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History of Serbia (1804–1918)

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Title: History of Serbia (1804–1918)  
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Subject: History of Serbia, Serbian Grand Principality, Central Serbia, White Serbia, Prehistoric sites in Serbia
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History of Serbia (1804–1918)

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The history of Modern Serbia began with the fight for liberation from the Ottoman occupation in 1804 (Serbian Revolution). The establishment of modern Serbia was marked by the hard fought autonomy from the Ottoman Empire in the First Serbian Uprising in 1804 and the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815, though Turkish troops continued to garrison the capital, Belgrade until 1867. Those revolutions revived the Serbian pride and gave them hope that their Empire might come into reality again. In 1829 Greece was given complete independence and Serbia was given its autonomy, which made her semi-independent from Turkey.

During the Revolutions of 1848, the Serbs in the Austrian Empire proclaimed Serbian autonomous province known as Serbian Vojvodina. By a decision of the Austrian emperor, in November 1849, this province was transformed into the Austrian crownland known as the Vojvodina of Serbia and Tamiš Banat (Dukedom of Serbia and Tamiš Banat). Against the will of the Serbs, the province was abolished in 1860, but the Serbs from the region gained another opportunity to achieve their political demands in 1918. Today, this region is known as Vojvodina.

Renewed war alongside Russia against the Turks in 1877 brought full independence for Serbia and large territorial gains toward the south-east, including Niš, henceforth Serbia's second largest city (Treaty of Berlin, 1878). Serbian Kingdom was proclaimed in 1882, under King Milan Obrenović IV. Serbia was one of the rare countries at the time that had its own domestic ruling dynasty on the throne (similarly to Italy). However, millions of Serbs still lived outside Serbia, in Austro-Hungarian Empire (Bosnia, Croatia, Vojvodina, Sandžak) and the Ottoman Empire (South Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia).

Karađorđe Petrović, leader of Serbian uprising in 1804

The new country was, like most of the Balkan lands, overwhelmingly agrarian with little in the way of industry or modern infrastructure. The total population rose from a million in the early 19th century to 2.5 million in 1900, when Belgrade contained 100,000 inhabitants (northern part was held by Austro-Hungary), Niš 24,500 and half a dozen other cities 10-15,000 each.

Internal politics revolved largely around the dynastic rivalry between the Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis which was secretly steered by Russian intelligence agents. After the 1903 coup, Serbia was securely in the Russian camp and henceforth followed a policy of irritating Austria-Hungary at every opportunity.

Serbian opposition to Austria-Hungary's October 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a territory Serbia craved for itself, brought about the Bosnian crisis: German and Austro-Hungarian pressure forced Russia to prevail on Serbia (March 31, 1909) to accept the annexation, but Russia undertook to defend Serbia against any future threats to her independence.

Following Bulgaria's independence (October 1908) from Ottoman overlordship and a successful movement by Greek army officers (August 1909) to steer their government onto a more nationalistic course, Serbia joined with the other two countries and her Serb-populated neighbour Montenegro in invading (October 1912) Ottoman-held Macedonia and reducing Turkey-in-Europe to a small region around Constantinople (now Istanbul).

Bulgaria failed in her subsequent attempt (July 1913) to take from her allies territory which she had originally been promised (see Balkan Wars), and to Habsburg alarm at another near-doubling of Serbia's territory was added Bulgarian resentment at having been denied what she saw as her just share of the territorial gains.

Historical map showing Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia in 1897. The borders are result of enlarging of Serbia in 1877 and were unchanged until 1912, except for annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary.
To the north and west, Austria-Hungary; yellow to the east Romania; orange to the east, Bulgaria; to the south Ottoman Turkey; in bottom left corner a piece of Italy; large river in upper right is Danube.

