Serbian Revolution

Annie Lee | Dec 11, 2022

Table of Content


The Serbian Revolution (1804-1815) consisted of two uprisings by the Serbian population under Ottoman rule, initially directed against the local Ayan and Janissaries, and eventually against Porta itself, which led to the creation of the autonomous Principality of Serbia over time. The First Serbian Uprising was led by George the Black, while the Second Serbian Uprising was led by Milosz Obrenović.

The Serbian national movement began to take shape as early as the end of the 17th century, and was generally centered in the Smederev Sandžak (Belgrade Pashalik). This was possible largely due to the existence in Serbian lands, as in the case of other Balkan regions of the Ottoman Empire, of a strongly developed local administration. However, the main factor that made this possible was the activity of the Orthodox metropolis in Peci, which maintained contact with the Russian Orthodox Church, and with sovereignty over both Buda, Arad, Komarom, Dalmatia, Bosnia with Herzegovina and lands where Serbs were in the majority. It was the Orthodox Church that nurtured the memory of the heritage of the medieval Kingdom of Serbia, the role of the sacred Nemanich dynasty starting with St. Sava.

Initially, the main line of the Serbian national movement was cooperation with the Habsburg Monarchy started during the Ottoman Empire's war against the Holy League. In 1688, coalition troops entered Belgrade, to which Patriarch Arsenius III responded with a call to fight alongside the Christians. They were successful as early as 1689 when Niš, Skopje, Prizren and Stip were seized, but a year later Turkish troops retook control of them and began marching north. Arsenije III, expecting massacres by the Ottoman army against the Serbian population in retaliation, led some 30,000 families toward the border with the Habsburg Empire to settle in Vojvodina. This was the first wave of an event that went down in history under the name of the Great Serbian Migration (sr. Velika seoba Srba). The next wave took off soon after, when Leopold I called on the Balkan peoples to rise up with a guarantee of religious freedoms and lower taxes. It must be stressed here, however, that the emigration was to be only temporary in view of the emigrants' hope that they would be able to return to their homes after the war and the takeover of Serbian lands by Austria.

However, the peace of Karlovice did not meet the Serbs' demands, which did not deter them from future cooperation with Vienna. Serbian participation led to a decline in the Port's confidence in the metropolis of Peci, which initially began to be staffed with fanariots, and was completely abolished in 1766.

As a result of the Sixth Austro-Turkish War in 1716-1718, the Peace of Požarevac was signed, which brought the main part of Serbian lands under Habsburg rule. There was a transfer of power to the Council of the House of Manor and the partial introduction of Austrian officials into the local administration structures, which had a deteriorating effect on Serbian relations with Vienna.

During the Seventh Austro-Turkish War of 1736-1739, after the capture of Niš by Habsburg troops, Peci Metropolitan Arsenius IV called on Serbs to cooperate. However, as a result of Austria's final defeat, the civilian population was again forced to move behind the retreating Habsburg troops, and a second wave of large-scale Serbian emigration ensued. The Peace of Belgrade ceded to the Ottoman Empire the Serbian and Romanian lands obtained in 1718, but the then-conquered Banat remained with Austria.

There followed a long period of peace between the 7th and 8th Austro-Turkish wars. When it was broken in 1787, the Austrians decided to form a formation composed of Serbs to operate in Serbia, Bosnia and the Banat under the name Freicorps. Despite the seizure of Belgrade in 1789, the Habsburg monarchy, due to the situation in Europe after the outbreak of the Great French Revolution, was eventually forced to sign the Peace of Svishtov assuming the status quo. After Porta declared an amnesty for Serbs, many of the emigrants decided to return to the Ottoman Empire. After 1791, Serbian confidence in cooperating with Vienna collapsed.

After 1791, Serbian leaders were focused on restoring security in the region and forcing the Port to expand local self-government rights. Across the board, Selim III, who was facing a weakening of his position, both against the powers and the rebellious Ajans, was ready to make some concessions. Under the firman of 1791, 1792 and 1794, Serbia was granted numerous privileges such as the right to collect taxes by local notables, assurances of interference against abuses occurring in the Chiflika, and a ban on the return of Janissaries to Belgrade liberated from Austrian occupation. This was met with fierce opposition from Belgrade's Janissaries, who were sent from the capital to the provinces as a result of threatening the position and even the life of the sultan, as some of Selim III's predecessors may have seen. However, the anarchy associated with the Janissaries being removed from the capital was moving to the place where they were sent. They were led by a rebellious ayan from Vidin, Osman Pasvanoglu, who led an attack on Belgrade in 1797. The Porta to alleviate the situation sent Haji Mustafa Pasha to Serbia, who pursued a policy of respect for Serbian rights and formed a 15,000-strong Serbian militia. His policy resulted in the expulsion of Pasvanoglu from Belgrade in 1798 at Vidin, where he was besieged.

