Battle of Kosovo

The Battle of Kosovo (Turkish: Kosova Savaşı; Serbian: Косовска битка) took place on 15 June 1389[A] between an army led by the Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović and an invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr. The battle was fought on the Kosovo field in the territory ruled by Serbian nobleman Vuk Branković, in what is today Kosovo, about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) northwest of the modern city of Pristina. The army under Prince Lazar consisted of his own troops, a contingent led by Branković, and a contingent sent from Bosnia by King Tvrtko I, commanded by Vlatko Vuković.[6] The Albanian ruler Teodor II Muzaka also fought in the battle on the Serbian side in which he died.[7] Prince Lazar was the ruler of Moravian Serbia and the most powerful among the Serbian regional lords of the time, while Branković ruled the District of Branković and other areas, recognizing Lazar as his overlord.

Battle of Kosovo
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe and the Serbian-Ottoman Wars
Date15 June[A] 1389
Location42°43′03″N 21°05′06″E / 42.71750°N 21.08500°E / 42.71750; 21.08500


  • Tactical draw
  • Mutual heavy losses
  • Depletion of Serbian available manpower in future campaigns[6]
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Ottoman Empire Murad I 
Ottoman Empire Şehzade Bayezid
Ottoman Empire Yakub Çelebi Executed

Coat of arms of Moravian Serbia.svg Prince Lazar 
Coat of arms of Branković family (small).svg Vuk Branković
Грб Вуковића.png Vlatko Vuković
Armoiries de l'Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem.svg John of Palisna (most probably)

Coat of arms of the Muzaka Family.svg Teodor II Muzaka [7]
higher estimate up to 40,000[8]
higher estimate up to 25,000
Casualties and losses
Very heavy losses[1][9] Very heavy losses[1][10]
Battle of Kosovo is located in Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo
Location within Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo is located in Serbia
Battle of Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo (Serbia)
Battle of Kosovo is located in Balkans
Battle of Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo (Balkans)

Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce.[11] The bulk of both armies were wiped out, and Lazar and Murad were killed. However, Serbian manpower was depleted and had no capacity to field large armies against future Ottoman campaigns, which relied on new reserve forces from Anatolia. Consequently, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals, became so in the following years.


Emperor Stefan Uroš IV Dušan "the Mighty" (r. 1331–55) was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V "the Weak" (r. 1355–71), whose reign was characterized by the decline of central power and the rise of numerous virtually independent principalities; this period is known as the fall of the Serbian Empire. Uroš V was neither able to sustain the great empire created by his father, nor repulse foreign threats and limit the independence of the nobility; he died childless on 4 December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been destroyed by the Ottomans in the Battle of Maritsa earlier that year. Prince Lazar, ruler of the northern part of the former empire (of Moravian Serbia), was aware of the Ottoman threat and began diplomatic and military preparations for a campaign against them.

After the defeat of the Ottomans at Pločnik (1386) and Bileća (1388), Murad I, the reigning Ottoman sultan, moved his troops from Philippoupolis to Ihtiman (modern Bulgaria) in the spring of 1388. From there they traveled across Velbužd and Kratovo (modern North Macedonia). Though longer than the alternative route through Sofia and the Nišava Valley, this led the Ottoman forces to Kosovo, one of the most important crossroads in the Balkans. From Kosovo, they could attack the lands of either Prince Lazar or Vuk Branković. Having stayed in Kratovo for a time, Murad and his troops marched through Kumanovo, Preševo, and Gjilan to Pristina, where he arrived on June 14.

While there is less information about Lazar's preparations, he gathered his troops near Niš, on the right bank of the South Morava. His forces likely remained there until he learned that Murad had moved to Velbužd, whereupon he moved across Prokuplje to Kosovo. This was the best place he could choose as a battlefield, as it gave him control of all the routes that Murad could take. The historiographical examination of the battle is challenging. No first-hand accounts from participants in the battle exist. Contemporary sources are written from widely diverging points of view and not much is discussed in them about battle tactics, army size and other battleground details.[12]

