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Historical overview


The earliest human traces on the territory of Serbia date back to the early Stone Age (Paleolithic, approx. 3500 – 8000 B.C.). Archeological finds have uncovered the remains of a human Paleolithic community i n the caves of:

Jerinina Pecina near Gradac, in the vicinity of Kragujevac, and also around Risovača – near Aranđelovac. In the Risovača Cave were found animal remains and ancient stone tools that can be viewed in the Aranđelovac museum, as well as in the cave itself – still in a Paleontological setting.

The Mesolithic period heralded the arrival of the settlement. The most important finds from the middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) are found at Lepenski Vir in the Đerdap Gorge. This is where the remains of a pre-historic (approx. 7000-5000 J AT).) settlement were found. Included in the find were houses of a trapezoidal base, religious sites and sculptures (the first ex amples of monument type sculptures in Europe) belonging to one of the oldest civilizations in Eu rope. Part of the settlement, with its characteristic trapezoidal houses, can be seen in the Lepenski Vir Mu seum, in Đerdap, which is near the town of Donji Milanovac.

The next prehistoric period, the Neolithic (late Stone Age, 5500 3200 B.C.) is characterized by primitive farming and the early stages of animal herding. The use of ceramics is directly tied to food preparation, and the basic material used for building houses is wood and clay. The most significant archeological digs of the late Stone Age period (Neolithic, 5500-3200 B.C.) on Serbian territory which preserve the remains of complex cultures are: Starčevo, Vinca, Banji-ca, Žarkovo (Beograd), Potporanj (Vršac), Valača (K. Mitrovica) among others. The highest point of Neolithic culture in the Balkans, and beyond, is represented by the “Vinčanska” culture. The name is derived from an area near Belgrade called Vinca. Sculptures uncovered in this area most frequently are represented by a female divinity in either a standing or sitting position. Examples of the Vinčanska culture can be seen in the Vinca Museum, and also in the National Museum of Belgrade.

The oldest copper mine in Europe “Rudna Glava” (approx. 4000 B.C.) near Majdanpek, just like copper tools found in the area of Belovode near Petrovac na Mlavi, are an indication that here, already in the later stages ol the Neolithic Period, man was using coppet and had mastered the lei hnlquct to process it.

During the Copper, Bronze, and Iron ages the advancements in metallurgy brought about changes in the social and economic portrait of society. Material cultural forms start to become more decorative, which can be seen in pottery and figurines with bell-shaped dresses. The Copper Age (3200-2000 B.C) is characterized by big changes in nature, resulting in a great  mobility of human communities, which favored the development of trade, animal husbandry, craftsmanship and a nomadic way of life.

Along and around the Danube grew many settlements of the Kostolacka culture. Remains of metallic origin from this era point toward remnants indicative of mining activity in the Suplja Rock area beneath Avala. Similarly, a number of small settlements have been found in Vojvodina, made up of half-dug in huts (Perlez, Gomolova, Dobanovci, and Zemun) along with clay pottery. The Bronze Age (2000-750 B.C.) was marked by many of the same characteristics (undecorated ceramics, the same types of metals, etc.) This culture is represented at a large number of locations, classified in a number of individual cultures: the “Mokriska” culture (Northern Banat), “Vinkovacka” culture (Srem), “Bubanj-Hum” culture (Southern Pomoravlje) and others from the Iron Age (approx. 750 B. C. to 9 B. C.), which are all characterized by the biggest innovation of all  the use of iron for tools and jewelry. Traces of this period can be found in Zlotska Cave, Ritopek, Atenica near Cacak, Milosevo near Jagodina, Pecka Banja near Pec and others. Displays from all of these finds are preserved in museums and can be viewed, year-round or seasonally, by visitors. Museums can be found in all larger towns.

Celts began to settle in the Danube region in the 3rd century B.C. and brought with them a new type of structured settlement and the pottery wheel. An example of this type of settlement was uncovered in Zidovar near Vrsac. Also found were silver jewelry and other objects made from silver, which are being preserved in the Vrsac Museum. Celtic workmanship in this area is known largely thanks to the cemetery found in Karaburma in Belgrade. When the Roman conquest came, Serbia was characterized by strong domestic elements and a Celtic culture.

Antiquity and the Roman conquest

The first relics of the Antique (Greek) Period date back to the 4th century B.C. On the present territory of Serbia, during this period, examples of objects manufactured in the workshops of ancient Greece start to show up. In a mound below Petrova Crkva near Novi Pazar, a chamber was found containing a Greek vase along with gold, silver, and amber jewelry. However, the remains of the Roman civilization are considerably more widespread and varied.