Serbia in World War I

Kingdom of Serbia in 1913

On June 28, 1914, a team of seven assassins awaited the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, at his announced visit in Sarajevo. After Nedeljko Čabrinović's first unsuccessful attack, the Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke and his wife Sophie Chotek.[1] Princip, Čabrinović and their accomplice Trifko Grabež had come from Belgrade; the three told almost all they knew to Austro-Hungarian authorities. Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosić directly and indirectly not only had provided six hand grenades, four Browning Automatic Pistols and ammunition, but also money,[2] suicide pills,[3] training,[4] a special map with the location of gendarmes marked,[5] knowledge of contacts on a special channel used to infiltrate agents and arms into Austria-Hungary,[6] and a small card authorizing the use of that special channel.[7] Major Tankosić confirmed to the historian Luciano Magrini that he provided the bombs and revolvers and was responsible for the self-avowed terrorists’ training, and that he initiated the idea of the suicide pills.[8] From June 30 to July 6 Austria-Hungary and Germany made requests to Serbia directly and her through Serbia's ally Russia to open an inquiry into the plot on Serbian soil but were flatly rejected.[9] In its July Ultimatum from July 23, Austria-Hungary asked Serbia to act in conformity with its March 1909 commitment to the Great Powers to respect the territorial integrity of Austria-Hungary and to maintain good neighborly relations, giving Serbia a 48-hour time limit. Failure to accept these demands would result in the withdrawal of Austria-Hungary's diplomatic legation from Serbia. Serbia drafted a conciliatory response, accepting all the points except point #6, demanding a criminal investigation against those participants in the conspiracy that were present in Serbia, and point #7 to allow an Austrian delegation to participate in the investigation.[10]

Prior to issuing its reply to the Austrian Note, the Serbian army was mobilized. In response, Austria-Hungary withdrew its ambassador. It was reported that Serbian reservist soldiers on tramp steamers fired on Austro-Hungarian troops near Temes-Kubin in Hungary, on July 27. This report was false.[11] However, together with the unsatisfactory Serbian reply to the Austrian Note and the fact that Serbia had mobilized its army before sending the reply, the report convinced the Austrian Foreign Minister, Berchtold, that the problem of Austro-Serbian tension could only be solved by war. War was formally declared on Serbia at noon on July 28, 1914, even though Serbia was not a signatory to the international convention which required this step.

Serbia repulsed three Austro-Hungarian invasions (August, September and November – December 1914), in the last of which Belgrade was held temporarily by the enemy. But during 1915 an epidemic of typhus decimated the Serbian army, and renewed invasion in early October, this time involving also German and Bulgarian forces, resulted in the occupation of the whole country. The remnants of Serbia's armed forces retreated into Albania and Macedonia, where British and French forces had landed at Thessaloniki. Persecutions and deaths followed.

The period of government exile in Macedonia was marked by a significant shift in the balance of political forces. Military leaders associated with what had been the "Black Hand" were arrested, tried, convicted and in three cases executed on false charges (overturned posthumously). The three who were executed directly or obliquely confessed their roles in the Sarajevo assassination. Military circles would henceforth be dominated by the royalist "White Hand" faction of Gen. Petar Živković, later prime minister (1929–1932) of an extra-constitutional monarchical regime.

A successful Allied offensive in September 1918 secured first Bulgaria's surrender and then the liberation of the occupied territories (November 1918). On November 25, the Assembly of Serbs, Bunjevci, and other nations of Vojvodina in Novi Sad voted to join the region to Serbia. Also, on November 29 the National Assembly of Montenegro voted for union with Serbia, and two days later an assembly of leaders of Austria–Hungary's southern Slav regions voted to join the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (For subsequent history, also see history of Yugoslavia). Comparing to the other European countries Serbia had by far the greatest casualties in the war, having over 30% (1,3 million) of its total population perished.


  1. ^ Dedijer, Vladimir. The Road to Sarajevo, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1966, pg 493, Chapter XIV footnote 21
  2. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial, Documentary Publications, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984, pg 59
  3. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial, Documentary Publications, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984, pp 41, 46
  4. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial, Documentary Publications, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984, pp 93–94
  5. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial, Documentary Publications, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984, pp 109–110
  6. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial, Documentary Publications, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984, pg 106
  7. ^ Owings, W.A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial, Documentary Publications, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984, pp 40, 59
  8. ^ Magrini, Luciano. Il Dramma Di Seraievo, Athena Press, Milan, Italy, 1929 pp 94–95
  9. ^ Albertini, Luigi. Origins of the War of 1914, Oxford University Press, London, 1953, Vol II pp. 189-190,273
  10. ^ Albertini, Luigi. Origins of the War of 1914, Oxford University Press, London, 1953, Vol II pp 364-371
  11. ^ Herwig, Holger H. The Marne, 1914, Random House Digital, Inc., 2009, pp 10
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