Army composition

Estimates about army size vary, but the Ottoman army was larger. It is likely that the army led by Lazar had 12,000/15,000 to 20,000 troops against 27,000 - 30,000 led by Murad.[13][14] A higher estimate places the size of Murad's army up to 40,000 and Lazar's up to 25,000 troops.[8] Ottoman historian Mehmed Neşri who authored the first detailed report in Ottoman historiography about the battle of Kosovo in 1521 represents the Ottoman imperial narrative. As an Ottoman Sultan died before or during the battle, the size of the Christian army is presented as significantly larger in Ottoman sources. Neşri placed it at around 500,000, double the size of the Ottoman army.[15] Regardless of the exact army size, the battle of Kosovo was one of the large battles of late medieval times. In comparison, in the battle of Agincourt (1415) even by assuming the higher estimate of army size as correct, around 10,000 less soldiers were engaged.[13]

Murad's army included no more than 2,000 Janissaries,[16] The Ottoman army was supported by auxiliary troops from the Anatolian Turkoman Beylik of Isfendiyar.[17] Murad's army may have also included Christians: Catalans, Greeks and Italians.[18][19]

Lazar's army included large contingents from his principality and that of Vuk Branković. Along with Serb troops, a Christian coalition from nearby Christian principalities and kingdoms formed. Bosnians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and Hungarians fought in the army led by Lazar.[20][19] Tvrtko I of Bosnia had concluded an anti-Ottoman defensive pact with Lazar and Vuk Branković and sent Vlatko Vuković as commander of the Bosnian forces in Kosovo.[21][22] Groups of crusaders linked to the Knights of Rhodes under a Domine Johanne Bano are mentioned as fighting in the battle in Annales Forolivienses. Domine Johanne Bano most probably refers to John of Palisna, although identification with a John Horvath has also been proposed.[23] Dhimitër Jonima, Teodor II Muzaka, Andrea Gropa and other Albanian aristocrats have been suggested as participants in the battle.[24][25][26][27][28] Of those, Teodor Muzaka verifiably fought and died in the battle.[7] Himariotes and other Albanians from Epirus and the coast participated at the Battle of Kosovo.[29] Based on Neşri's account, Đurađ II Balšić has also been linked to the Christian coalition which fought in the battle of Kosovo. The hypothesis about his participation is considered to be "almost entirely false" as he had become an Ottoman vassal; he was in hostility with Lazar's ally Tvrtko I; and at the time of the battle he was most likely in Ulcinj.[30]

Troop deployment

Troop disposition

The armies met at the Kosovo field. Murad headed the Ottoman army, with his sons Bayezid on his right and Yakub on his left. Around 1,000 archers were in the front line in the wings, backed up by azap and akinci; in the front center were Janissaries, behind whom was Murad, surrounded by his cavalry guard; finally, the supply train at the rear was guarded by a small number of troops.[citation needed] One of the Ottoman commanders was Pasha Yiğit Bey.[31]

The Serbian army had Prince Lazar at its center, Vuk on the right, and Vlatko on the left. At the front of the army were the heavy cavalry and archer cavalry on the flanks, with the infantry to the rear. While parallel, the dispositions of the armies were not symmetrical, as the Serbian center had a broader front than the Ottoman center.[citation needed]


Plan of the battle

Serbian and Turkish accounts of the battle differ, making it difficult to reconstruct the course of events. It is believed that the battle commenced with Ottoman archers shooting at Serbian cavalry, who then made ready for the attack. After positioning in a wedge formation,[32] the Serbian cavalry managed to break through the Ottoman left wing, but were not as successful against the center and the right wing.

The Serbs had the initial advantage after their first charge, which significantly damaged the Ottoman wing commanded by Yakub Çelebi.[33] When the knights' charge was finished, light Ottoman cavalry and light infantry counterattacked and the Serbian heavy armor became a disadvantage. In the center, Serbian troops managed to push back Ottoman forces, except for Bayezid's wing, which barely held off the Bosnians commanded by Vlatko Vuković. Vuković thus inflicted disproportionately heavy losses on the Ottomans. The Ottomans, in a ferocious counterattack led by Bayezid, pushed the Serbian forces back and then prevailed later in the day, routing the Serbian infantry. Both flanks still held, with Vuković's Bosnian troops drifting toward the center to compensate for the heavy losses inflicted on the Serbian infantry.

Historical facts say that Vuk Branković saw that there was no hope for victory and fled to save as many men as he could after Lazar was captured. In traditional songs, however, it is said that he betrayed Lazar and left him to die in the middle of battle, rather than after Lazar was captured and the center suffered heavy losses.

Sometime after Branković's retreat from the battle, the remaining Bosnian and Serb forces yielded the field, believing that a victory was no longer possible.

