Dušan was the only real tsar of Serbia; he created and was the only ruler of Serbian Empire. Under his rule Serbia reached it territorial peak and was one of the largest states in Europe. Apart from territorial gains, in 1349 and 1354 he made and enforced Dušan's code. He is the only ruler from the house of Nemanjić who is not canonised as a saint.
He was first born son of Stefan of Decane and Theodora, daughter of Bulgarian tzar Smilac. Early in his life he met Constantinople, in which, as child and youngster he spent around seven years (1314-1320); there he learned Greek, comprehended Greek life and culture and got clear view of inner value of Greek empire. He himself was more soldier then diplomat: as young he excelled in two battles, in 1329 he beat Bosnian ban Stefan II Kotromanić and in 1330 Bulgarian tzar Mihailo on Velbužd. It is not certain why did he conflicted with his father, whom he overthrown and then crowned himself as king on September 8 1331. In 1332 he married Jelena, sister of Bulgarian tzar Aleksandar, a woman of strong will, who had large influence on him and born him son Uroš and one daughter.
In first years of his ruling Dušan started to fight against Greeks (1334) and continued that with smaller and larger interruptions until his death in 1355. Twice he did have larger conflicts with Hungarians, but toward them he was mostly defensive. He lived peacefully with Bulgarians, who were even helping him twice or thrice. He used civil war in Greece between minor emperor John V Palaeologus and his regent John Cantacuzenus and since 1342 he started systematic offensive and conquered, except Pelopones, whole greek reign on Balkan to Kavala, except Thessaloniki, for conquering of which he had no fleet. After these successes in 1345 he proclaimed himself for tzar in Ser and solemnly crowned in Skopje on April 16 1346 as "tzar of Serbs and Greeks"; at the same time he rose the rank of Serb Orthodox Church from archiepiskopy to patriarchy. With those two acts he was cursed by Greek Orthodox Church. Faced with him, Greeks have searched allies in Turks whom they have brought in Europe for the first time. First conflict between Serbs and Turks on Balkanian soil, at Stefaniana in 1345 ended unfavourable for Serbs. In 1348 he conquered Thessaly and Epirus. Dušan saw danger that lies in them and searched for ways to push them back but he was interrupted by Hungarians with their attacks on Serbia. Because of them he fought with Hungarian protegee ban Stefan II in 1350, wishing to regain formerly lost Zahumlje.
Dušan had large intentions but they were all cut by premature death on December 5 1355. It is suspected that he was poisoned. He was burried in his foundation, Monastery of holy archangels near Prizren. Today his remains are in Church of Saint Mark in Belgrade. Dušan was the greatest Serb medieval ruler, under whom incredible impulse and strength of Serbs have expressed. His state was really a great force, but in that greatness there was a weakness: Serbia enlarged too quickly for gains to be joined to old Serb reign. Except that, Dušan conquered a lot of purely Greek lands, with nationally aware element which had higher culture then Serbs, and so was constantly hostile. By nature soldier and conqueror, Dušan didn't made to organically stabilise his work. That is why right after disappearance of his strong personality dissolution has started.
|House of Nemanjić||
Stefan Uroš V
Translated with small changes from small encyclopedia Sveznanje published by Narodno delo, Belgrade, in 1937, which is today in public domain.
This article is therefore written from the point of view of that place and time and may not reflect modern opinions or recent discoveries.