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Jovanka Kalić

Rascia - The Nucleus of the Medieval Serbian State

Source: The Serbian Questions in The Balkans, University of Belgrade, publisher - Faculty of Geography, Belgrade 1995.

The medieval Serbian State, which was gradually being formed on the territory of the Byzantine Empire, was most often designated with two terms - "Serbia and Rascia" (Rashka). The first term is completely clear. It is of ethnic origin and it designated lands settled by the Serbs on the Balkan Peninsula, i.e. the State of the Nemanyich and then successors to the Serbian throne. It has survived until our days. The other term has been mysterious for a long time. It is a regional name of one pare of the Serbian lands, which gradually became the sign for the entire State. Why? This paper represents an attempt to explain this problem.

Different suppositions have been stated in the literature so far about the possible origin of the term "Rashka". Some scientists supposed that the town of Ras transmitted its name to the surroundings.[1] The others, however, attributed a crucial role to the river Raska, which flows through the region of the today's town of Novi Pazar and empties into the Ibar river. The followers of this interpretation found analogies on the Balkan areas (Bosnia, Zeta), and there is also such an opinion recorded way back in the Middle Ages.[2] However, it was noticed, with a reason, that the river Raska is a small river, which did not have a significant role in the history of the Serbs, certainly not that one as the river Bosnia had.[3] A certain role in forming a notion "Rashka" could be attributed to the church organisation of the country, to Rascian bishopric, but only within a definite chronological framework.

In order to define a scientific problem clearly, and to solve it, it is necessary to find the answer to the following question: When did the word "Rashka" (Rassa, Rascia) appear in historical sources for the first time? The analysis of the available historical sources, and the Byzantine ones are the oldest, shows that there was not such a term for the State of Serbian Zhupans <princes> until the middle of the 12th century. This is based on the analysis of the texts of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (the 10th century)[4], John Scylitzes (the 11th century)[5], Anne Comnene (the 12th century),[6] John Cinnamus and Nicetas Choniaces (the 12th century)[7], i.e. of the works of the Byzantine rhetoricians (Theodore Prodromus and others).[8] All of them mention "Serbia" in their works many times. For example, the fortress of Ras was mentioned by the writers of the 12th century. Constantine Porphyrogenitus connects the term "Rassa" with the border area between Serbia and Bulgaria in the 9th century.[9] The so-called "raški" (Rascian) Zhupan Vukan, who was at war with Byzantium at the end of the 11th century and right at the beginning of the 12th century, calls his State Serbia.[10]

The same picture is obtained from the diplomatic data, Greek and Latin. Here, the most important is the Charter of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (1020) where, among others, Rascian bishopric is mentioned as well.[11] Serbian Zhupans are the rulers of "Serbia" as it was written in the letter by Emperor Isaac II Angelus to the Hungarian King Bela III, as well as in the Charter by the same Emperor given to the citizens of Dubrovnik in 1192.[12] Finally, the data recorded in the letter by a famous Greek writer, the Ohrid Archbishop Demetrius Chomatianus, which he sent in 1220 to Sava, the Archbishop of Serbia, speaks for itself. It explicitly says that "Serbia has its bishop in Ras."[13]

This survey of Byzantine sources undoubtedly leads to the conclusion that during the time when Ras was under Byzantine rule there was not a term "Rashka" meaning "Serbian State". Nor could it be there because, for the Byzantine Empire, Ras was only an important administrative and church centre in the Serbian lands.

The analysis of papal charters from the 11th and 12th centuries also shows that the term "Rascia" does not exist in the sources. The charter of Pope Callistus II, 1119-1124, which was issued for the Church of Bar, is especially indicative here. Rascia is not mentioned, only "Bishopric of Serbia" is mentioned.[14] The writer of the so-called Antivary Annals (Priest of Dioclea) often mentions Rascia (Rassa) and people of Rascia in his text, but he mentions "Serbia" among the suffragans of the Archbishop of Bar. The text was written t the earliest towards the end of the 12th century, but then the circumstances were already changed in their essence.