Meanwhile, there was an invasion of Egypt, which was formally part of the Ottoman Empire, by French troops led by General Napoleon Bonaparte. Selim III was forced to withdraw his forces from the Balkans to focus on defending the region, hence he was forced to sign an agreement with Pasvanoglu. He recognized him as governor of Vidin, while the Janissaries were allowed to return to Belgrade. Haji Mustafa Pasha was assassinated, and there was internal fighting in the Belgrade Pashalik, from which the four Janchar leaders, called dahi, emerged victorious from their rank in the corps. There was a wave of terror against the Serbian leaders. In January and February 1804, about 150 local leaders were massacred.

The response to the massacre was an uprising that was initially spontaneous. The goal of the uprising was to oust the Janissaries from the Belgrade Pashalik and to implement the provisions of the 1890s firman, hence the movement gained the initial approval of the Port. In February 1804, an assembly in Orascu, in central Shumadiya, elected George the Black as supreme governor at the head of 30,000 troops. Selim III, approving of the uprising against the disobedient Janissaries, sent to Serbia the vizier of Bosnia, Abu Bekir, whom he appointed as the Pasha of Belgrade. The dahi forces were smashed in August 1804, but by the winter and spring of 1805 the Janissaries had already ravaged the region and exiled Abu Bekir back to Bosnia. It is worth mentioning that George the Black tried to seek support in St. Petersburg and Vienna for his activities even at this point.

Selim III, however, changed his attitude toward the insurgents in 1805, aware of the danger posed by a Christian uprising that could draw in other Balkan nations. So he sent a regular Ottoman army into Serbia, which clashed with the Blacks in August. This marked the beginning of the Serbian struggle against the Ottoman Empire, rather than against the Janissaries as before. In November the insurgents captured Smederevo, which became the capital of the revolutionaries, while in December Belgrade was captured, which meant the capture of the entire Pashalq.

When the Seventh Russo-Turkish War broke out in the summer of 1806, the Serbian situation improved in the face of efforts by both sides to gain Serbian support. The Porta agreed to a Serbian program that included withdrawing the Janissaries from Belgrade, manning the Pashalik fortresses and borders with local troops, and autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. For Russia, Serbia's support was of strategic importance, as the area linked Montenegro, which had been an ally of St. Petersburg during the war, conducting offensive operations in the Kotor and Budva areas, with the Danube principalities in whose territory the Russians were fighting. Eventually, George the Black made a pact with Marquis Philip Osipovich Paulucci in June 1807, which provided material aid to the rebels, the extension of Russian influence over Serbia, and the possibility of promulgating a constitution in the name of Emperor Alexander I, who would appoint a governor. The problem was that Paulucci was not authorized to make such agreements and did not have the support of St. Petersburg. This coincided with the Peace of Tilsit between France and Russia, during which Emperor Napoleon I initiated negotiations between St. Petersburg and Porta. In August, a Russo-Turkish truce was signed at Slobozia, which ruled out any Russian assistance to the Serbian insurgents.

At the same time, there was a split among the leaders of the uprising. Against George the Black came local leaders who were sensitive to any attempt to abuse their position in favor of the central authority. This was in response to attempts by the great governor to organize taxes and judicial power. To ease the mood among the leaders in 1805, a Government Council was established to represent them, but George the Black staffed it exclusively with his supporters. The final consolidation of George the Black's power was to declare himself hereditary supreme leader in 1808.

In 1808, there were further developments on the European international scene. Meetings between Napoleon I and Alexander I in Erfurt only illustrated the impasse on the Eastern question. Meanwhile, there was a coup at the court in Constantinople, as a result of which Selim III and his successor Mustafa IV were overthrown, and Mahmud II became sultan. The new monarch began negotiations with George the Black, but they ended in disagreement in the face of disagreements over the delimitation of Serbian autonomy. In 1809 hostilities resumed, and in August Ottoman forces struck Belgrade. There was a mass migration of the Serbian population beyond the Danube, while the insurgents were pushed on the defensive.

However, the Russian Empire also resumed hostilities. In 1810, a Russian-Serbian military cooperation agreement was signed, under which aid in the form of arms, ammunition, medicine and money began to flow to Serbia, while General Mikhail Kutuzov headed a campaign against the Ottoman Empire. However, in the face of the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the signing of the Peace of Bucharest took place. Article VIII of the treaty authorized the occupation of Serbia by the Ottoman Empire, which was obliged to grant amnesty to the insurgents and establish limited autonomy, but also the return of Turkish garrisons to the Belgrade Pashalik area.