Roman emperors

Thirty Roman Emperors spanning the 3rd and 4th centu-ies of our era were born within the bounds of today’s Serbia. The most often mentioned are Constantine the Great, born in Naissus (he was the first emperor to proclaim Christianity as the official religion), Marcus Aurelius, born in Sirmium (he planted the first grape vines in Fruska Gora).

Roman conquest in the 2nd century B.C. reached the Sava and Danube rivers. The Romans brought many innovations with them, building typical Roman settlements, roads, and waterworks. They built the first spas and mines, but the Romans can also be thanked for planting the first vineyards in the vicinity of Fruska Gora (Alma Monsa). Mineral water was used even back in the Roman period. One example of this are the remains of bathing pools, as well as the Fons Romanus fountain in Vrnjacka Banja. The most important economic contribution of the Roman Empire from this era was the mining and exploitation of deposits of iron, silver, copper, zinc, and gold. The most important mine was in Kosovo (Aureus Mons), but mines were also exploited in Timocka Krajina, Rudnik, Kopaonik and the Ibar Valley. In fact, many towns, mines, and spas originated from the remnants of Roman settlements, some of which have remained preserved: house foundations, cemeteries, hot baths, remnants of roads and marketplaces, as well as money, jewelry, weapons, etc. Valuable artifacts from the Roman period can be found in the Sremska Mitrovica area: (Sirmium – capital til the emperors), Belgrade (Singidunum), NIS (Naissus), Kostolac (Viminacium). Of particular value is the Roman country house Mediana near Niska Banja, and for a good example of their monument works you can go to Gamzigrad (Felix Romuliana), near Zajecar, where monolithic columns can be seen along with marble sculptures and rich mosaics. All important finds can be found in the museums of the aforementioned towns. To protect themselves from barbarian incursions, the Romans had to build permanent military entrenchments along the border of the empire -which stretched along the length of the Danube. Here can also be found various structures built in the Roman style. However, internal problems and fre-attacks by barbarian tribes from the north greatly weakened the Roman Empire. Roman authority south of the Danube was last enforced by the emperor Justinian (527-565), but this revival was short-lived. Already in the 6th century, the Avars and Slavs began to show up along the Roman frontier before whose banners Roman towns began to fall. With the gradual penetration of the Avars and Slavs into the Balkans, the Antique period came to an end.

The arrival of the Slavs

It is widely thought that the Slavic migration to the Balkan Peninsula began to occur in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries. Before permanently settling in the Balkan Peninsula in the first part of the 7th century, Slavic tribes lived in the lowlands north of the river Danube. During the process of migration, the Slavs moved along the routes laid out by old Roman roads and settled wherever the land was favorable for agriculture. In their new homeland, they mainly engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting and fishing. The metal that they most often employed was copper, which they used for making weapons, tools and jewelry.

The formation and development of the Serbian state

Like the rest of the South Slavs, the Serbs arrived in the Balkans during the time of the great migration in the 6th and 7th centuries of our era. Taking up predominantly hilly and mountainous regions between the Lim, upper Drina, Piva and Tara valleys, and the Ibar, and western Morava, the formation and development of the first Serbian state began toward the latter half of the 9th century. These areas, just like the state itself, later came to be known as Raška. The first Serbian state was formed by the Višeslavić dynasty. Later this state was renewed by Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the first independent Serbian state in the Middle Ages and   founder of the Nemanjic dynasty.

“Saint Sava (Ras tko Nemanjic, 1173-1235) the youngest son of Stefan Nemanja. Known as the father of the Serbian nation because he was the lust Serbian Archbishop, illuminator and teacher of the Serbian nation. lie turned the monasteries into the center for Serbian culture and art. Today, every Serbian Patriarch enjoys the status of being the heir to Saint Sava and, in addition to the obligatory medallion of the Mother of God (Panagia), also wears a medallion with the image of St. Sava on his chest.”

At this point the potent prosperity of the Serbian civilization and culture began. Besides governing the state and territorial expansion, Veliki Župan (hereditary ruler of a larger geographical region) Stefan greatly concerned himself with the building of monasteries that, to this day, are of high artistic value as a component of European and world culture. In the role of Nemanja’s heir, Stefan began turning more and more to the West. In 1217 he received the title of “King” from Rome and became the first Serbian ruler of the Nemanjic dynasty to become endowed with a “Kings crown” and because of this came to be known as Prvovenčani  (meaning: first-crowned). Only two years later (1219), his brother Rastko, whose monastic name was Sveti Sava, gained an archbishopric from the Patriarch of Constantinople and proclaimed the independent Serbian Orthodox Church. Together with his brother Stefan Prvovencani, Saint Sava began to build the monastery of Zica as the first seat of the Serbian Archbishopric, while at the same time helping with the building of 12 Episcopates on then-Serbian territory.