The turning point is the time of Stephen Nemanya. During his time the Serbs finally conquered the Rascian region. It was recorded in the sources that Stephen Nemanya, celebrating the victory over his enemies, built the monastery of St. George "in the very centre of Ras" (today Djurdjevi Stupovi by the town of Novi Pazar). In the systematic archaeological research of this monastery complex a part of the founder's inscription was discovered with the engraved year of the end of the construction: 1170-1171.[15] At that time Ras became the centre of the Serbian State and only then the conditions were made for the old name to appeal in its new role. The oldest data reliably dated in this respect came down from Kotor in 1186. At that time the regulations were proclaimed in that town " the rime of the governor (ruler) of ours, Nemanya, Zhupan of Rascia."[16] In addition, the other sources follow. The data are also found in foreign sources. I would, for example, mention Hungarian Chronicle (Gesta Hungarorum), which was written during the time of King Bela III (1172-1196), the contemporary, later the ally of Stephen Nemanya. Here, "terra Racy" (Rascian land) is mentioned.[17] Western European writers use both terms for the State of Stephen Nemanya - Serbia and Rascia. For the Passau bishop Dietpold, who visited Niš in 1189, Nemanya is the ruler of Serbia,[18] while in the work of Ansbert he is "Grand Zhupan of Serbia and Rascia." This parallelism of terms lasts during the Middle Ages, it sometimes disappears giving the place only to one term.

In other words, only from the time of Stephen Nemanya the term "Rashka" becomes the signification for the Serbian State - a new political and areal whole in South-eastern Europe. And to use the viewpoints of Nemanya himself, that was the state which united the territories from Niš to Kotor (Cattaro). Towards the end of 1188, through his representative ac the Court of the German Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa, Stephen Nemanya sent the message that he intended to make Niš the centre of his state ("caput regni"). On the other hand, it is known that the Serbian ruler had his Court in Cattaro.[21] The borders of the Serbian State were being changed with time. The term "Rashka" followed those changes.

"The Kingdom of Rashka" appears many times in the sources of the pre-Turkish period, the State of the Nemanyich is mainly called so in Europe. Evidence for this statement is found in the letters of the European rulers, in the practice of the king's offices, in the descriptions of the Serbian lands, and in the travels and texts of diplomats. Rascia is mentioned in the texts in Hungary, Germany, Italy, France, the Czech lands, and so on. Let a great poet Dante be a witness of this as well. In the Divine Comedy of his he also included the notion: "il regno di Rassa".[22] Thus "the Rascian Court" and "the Rascian Kingdom" became the terms of the medieval European, civilisation. When the Bosnian Ban Tvrtko I was crowned King of the "Serbs and Bosnia" in the Monastery of Mileševa in 1377, he was simply called the "King of Rascia" and his State the "Rascian Kingdom".[23] Prince Lazar is for Hungary the "Prince of the Kingdom of Rascia", and his son, Stephen Lazarević (1389-1427) - the "Despot of Rascia" or the Despot of "the Kingdom of Rascia".[24] The title of despot, the highest after the emperor's on the Byzantine Court, Stephen Lazarević acquired during his visit: to Constantinople at the beginning of the 15th century.[25] In one of the documents George Stracimirović Balšić was called the "Governor of Zeta in the Kingdom of Rascia".[26] The German Emperor and the Czech King Charles IV of Luxembourg, the famous founder of the University in Prague, at one rime wrote "to the Rascian King, to dear brother" Stephen Dushan with whom he was connected by the common language.[27] Sometimes, in foreign sources, even the Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church was simply signified as the "Patriarch of Rascia", which, naturally, essentially differed from his official title.[28]

The Rascian centre of the Serbian state had obviously some important features by which it was differentiated from the others in Serbia, and only in that way it was possible for a regional name to get such an important role. With this we get to the way of thinking of the medieval people. We can see how they understand the formation of a state and the origin of authority among people. I have been teaching History of Europe for more than thirty years and doing research on the history of old Ras for more than twenty years. Having this experience, I feel free to attract the attention to the importance of the Christian foundations of the Serbian Monarchy. If the problem of the term "Rashka" is treated in this way, two faces are particularly important: 1. The antiquity and reputation of the Rascian bishopric and 2. The Throne of Stephen Nemanya in Ras.

