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Serbia's strategic location between two continents has subjected it to invasions by many peoples. Belgrade is believed to have been leveled to the ground by 30 different armies in recorded history. Contemporary Serbia comprises the classical regions of Moesia, Pannonia, parts of Dalmatia, Dacia and Macedonia. Under nominal Serbian rule since the 7th century (having been allowed to settle in Byzantium by its emperor Heraclius after their victory over the Avars),through early history various parts of the territory of modern Serbia have been claimed or ruled by: the Roman Empire (conquered the indigenous Celts and Illyrians); the Western- and the Eastern Roman Empires (challenged by the incursions of the Huns, the Ostrogoths, the Gepidae, the Sarmatians, the Avars, the Serbs, the Frankish Kingdom, the Great Moravia, the Bulgarians). No less than 17 Roman Emperors were born in Serbia.

Medieval Serb kingdoms and the Empire

Serbs formed their first unified state under the Vlastimirovic dynasty by 812, at times disrupted by the wars with the aforementioned states. By the beginning of the 14th century Serbs lived in four distinctly independent kingdoms- Dioclea, Rascia, Bosnia and Syrmia.
At first heavily dependent on the Byzantine Empire as its tributary, in time the most powerful of the Serb states -Raška (Rascia) achieved full independence, overtaking the Kingdom of Duklja, which had previously dominated the Serbian lands between 11-12th centuries. The centre of the Serb world (Raska, Duklja, Travunia, Zahumlje, Pagania and Bosnia) moved northwards, further from the Adriatic coast. Although fully converted already by 865 AD,this relocation to the north and east also meant the shift towards the Eastern Orthodox rather than Catholic faith (initially predominant in the south following the East-West Schism).

The Serbian apogee in economy, law, military, and religion took place during the rule of the House of Nemanjić between 1166 and 1371; the Serbian Kingdom was proclaimed in 1217, joined later by the Kingdom of Syrmia, Banovina of Mačva and Bosnia; finally, the Serbian Empire of Stefan Dušan was formed in 1346. Under Dušan's rule, Serbia reached its territorial peak, becoming one of the larger states in Europe. The renowned Dušan's Code, a universal system of laws, was enforced.

As a result of internal struggle between rival noble families, and heavy losses inflicted by the Ottomans in the epic Battle of Kosovo, the Serbian Empire had dissolved into many statelets by the beginning of the 15th century. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, constant struggles between various Serbian kingdoms on one side, and the Ottoman Empire on the other side, took place. The Serbian Despotate fell in 1459 following the siege of the "temporary" capital Smederevo, followed by Bosnia a few years later, and Herzegovina in 1482. Montenegro was overtaken by 1499. Belgrade was the last major Balkan city to endure Ottoman onslaughts, as it joined the Catholic Kingdom of Hungary. Serbs, Hungarians and European crusaders heavily defeated the Turkish in Siege of Belgrade of 1456. Several Serbian despots ruled in parts of Vojvodina as vassals of the Hungarian kings with the title of Hungarian barons.

After repelling Ottoman attacks for over 70 years, Belgrade finally fell in 1521, alongside the greater part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Conversion to Islam was increased, especially in the southwest (Raška, Kosovo and Bosnia).

Ottoman/Austrian rule

Early modern period saw the loss of Serbia's independence to the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, interrupted shortly by the revolutionary state of the Emperor Jovan Nenad in the 16th century. Modern times witnessed the rise of the Habsburg Monarchy (known as the Austrian Empire, later Austria-Hungary), which fought many wars against the Ottoman Turks for supremacy over Serbia. Three Austrian invasions and numerous rebellions (such as the Banat Uprising) constantly challenged the Ottoman rule. Vojvodina endured a century long Ottoman occupation before ceded to Habsburg Empire in the 17th-18th centuries by the decision of the Treaty of Karlowitz (Sremski Karlovci). As the Great Serb Migrations have depopulated most of Kosovo and Serbia proper, the Serbs seeking refuge in more prosperous (and Christian) North and West were granted imperial rights by the Austrian crown (such as Statuta Wallachorum in 1630). The Ottoman persecutions against Christians culminated with the abolition and plunder of the Patriarchate of Peć in 1766. As the Ottoman rule in the South grew ever more brutal, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold formally granted the Serbs the right to their autonomous crownland, speeding up their migrations into Austria.

Serbian revolution and independence (Principality of Serbia)

The quest for independence of Serbia began during the Serbian national revolution (1804-1817), and it lasted for several decades. During the First Serbian Uprising led by Karađorđe Petrović, Serbia was independent for almost a decade before the Ottoman army could reoccupy the country. Shortly after this, the Second Serbian Uprising began; led by Miloš Obrenović, it ended in 1815 with a compromise between the Serbian revolutionary army and the Ottoman authorities. Famous German historian Leopold von Ranke published his book "the Serbian revolution" (1829). They were the easternmost bourgeois revolutions in the 19th-century world. Likewise, Principality of Serbia abolished feudalism- second in Europe after France.

The Convention of Ackerman (1828), the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) and finally, the Hatt-i Sharif of 1830, recognised the suzerainty of Serbia with Miloš Obrenović I as its hereditary Prince.The struggle for liberty, modern society and a nation-state in Serbia was crowned by the first constitution in the Balkans on 15 February 1835 (replaced by a more conservative Constitution in 1838). In two following decades (temporarily ruled by the Karadjordjevic dynasty) the Principality actively supported the neigbouring Habsburg Serbs, especially during the 1848 revolutions. Interior minister Ilija Garašanin published The Draft (of the South Slavic unification), which became the stand point of Serbian foreign policy from mid- 19th century onwards.

Following the clashes between the Ottoman army and civilians in Belgrade in 1862 and pressured by the Great Powers, by 1867 the last Turkish soldiers left the Principality. By enacting a new constitution without consulting the Porte, Serbian diplomats confirmed the de facto independence of the country. In 1876, Montenegro and Serbia declared war against the Ottoman Empire, proclaiming their unification with Bosnia. Formal independence of the country was internationally recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, which formally ended the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78; this treaty, however, prohibited Serbia from uniting with Principality of Montenegro, and placed Bosnia and Raška region under Austro-Hungarian occupation to prevent the unification from happening.

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