As the battle turned against the Serbs, it is said that one of their knights, later identified as Miloš Obilić, pretended to have deserted to the Ottoman forces. When brought before Murad, Obilić pulled out a hidden dagger and killed the Sultan by slashing him, after which the Sultan's bodyguards immediately killed him.


Early reports

Miloš Obilić, the alleged assassin of Sultan Murad I.

The event of the battle quickly became known in Europe. Not much attention was paid to the outcome in these early rumors which circulated, but they all focused on the fact that the Ottoman Sultan had been killed in the battle. Some of the earliest reports about the battle come from the court of Tvrtko of Bosnia who in separate letters to the senate of Trogir (August 1) and the council of Florence claimed that he had defeated the Ottomans in Kosovo.[34] The response of the Florentines to Tvrtko (20 October 1389) is an important historical document as it confirms that Murad was killed during the battle and that it took place on June 28 (St. Vitus day/Vidovdan). The killer is not named, but it was one of 12 Serbian noblemen who managed to break through the Ottoman lines:

Fortunate, most fortunate are those hands of the twelve loyal lords who, having opened their way with the sword and having penetrated the enemy lines and the circle of chained camels, heroically reached the tent of Murat himself. Fortunate above all is that one who so forcefully killed such a strong vojvoda by stabbing him with a sword in the throat and belly. And blessed are all those who gave their lives and blood through the glorious manner of martyrdom as victims of the dead leader over his ugly corpse.[35]

Another Italian account, Mignanelli's work of 1416, asserted that it was Lazar who killed the Ottoman sultan.[36]

Geopolitical consequences

Both armies were destroyed in the battle.[6] Both Lazar and Murad lost their lives, and the remnants of their armies retreated from the battlefield. Murad's son Bayezid killed his younger brother, Yakub Çelebi, upon hearing of their father's death, thus becoming the sole heir to the Ottoman throne.[37] The Serbs were left with too few men to defend their lands effectively, while the Turks had many more troops in the east.[6] The immediate effect of the depletion of Serbian manpower was a shift in the stance of Hungarian policy towards Serbia. Hungary tried to exploit the effects of battle and expand in northern Serbia, while the Ottomans renewed their campaign in southern Serbia as early as 1390-91. Domestically, the Serbian feudal class in response to these threats split in two factions. A northern faction supported a conciliatory, pro-Ottoman foreign policy as a means of defence of their lands against Hungary, while a southern faction which was immediately threatened by Ottoman expansion sought to establish a pro-Hungarian foreign policy. Consequently, some of the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals became so in the following years.[6] These feudal lords - including the daughter of Prince Lazar - formed marriage ties with the new Sultan Bayezid.[38][39][40] In the wake of these marriages, Stefan Lazarević, Lazar's son, became a loyal ally of Bayezid, and contributed significant forces to many of Bayezid's future military engagements, including the Battle of Nicopolis. Some Serbian feudal lords continued to fight against the Ottomans and others were integrated in the Ottoman feudal hierarchy. The capture of Smederevo on June 20, 1459 marks the end of medieval Serbian statehood.[41]


Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870).
Turkish armor during battles of Marica and Kosovo.

The Battle of Kosovo is particularly important to Serbian history, tradition and national identity.[42]

The day of the battle, known in Serbian as Vidovdan (St. Vitus' day) and celebrated according to the Julian calendar (corresponding to 28 June Gregorian in the 20th and 21st centuries), is an important part of Serb ethnic and national identity,[43] with notable events in Serbian history falling on that day: in 1876 Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire (Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–78); in 1881 Austria-Hungary and the Principality of Serbia signed a secret alliance; in 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was carried out by the Serbian Gavrilo Princip (although a coincidence that his visit fell on that day, Vidovdan added nationalist symbolism to the event[44]); in 1921 King Alexander I of Yugoslavia proclaimed the Vidovdan Constitution; in 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the battle, Serbian president Slobodan Milošević delivered the Gazimestan speech on the site of the historic battle.

The Tomb of Sultan Murad, a site in Kosovo Polje where Murad I's internal organs were buried, has gained a religious significance for local Muslims. A monument was built by Murad I's son Bayezid I at the tomb, becoming the first example of Ottoman architecture in the Kosovo territory.[citation needed]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^
    Date: Some sources attempt to give the date as June 28 in the New-Style Gregorian calendar, but that was not adopted until 1582, and did not apply retrospectively (but see Proleptic Gregorian calendar). Moreover, the proleptic Gregorian date of the battle is June 23, not 28. Nevertheless, anniversaries of the battle are still celebrated on June 15 Julian (Vidovdan, that is St. Vitus' Day in the calendar of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is still Julian), which corresponds to June 28 Gregorian in the 20th and 21st centuries.[citation needed]
  1. ^ a b c (Fine 1994, p. 410)

    Thus since the Turks also withdrew, one can conclude that the battle was a draw.

