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8-08-2015, 00:26

The rise of the nemanjids of serbia

With the collapse of the Byzantine empire Serbia’s hour had come, although western interference inDalmatia tended to drive the Serbian empire’s centre of gravity further inland. A prime example of this interference was theVenetians’ assertion of at least nominal lordship over Dubrovnik in 1205. Under pressure from an aggressive Hungary, and aware of the papacy’s aspirations underHonorius III (1216–27), veliki ˇzupan Stefan revived Kalojan’s policies of fifteen years earlier, receiving a royal crown from the papal legate in 1217. Henceforth he would bear the sobriquet prvovenˇcani, ‘the first-crowned’. But the Serbs’ ambivalent outlook is clear fromthe fact that in 1219 the king’s brother Sava, an Athonite monk, approached the autocephalous archbishop ofNicaea, seeking consecration as autocephalous archbishop of Serbia. This was not simply a question of remaining staunchly orthodox, but of seeing in Nicaea the only authentic remnant of the old empire. Sava and Stefan ‘the first-crowned’ would have been well aware that normal practice would have been for them to respect the archbishop of Ohrid’s authority over Serbia. This would have brought them within the sphere of the despots of Epiros, over-mighty neighbours with an apparently unstoppable programme of expansion. As it was, Stefan had had to provide guarantees to the Epirots, betrothing his son and heir Stefan Radoslav (1227–33) to the daughter of the Epirot ruler Theodore Angelos (1215–30),33 who himself took control of Thessaloniki in 1224.34 The Bulgarians for their part were not to forget this alliance with their own worst enemy. Upon the succession of Stefan Radoslav, the alliance between Serbia and Epiros appeared to be sealed; the Serbian church accepted that it was subordinate to the powerful archbishop ofOhrid,Demetrios Chomatenos, thus abandoning Sava’s act of defiance of 1219 (see above, p. 742).However, the Epirot despots’ expansionism could only irritate the Serbs, who, like the Bulgarians, were bewitched by dreams of eventually establishing themselves on the shores of the Aegean and the Adriatic. Around the time of his coronation Stefan ‘the first-crowned’ annexed the area of Pe´c, even though the Serbs had yet to establish their rule throughout what is now Kosovo.35 In 1225 Theodore Angelos managed to expel the Latins from easternMacedonia, while respecting the small Bulgarian principality ofMelnik. He swept from victory to victory along the coast of Thrace, gaining control of Kavalla, Xanthi, Gratianopolis, Mosynopolis and Didymoteichon; he even reachedAdrianople, where he drove out the newly installedNicaeans.36 Now that he was a neighbour of the Bulgarian kingdom, Theodore realised that the Bulgarian threat to his rear could jeopardise his grand plan, which was for the capture of Constantinople itself. So he devised a tactical alliance with Ivan II Asen of Bulgaria who had regained power in 1218 and who now consented to the marriage of his illegitimate daughter, Maria Beloslava, with Theodore’s brotherManuel. This meant that Epiros and Bulgaria were forging an axis in opposition to Nicaea, but also, indirectly, against Serbia.