The Principality of Serbia, as depicted upon the present map was, from the 1830s until 1878, an autonomous tributary state of the Ottoman Empire. The precursor to modern Serbia, it notably controlled only the territory that makes up the midriff, or central-third, of today’s state. Buoyed by the rise of the national ‘Awakenings’ that were then sweeping the Balkans, as well as promises of Russian support, during the Serbian–Turkish Wars of 1876 – 1878 the country liberated itself from centuries of Ottoman rule.
The present map is by far and away the most detailed 19th century Ottoman printed map of Serbia. It was issued by the Matbaa-i Askeriye (Ottoman Military Press) on the eve of the war to serve as a strategic aid to the Sultan’s troops. Predicated upon a map, printed in Belgrade in Serbian language, it depicts the entire territory of the Principality of Serbia, outlined in green, showing its northern borders to run along the Sava and Danube rivers, with its capital, Belgrade located at the confluence of the two rivers, along the border with ‘Austria Hungary’ (today the Vojvodina region of Serbia), which is outlined in yellow watercolour. From there, the country reaches south in a roughly semicircular shape, with its boundaries with Romania, outlined in purple, while the adjacent Ottoman lands are coloured in pink; the Vilayet of Bosna (Bosnia), is labelled to the west, while the Vilayet of Tuna (Danube), today in northern Bulgaria, is noted to the south-east.
The highly detailed map shows all variables useful for guiding military movement. All cities, towns and villages of any note, along with all roads and rough trails are noted, with all rivers delineated, while the many mountain ranges are expressed by hachures. The legend in the lower left identifies the symbols used throughout to identify the outlines of the numerous fortified cities and towns; rural churches; forts and military outposts; historical battle sites; post offices; armouries and mines, etc. The tables in the corners provide recent statistics and details regarding Serbia’s regional divisions.
While the map does not feature any imprint, or the author’s name, it was almost certainly published in Istanbul by the Matbaa-i Askeriye (Ottoman Military Press), which had responsibility for printing the great majority of the maps used by the army. Indeed, given the present map’s clear purpose as a strategic military aid, the Matbaa-i Askeriye would be one of the only parties both interested and capable of making such a map at the time.
The present map is seemingly unrecorded. Having searched all relevant literature and databases, we cannot trace any references, let alone the locations of any other examples.
The Serbian–Turkish Wars of 1876 – 1878: Serbia is Finally Liberated from the Sublime Porte
The Serbs are a Slavic Orthodox Christian people who during the Middle Ages controlled a large independent state in the Western Balkans. However, like most of their neighbours, their country fell to the Ottomans, who surged out of Anatolia, conquering Serbia in stages from 1389 to 1521.
The nature of Ottoman rule varied over the centuries and is still a matter of controversy amongst historians. While the Ottomans certainly made the Serbs second class citizens in their own country, they still allowed them to retain their culture and religion, while the economy, especially in Belgrade, flourished. The Serbs understandably always longed to overthrow the Ottomans, but for centuries the Sultan’s armies were far too powerful, and any inkling of rebelliousness was brutally crushed. While the Serbs briefly gained their local autonomy, from 1718 to 1739, when the Austrian Habsburgs conquered central Serbia, the Ottomans soon returned with a vengeance.
In the early 19th century, the Serbs finally got the opportunity they desired. The Napoleonic Wars and palace intrigue in Istanbul has plunged the Sublime Porte into turmoil, and the Serbs saw their moment to strike. The Serbian Revolution (1804-17) was an on-and-off armed struggle to overthrow Ottoman rule that lasted until 1817, when both sides were exhausted and agreed to a ceasefire. Under the terms, the lands of the Ottoman Pashalik of Belgrade (comprising most of the Serbian lands on the present map) were to become autonomous, yet remaining a part of the Ottoman Empire, to be ruled on the local level by the Obrenović family, which had led the Serbian cause during the latter stages of the rebellion. While called the Principality of Serbia, the new entity’s status remained ambiguous for some years, while tensions were kept in check by the fact the neither side wanted to resume hostilities.