With this, the Serbs gained both of the features of independence recognized in the Middle Ages: religious and secular:

During the reign of Stefan Nemanja (1170-1196) the Serbian state achieved strong territorial and cultural expansion.

He was responsible for building the monasteries Durdevi Stupovi and Studenica in the Raska area, as well as Hilandar on Mt. Athos, Greece. Today these are a part of the worlds cultural heritage and are under the protection of UNESCO.

Medieval Serbia, which took up a prestigious position in the European economic and cultural sphere, reached its peak by the middle of the 14th century during the reign of King Stefan Dečanski (1321-1331) and Tsar Stefan Dušan the Great (1331-1355). The designation Dečanski, was given to Stefan because of his building of the most monumental medieval monastery – Visoki Decani in Metohija – a jewel in the cultural crown of world heritage (designated as protected by UNESCO in 2004). His heir – Dušan, richly endowed churches and monasteries, completed the foundation laid by his father in Decani, and built a church dedicated to the Holy Archangels near Prizren in Metohija. During his reign he brought “The Code of Dušan”, the highest legal achievement of medieval Serbia, and singular among the nations of Europe during this time. However, in the 14th century a great danger to both Serbia and Europe emerged – the Turkish Ottoman state. Step by step it moved toward Europe from Asia, first conquering Byzantium, and then the remaining Balkan states.

Turkish conquest and rule (14th-19th centuries)

As a result of the Turkish army’s defeat of Serbian forces in two key battles, on the river Marica 1371 and Kosovo Field in 1389, the fate of Serbia was definitively sealed. Despots Stefan Lazarević and Durad Branković managed to keep the independence of the Serbian state for several more decades, but the last stronghold in Smederevo fell to the Turks in 1459, and the state of the Serbian despots disappeared permanently For almost five centuries Serbia was kept under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. During Ottoman reign, Serbs were subjected to violence, degradation and exploitation. As a result, Serbs abandoned the developed mines, trade and commerce, and retreated to the inhospitable mountains to mainly raise livestock. Because the Turkish empire was of a theocratic, Islamic type, many Serbs were compelled to convert to Islam in order to keep their lives. Today, in many towns in the south of Serbia, the leftover Turkish influence can still be felt. For example: lifestyle, dress, faith, the look of the houses, and numerous mosques. The emergence of this phenomenon during the Turkish era led to mass migration and flight, as well as insurrection and rebellion against the invaders.

Uprisings and the restoration of the Serbian state

Serbian uprisings, the First (1804) and the Second Serbian Uprising (1815), against Turkey laid the groundwork for the liberation of Serbian territory from centuries of Turkish domination. During the period of revolution, the Serbs definitively developed and organized  a state, by hatisherifs (sultan’s edicts) in 1830 and 1833, obtained full autonomy. During this time, the Turkish state found itselfs in a condition of deep crisis, without the prospect of recovery, while at  the same time Serbia began to catch up with the rest of the European states. As a result of these uprisings and later wars  against Turkey (Ottoman  Empire), the independent Principality of Serbia was formed and later (1878) recognized by the international i community, becoming the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882. The further development of Serbia was marked by general advancements economically, cultrally and artistically.

World War I and II and I heir aftermaths in Serbia

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo (1914) was the pretext for the attack on Serbia, and resulted in the outbreak of World War I. Serbia bravely defended itself during this war and, thanks to the Antante powers, towards the end of war was able to, once again, free its territories. After the end of World War I, in December of 1918, Serbia, together with prominent personalities and intellectuals of that era from Croatia and Slovenia, succeeded in forming the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. In 1929, this became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During World War II, Serbia fought on the side of the Allies and at the end of the war participated in the forming of the SFRY as one of six federal republics. After the disintegration of the SFRY in 1992, Serbia, along with Montenegro, formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 2002, in accordance with the Belgrade Agreement, this was redefined into the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The Republic of Serbia reclaimed its status of an internationally recognized state with the raising of its flag in front of the UN headquarters in New York on June 8, 2006. Serbia is a democratic state of all the citizens living on its territory. Its history and accomplishments make it an integral part of today’s civilization and international community.

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