Kosovo under King Stefan Dušan



           Moving this border further south was the work of Serbian King Milutin [1282-1321]. As a result of his military operations in 1282 and 1283, the entire territory of Kosovo and Metohija was definitely connected to Serbia and, also, the whole of northern Macedonia up to a line which, drawn from the west to the east, encompassed the cities of Debar and Kičevo, Veles, Štip, Velbužd and Zemln, which means that not only Skopje and those Byzantine cities happened to be in the Serbian state, but also vast areas such as Polog, Poreč, Ovče Polje, Žegligovo, Pijanec. In 1296, Drač (Durres) on Albanian territory falls to Milutin, but the area around Kruje remained beyond his reach; however, instead of the demolished Anjou Kingdom of Albania, Byzantine rule was established there for a short time. The Anjou retook Drač (Durres) in 1304, but the territories of northern Albania remained under Serbia: in 1308, Charles of Valois confirmed the “Debra area to the river called Mat,” to Milutin and at times the authority of the Serbian king was recognized by the Albanian lords in the hinterland of Drač (Durres). It has to be emphasized that the religious issues of the time played a particular role in the poor prospects for a more serious inclusion of the “real” Albania into the Serbian state. Northern and parts of central Albania were traditionally Catholic. The Skadar (Shkoder) area was covered by a complex of ancient Latin bishoprics: Skadar, Pilot, Drivast, Svač. Pope John XXII even organized an action against Serbia in 1319, calling it a religious duty to overthrow the rule of the “schismatic king.” …

The Serbian King Dušan [1331-1346, then Emperor until 1355] continued this policy with a greater momentum and success, but initially had to break the resistance of the lords of Zeta, who rebelled together with Albanian feudal lords led by Dimitrije Sumo in 1332. The political status of northern Albania in the Serbian state since Stefan Nemanja had been established within the status of Zeta as an area governed by the heir to the throne under primogeniture right. Thus, the history of northern Albania in the Nemanjić era is, in fact, the history of Zeta. The rebellion of the lords of Zeta and North Albanian feudal lords had been suppressed by Dušan without much difficulty, therefore, he got carte blanche for extensive offensives against Byzantium. Almost all of Albania, except Drač (Durres), which definitely remains under the rule of the Anjou, had already been conquered by Dušan in the 1342-43 campaign: the cities of Berat, Kanina, Kroja and later the rest of Albania with Epirus were occupied. Serbia is also moving further south in the direction of Macedonia, up to Etolia in Helada; in the southeast, the border of Serbia is almost moved to the confluence of the river Mesta, that is, the city of Christopolis. Dušan’s great conquest also provoked the first major wave of Albanian migration south to Epirus.

In the mid-14th century, masses of Albanians settled in the Greek Epirus right up to Arta, and partly in Thessaly. In any case, various European plans to move the Albanians against Dušan [for example, in the 1332 letter of the Archbishop of Bar, Guillaume Adam, to the French King Philip VI, in which Albanians were regarded as a factor of internal instability of the Serbian state] could not be realized, as it was in the Albanian feudal lords’ interest to support the conquering policies of King and Emperor Dušan toward the Greek lands. Contrary to the expectation of Latin observers, they were very active agents of Dušan’s imperial agenda. The explanation for this seemingly pro-Serbian orientation of the Albanian aristocracy lies in the feudal organization of the Serbian state, in which, regardless of nationality, great political reputation and economic power could be achieved. As early as the time of King Milutin, Albanian feudal lords became involved in the Serbian state feudal order with the titles and benefits of archdukes, dukes or chamberlains (kaznacs). The Albanian lands and the Albanian nobles were included, without any isolation and discrimination, by the hierarchical feudal system in Dušan’s Empire. Following his conquest of Kruje, Dušan reconfirmed its former privileges. An important point from the legal standpoint was that in Dušan’s imperial title, Albanians appear alongside Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians [“the emperor and autocrat of Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians and Albanians” – as in the 1348 charter]. This legitimizes the fact that Albanians as a people were included in the constitution of the empire as its equal entity. After Dušan’s death [1355], the Albanian feudal lords remained a significant military and political factor in the areas of the sovereign lords, Simeon Nemanjić-Paleolog and Toma Preljubović. Moreover, the process of independence of the feudal lords at the time of the dissolution of Dušan’s Empire, also took place on Albanian territory, where areas under the dynastic rule of the great clans, Topi, Dukadjin, Arianiti, Kastriot, and others started to form gradually.