The insurgent authorities, however, were not informed of these resolutions, which they only learned about in the course of their implementation by the Ottoman army. In October 1813, the Turkish army occupied Belgrade, and George the Black and Belgrade Metropolitan Leontius were forced to leave the country. This marked the collapse of the First Serbian Uprising.

The Porta, in accordance with Article VIII of the Treaty of Bucharest, declared a general amnesty, which resulted in the return of some of the emigrants from Austrian lands who had crossed the Danube in 1809. The new Pasha of Belgrade, Suleiman Uskupulu, after the army left the province, moved on to subjugate local notables, including Milosz Obrenović, the oberknesen of Rudnik. This led to the outbreak of a local revolt in April 1814, which was initially met with resentment also by a significant portion of Serbian notables aware of the bleeding of human resources during the First Serbian Uprising. Milosz was among their number. However, it soon became apparent that Uskupulu had no intention of implementing all the commitments agreed upon in Bucharest, primarily those related to autonomy. That's when the local rebellion turned into an uprising that again covered the entire Pashalik region of Belgrade, and was led by Milosz Obrenović.

Unlike the First Serbian Uprising, this uprising broke out in a convenient international situation for the Serbs. The Porta did not want to attract the attention of Europe, where the Napoleonic wars had ended. Besides, Milosz announced that he was acting against Suleiman Uskupulu, not the Port expecting Mehmed III to be conciliatory. Added to this was pressure from St. Petersburg to implement Article VIII of the Treaty of Bucharest.

And the leader of the Second Serbian Uprising, and Port were keen to maintain peace in the region. Negotiations with Milosz Obrenovic were led by Rumelia's vizier, Marashli Ali Pasha, which ended in November 1815 and were confirmed by the Sultan's firman.

A semi-autonomous state creation was created under the name of the Principality of Serbia closely linked to the Ottoman Empire. The prince did not hold hereditary power, which was further weakened by the Turkish governor and other Ottoman officials and judges in Belgrade. In addition, the Turks manned most Serbian strongholds. The Principality of Serbia was completely restrained in matters of foreign policy and was not given complete autonomy in internal affairs. As early as 1817, Milosz Obrenović declared himself hereditary monarch, which can be considered the de facto end of the Serbian Revolution, although without the approval of any of the powers or the Porta, it was a completely meaningless act.

However, a great deal was achieved, starting with the main goals of the First Serbian Uprising with the banning of the Janissaries from entering the Belgrade Pashalq at the top. The Serbs gained more privileges than they had gained under the firman of Sultan Selim III in the 1890s. Serbia's gain of a native prince was also not insignificant. The underdeveloped country was finally able to focus on its own development under the capable, albeit autocratic, Milosz Obrenović, who was able to begin establishing a central administration.

It is also worth mentioning that the Serbian Revolution was the first successful national uprising on the Balkan Peninsula under Turkish rule. However, the course of the revolution was completely dependent on the international politics of Europe, including the mood of the powers headed by the Habsburg monarchy and Russia. However, the Pashalik of Belgrade was a territory located on the periphery of Europe with little strategic value. Hence, St. Petersburg could leave its ally at any time without major losses, as long as Russian interests were in favor of it. The Serbian Revolution was a secondary event in the history of Europe, of regional importance. Only another revolution within the Ottoman Empire, the Greek uprising, gained European coverage, attracting international public opinion and crossing the interests of European powers.

The image of the Serbian Revolution can be found in the historical novel by Janka Veselinović titled. "Hajduk Stanko".


  1. Serbian Revolution
  2. Rewolucja serbska
  3. BogusławB. Zieliński BogusławB., Z problemów serbskiej prozy historycznej XIX wieku o tematyce powstań narodowych : nad powieścią Janka Veselinovicia "Hajduk Stanko", „Studia Rossica Posnaniensia” (21), 1991, s. 175-184 .
  4. ^ "The First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813) and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of the Eastern Question". 27 January 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  5. ^ a b Plamen Mitev (2010). Empires and Peninsulas: Southeastern Europe Between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699–1829. LIT Verlag Münster. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-3-643-10611-7.
  6. ^ English translation: Leopold Ranke, A History of Serbia and the Serbian Revolution. Translated from the German by Mrs Alexander Kerr (London: John Murray, 1847)
  7. ^ L. S. Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453 (London: Hurst and Co., 2000), pp. 248–250.
  8. ^ a b Plamen Mitev (2010). Empires and Peninsulas: Southeastern Europe Between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699-1829. LIT Verlag Münster. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-3-643-10611-7.

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