The Battle of Kosovo: Early Reports of Victory and Defeat

The Battle of Kosovo: Early Reports of Victory and Defeat

By Thomas A. Emmert

Kosovo: Legacy of a Medieval Battle, eds. Wayne S. Vucinich and Thomas A. Emmert (Minnesota, 1991)


In popular interpretation it was defeat at the Battle of Kosovo which brought about the disintegration of the medieval Serbian empire. Careful analysis of the post-Dusan era, however, demonstrates that the empire had already collapsed long before the battle. During the years of Tsar Uros’s reign (1355-71) the authority which the Nemanjic dynasty represented was completely undermined by powerful lords who succeeded in governing their territories quite independently of their tsar. With Uros’s death in 1371 the Nemanjic dynasty became extinct; and in the eighteen years which separate his death and the Battle of Kosovo the struggle for territorial aggrandizement among the nobility of Serbia only continued.

This struggle was made more complex by the increasing danger which the Ottoman Turks posed to the region. Already in September 1371, the Ottomans defeated the strongest Serbian lords in Macedonia in a major battle on the Marica River. This victory was perhaps the Ottomans’ most important success before their conquest of Constantinople in 1453, for the valley of the Marica River opened their way to the rest of the Balkans. Less than two years after the battle on the Marica the Byzantine emperor had to accept a vassal relationship with Murad I, and the ever-retreating line of defense against the Turks moved northwest to the more central regions of Serbia.

The rise of the Ottoman Turks from a small warrior state on the Asian frontiers of the Byzantine Empire to a formidable empire of their own in both Asia and Europe is a phenomenal story. By the end of the thirteenth century most of Anatolia was in their hands. Osman, who gave his name to the dynasty and the state, had his capital in Yenisehir beginning in 1299. The capture of this city made communications difficult between Nicaea and Bursa, two of the important surviving outposts of Byzantium in Asia. Two years later he defeated the Byzantine army near Nicomedia, a strategic port city which protected the sea route to Constantinople. Gradually his forces reached the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea. Finally in 1326, as Osman lay on his deathbed, the Turks took Bursa and made it their first imperial capital.

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