Throughout this time, one can see a clear difference in the position of Kosovo and Metohija relative to the northern Albanian countries. There is quite a specific situation, after all, of the other territories in central and southern Albania which Milutin and Dušan joined to Serbia. Kosovo and Metohija and other areas on the eastern and southern borders of Serbia up to Byzantine Macedonia became part of the Serbian state under the Nemanjić dynasty, as an ethnic Serb country. Therefore, they were not only immediately and fully integrated politically, economically and culturally, but they became central areas of all Serbian spiritual and national life as soon as they were annexed, a secure basis for further unification and rounding of the Serbian national territory. In contrast, northern Albania is, according to many historians, a space of a very particular ethnic symbiosis between Serbs and Albanians, with a mixed population, with considerable presence of a Roman element, with ethnic groups of herders permanently marked by a degree of isolation and self-rule. Hence, the integration of northern Albania [in the Skadar region, in the Drim and Fani basins] was carried out under very specific conditions. Firstly, it was not accompanied by the Serbization of the Albanian population. During all the time of Serbia under the Nemanjić dynasty, northern Albania showed no aspirations for isolation and independence. These tendencies were seen, on the contrary, in other Albanian areas south of the river Mati. Even when it is not about some state-building moves seeking to form an independent Albania, such as in Serbia, Bulgaria or Bosnia, the Albanian feudal lords of these areas do not fully accept the sovereignty of the Serbian or any other state: they enter into certain closer or looser relations, accept positions in the feudal structure of the state, but with ones that were quite open.

The basis of these differences between Kosovo, on the one hand, and the Albanian lands, on the other, lies, therefore, in the ethnic background, in the specific ethnic circumstances of these territories. In Kosovo and Metohija, the population was already firmly Serbian at the time of the first actions of the Serbian state towards the area in the 10th, then 11th, and finally, in the 12th century. There are many reasons for some theses of Albanian historiography to be rejected as arbitrary, e.g. that the Serbian colonization of Kosovo and Metohija only started with the expansion of the Nemanjić state in the 13th and 14th centuries. There is no basis for claiming the existence of an Albanian “sedentary” population in Kosovo by that time: on the contrary, the migration of Serbs, started as early as the migration of peoples ended with the permanent settlement of the Serb people in Kosovo as early as the end of the ninth century. Moreover, the land that the Serbs then settled was not even taken from the Albanians, but from the Byzantine and Roman owners or their dependents or other, free agricultural population. What is known about the social status and distribution of Albanian herdsmen in medieval Serbia confirms our assumptions about these processes in the period from 7th to 9th centuries.

The political integration of Albanians in the medieval Serbian state was carried out within the framework of a feudal system without discrimination against the Albanian aristocracy. With their old or new vocations, acquired or newly obtained privileges, with inheritances, property and other feudal rights, the Albanian feudal lords, to the extent that they entered the Serbian state, were an active factor in that state. In the titles of the Serbian kings and emperors, as we have seen, the Albanian people attained a form of state legitimacy. This legitimacy was also expressed in the rights of the Albanian authorities to participate in the work of the highest authorities of the Serbian state, the Serbian Parliament. With the expansion of the borders of the Serbian state across the Greek and Albanian areas, as noted by Nikola Radojčić, the question had already arisen about the participation of Greeks and Albanians in Serbian assemblies; Greek and Albanian officials also participated in the work of the assembly with all the rights of the Serbian lords. This, in turn, means that the Albanians, along with the Greeks, and even the Bulgarians, participated in the enactment of the Code of Emperor Stefan Dušan (Dušan’s Code) in 1349 and 1354.



There are two categories of “Arbanas” in the social structure of medieval Serbia. One constitutes Albanians as an urban population and the other as Albanian herdsmen, an ethnic group as a social group. In the first case, the rights or privileges of the Albanian urban population are regulated by general statutory provisions, the regulations of the city statutes. There was no discrimination in this category of the Albanian population in relation to other, non-Albanian urban groups, Serbs, Romans or other nationalities [e.g. Saxons]. Their rights and obligations were determined by social order and status, not ethnicity. There were also regional autonomous decrees, which legalized customary rights [Dukađin, etc.] and which have been retained for a long time until recently.