M. Dinić supposed long ago that in the church organisation of the country one should look for the solution of the mysterious name "Rashka".[29] He did not go beyond this. Today we have new arguments which make it possible to ponder, with more confidence, into the oldest history of this term.

Serbian tradition, recorded late, perseveringly kept the data about the remarkable ancientness of the Rascian Bishopric Temple. In more recent Genealogies and Annals the news was recorded that the Church of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul (today St. Peter's Church by the town of Novi Pazar) was built by St. Paul's disciple, Titus.[30] At one time this news was considered exaggeration by I. Ruvarac.[31] However, if it could not be literally accepted, it is obvious that the Church or the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul was for centuries considered a very old cult place. This is confirmed, in a way, by the recent multidisciplinary research of the central part of old Ras, which is being systematically carried out for a long time. Archaeological excavations have revealed a lot of new data. The oldest Christian complex was found in the area of today s Spa of Novi Pazar and St. Peter's Church. Two Christian objects were found in the Spa of Novi Pazar: An antique temple from the 3rd century, which was later changed into the Christian church. Then a basilica was built on the same site in the 6th century, and it had sintronos in the apse, the characteristics of a bishopric temple.[32] On the other hand, St. Peter's Church itself keeps a long history in its foundations. It seems that the oldest Christian object on that site was martyrium, which was probably built at the end of the 4th century. Today's baptistery in the church is not antique, but it originates from the time of the reconstruction of the temple in the 9th century. The church had already been in the ruins when the baptistery was built in.[33]

For the history of Rascian bishopric, and thus for this topic, it is a very significant fact that from a number of temples already found, just the Church of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul ( St. Peter's Church) was reconstructed in the Middle Ages and adapted to the needs of the bishopric cathedral. Written historical sources undoubtedly state that in the Middle Ages there was the throne of Rascian bishops there.[34] Therefore, today's approximately small St. Peter's Church is actually a temple of long Christian traditions. This has always brought a special reputation to a church. The Serbian Orthodox Church, in my opinion, has actually saved the name of Ras until our days. In addition to this, one should have in mind that Rascian bishopric was the main religious centre of the country until the foundation of the Serbian Autocephalous Church at the time of St. Sava (1219). Antique traditions were renovated by Byzantium and then taken over by the Serbs.

The other element of my survey deals with State, Dynasty. It deals with the throne of Stephen Nemanya in the Church of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul in Ras. The history of the throne in Europe and in our country, from Scotland and England to Russia and Ras, has been already dealt with elsewhere.[35] The throne everywhere, and with us as well, gradually becomes a symbol of the State, a feature of the supreme power. It symbolically, as well as the crown, represents the entirety of the State and its continuity. This is the element of transpersonal power, it does not belong to the individual but to the dynasty, i.e. to the community. That is why in the Middle Ages people used to say that lands and towns belonged to the Throne (or to the Crown), that various services, obligations, loyalty, etc. were owed to the Throne. So was in Serbia, too. This opinion was recorded in a document from the time of King Stephen Uroš I (1253). It was written: "Towns and fortresses belong to the Rascian Throne."[36] I would like to mention that there were various thrones in Europe in the Middle Ages, such as: stationary thrones, mobile thrones that follow the ruler, thrones in temples or courts, etc. However, the "State throne" is gradually distinguished in accordance with the conditions in each country. This term also existed in Serbia. The data was recorded in the Annals of Peć.[37] That Rascian throne had such meaning at the time of the first Nemanyich was explicitly cited by Patriarch John of Peć in his letter to Pope Clement VIII in 1597. St. Peter's Church by Novi Pazar was referred to as the first crowning place of the Serbian rulers, before the Monastery of Ziča and Peć Patriarchate.[38]

