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Battle of Kosovo

Battle of Kosovo
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe and Serbian-Ottoman Wars

Battle of Kosovo 1389, sixteenth-century Russian miniature
Date June 15,[A] 1389
Location Kosovo field, Branković's Serbia (in present-day Prishtina District, Kosovo[1])
  • Tactically inconclusive[1][2][3][4][5][6]
  • Mutual heavy losses—devastating for the less numerous Serbs[7]
  • Strategic Ottoman victory
Ottoman Empire Moravian Serbia
Branković's Serbia
Kingdom of Bosnia Wallachia[8]
Commanders and leaders
Sultan Murad I  
Bayezid I
Yakub Çelebi

Prince Lazar  
Vuk Branković
Vlatko Vuković

Mircea cel Bătrân[9]
~ 27,000–40,000[B] ~ 12,000–30,000[B]
Casualties and losses
Sultan Murad I and most of the troops[1][2] Prince Lazar and most of the troops[1][2]

The Battle of Kosovo (Serbian: Косовска битка, Kosovska bitka; Turkish: Kosova Meydan Muharebesi) took place on 15 June 1389[A] between the army led by the Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović, and the invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr. The army under Prince Lazar consisted of his own troops, a contingent led by Serbian nobleman Vuk Branković, and a contingent sent from Bosnia by King Tvrtko I, commanded by Vlatko Vuković.[7] Prince Lazar was the ruler of Moravian Serbia, and the most powerful among the Serbian regional lords of the time, while Vuk Branković ruled District of Branković located in a part of Kosovo and other areas, recognizing Lazar as his overlord. The Battle of Kosovo took place in Kosovo Polje in Branković's Serbia, in the present-day Prishtina District of Kosovo.[1] Its site is about 5 kilometers northwest of the modern city of Prishtina.

Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce. The bulk of both armies were wiped out in the battle; both Lazar and Murad lost their lives in it. Although Ottomans managed to annihilate the Serbian army, they also suffered high casualties which delayed their progress. Serbs were left with too few men to effectively defend their lands, while the Turks had many more troops in the east. Consequently, one after the other, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals became so in the following years.


  • Background 1
  • Army composition 2
  • Troop deployment 3
  • Battle 4
  • Aftermath and legacy 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
    • Status of Kosovo 7.1
  • References 8
    • Sources 8.1
    • Further reading 8.2
  • External links 9


Emperor Stefan Uroš IV Dušan the Mighty (r. 1331–55) was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V (r. 1355–71) whose reign was characterized by decline of central power and rise of numerous virtually independent principalities; this period is known as the fall of the Serbian Empire. Uroš the Weak was not able to sustain the great empire created by his father nor to repulse the foreign threats and failed to limit the independence of the nobles. Uroš V died childless on 4 December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been destroyed by the Turks in the Battle of Maritsa earlier that year. Prince Lazar, ruler of Moravian Serbia, aware of the Ottoman threat, began diplomatic and military preparations for a campaign against the Ottomans.

After the defeat of the Ottomans at Pločnik (1386) and Bileća (1388), Murad I, the reigning Ottoman sultan, moved his troops from Philippoupolis (Plovdiv in modern Bulgaria) in the spring of 1388 to Ihtiman. From there, the party traveled across Velbužd (Kyustendil) and Kratovo (present-day Macedonia). Though longer than the alternative route through Sofia and the Nišava Valley, this route led the Ottoman party to Kosovo, one of the most important crossroads in the Balkans. From Kosovo, Murad's party could attack the lands of either Lazar of Serbia or Vuk Branković. Having stayed in Kratovo for a time, Murad and his troops marched through Kumanovo, Preševo and Gjilan to Prishtina, where he arrived on June 14.[10]

While there is less information about Lazar's preparations, he gathered his troops near Niš, on the right bank of the South Morava River. His party likely remained there until he learned that Murad had moved to Velbužd, whereupon he moved across Prokuplje to Kosovo. This was the best place Lazar could choose as a battlefield, as it gave him control of all the routes that Murad could take.[10]

Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce; however, a critical comparison with historically contemporaneous battles (such as Ankara or Nikopolis) enables reliable reconstruction.[10]

