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The Second Serbian Uprising

This year is the 200th anniversary of the Second Serbian Uprising that led to autonomy from the Ottomans for Serbs living in the Belgrade Pashalik.

By the early 19th Century Ottoman rule in the Balkans had declined to the extent that local governors became the real rulers in their localities, paying lip service to the commands of the Sublime Porte in Istanbul.

In 1801, janissary commanders murdered the reformist governor of the Belgrade province, Haci Mustafa, known as the ĎMother of the Serbsí. Unusually, Serbs were allowed to carry weapons and had a relatively enlightened feudal system by the standards of the day. However, after the murder relations deteriorated, not only with the Serbian peasants, but also with the Sipahi landlords who also hated the janissaries.

In 1804 the janissaries slaughtered hundreds of local Serbian chieftains, known as Knez, in what they regarded as a pre-emptive strike. Trade in pigs across the border into Habsburg territory had grown despite the 1789-92 war, and weapons crossed the border into the hands of bandit groups known as Hajduk. The slaughter led to the First Serbian Uprising led by a former Habsburg volunteer and pig farmer, Karadjordje. While the uprising started with limited aims, it soon became a brutal conflict on both sides, forcing the Sultan, Selim, to dispatch an army that was defeated at Nis in the summer of 1805.

The revolt became part of wider power play in the region following Napoleonís occupation of former Habsburg territories in the region and the Russian war against the Ottomans over the Danube principalities. Karadjordje decided to throw his lot in with the Russians. This was fine until the Russianís made peace following Napoleonís invasion of Russia in 1812. Free from the Russian threat, three Ottoman armies converged on Belgrade in 1813 and the uprising was at an end.

There were attempts at reconciliation under a new governor, Suleyman Pasha. However, by 1815 repression had returned and this resulted in the Second Serbian Uprising, led by Milos Obrenovic, starting on 23 April 1815. He was another pig farmer, but he learned from the first uprising and avoided major military confrontations with the Ottomans. His strategy was to negotiate a deal with the Ottomans.

Not that he didnít raise forces and fight battles. When elected he famously said, "Here I am, here you are. War to the Turks!". There were actions at Cacak, Ljubic, Palez and Dublje before the Ottomans were driven from the Pashalik.

We donít know a great deal about these actions. They appear to have been mostly defensive actions by the Ottomans who defended entrenchments that were stormed by the Serbian forces. On several occasions, negotiated surrenders ended the action with the Ottomans withdrawing leaving any cannon behind. The strategy was not to repeat the barbarity of the first uprising, to make a negotiated peace possible. For example at Dublje, the Bosnian Pasha was captured after his army fled. He was treated well, given presents and allowed to return home.

In mid-1815, the first negotiations began and agreement was reached on a form of partial autonomy. The Ottomans were wary of the Russians after Napoleonís defeat at Waterloo and were busy with unrest elsewhere in the empire.  In 1816, formal documents acknowledged the Serbian Principality under which they paid a yearly tax to the Porte and had a garrison of Turkish troops in Belgrade until 1867. However, it was, in most other matters, an independent state.

In 1817, Karadjordje, the leader of the First Uprising, returned to Serbia as an emissary of the Greek revolution and was assassinated at Obrenović's orders. Wider revolution in the Balkans was no part of Obrenovicís strategy.  Obrenović later received the title of Prince of Serbia and Serbia gained formal independence in 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin.

The Serbian forces of the uprising would be irregulars, although not without significant military experience. Not only did they have a right to bear arms, but also had been formed into militia and Hayduk units. Serbian refugees from the first uprising living in the Banat and Syrmia also crossed the border to join them. However, the Austrianís remained neutral, as they were more concerned that the uprising would undermine their Grenzer regiments in the military border.

The Ottoman army would have been typical of the period with provincial janissaries, sipahi, and segban infantry. Numbers are as always difficult to assess, although Ranke says there were 10,000 Ottoman troops in the Pashalik at the outbreak of the uprising.

Below are my Serbian troops of the period. From paintings they looked very similar to the Greeks and so I have used 28mm figures from the new range by Steve Barber.


and a tabletop skirmish with some Ottoman troops

Further Reading

Ranke. The History of Servia and the Servian Revolution. Bohn 1853

Judah. The Serbs. Yale 1997

Glenny. The Balkans. Granta 1999

Askan. Ottoman Wars 1700-1870. Longman 2007

Nicolle. Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1775-1820. Osprey 1998

Rothenberg. The Military Border in Croatia 1740-1881


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