Stefan Dusan, also known as Stefan Uros IV, is one of the most important people in Serbian history. He was the King of Serbia from 1331 to 1346 and he founded the short-lived Serbian Dynasty in 1346. He ruled as the Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, and Albanians until his death in 1355. Although he was an exceptional commander, much of Dusan’s success was based on opportunism. He displayed an uncanny ability to take advantage of a situation when it presented itself.
The Early Years
Dusan was born in 1308 and was the son of Stefan Uros III and grandson of the reigning monarch Stefan Uros II. When Dusan was a boy, his father rebelled against the king and suffered as the Uros II blinded him and exiled him to Constantinople. Dusan moved to the capital of the Byzantine Empire and learned the ways of its government which helped him in later life.
Uros II apparently forgave his son, and the family returned to Serbia in 1320. The monarch died the following year, and Dusan’s father demonstrated that he wasn’t blind after all because he found a miracle cure. As a result, he enjoyed the support of the nobility, defeated pretenders to the throne, and became king in 1322. For his part, Dusan was named heir apparent and would rule upon the death of his father.
As the governor of Serbia’s Maritime Provinces, Dusan gained valuable military experience and showed his skills by helping his father win a decisive battle over the Bulgarians at Velbuzd in 1330. His father’s decision not to attack the Byzantine Empire after this significant win alienated many of the nobles. Perhaps they pressurized Dusan, because he quarreled with his father and deposed him in 1331.
King of Serbia
After handling revolts in Zeta in 1332, Dusan turned his attention to the Byzantine Empire and began a conflict with it in 1334. After reaching the gates of Salonica, he made peace with Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus in August 1334. Dusan also had to deal with marauding Hungarians, and while he suffered defeat to a huge army at Sumadija in 1336, he launched a brilliant cavalry attack as the enemy advanced and expelled the Hungarians. As a result of this conflict, the Hungarians lost Belgrade and Macva to their rivals.
When Andronicus III died in 1341, it resulted in a six-year Byzantine Civil War. Once again, Dusan arrived at the gates of Salonica and created an unexpected alliance with the deceased emperor’s general, John Cantacuzenus, who revolted against the new Emperor, John V Palaeologus. With the aid of Dusan, Cantacuzenus declared himself emperor but the alliance fell apart in 1343, and the one-time allies became bitter enemies.
Dusan conquered all of Macedonia barring Thessaloniki and all of Albania except Drac. He also took Seres in 1345 and by the end of that year, he declared himself the Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, and Albanians. Dusan was crowned emperor at a ceremony in Skopje in Easter 1346.
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