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This page is about the Battle of Kosovo of 1389; for other battles, see Battle of Kosovo (disambiguation); for the movie depicting the battle, see Boj na Kosovu (film)
Battle of Kosovo
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
Battle of Kosovo 1389.PNG
Battle of Kosovo 1389, old Russian miniature, XVI century
Date June 28 [O.S. June 15] , 1389
Location Kosovo, Moravian Serbia
Result Ottoman victory [1][2][3]
Flag of the Ottoman Sultanate (1299-1453).svg Ottoman Empire Lazarevic.jpg Serbian Principality
Grb Kotromanica.jpg Bosnian Kingdom
Brankovic.jpg Realm of Branković
Murad I  
Bayezid I
Lazar Hrebeljanovic  
Vuk Brankovic
Vlatko Vukovic
Ivaniš Horvat
~ 27,000-40,000[4][5][6] ~ 12,000-30,000[4][5][6][7]
Casualties and losses
Heavy casualties[citation needed]. Sultan Murad I assassinated by Miloš Obilić. Most of the Serbian nobility including Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic were killed during the battle.

The Battle of Kosovo was a battle fought in 1389 on St Vitus' Day, June 15[8], between Serbian principality and the Ottoman Empire[9][10], in the Kosovo Field, about 5 kilometers northwest of modern-day Priština. Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce. However, a critical comparison with historically contemporaneous battles (such as the Battle of Angora or Nikopolis) enables reliable reconstruction.[11]

The Battle of Kosovo is particularly notable to Serbian concepts of history, heritage, tradition and national identity.[12]




Army movement

After the defeat of the Ottomans at the Battle of Bileća and the Battle of Pločnik, Murad I, the reigning Ottoman sultan, moved his troops from Philippoupolis (Plovdiv, in present-day Bulgaria) in the spring of 1389 to Ihtiman. From there, the party traveled across Velbužd (Kyustendil) and Kratovo (present-day Macedonia). Though longer than the alternate route through Sofia and the Nišava Valley, the route taken led the Ottoman party to Kosovo, an area that was strategically important and one of the most important crossroads in the Balkans: from Kosovo, Murad's party could attack the lands of either Lazar of Serbia or Vuk Branković. Having stayed in Kratovo for a time, Murad and his troops marched through Kumanovo, Preševo and Gnjilane to Priština, where he arrived on June 14.[11]

While there is less information about Lazar's preparations, he gathered his troops near Niš, on the right bank of Južna Morava. His party likely remained there until he learned that Murad had moved to Velbužd. Thus, he also moved across Prokuplje to Kosovo. This was Lazar's optimal choice for the battlefield as it meant having control of all the possible routes that Murad could take.[11]

Army composition

Murad's army numbered from 27,000 to 40,000 fighters.[4][5][6][11] Amongst the 40,000 included 2,000 to 5,000 Janissaries,[13] 2,500 of Murad's cavalry guard, 6,000 sipahis, 20,000 azaps and akincis and 8,000 of his vassals.[11]

Lazar's army numbered from 12,000 to 30,000.[4][5][6][7] Out of the 25,000 fighters, 15,000 were under Lazar's command, with 5,000 under Vuk Branković, a Serbian nobleman from Kosovo, and just as many under Bosnian noble Vlatko Vuković.[7] Mixed with Vuković's army, there was also knight John of Palisna on the head of Knights Hospitallers from Vrana in Croatia.[14] Several thousand were cavalry. Several hundred of the combatants wore full plated armor.[15] Hungary and Poland also sent reinforcements: a number of Polish and Hungarian knights helped the Christian allies.[16]

The battle

Troop disposition

Kosovo Field with probable troop disposition before the battle

The armies met at Kosovo Field. The Ottoman army was headed by Murad, with his son Bayezid on his right, and his son Yakub on his left. Around 1,000 archers were in the front line in the wings, backed up by azap and akinci; in the front center were janissaries, behind whom was Murad, surrounded by his cavalry guard; finally, the supply train at the rear was guarded by a small number of troops.[15]

The Serbian army had Prince Lazar at its center, Vuk on the right and Vlatko on the left. At the front of the Serbian army was placed the heavy cavalry and archer cavalry on the flanks, with the infantry to the rear. While parallel, the dispositions of the armies were not symmetrical, as the Serbian center had a broader front than the Ottoman center.[15]

When a torrent of arrows landed on Serbian armsmen,
who until then stood motionless like mountains of iron,
they rode forward, rolling and thundering like the sea


Battle on Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870)