Finally, Sultan Abdulmejid I signed the Hatt-i-Sharif of 1830, in which he formally recognized the Principality of Serbia as an autonomous state within the Ottoman Empire, ruled by the Obrenović clan as its hereditary princes. In 1833, Serbia’s borders were extended to the limits reflected upon the present map.
While the Serbs had control of their day-to-day affairs, they still had to host Ottoman troops on their soil and pay an annual tribute to the Sultan. Over the coming decades, Serbia, like many other Balkan countries under Ottoman rule (Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania), experienced a ‘National Awakening’, which saw renewed cultural awareness and a drive towards self-determination. Serbia’s separatist ambitions were actively encouraged and supported by their ‘big brother’ country Russia, the Sublime Porte’s longtime arch-nemesis, which only added fuel to the fire. Serbia proceeded to make several moves to gain more control over its affairs, while receiving pushback from the Ottomans. A key event occurred in 1867, when the Ottomans agreed to leave their last permanent military post in Serbia, at the Belgrade Citadel.
In the mid-1870s, in what became known as the ‘Great Eastern Crisis’, the Sublime Porte descend into turmoil, that was to result in the bankruptcy of its treasury, the overthrow and murder of a sultan, and a brief experiment with democracy. The Ottoman high command was thus constantly distracted and slow to respond to events.
Ethnic Serbs in Bosna and Hercegovina mounted the Herzegovina Uprising (1875-7), which inspired the Principality of Serbia to openly rebel against Ottoman suzerainty, in what became known as the Serbian–Turkish Wars of 1876 – 1878. This conflict had two distinct stages, or wars.
During the first stage, which lasted from June 30, 1876 to February 28, 1877, the ill-equipped and underprepared Serbia army rashly challenged the Ottoman forces in the region, led by the wily General Abdul Karim, leading 40,000 well-trained troops. While the Serbs fought bravely, they were hopelessly outmatched, and once the Ottomans looked to overrun the country, the Serbs appealed to the international powers to pressure the Sublime Porte to come to the table. The Serbs were very lucky to gain the terms of status quo ante bellum at the peace talks, as the first war had been a near death experience.
However, everything in the Balkans changed upon the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War (April 24, 1877 – March 3, 1878), during which Russia and their Balkan allies throttled the Ottomans (they would eventually come close to taking Istanbul before international pressure forced them to stand down!). The Sublime Porte was in no position to fight a multi-faceted conflict and neglected the Serbian theatre. The Serbians renewed hostilities on December 13, 1877, and with significant Russian military assistance, managed to defeat the Ottomans, driving them out of southeastern Serbia, taking Niš and Vranje.
The Berlin Conference (1878) that ended the wars in the Balkans granted the Principality of Serbia its full independence from the Ottoman Empire, with expanded boundaries, reflecting its conquests in the southeast.
In 1882, the Principality was elevated to become the Kingdom of Serbia, still ruled by the Obrenović family. Serbia preserved its independence and entered the industrial-railway era, yet experienced great political instability. Notably, in 1903, the Obrenović clan was overthrown in bloody coup, to be replaced on the throne by their ancient rivals, the Karađorđević family.
During the First Balkan War (1912-3), Serbia entered an alliance with Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro, which succeeded in nearly driving the Ottomans from all of their European lands. In the postwar settlement, Serbia’s boundaries were vastly expanded to the south, embracing all of Kosovo and Macedonia. In the wake of World War I, Serbia became the dominant component of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, leaving Belgrade in charge of a great state that covered much of the western Balkans.
Despite the fact that the Ottomans have not ruled any part of Serbia in over a century, the legacy of their long presence survives in elements of the culture, food, language and architecture.
References: N/A – Map seemingly unrecorded.