Army composition

Murad's army numbered from 27,000 to 40,000 fighters.[B][10] These 40,000 included no more than 2,000 Janissaries,[11] 2,500 of Murad's cavalry guard, 6,000 sipahis, 20,000 azaps and akincis, and 8,000 troops from his vassals.[10] Marko and Dragaš, although Ottoman vassals, did not participate in the battle.[12] The Ottoman army was supported by the forces of the Anatolian Turkoman Beylik of Isfendiyar.[13]

Lazar's army numbered from 12,000 to 30,000.[B] According to a Yugoslav encyclopaedia (1972), there were approximately 30,000 fighters present; 12,000 to 15,000 were under Lazar's command, with 5,000 to 10,000 under Vuk Branković, a Serbian nobleman from Kosovo, and just as many under the nobleman Vlatko Vuković,[10] who had been sent by the Bosnian king Tvrtko I Kotromanić. Also present were Knights Hospitaller led by the Croatian knight John of Palisna.[14] Several thousand were knights.[15] Furthermore, there have been several anachronistical accounts which have mentioned that the "Christian army" of Lazar was far greater, and that it also included contingents of other nations, although these cannot be verified.[C]

Troop deployment

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.[15] One of the Ottoman commanders was Pasha Yiğit Bey.[16]

The Serbian army had Prince Lazar at its center, Vuk on the right and Vlatko on the left. At the front of the Serbian 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.[15]


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,[17] the Serbian cavalry managed to break through the Ottoman left wing, but were not as successful against the center and the right wing.[15]

Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870)

The Serbs had the initial advantage after their first charge, which significantly damaged the Ottoman wing commanded by Yakub Çelebi.[18] When the knights' charge was finished, light Ottoman cavalry and light infantry counter-attacked and the Serbian heavy armour became a disadvantage. In the center, Serbian fighters managed to push back Ottoman forces, except for Bayezid's wing, which barely held off the forces commanded by Vlatko Vuković. Vuković thus inflicted disproportionately heavy losses on the Ottomans. The Ottomans, in a ferocious counter-attack 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 drifting toward the center to compensate for the heavy losses inflicted on the Serbian infantry.

Historic facts say that Vuk Branković had seen that there was no hope for victory, and fled to save as many men as he could. He fled after Lazar was captured, but in songs, it is said that he betrayed Lazar, and left him to death in middle of battle rather than after Lazar was captured and the center suffered heavy loses.

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.

Miloš Obilić, the alleged assassin of Sultan Murad I.

As the battle turned against the Serbs, it is said that one of their knights, who later was 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, upon which the Sultan's bodyguards immediately killed him.

The earliest preserved record, a letter from the Florentine senate to King Tvrtko I of Bosnia dated 20 October 1389, says that Murad was killed during the battle. The killer is not named, but it was one of 12 Serbian noblemen who managed to break through the Ottoman lines:

Another Italian account, Mignanelli's 1416 work, asserted that it was Lazar who killed the Ottoman sultan.[20]

Aftermath and legacy

Both armies were decimated out in the battle;[7] both Lazar and Murad lost their lives, and the remnants of their armies eventually retreated from the battlefield. Murad's son Bayezid strangled his younger brother Yakub Çelebi upon hearing that their father had died, becoming the sole heir to the Ottoman throne.[21] The Serbs were left with too few men to defend their lands effectively, while the Turks had many more troops in the east.[7] Consequently, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals became so in the following years, one by one.[7] Furthermore, in response to Ottoman pressure,[22] some Serbian noblemen wed their daughters, including the daughter of Prince Lazar, to Bayezid.[23][24] In the wake of these marriages, Stefan Lazarević became a loyal ally of Bayezid, going on to contribute significant forces to many of Bayezid's future military engagements, including the Battle of Nicopolis. Eventually, the Serbian Despotate would, on numerous occasions, attempt to defeat the Ottomans in conjunction with the Hungarians until its final defeat in 1459 and again in 1540.

The Battle of Kosovo, is particularly important to Serbian history, tradition, and national identity.[25] The date is ingrained in the Serb consciousness, and its New Style version is the date a Serb nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking World War I.

Slobodan Milošević made a speech at Gazimestan, near Kosovo Polje, where he used the Kosovo curse.