The battle commenced with Ottoman archers shooting at Serbian cavalry, who then made for the attack. After positioning in a V-shaped formation,[citation needed] the Serbian cavalry managed to break through the Ottoman left wing, but were not as successful against the center and the right wing.[15]

Turkish counterattack

The Serbs had the initial advantage after their first charge, which significantly damaged the Turkish wing commanded by Yakub Celebi.[1] When the knights' charge was finished, light Ottoman cavalry and light infantry counter-attacked and the Serbian heavy armour became a disadvantage. In the center, Serbian fighters managed to push back Ottoman forces with only Bayezid's wing holding off the forces commanded by Vlatko Vuković. The Ottomans, in a ferocious counter-attack led by Bayezid, pushed the Serbian forces back and then prevailed later in the day.

It is said that Vuk Branković, one of the great lords, to whom was entrusted one wing of the Serbian army, had long been jealous of his sovereign. Some historians state that he had arranged with Sultan Murat I to betray his master, in return for the promise of the imperial crown of Serbia, subject to the Sultan's overlordship. At a critical moment in the battle, Vuk Branković turned his horse and fled from the field, followed by 12,000 of his troops. Bayezid I, who would become the Ottoman sultan after the battle, gained his nickname "the thunderbolt" here, after leading the decisive counter-attack.

Murad's death

Based on Turkish historical records, it is believed that Sultan Murad I was killed by Miloš Obilić the day after the battle, who killed Murad while he walked on the battlefield after the fighting had finished, on June 29, 1389.

Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian sources allege that he was killed by the Serbian knight Obilić during the battle, when Obilić went to the Ottoman camp into the tent of the Sultan in an appearing desertion; however, his intention was to kill the Sultan and he succeeded, stabbing him in the neck and heart. Obilić was killed by the Sultan's bodyguards immediately or afterwards while fleeing on horseback.[17]

According to the earliest preserved record, a letter from the Florentine senate to the King Tvrtko I of Bosnia, dated 20 October 1389, Murad was killed during the battle. The killer is not named, but it was one of 12 Serbian noblemen who managed to break through the Ottoman lines:

Fortunate, most fortunate are those hands of the twelve loyal lords who, having opened their way with the sword and having penetrated the enemy lines and the circle of chained camels, heroically reached the tent of Murat himself. Fortunate above all is that one who so forcefully killed such a strong vojvoda by stabbing him with a sword in the throat and belly. And blessed are all those who gave their lives and blood through the glorious manner of martyrdom as victims of the dead leader over his ugly corpse.[18]

Murad was the only Ottoman sultan who died in battle. Murad's son, Bayezid, was informed of the Sultan's death before his older brother Yakub. Bayezid sent Yakub a message, stating that their father had some new orders for them. When Yakub arrived, he was strangled to death, his demise leaving Bayezid as the sole heir to the throne.


Kosovo curse:
Inscription of the curse on the Gazimestan monument

"Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,
And of Serb blood and heritage,
And comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,
May he never have the progeny his heart desires,
Neither son nor daughter!
May nothing grow that his hand sows,
Neither dark wine nor white wheat!
And let him be cursed from all ages to all ages!"

- Tsar Lazar curses those who are not taking up arms against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kosovo.
Kosovo Maiden by Uroš Predić
Dying Pavle Orlović is given water by a maiden who seeks her fiancée, he tells her that her love, Milan, and his two blood-brothers Miloš and Ivan are dead.
-taken from the Serb Epic poem

The battle of Kosovo was an important victory for the Ottomans.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26] While losses were substantial (with both armies being virtually destroyed) on both sides and both sides lost their leaders, the Ottomans were able to easily field another army of equal or greater size, whereas Serbia could not. Heavy losses suffered by Serbia resulted in its reduction to a vassal state with Serbian nobles paying tribute and supplying soldiers to the Ottomans.[2] The battle did, however, stop the Ottoman advance into Europe (temporarily) and slowed down their invasion of Serbia. Furthermore, in response to Turkish pressure,[27] some Serbian noblemen wed their daughters, including the daughter of Prince Lazar, to Bayezid.[28][29] In the wake of these marriages, Stefan Lazarević became a loyal ally of Bayezid, going on to contribute significant forces to many of Bayezid's future military engagements including the Battle of Nicopolis which marked the last large-scale Crusade in the Middle Ages. Eventually, the Serbian Despotate would, on numerous occasions, attempt to defeat the Ottomans in conjunction with the Hungarians until its final defeat in 1459 and again in 1540.