The reliable facts on Nemanya's Throne in Rascia were left by his sons: Stephen the First-Crowned Serbian King (1196-1228) and St. Sava in the description of the abdication of Stephen Nemanya in 1196.[39] Later, this was also handed down by the writers Domentian and, particularly precisely, by Theodosius, the monk of the Monastery of Chilandarion in Mount Athos.[40]

If this topographical data - the position of the Throne in St. Peter's Church - is fitted in the ruler's ideology of that time, founded on the Christian view that the ruler gets his power from God, or "Dei gratia" how it used to be said at that rime, it is entirely clear that only under the auspices of the old and recognised church centre in Ras the Serbian State could provide the way to the community of the Christian nations of Europe. The opinion that Serbia, surrounded by the Byzantine Empire and Hungarian Kingdom, actually belongs to the circle of the countries of the world of that time was clearly pointed out by Stephen Nemanya himself in the Charter for the Monastery of Chilandarion.[41]

The throne function of the Rascian Bishopric Temple meant that there was also the "seat" there, as it was explicitly seated by Stephen the First-Crowned Serbian King. There, he received the power from his father. In his well known work Biography of St. Simeon, he wrote that in the 12th century the seat of Serbia was next to St. Peter's Church in Ras.[42] The ruler, thus, designated the seat of the State. What these seats generally looked like in Europe and here during the formation of a State is another question, which is, unfortunately, neglected with us. "The Houses of the Archzhupan" in Ras were mentioned in 1149.[43] On some occasions, next to the stationary seat of the Head of the Church there was usually a temporary residence of the King, who was travelling together with the Court about the country; the custom known in Serbia and in other European countries for quite a long time. This joining of the ruler's and church seat, comparatively looking, is a conception of the Byzantine origin.[44]

Finally, it is possible to draw a conclusion that the most important institutions of the medieval Serbian State were founded in the Rascian region during the period of the first Nemanyich. The foundations of the Rascian Kingdom are there. The Kingdom which Europe accepted as its equal. The path toward Dante was open.


1. K. Jireček, Istorija Srba, II /Thc History of the Serbs/ (Belgrade: Naučna knjiga, 1952), p.3.

2. Anonymi descriptio Europae Orientalis, ed. G. Popa-Lisseanu, Izvoarele istoriei Romanilor, II (Bucuresti, 1934), p.26.

3. M. Dinić, "O nazivima srednjovekovne srpske države," /On the Names of the Medieval Serbian State/ in Prilozi za književnost, jezik, istoriju i folklor - 32, 1-2 (Belgrade, 1966), p.30.

4. Constantine Porphyrogemms, De administrando imperio, cd. Gy. Moravcsik-RJ.H. Jenkins (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 1967), pp.144-146, 152-154, 156, 158, 160.

5. Ioannis Scylitzae synopsis historiarum (Berolini, 1973), p.353. Cf. Fontes byzantini historiam populorum Jugosaviae spectantes, III (Belgrade: SANU, 1966), p.156.

6. Anne Comnene, Alexiade. Regne de Ie'mpereur Alexis I Comnene (1 081-1118), ed. B. Leib, II (Pans: Mouton, 1943), pp.148, 157, 166-169, 184; III (Paris: Mouton, 1945), pp.65-66.

7. Ioannis Cinnami epitome rerum ab Ioanne et Alexio Comnenis gestarum, rec. A. Meineke, (Bonnae, 1836), pp. 102-113, 203-204, 212-213, 288; Nicetae ChoniataeHistoria, rec.J.A.V. Dieten (Berolini, 1975), pp. 90, 92, 136.