  2. ^ (Emmert 1990, p. ?)

    Surprisingly enough, it is not even possible to know with certainty from the extant contemporary material whether one or the other side was victorious on the field. There is certainly little to indicate that it was a great Serbian defeat; and the earliest reports of the conflict suggest, on the contrary, that the Christian forces had won.

  3. ^ Waley, Daniel; Denley, Peter (2013). Later Medieval Europe: 1250-1520. Routledge. p. 255. ISBN 978-1-317-89018-8. The outcome of the battle itself was inconclusive.
  4. ^ Oliver, Ian (2005). War and Peace in the Balkans: The Diplomacy of Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia. I.B.Tauris. p. vii. ISBN 978-1-85043-889-2. Losses on both sides were appalling and the outcome inconclusive although the Serbs never fully recovered.
  5. ^ Binns, John (2002). An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches. Cambridge University Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-521-66738-8. The battle is remembered as a heroic defeat, but historical evidence suggests an inconclusive draw.
  6. ^ a b c d e (Fine 1994, pp. 409–411)
  7. ^ a b c Petta 2000, p. 123:Giovanni Musacchi esule in Italia, provano la contemporanea presenza di rami cristiani e musulmanio; e accadde anzi che i figli di un Teodoro Musacchi, caduto nel 1389 sul campo di battaglia di Kosovo, dove aveva combattuto a fianco dei serbi, divenissero musulmani, e che uno di loro, già sangiacco di Albania, cadesse nel 1442 combattendo contro gli ungheresi.
  8. ^ a b Cox 2002, p. 30:The Ottoman army probably numbered between 30,000 and 40,000. They faced something like 15,000 to 25,000 Eastern Orthodox soldiers. [...] Accounts from the period after the battle depict the engagement at Kosovo as anything from a draw to a Christian victory.
  9. ^ Emmert 1991, p. 4.
  10. ^ Humphreys 2013, p. 46.
  11. ^ "ИСТОРИЈА КОЈУ НИСМО УЧИЛИ НА ЧАСОВИМА: Милош Обилић је био турски заточник, али јесте убио Мурата на Косову".
  12. ^ Emmert 1991, p. 3:The historian is faced with a difficult problem when he attempts to discover what occurred in the Battle of Kosovo. There are no eyewitness accounts of the battle, and rather significant differences exist among those contemporary sources which do mention the event.
  13. ^ a b Humphreys 2013, p. 46:But what can be said with some certainly is that on Vidovdan 1389 the Serbian Tzar Lazar with an army estimated at 15,000 – 20,000 troops faced an Ottoman army of 27,000 – 30,000, led by Sultan Murad on Kosovo Polje (Field of the Blackbirds) near Pristina. Let there be no doubt that these were large armies; the famous Battle of Agincourt – fought some three decades later in 1415 – was contested by forces whose numbers are estimated at 6,000-9,000 on one side and 12,000-30,000 (much the biggest estimate) on the other.
  14. ^ Sedlar 2013, p. 244:Nearly the entire Serbian fighting force (between 12,000 and 20,000 men) had been present at Kosovo, while the Ottomans (with 27,000 to 30,000 on the battlefield) retained numerous reserves in Anatolia.
  15. ^ Emmert 1991, p. 11.
  16. ^ Hans-Henning Kortüm (2006). Transcultural wars from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. Akademie. p. 231. ISBN 978-3-05-004131-5. But having been established under Murad I (1362-1389), essentially as a bodyguard, the Janissaries cannot have been present in large numbers at Nicopolis (there were no more than 2,000 at Kosovo in 1389)
  17. ^ Karpat, Kemal H.; Zens, Robert W. (2003). Ottoman Borderlands: Issues, Personalities, and Political Changes. Center of Turkish Studies, University of Wisconsin. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-299-20024-4. Troops of his emirate seconded Murad I in the battle of Kosovo Polje (1389), as indicated in the "Book of Victory" (Fatih-name) issued by Bayezid the Thunderbolt.
  18. ^ Cox 2002, p. 29.
  19. ^ a b Humphreys 2013, p. 46:Both armies – and this is a fact that is ignored by the hagiographic telling – contained soldiers of various origins; Bosnians, Albanians, Hungarians, Greeks, Bulgars, perhaps even Catalans (on the Ottoman side).