The Battle of Kosovo came to be seen as a symbol of Serbian patriotism and desire for independence in the 19th century rise of nationalism under Ottoman rule, and its significance for Serbian nationalism returned to prominence during the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo War when Slobodan Milošević invoked it during an important speech.[30]


  1. ^ Dupuy, Trevor, The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military History, (HarperCollins Publishers, 1993),422.
  2. ^ Laffin, John, Brassey's Dictionary of Battles,(Brassey's Ltd:London,1995),229.
  3. ^ Bruce, George, Harbottle's Dictionary of Battles, (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.:New York, 1981),134.
  4. ^ a b c d Sedlar, Jean W.. East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500. University of Washington Press. pp. 244. "Nearly the entire Christian fighting force (between 12,000 and 20,000 men) had been present at Kosovo, while the Ottomans (with 27,000 to 30,000 on the battlefield) retained numerous reserves in Anatolia." 
  5. ^ a b c d Cox, John K.. The History of Serbia. Greenwood Press. pp. 30. "The Ottoman army probably numbered between 30,000 and 40,000. They faced something like 15,000 to 25,000 Eastern Orthodox soldiers." 
  6. ^ a b c d Cowley, Robert; Geoffrey Parker. The Reader's Companion to Military History. Houghton Mifflin Books. pp. 249. "On June 28, 1389, an Ottoman army of between thirty thousand and forty thousand under the command of Sultan Murad I defeated an army of Balkan allies numbering twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand under the command of Prince Lazar of Serbia at Kosovo Polje (Blackbird's Field) in the central Balkans." 
  7. ^ a b c "Kosovska bitka" (in Serbo-Croatian). Vojna Enciklopedija. Belgrade: Vojnoizdavacki zavod. 1972. pp. 659–660. 
  8. ^ Some sources attempt to give the date as June 28 New-Style (Gregorian Calendar), but that was not adopted for another two centuries. If it had been, the New-Style date in 1389 would have been only June 23.
  9. ^ John VA Fine , The late mediaeval Balkans, p.409
  10. ^ K.J. Jirecek,Illyrisch-Albanische forschungen, Munchen 1916,p.78
  11. ^ a b c d e "Kosovska bitka" (in Serbo-Croatian). Vojna Enciklopedija. Belgrade: Vojnoizdavacki zavod. 1972. pp. 659. 
  12. ^ Duijzings, G., Religion and the Politics of Identity in Kosovo (London: Hurst, 2000)
  13. ^ Hans-Henning Kortüm, Transcultural Wars from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century, Akademie Verlag, 231. "But having been established under Murad I (1362-1389), essentially as a bodyguard, the Janissaries cannot have been present in large numbers at Nicopolis (there were no more than 2,000 at Kosovo in 1389)."
  14. ^ Hunyadi and Laszlovszky, Zsolt and József (2001). The Crusades and the military orders: expanding the frontiers of medieval latin christianity. Budapest: Central European University Press. Dept. of Medieval Studies. pp. 285–290. ISBN 963-9241-42-3. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Kosovska bitka" (in Serbo-Croatian). Vojna Enciklopedija. Belgrade: Vojnoizdavacki zavod. 1972. p. 660. 
  16. ^ Military history of Hungary (Magyarország hadtörténete), Ed.: Ervin Liptai, Zrínyi Military Publisher, 1985 Budapest ISBN 963-05-0929-6
  17. ^ The Desperate Act: The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo By Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht, pg. 22
  18. ^ Wayne S. Vuchinich & Thomas A. Emmert, Kosovo: Legacy of a Medieval Battle, University of Minnesota. 1991.
  19. ^ Battle of Kosovo, Encyclopedia Britannica
  20. ^ Kosovo Field, Columbia Encyclopedia
  21. ^ "Battle of Kosovo", Encarta Encyclopedia. (Archived 2009-10-31).
  22. ^ Historical Dictionary Of Kosova By Robert Elsie, pg.95
  23. ^ The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged By Peter N. Stearns, William Leonard Langer, pg. 125
  24. ^ Global Terrorism By James M Lutz, Brenda J Lutz, pg. 103
  25. ^ Parliaments and Politics During the Cromwellian Protectorate By David L. Smith, Patrick Little, pg. 124
  26. ^ Genocide: a critical bibliographic review By Israel W. Charny, Alan L. Berger, pg. 56
  27. ^ Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism By Vamik D. Volkan, pg. 61
  28. ^ The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 By Donald Quataert, pg. 26
  29. ^ History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey By Stanford Jay Shaw, Ezel Kural Shaw, pg. 24
  30. ^ Slobodan Milošević: speech at Kosovo Polje, 28 June 1989, (accessed 22 January 2007).

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