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Stefan Uroš IV
King of Serbia
Reign 8 September 1331 – 16 April 1346
Predecessor Stefan of Dečani
Emperor of the Serbs and the Greeks
Reign 16 April 1346 – 20 December 1355
Successor Uroš the Weak
Spouse Helena of Bulgaria
Full name
Stefan Uroš IV Nemanjić
House House of Nemanjić
Father Stefan Uroš III Dečanski
Mother Theodora Smilets of Bulgaria
Born c. 1308
Died 20 December 1355
Burial Saint Archangels Monastery, Prizren. (After 1927. in the St. Mark's Church, Belgrade)

Stefan Uroš IV Dušan( Serbian Cyrillic: Стефан Урош IV Душан) (c.1308 – 20 December 1355), called Silni ("the Mighty"), was the King of Serbia (from 8 September 1331) and Emperor (Tsar) of the Serbs and Greeks (from 16 April 1345). Under his rule Serbia reached its territorial peak and, as the Serbian Empire, was one of the larger states in Europe at the time.[citation needed] Apart from significant territorial gains, in 1349 and 1354 he made and enforced Dušan's Code, a universal system of laws. He is also the only ruler from the house of Nemanjić who has not been canonised as a saint. Dušan was also noted as a man of gigantic proportions, and according to Papal ambassadors he was the tallest man of his time, estimated at close to seven feet tall. His death in 1355 was a "catastrophe" for Eastern Orthodox Church in the Balkans, since he ruled over the only Balkan power capable of halting the advance of the Ottoman Empire.[1]

His Crown is kept at the Cetinje Monastery in Montenegro.



Youth and usurpation

Fresco of Dušan, his wife Helena, and their son Stephen

He was the eldest son of Stefan Uroš III Dečanski and Theodora Smilets of Bulgaria, the daughter of emperor Smilets of Bulgaria. Early in his life he visited Constantinople, where his father had been exiled, and he spent around seven years there (1314–1320). There he learned Greek, gained an understanding of Byzantine life and culture, and became acquainted with the Byzantine Empire. He was, on the whole, more a soldier than a diplomat. In his youth he fought exceptionally in two battles; in 1329 he defeated the Bosnian ban Stjepan Kotromanić, and in 1330 the Bulgarian emperor Michael III Shishman in the Battle of Velbužd.

Perhaps partially due to the fact that his father had not significantly expanded Serbia after the Battle of Velbužd, he rebelled and overthrew him with the support of the nobility, crowning himself king on September 8, 1331. The same year he met the German mercenary knight that would be the commander of his army, Palman. In 1332 he married Helena of Bulgaria, the sister of the new Bulgarian emperor Ivan Alexander, a woman of strong will, who had a large influence on him and bore him a son, Stefan Uroš V, and two daughters, who died young.

Early reign

Mounted Emperor Dušan, by Paja Jovanović
Coronation of Emperor Dušan, by Paja Jovanović

In the first years of his reign, Dušan started to fight against the Byzantine Empire (1334), and warfare continued with interruptions of various duration until his death in 1355. Twice he became involved in larger conflicts with the Hungarians, but these clashes were mostly defensive. Dusan's armies were defeated Louis the Great's 80,000 strong royal armies in Mačva, therefore Dušan had lost the control over his former territories : vojvodine of Macsó (Mačva) and principality of Travunia in 1349. After this setback, he focused his attention on the internal affairs of his country, writing, in 1349, the first statute book of the Serbs.[2] Dušan was successful against Louis' vassals:he defeated armies of Croatian ban and the forces of southern Hungarian voivodes. He was at peace with the Bulgarians, who even helped him on several occasions, and he is said to have visited Ivan Alexander at his capital. Dušan exploited the civil war in the Byzantine Empire between regent Anna of Savoy for the minor Emperor John V Palaiologos and his father's general John Kantakouzenos. Dušan and Ivan Alexander picked opposite sides in the conflict, but remained at peace with each other, taking advantage of the Byzantine civil war to secure gains for themselves. Dušan's systematic offensive began in 1342 and in the end he conquered all Byzantine territories in the western Balkans as far as Kavala, except for the Peloponnesus and Thessaloniki, which he could not conquer because he had no fleet. There has been speculation that Dušan's ultimate goal was no less than to conquer Constantinople and replace the declining Byzantine Empire with a united Orthodox Greco-Serbian Empire under his control.[3][4] For that purpose he asked help and blessings from the Pope. His idea was to wage a Holy War against the Turks. He thought that with the Pope's help he could get several European Monarchs on his side, along with their fleets, this is why, some say, his own court members poisoned him[citation needed].


Head of Dušan's statue
A coin minted by Dušan in 1346 on the occasion of his coronation.