  20. ^ Cox 2002, p. 29
  21. ^ Emmert 1991, p. 3:Given the divisiveness among Serbian lords which generally characterized the decades following Dusan's death, the fact that Lazar, Vuk, and Tvrtko were able to conclude an alliance against the Turks was reason for at least some optimism.
  22. ^ Humphreys 2013, p. 47.
  23. ^ Budak 2001, p. 287.
  24. ^ Miranda Vickers, A History of Kosovo |quote=But in spite of this a large coalition army led by Serbian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Bosnian and Albanian nobles gathered on the wide plain of Kosovo to confront the Ottoman army. Albanian princes were at that time close allies of the Serbs, the result of their shared desire to oppose the Ottomans. In many districts the Slavonic and Albanian elements existed side-by-side, and numerous examples are known of close economic and political ties between Serbs and Albanians during the medieval period.
  25. ^ Serge Métais, Histoire des Albanais, Fayard, 2006.
  26. ^ Ангелов, Д., Чолпанов, Б. Българска военна история през Средновековието (X-XV век), Издателство на БАН, София 1994, стр. 235
  27. ^ "1515 | John Musachi: Brief Chronicle on the Descendants of our Musachi Dynasty". Archived from the original on 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2012-02-13. Lazar (6), the Despot of Serbia, and King Marko of Bulgaria and Theodore Musachi, the second-born of our family, and the other Lords of Albania united and set off for battle, which the Christians lost (7).
  28. ^ Muhadri, Bedrı (2021-03-29). "The Battle of Kosovo 1389 and the Albanians". Tarih Ve Gelecek Dergisi. 7 (1): 436–452. doi:10.21551/jhf.898751. S2CID 233651440. The famous Albanian prince, Teodor Muzaka II, was killed in this battle, as well as many other Albanian comrades.
  29. ^ Di Lellio, Anna (2006). The Case for Kosova: Passage to Independence. Anthem Press. p. 32.
  30. ^ Malcolm, Noel (1998). Kosovo: A Short History. London: Macmillan. p. 62
  31. ^ Evliya Çelebi; Hazim Šabanović (1996). Putopisi: odlomci o jugoslovenskim zemljama. Sarajevo-Publishing. p. 280. Retrieved 26 July 2013. Paša Jigit- -beg, koji se prvi put pominje kao jedan između turskih komandanata u kosovskoj bici.
  32. ^ Slavomir Nastasijevic (1987). Vitezi Kneza Lazara. Narodna Knjiga Beograd. pp. 187–. ISBN 8633100150. Serbian heavy cavalry took V wedge shape charge position breaking through Ottoman infantry and light cavalry.
  33. ^ (Emmert 1991, p. ?)[page needed]
  34. ^ Emmert 1991, p. 3
  35. ^ Wayne S. Vucinich, Thomas A. Emmert (1991). Kosovo: Legacy of a Medieval Battle. University of Minnesota. ISBN 9789992287552.
  36. ^ Sima M. Ćirković (1990). Kosovska bitka u istoriografiji: Redakcioni odbor Sima Ćirković (urednik izdanja) [... et al.]. Zmaj. p. 38. Retrieved 11 September 2013. Код Мињанелиjа, кнез је претходно заробл - ен и принуЬен да Мурату положи заклетву верности! и тада је један од њих, кажу да је то био Лазар, зарио Мурату мач у прса
  37. ^ Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire: The Structure of Power, 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. 85. ISBN 0-230-57451-3.
  38. ^ Vamik D. Volkan (1998). Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism. Westview Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-8133-9038-3.
  39. ^ Donald Quataert (11 August 2005). The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-521-83910-5.
  40. ^ History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey By Stanford Jay Shaw, Ezel Kural Shaw, p. 24
  41. ^ Fine 1994, p. 575.
  42. ^ Isabelle Dierauer (16 May 2013). Disequilibrium, Polarization, and Crisis Model: An International Relations Theory Explaining Conflict. University Press of America. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7618-6106-5.
  43. ^ Đorđević 1990.
  44. ^ Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie 1914–1918, 2013, p. 87


Further reading

External links