The Bursa, his Anatolian capital city, and buried there in his second tomb at the Hüdavendigâr complex in Bursa. A monument was built by Murad I's son Bayezid I at the Tomb of Sultan Murad in Kosovo Polje, becoming the first example of Ottoman architecture in the Kosovo territory.

See also


  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)
  2. ^ a b c Strength: Estimate vary, although with the Ottomans having greater numbers;
    • According to Sedlar: "Nearly the entire Christian 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."[26]
    • According to J. K. Cox: "The Ottoman army probably numbered between 30,000 and 40,000. They faced something like 15,000 to 25,000 Eastern Orthodox soldiers."[6]
    • According to Cowley: "On June 28, 1389, an Ottoman army of between thirty thousand and forty thousand under the command of Sultan Murad I defeated an army of Balkan allies numbering twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand under the command of Prince Lazar of Serbia at Kosovo Polje (Field of Blackbirds) in the central Balkans."[27]
  3. ^ According to some sources, the Christian army led by Prince Lazar included contingents sent from Poland and Hungary.[28] Claims about such a coalition of Christian rulers first appeared about eighty years after the battle in a book written by an Ottoman author, Oruç of Edirne, and were repeated by later Turkish historians.[29] Some of them added also Franks, Czechs, and Bulgarians to the aforementioned troops, claiming that there were 500,000 soldiers in the "Christian coalition". The reason for the Ottomans to represent the Battle of Kosovo in this way might lie in the fact that it was the only battle in which an Ottoman sultan was killed.[29] The alleged participation of Đurađ II Balšić, the lord of Zeta, in Lazar's army is improbable: he had previously 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] The participation of Teodor Muzaka and other Albanians is suggested by a family history of the Muzaka (Musachi) family,[30] written in Naples in c. 1515 by John Musachi, who stated the following: "Lazar, the Despot of Serbia, and King Marko of Bulgaria (Bulgaria's monarch in 1389 was Tsar Ivan Shishman, who had been under the Ottoman overlordship since 1373. King Marko is referred to also as the king of Serbia in John Musachi's chronicle.) and Theodore Musachi, (Theodore Musachi is the younger brother of John Musachi's father, Gjin. According to the chronicle, Theodore died in the Battle of Kosovo, about 125 years before his nephew wrote the chronicle.) and the other Lords of Albania united and set off for battle, which the Christians lost."[31] Robert Elsie, expert on Albanian studies, characterizes John Musachi's chronicle as "no work of great scholarship" whose historical accounts are confusing, although it is an important source for late 15th-century Albania.[31]

Status of Kosovo

  1. ^ a b Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the Brussels Agreement. Kosovo has been recognised as an independent state by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.


  1. ^ a b c (Fine 1994, p. 410)
    Thus since the Turks also withdrew, one can conclude that the battle was a draw.
  2. ^ a b c (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. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b c d e (Fine 1994, pp. 409–411)
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c d e f (Vojna Akademija 1972, p. 659)
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Hunyadi and Laszlovszky 2001, p. 287
  15. ^ a b c d (Vojna Akademija 1972, p. 660)
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ (Emmert 1991, p. ?)
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire: The Structure of Power, 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. 85. ISBN 0-230-57451-3.
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey By Stanford Jay Shaw, Ezel Kural Shaw, p. 24
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Military history of Hungary (Magyarország hadtörténete), Ed.: Ervin Liptai, Zrínyi Military Publisher, 1985 Budapest ISBN 963-05-0929-6
  29. ^ a b Antić, Čedomir (25 November 2010). "Bitka za bitku" (in Serbian). Politika Online.
  30. ^ a b Malcolm, Noel (1998). Kosovo: A Short History. London: Macmillan. p. 62
  31. ^ a b Elsie, Robert (2003). "1515. John Musachi: Brief Chronicle on the Descendants of our Musachi Dynasty". Documents 16th to 18th centuries. Texts and Documents of Albanian History.


  • Emmert, Thomas Allan (1991). "The Battle of Kosovo: Early Reports of Victory and Defeat" at the Wayback Machine (archived July 16, 2011). Kosovo: Legacy of a Medieval Battle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9789992287552

Further reading

External links

  • Battle of Kosovo animated battle map by Jonathan Webb

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