8. I. Racz, "Bizanci koltemenyek Manuel czaszar magyar hadjaratairol," in Magyar- gorog tanulmanyok, 16 (Budapest, 1941), pp. 23-24, 32-34. Cf. Fontes byzantini historiam popuorum Jugoslaviaespectanetes, IV, ed. G.Ostrogorski (Belgrade: SANU, 1971), p.179.

9. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, op.cil., p. 154.

10. Anne Comnene.Alexiade, II, 167.

11. H. Gelzer, "Ungedruckte und wenig bekannte Bistumerverzeichnisse der orientalischen Kirche," in Byzantinishe Zeitschrift 2 (Munchen, 1893), p.45.

12. V. Laurent, "La Serbie entre Byzance et la Hongrie a la veille de la quatrie me croisade," in Revue historique du Sud-Est europeen, 18 (1941), pp. 129-130; T.Smičiklas, Codex diplomaticus regni Crotiae, Dalmatiae et Slavoniae, II (Zagrabiae, 1904), p. 256.

13. J.B. Pitra, Analecta sacra et classica Spicilegio Solesmensi parata (Parisii, Romae, 1891), pp. 382-384; G. Ostrogorski, "Pismo Dimitrija Homatijana Sv.Savi i odlomak Homatijanovog pisma patrijarhu Germanu o Savinom posvećenju," in Svetosavski zbornik, 2 (Belgrade: Srpska Kraljevska akademija, 1939), pp. 102-103.

14. J. Kalić, "Crkvene prilike u srpskim zemljama do stvaranja Arhiepiskoplje 1219. godine," /Church Conditions in the Serbian Lands until the Foundation of the Archbishopric in 1219) in Sava Nemanjić-Sveti Sava, (Belgrade: SANU, 1979), pp. 35-36.

15. J. Nešković, Đurđevi Stupovi u starom Rasu / Djurdje's Pillars in the Old Ras/ (Kraljevo, 1984),pp. 12-l3.

16. S.Novaković, Zakonski spomenici srpskih država srednjega veka /Monuments of Codification in the Medieval Serbian States/ (Belgrade, 1912), p.22.

17. G.Popa-Lisseanu, Izvoarele istoriei Romanilov, I (Bucaresti, 1934), pp. 11-21.

18. Monumenta Germanine Historica, Scriptores, XVII, 509.

19. A.Chroust, Quellen zur Geschichte des Kreuzzuges Kaiser Friedrichs I, MGH Scriptores rerum Germanicarum, V (Berolini, 1928), pp. 29, 31, 33, 35, 46, 55, 60, 62.

20 Annales Colonienses Maximi, MGH SS XVII, 795-796.

21. V. Ćorović, "Žitije Simeona Nemanje od Stevana Prvovenčanog," in Svetosavski zbornik, 2 (Belgrade, 1939), p. 32.

22. Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia ed. N. Sapegno (Milano-Napoli, 1957), ParadisoXX, 140-141.

23. S.Ćirković, Istorija srednjovekovne bosanske države /The History of the Medieval Bosnian State/ (Belgrade: SKZ, 1964), p.138.

24. I .Thalloczy and A. Aldasy, "Magyarorszag mellektartomanyainak okleveltara," in Monumenta Hungariae hijstoria, 33 (Budapest, 1907), pp. 60-63, 68.

25. B. Ferjančić, Despoti u Vizantiji i južnoslovenskim zemljama /Despots in Byzantium and in the South Slav Lands/ (Belgrade: SANU, 1960), pp. 182-187.

26. A.Theiner, Vetera monumenta Hungariam sacram illustrantia, II (Romae, 1859), p. 165.

27. M. Paulova, "L'idee cyrillo-methodienne dans la politique de Charles IV et la fondation du monastere slave de Prague," in Byzantinoslavica, XI-2 (Prague, 1950), pp.178-186.

