Serbian Medieval History

Stefan Uros I (1243-1276)

urosi_icon.jpgThe third son of Stefan Prvovencani in a row to take the Serbian throne, Uros I (pr. OO-rosh) appeared to have been the ablest of them all, and in any event - his rule was longer, more stable, and ultimately more prosperous than those of his elder brothers Radoslav and Vladislav combined. For one thing, he led a more independent foreign policy than the two, who were forced (or chose) to exercise policies that relied heavily on their Epeirote Greek and Bulgarian neighbors, respectively. To be sure, the regional and international situation had objectively changed as well, as Uros I acceded to the throne in the wake the Tatar invasions; their devastation affected all of southeastern Europe, but was more pronounced in Hungary and (in particular) Bulgaria.

Foreign conflagrations during this rather long reign were mostly limited to those with Dubrovnik over the littoral Hum area and its surroundings during the early 1250s, and with Hungarians over the northwestern province of Macva in 1268; none of them resulted in significant changes. As a result, Uros was free to concentrate on issues of internal policy and state prosperity, which he ably proceeded to do. Economic growth was obvious, and a direct result of the renewed exploitation of rich mines (silver and gold, but also iron, copper, and lead), and the trade activity and monetary economy that followed it. Specifically, the operation of the earliest mines of Brskovo (near present-day Kolasin in Montenegro) and Rudnik in central Serbia (Sumadija) is relatively well documented, and these were also the sites from which the first standard minting of silver coinage (originally after the Venetian monetary system) commenced. The mining settlements and marketplaces became veritable townships, changing the rural landscape of some Serbian areas. Saxon miners, Ragusan traders, and other distinct ethno-economic groups with specific roles in this process were stimulated by appropriate privileges.

Overall, king Uros appears to have favored a strong central government, and accordingly reduced the number and importance of regional power posts. The state's fabric was further strengthened by continued close ties with the Orthodox Church, which is exemplified by the appointment of Uros' third brother Predislav to the leading position in the Serbian Church, as Archbishop Sava II. Yet, he understood the need to maintain a delicate balance throughout his mixed realm, and he displayed religious tolerance as a further basis for state unity; there is a memorable quote by a 1247 assembly of his coastal Catholic subjects in the city of Bar stating that "we don't need the Pope, King Uros is our pope!".

Uros I was overthrown in 1276 by his elder son Dragutin; he was allowed to retire to a monastery in Zahumlje, where he became monk Simeon, and died a couple of years later. His main endowment - the Sopocani monastery with its original architecture and stunning fresco gallery - remains to this day one of the recognized gems of medieval European art and beyond. He was survived by his longtime wife, the influential and popular queen Jelena (Helen) D' Anjou, who died at an advanced age in 1314, and whose benefaction and pious deeds eventually also gained her canonization by the Serbian Church. 


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