The positive legal provisions on Arbanas herders throughout the Serbian state are found in a series of special regulations in rulers’ charters, which were raised to the level of a general law by Dušan’s Code. These are different situations of contact, which means a possible legal relationship, a relationship with the legal element, between Albanian herdsmen and the agricultural, permanent resident population of a village. Two things are visible here: one, equality before the law of all categories of population, all citizens, regardless of nationality, and the other, the principle of strict socio-economic demarcation of individual population groups in a feudal sense. It is also important that the Arbanas were always viewed as a category comparable with another one – the Vlachs, who, obviously, were larger in number and had more legal regulations devoted to them…

Albanians were equal to other groups of the population in all rights and duties, except for special status rights and duties within the feudal system. In particular, it must be emphasized that the principle of equality was also applicable to them in the field of procedural and criminal law. The Jelena Charter to the Monastery of St. Nicholas on Vranjina [the Lake of Skadar] explicitly stipulated that all subjects of this feudal area, whether Serbs, Latins, Vlachs or Arbanas, would be liable to the king for their crimes or any damage done, and a single fine of 500 perpers will be imposed. Likewise, regarding general or special duties: the Arbanas were equally as liable as Serbs. In the aforementioned Holy Archangel Charter of 1348, which also granted this royal-monastery estate nine Arbanas katuns [mountain cattle settlements], “with all the old interlaces”, the Arbanas were given the same “work” as the Serbs: “in the church, to do as the Serbs do,” and to give the same amount of money or grain. The Charter of Tsar Dušan to the Monastery of the Holy Virgin Mary in Arhiljevica, probably from 1354, also gives this monastery the “village of Arbanas with all the rights”, which means that the Arbanas village, if by this name it meant a village already inhabited by Albanians, was regarded as an agrarian community with established rights, which will not be questioned in this case either.



From one general provision of Dušan’s Code [Art. 81] it can indirectly be seen that there are no special and free Vlach or Albanian territories: “Mountains that are in the land of my Empire, are mountains of emperors, they are to the emperor, and the churches’ to the churches, and the aristocratic to the aristocrats.” This means that the entire mountainous region, the entire land covered by pastures, is in principle divided into the imperial, ecclesiastical and aristocratic lands; hence the herdsmen are dependent “people” of the emperor, the church and the lords, and there are no, in the true sense of the word, free Arbanas and Vlachs in the feudal system, except for the free Arbanas lords, already been discussed.

Dimitrije Bogdanović, Book on Kosovo, 1985.

           Mobilized Albanian nobles could not withstand the incessant Serbian attacks for a long time. In 1343, Dušan’s forces had managed to gain territories of Old Albania with its centre Kruja. Since 1346, Stefan Dušan had started to be called “the emperor of Romania, Slavonia and Albania.” He annexed Epirus, Thessaly, thereby establishing a new Balkan empire whose borders started at the Danube and ended in Corinth Bay on the Aegean. Several foreign peoples, Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Vlachs became part of the Serbian Empire.

Serbian feudal lords acquired massive territories which were seized from the native population. The French Archbishop of Bar, Guillaume Adam, wrote in 1332: “Albanians are gravely oppressed by the unbearable and hard yoke of the much-hated Serbian rulers…The clergy is humiliated and persecuted; nobles have their properties removed and imprisoned.”
Stefan Dušan’s Code, the main document which provided for the economic, political and judicial relations with the Empire’s citizens with the authority of an emperor and the Serbian dominant class, also included free rural and farming communities in the feudal relations, by granting them as feudal properties to the Serbian lords.

By the beginning of the second half of the 13th century, Kosovo’s churches and monasteries had been taken over by Serbia and many of them were given large estates. The expansion of the Serbian state toward Kosovo was accompanied with new settlers arriving from the original Serbian (Rasha) territories. Entire chapters of Stefan Dušan’s Code and explicit orders provided for stringent measures including wealth sequestration, physical mutilation, expulsion and punishments with death for Catholics and Orthodox refusing to convert to Serbian Orthodoxy and be re-baptised, acquiring new Slavic names. These actions resulted in the religious name changes to Slavic names for certain classes of the Albanian population.
Stefan Dušan’s occupation worsened causing economic, social and ethnic results which were met with severe resistance by Albanians. An anti-Serbian rebellion led by Dhimtër Suma began in 1332. Its expansion prompted the Archbishop of Bar, Guillaume Adam, to plan the organization of an anti-Serbian crusade which would be supported by the crucial contribution of Albanian insurgents in the north.

Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë, Instituti i Historisë. Historia e Popullit Shqiptar I. (Tiranë, Toena, 2002), 276-279.

           Articles 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 were Anti-Catholic and, among others, stated: “As per Latin heresy, Christians who had been baptised, had to be reconverted to Christianity. If anyone refused to be reconverted, he was to be punished as written in the Holy Fathers’ laws [article 6] (Новаковић, Законик Стефана Душана, 11). This provision clearly shows the great animosity which the Orthodox rite had against Catholic Church. Considering their rite as a “true or right school” in all the following articles (7, 10, 21), the Orthodox Church used the notion “Christian” in Dushan’s Code only for Orthodox Church believers, while the standard name of Catholic rite for the Orthodox shall be “schismatic” and “Latin heretic.”