After these successes he proclaimed himself Emperor in 1345 at Serres and was solemnly crowned in Skopje on April 16, 1346 as "Emperor and autocrat of Serbs and Greeks" (Bασιλευσ και αυτoκρατωρ Σερβιας και Pωμανιας) by the newly created Serbian Patriach Joanikie II with the help of the Bulgarian Patriarch Simeon and the Archbishop of Ohrid, Nicholas. He had previously raised the Serbian Orthodox Church from an autocephalous archbishopric to a patriarchate, and he took over sovereignty on Mt. Athos and the Greek archbishoprics under the rule of the Constantinople Patriarchate (The Ohrid Archbishopric remained autocephalous). For those acts he was anathematized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Faced with Dušan's aggression, the Byzantines sought allies in the Turks whom they brought into Europe for the first time. The first conflict between the Serbs and the Turks on Balkan soil, at Stefaniana in 1344, ended unfavourably for the Serbs.[5] In 1348 Dušan conquered Thessaly and Epirus. Later, he fought with the Hungarian protégé ban Stjepan II in Bosnia in 1350, wishing to regain formerly lost Zahumlje.

The sarcophagus is kept at St. Mark's church in Belgrade

Dušan had grand intentions but they were all cut short by his premature death on December 20, 1355. He was buried in his foundation, the Monastery of the Holy Archangels near Prizren. Today his remains are in the Church of Saint Mark in Belgrade. He was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V, who had been associated in power as king since 1346.

Military tactics

The Serbian Empire and its neighbours, 1355
Serbian Empire

Serbian military tactics consisted of wedge shaped heavy cavalry attacks with horse archers on the flanks. Many foreign mercenaries were in the Serbian army, mostly Germans as cavalry and Spaniards as infantry. He also had personal mercenary guards, mainly German knights. A German knight named Palman became the commander of the Serbian "Alemannic Guard" in 1331 upon crossing Serbia to Jerusalem; he became leader of all mercenaries in the Serbian Army. The main strength of the Serbian army was the armoured knight feared for their ferocious charge and fighting skills.


Dušan was the most powerful medieval Serbian ruler and "perhaps the most powerful ruler in Europe" during the 14th century[6], and remains a symbol to many. His state was a rival to regional powers Byzantium, Bulgaria and Hungary, and encompassed great territory, but it is that same greatness that was his empire's greatest weakness. By nature a soldier and a conqueror, Dušan also proved to be very able but nonetheless feared ruler. His empire however, as aristocracy quickly distanced from the central rule of his weak son after Dusan's death, could not survive, and began to dissolve under the influence of increasing partitionist tendencies of the regional aristocracy.



Wedding of Emperor Dušan, by Paja Jovanović

By his first wife, Helena of Bulgaria, Stefan Uroš IV had two children:

  • Stefan Uroš V of Serbia, who succeeded as emperor
  • Irina. According to "The Late Medieval Balkans, A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest" (1994) by J. V. A. Fine, she is the same as "Irene" the wife of Gregorios Preljub, the Serbian governor of Thessaly who died in late 1355 or early 1356. They were parents to Thomas II Preljubović, Ruler of Epirus from 1367 to 1384. Irene married secondly to Radoslav Hlapen, lord of Kastoria and Edessa.[7]


  1. ^ Conflict and chaos in Eastern Europe By Dennis P. Hupchick Published by Palgrave Macmillan, 1995 ISBN 0312121164. Page 141
  2. ^
  3. ^ Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, page 121: "The resulting assimilation of Byzantine culture by the Serbians helped to fortify the ideal of a Slavo-Byzantine Empire, which came to dominate the mind of Milutin's grandson, Stephen Dusan, later in the fourteenth century".
  4. ^ Radoman Stankovic, "The Code of Serbian Emperor Stephan Dushan", Serbian Culture of the 14th Century. Volume I: "Powerful Byzantium started to decline, and young Serbian King Stephan Dushan, Stephan of Dechani’s son, wanted, by getting crowned in 1331, to replace weakened Byzantium with the powerful Serbian-Greek Empire. [...] By proclaiming himself emperor of the Serbs and Greeks, Dushan showed that he aspired to a legitimate rule over the subjects of the Byzantine Empire".
  5. ^ Vizantološki institut, Zbornik radova Vizantološkog instituta, (Naučno delo, 1996), 194.
  6. ^ Steven Runciman, Byzantine Civilization. Cited in Radoman Stankovic, "The Code of Serbian Emperor Stephan Dushan", Serbian Culture of the 14th Century. Volume I
  7. ^ Profile of Stefan IV in "Medieval Lands" by Charles Cawley


  • John V.A. Fine, Jr., The Late Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1987.
  • George C. Soulis, The Serbs and Byzantium during the reign of Emperor Stephen Dusan (1331-1355) and his successors, Athens, 1995. ISBN 0-88402-137-8
  • Vizantološki institut, Zbornik radova Vizantološkog instituta, (Naučno delo, 1996), 194.
By Alexander Soloviev
  • "Selected Monuments of Serbian Law from the 12th to 15th centuries" (1926)
  • "Legislation of Stefan Dušan, emperor of Serbs and Greeks" (1928)
  • "Dušan's Code in 1349 and 1354" (1929)
  • "Greek charters of Serbian rulers" Soloviev and Makin {1936}

External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Stefan Dečanski
King of Serbia
Succeeded by
Stefan Uroš V
Preceded by
new title
Emperor of the Serbs and the Greeks
Succeeded by
Stefan Uroš V

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