28. M. Purković, Srpski patrijarsi srednjega veka /The Serbian Patriarchs of the Middle Ages/ (Dusseldorf: Srpska pravoslavna eparhija Zapadnoevropska, 1976), p. 29.

29. Dinić, op.cit., pp. 30-3l.

30. Lj. Stojanović, Stari srpski rodoslovi i letopisi /Old Serbian Genealogies and Annals/ (Belgrade-Sremski Karlovci, 1927), pp. 46, 53, 194.

31. I. Ruvarac, "Raški episkopi i mitropoliti," /Rascian Bishops and Metropolitans/ in Glas Srpske kraljevske akademije, 62 (Belgrade,1901), p.2.

32. A. Jovanović, "Rimski nadgrobni spomenik iz Novopazarske Banje," /A Roman rombstone from the Spa of Novi Pazar/ in Novopazarski zbornik, 9 (Novi Pazar, 1985), p. 33.

33. J. Nesković, "Petrova crkva kod Novog Pazara," / St. Peter's Church near the Town of Novi Pazar/ in Zbornik radova Arhitektonskog fakulteta Univerziteta u Beogradu, 5 (Belgrade, 1961), pp. 3-33.

34. J. Kalić, "Das Bistum Ras," in Pontes Slavici. Festschrift fur S. Hafner (Graz: Akademische Druck u.Verlaganstalt, 1986), pu.l73-177.

35. J.Kalić, "Presto Stefana Nemanje," / The Throne of Stephen Nemanya/ in Prilozi za književnost, jezik, istoriju i folklor, 53-54 (Belgrade: Filološki fakulteit, I 987-1988), pp. 21 -30.

36. Lj.Stojanović, Stare srpske povelje i pisma, I/I /Early Serbian Charters and Letters/ (Belgrade-Sremski Karlovci, 19Vi), p. 207.

37. Lj. Stojanović, op.cit., p.88.

38. K. Horvat, "Monumenta historica nova historiam Bosnae et provinciarum vicinarum illustrantia," in Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja, 21 (Sarajevo, 1909), p. 58.

39. Žitije Simeona Nemanje od Stevana Prvovenčanog, p.39; V.Ćorović, ed. Život Sv. Simeona Nemanje /The Life of St. Simeon Nemanya/ in Spisi Sv. Save I (Belgrade-Sremski Karlovci, 1928), p.157.

40. Domentijan, Život svetoga Simeuna i svetoga Save, ed. Đ. Daničić (Biograd, 1865), pp.41-42; Teodosije Hilandarac, Život sv. Save, ed. Dj.Daničić (Belgrade: Dj. Trifunović, 1973), pp. 38-39.

41. Dj. Trifunović, V. Bjelogrlić, and I. Brajović, "Hilandarska osnivačka povelja Sv.Simeona i Sv. Save," /Chilandarion Foundation Charter of SS Simeon and Sava/ in Osam vekova Studenice (Belgrade: Srpska pravoslavna crkva, 1986), pp. 54-55.

42. Žitije Simeona Nemanjića od Stefana Prvovenčanog, pp. 18-19.

43. Ioannis Cinnami epitome rerum ab Ioanne et Alexio Comnenis gestarum, p. 103.

44. J. Deer, "Aachen und die Herrschersitze," in Mitteilungen des Institutes fur osterreichische Geschichtsforschung, 79 (Wien, 1971), pp. 4-5.

Dr Jovanka Kalić is Professor of Medieval History of Europe at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. She is the corresponding member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade. Professor Kalić has done research on the history of old Raška /Rascia/ for more than twenty years. In addition to numerous studies and articles, she has also published several books Beograd u srednjem veku /Belgrade m the Middle Ages/ (1967), Vizantijski izvori za istoriju naroda Jugoslavije, Vol IV /Byzantine Sources for the History of the Yugoslav Peoples) (1970), and Srbi u poznom srednjem veku /Serbs in the Late Middle Ages/(1994).

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