Article 7 is directly related with the preceding one and its aim was to contest Catholic propaganda. In this article it was written: “The great church [as Serbian Patriarchate was considered, Gj.B]was to appoint high priests in all cities to convert to Christianity all the Christians who passed into the Latin heresy, and to offer them spiritual guidance so that each is converted in Christianity”. According to the Code’s publisher, Stojan Novaković, and A. Soloyev, its commentator, in today’s language, this can be interpreted as: “Proto-popes of great churches must convert all Latins in every city and village” (Соловјев, Законик, 174-177). Article 8 was directly slanted against Catholic clergy: “If a Latin priest was found trying to convert a Christian into the Latin belief, let him be punished according to the Holy Fathers’ law.” The conflict against Catholicism continued in Article 9, on mixed marriages between Catholics and the Orthodox: “The war against Catholicism”, in article 9, on mixed marriages between Catholics and Orthodox believers, it is stated: “If a half-believer is found to have clandestinely been married to a Christian (Orthodox) woman, he can be baptised as Orthodox; if he rejects to be baptised as Orthodox, then his wife, children and house are to be taken, and he is to be expelled.”. ” Equally, article 10 was concerned with Catholics: “If a heretic is found to be living amongst Christians, he is to be branded with a seal on the cheek with a preheated iron (to be deformed) and be expelled, and if anyone tries to conceal it, he is also be given the seal” (Новаковић, Законик, 153-155).

Ethnic differentiation is clearly explained in the Code’s articles. The use of explicit names for Vlachs and Albanians comes from the fact that these two groups were dissimilar from the Slavs. These articles were invalid or inapplicable for foreign Catholic citizens, such as Saxons, Ragusans, etc., who lived in Kosovo’s noted wealthy mining cities. Even though these inhabitants belonged to the Catholic faith and according to the Code’s terminology could be categorized as “Latin heretics”, they were not included in this category. On the contrary, they had extra privileges. These privileges were everywhere in the Code and were particularly mentioned as “inhabitants with a different religion” (article 10). As such, they were not persecuted or oppressed, neither them nor their churches.

Source: http://www.kallnori.org/2017/07/12/prof-gjon-berisha-arberoret-ne-kodin-e-dushanit/

           Stefan Dušan created a “Canon Law” which stated:

Regarding Latin heresy and those who encourage firm believers toward that belief, if such person does not want to alter his faith…he shall be punished with death. The Orthodox emperor must wipe every single heretic from his country. The wealth of those who reject conversion will be confiscated. Heretical priests of other beliefs who try to make new conversions shall be punished in the mines or will be expelled. Heretical churches will be sanctified and their doors opened to Orthodox priests…If any Latin priest is caught trying to convert an Orthodox, he shall be punished with death.

As soon as he learned the Pope was attempting to form a confederation consisting of all the powers against the Turks, he pushed back from his desire to become the leader of that League, and he (Stefan Dušan) pretended he had accepted Catholicism. He subsequently ordered Catholic priests to enjoy the utmost freedom in carrying out their functions. Content with his conversion, Pope Innocent II sent two legates whom Stefan hosted ceremonially. Nevertheless, convinced that his kingdom of several million inhabitants would oppose him if he tried converting, he stopped the legates from performing their services in Latin. The Pope, seeing he was deceived by Dušan, forced the king of Hungary to declare war on Dušan; after Dušan was defeated, he was taken prisoner and was enforced to accept the Pope’s authority. As soon as he did that, he was freed and overwhelmed with splendid gifts.

Edwin Jacques. Shqiptarët historia e popullit shqipar nga lashtësia deri në ditët e sotme. (Tiranë, Kartë e Pendë, 1998), 191-192.

  The Code of Tsar Sefan Dusan

            On the Vlachs and Albanians

In a village where a Vlach or an Albanian stay, another following him shall not stay in that village. If that one stay by force, let him pay a fine and for the grass he has grazed.


Was the… process of assimilation (to the Serb population) happening to the Albanians ? … Modern Albanian writers have made much of the fact that the chrysobulls (Codes) demonstrate the presence of people described as Albanians in medieval Kosovo; but if the evidence of these documents is all that can be relied on, then the conclusions must be that the Albanians were a declining minority …

Albanians played a major role: the army Dusan used to conquer northern Greece consisted mainly of Albanians, who were taking revenge on the Byzantines for earlier attacks on their territory, and this conquest was followed by migration into Greece of large numbers of Albanians and Albanian Vlachs.

Noel Malcom, Kosovo, A Short History, London, 1998, pp 48 and 55.