Habsburg Empire who gave a new cultural and political framework to the egalitarian peasant society of Serbia. Dositej Obradović, a prominent figure of the Balkan Enlightenment, the founder of the Great Academy, became the first Minister of Education of Serbia in 1811.[12]

Following the French invasion in 1812 the Russian Empire withdrew its support for the Serb rebels; unwilling to accept anything less than independence,[12] One quarter of Serbia's population (at the moment around 100,000 people) were exiled into Habsburg Empire, including the leader of the Uprising, Karađorđe Petrović.[2] Recaptured by the Ottomans in October 1813, Belgrade became a scene of brutal revenge, with hundreds of its citizens massacred and thousands sold into slavery as far as Asia. Direct Ottoman rule also meant the abolition of all Serbian institutions and the return of Ottoman Turks to Serbia.[12]

Hadži-Prodan's Revolt (1814)

Despite the lost battle, the tensions nevertheless persisted. In 1814 an unsuccessful Hadži Prodan's revolt was launched by Hadži Prodan Gligorijević, one of the veterans of the First Serbian Uprising. He knew the Turks would arrest him, so he thought it would be the best to resist the Ottomans; Milos Obrenović, another veteran, felt the time was not right for an uprising and did not provide assistance.

Hadži Prodan's Uprising soon failed and he fled to Austria. After a riot at a Turkish estate in 1814, the Turkish authorities massacred the local population and publicly impaled 200 prisoners at Belgrade.[2] By March 1815, Serbs have held several meetings and decided upon a new revolt.

Second Serbian Uprising (1815–1817)

Miloš Obrenović, leader of the Second Serbian Uprising and the first Prince of Serbia

Principality of Serbia in 1817

The Second Serbian Uprising (1815–1817) was a second phase of the national revolution of the Serbs against the Ottoman Empire, which erupted shortly after the brutal annexation of the country to the Ottoman Empire and the failed Hadži Prodan's revolt. The revolutionary council proclaimed an uprising in Takovo on April 23, 1815, with Milos Obrenović chosen as the leader (while Karađorđe was still in exile in Austria). The decision of the Serb leaders was based on two reasons. First, they feared a general massacre of knezes. Second, they learned that Karađorđe was planning to return from exile in Russia. The anti-Karađorđe faction, including Miloš Obrenović, was anxious to forestall Karađorđe and keep him out of power.[2] Fighting resumed at Easter in 1815, and Milos became supreme leader of the new revolt. When the Ottomans discovered this they sentenced all of its leaders to death. The Serbs fought in battles at Ljubic, Čačak, Palez, Požarevac and Dublje and managed to reconquer the Pashaluk of Belgrade. Milos advocated a policy of restraint:[2] captured Ottoman soldiers were not killed and civilians were released. His announced goal was not independence but an end to abusive misrule. Wider European events now helped the Serbian cause. Political and diplomatic means in negotiations between the Prince of Serbia and the Ottoman Porte, instead of further war clashes coincided with the political rules within the framework of Metternich's Europe. Prince Miloš Obrenović, an astute politician and able diplomat, in order to confirm his hard won loyalty to the Porte in 1817 ordered the assassination of Karađorđe Petrović. The final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 raised Turkish fears that Russia might again intervene in the Balkans. To avoid this the sultan agreed to make Serbia suzerain- semi independent state nominally responsible to the Porte.[12]

Negotiations/ Legal Status of Serbia

In mid-1815, the first negotiations began between Obrenović and Marashli Ali Pasha, the Ottoman governor. The result was acknowledgment of a Serbian Principality by the Ottoman Empire. Although a suzerain of the Porte (yearly tax tribute), it was, in most means, an independent state.

By 1817, Obrenović succeeded in forcing Marashli Ali Pasha to negotiate an unwritten agreement, thus ending the Second Serbian uprising. The same year, Karađorđe, the leader of the First Uprising (and Obrenović's rival for the throne) returned to Serbia and was assassinated by Obrenović's orders; Obrenović consequently received the title of Prince of Serbia.

The Convention of Ackerman (1828), the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) and finally, the Hatt-i Sharif (1830), formally recognized the suzerainty of Principality of Serbia with Miloš Obrenović I as its hereditary Prince.

State organs

Constitution of 15 February 1835.

During the intermezzo period ("virtual autonomy" - the negotiation process between Belgrade and Constantinople 1817–1830) Prince Miloš Obrenović I secured a gradual but effective reduction of Turkish power and Serbian institutions inevitably filled the vacuum. Despite opposition from the Porte, Miloš created the Serbian army, transferred properties to the young Serbian bourgeoisie and passed the "homestead laws" which protected peasants from usurers and bankruptcies.[2] New school curriculum and the re-establishment of the Serbian Orthodox Church reflected the Serbian national interest. Unlike the Serbian medieval tradition, Prince Miloš had separated the education from religion, on the merits that he could oppose the Church through independent education (secularism) more easily. By that time the Great Academy in Belgrade had been in operation for decades (since 1808).[2]

Western ideas (1789–1817)

Matica Srpska, first Slavic Matrix (1826), founded in Budapest, moved to Novi Sad in 1864

The new circumstances, such as the Austrian occupation of Serbia, rise of the Serbian elite across the Danube, Napoleon's conquests in the Balkans and the reforms in Russian Empire also meant exposure to new ideas. Serbs could now clearly compare how their compatriots make progress in Christian Austria, Illyrian provinces etc. while the Ottoman Serbs were still subjects to a religion-based tax which treated them as second class citizens.[2]

During the Austrian occupation of Serbia (1788–1791), many Serbs served as soldiers and officers in Habsburg armies, where they acquired knowledge about military tactics, organization and weapons. Others were employed in administrative offices in Hungary or in the occupied zone. They began to travel in search of trade and education, and were exposed to European ideas about secular society, politics, law and philosophy, including both rationalism and Romanticism. There they met with the values of the French Revolution, which will affect a lot of Serbian merchants and educated people. There was an active Serbian community in southern Habsburg Empire, from where ideas made their way southwards (across the Danube). Another role model was the Russian Empire, the only independent Slavic and Orthodox country, which had recently reformed itself and was now a serious menace to the Turks. The Russian experience implied hope for Serbia.[2]

Serbian Cyrillic and Serbian Latin, from Comparative orthography of European languages. Source: Vuk Stefanović Karadžić Srpske narodne pjesme (Serbian folk poems), Vienna, 1841

Other Serbian thinkers found strengths in the Serbian nation itself. Two top Serbian scholars were influenced by Western learning to turn their attention to Serbia's own language and literature. One was Dositej Obradović (1743), a former priest who left for Western Europe. Shocked that his people had no modern secular literature, he assembled grammars and dictionaries to create a modern Serbian language, wrote some books himself and translated others. Others followed his lead and revived tales of Serbia's medieval glory. He later became the first Minister of Education of modern Serbia (1805).

The second figure was Vuk Karadžić (1787). Vuk was less influenced by Enlightenment rationalism like Dositej Obradović and more by Romanticism which romanticized rural and peasant communities. Vuk collected and published Serbian epic poetry, work that helped to build Serbian awareness of a common identity based in shared customs and shared history. This kind of linguistic and cultural self-awareness was a central feature of German nationalism in this period, and Serbian intellectuals now applied the same ideas to the Balkans.

See also


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