Battle of Kosovo

Battle of Kosovo
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe and the Serbian-Ottoman Wars
Petar Lubarda Kosovski boj 1953 Svecana Sala Novi Dvor Beograd.jpg
Petar Lubarda's Kosovski Boj
Date June 15,[A] 1389
Location 42°43′03″N 21°05′06″E / 42.71750°N 21.08500°E / 42.71750; 21.08500Coordinates: 42°43′03″N 21°05′06″E / 42.71750°N 21.08500°E / 42.71750; 21.08500

Ottoman victory[1][2][3][4]

Ottoman Sultanate
Commanders and leaders
Murad I 
Şehzade Bayezid
Yakub Çelebi Executed
Main commander:

Secondary commanders:

~ 27,000–40,000[B] ~ 12,000–30,000[B]
Casualties and losses
Most of army killed[5][6] Most of army killed[5][6]
Battle of Kosovo is located in Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo
Location within Kosovo
Show map of Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo is located in Serbia
Battle of Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo (Serbia)
Show map of Serbia
Battle of Kosovo is located in Balkans
Battle of Kosovo
Battle of Kosovo (Balkans)
Show map of Balkans

The Battle of Kosovo (Turkish: Kosova Savaşı; Serbian: Косовска битка) took place on 15 June 1389[A] between an army led by the Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović and an invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr. The battle was fought on the Kosovo field in the territory ruled by Serbian nobleman Vuk Branković, in what is today Kosovo,[a] about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) northwest of the modern city of Pristina. The army under Prince Lazar consisted of his own troops, a contingent led by Branković, and a contingent sent from Bosnia by King Tvrtko I, commanded by Vlatko Vuković.[11] Prince Lazar was the ruler of Moravian Serbia and the most powerful among the Serbian regional lords of the time, while Branković ruled the District of Branković and other areas, recognizing Lazar as his overlord.

Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce.[12] The bulk of both armies were wiped out, and Lazar and Murad were killed. Although the Ottomans managed to annihilate the Serbian army, they also suffered huge casualties that delayed their progress. The Serbs were left with too few men to effectively defend their lands, while the Turks had many more troops in the east. Consequently, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals became so consecutively in the following years.


Emperor Stefan Uroš IV Dušan "the Mighty" (r. 1331–55) was succeeded by his son Stefan Uroš V "the Weak" (r. 1355–71), whose reign was characterized by the decline of central power and the rise of numerous virtually independent principalities; this period is known as the fall of the Serbian Empire. Uroš V was neither able to sustain the great empire created by his father, nor repulse foreign threats and limit the independence of the nobility; he died childless on 4 December 1371, after much of the Serbian nobility had been destroyed by the Ottomans in the Battle of Maritsa earlier that year. Prince Lazar, ruler of the northern part of the former empire (of Moravian Serbia), was aware of the Ottoman threat and began diplomatic and military preparations for a campaign against them.

After the defeat of the Ottomans at Pločnik (1386) and Bileća (1388), Murad I, the reigning Ottoman sultan, moved his troops from Philippoupolis to Ihtiman (modern Bulgaria) in the spring of 1388. From there they traveled across Velbužd and Kratovo (modern North Macedonia). Though longer than the alternative route through Sofia and the Nišava Valley, this led the Ottoman forces to Kosovo, one of the most important crossroads in the Balkans. From Kosovo, they could attack the lands of either Prince Lazar or Vuk Branković. Having stayed in Kratovo for a time, Murad and his troops marched through Kumanovo, Preševo, and Gjilan to Pristina, where he arrived on June 14.[13]

While there is less information about Lazar's preparations, he gathered his troops near Niš, on the right bank of the South Morava. His forces likely remained there until he learned that Murad had moved to Velbužd, whereupon he moved across Prokuplje to Kosovo. This was the best place he could choose as a battlefield, as it gave him control of all the routes that Murad could take.[13]

Reliable historical accounts of the battle are scarce; however, a critical comparison with historically contemporaneous battles (such as Ankara or Nikopolis) enables reliable reconstruction.[13]


Army composition

Murad's army numbered between 27,000 and 40,000 men.[B][13] These included no more than 2,000 Janissaries,[14] 2,500 of Murad's cavalry guard, 6,000 sipahis, 20,000 azaps and akincis, and 8,000 troops from his vassals.[13] The Ottoman army was supported by the forces of the Anatolian Turkoman Beylik of Isfendiyar.[15]

Lazar's army numbered between 12,000 and 30,000.[B] According to a Yugoslav encyclopedia (1972), there were approximately 30,000 fighters present; 12,000-15,000 were under Lazar's command, with 5,000-10,000 under Vuk Branković, a Serbian nobleman from Kosovo, and just as many under a Bosnian nobleman Vlatko Vuković, sent by the Bosnian king Tvrtko I Kotromanić.[13] Several thousand were knights.[16] There have been several anachronistic accounts that have mentioned the "Christian army" of Lazar was far greater, and that it also included contingents of other peoples, although these cannot be verified.[C]

Troop deployment

Troop disposition

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.[16] One of the Ottoman commanders was Pasha Yiğit Bey.[17]

The Serbian army had Prince Lazar at its center, Vuk on the right, and Vlatko on the left. At the front of the 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.[16]


Plan of the battle

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,[18] the Serbian cavalry managed to break through the Ottoman left wing, but were not as successful against the center and the right wing.[16]

The Serbs had the initial advantage after their first charge, which significantly damaged the Ottoman wing commanded by Yakub Çelebi.[19] When the knights' charge was finished, light Ottoman cavalry and light infantry counterattacked and the Serbian heavy armor became a disadvantage. In the center, Serbian troops managed to push back Ottoman forces, except for Bayezid's wing, which barely held off the Bosnians commanded by Vlatko Vuković. Vuković thus inflicted disproportionately heavy losses on the Ottomans. The Ottomans, in a ferocious counterattack 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 Bosnian troops drifting toward the center to compensate for the heavy losses inflicted on the Serbian infantry.

Historical facts say that Vuk Branković saw that there was no hope for victory and fled to save as many men as he could after Lazar was captured. In traditional songs, however, it is said that he betrayed Lazar and left him to die in the middle of battle, rather than after Lazar was captured and the center suffered heavy losses.

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.

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


Miloš Obilić, the alleged assassin of Sultan Murad I.

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:

Fortunate, most fortunate are those hands of the twelve loyal lords who, having opened their way with the sword and having penetrated the enemy lines and the circle of chained camels, heroically reached the tent of Murat himself. Fortunate above all is that one who so forcefully killed such a strong vojvoda by stabbing him with a sword in the throat and belly. And blessed are all those who gave their lives and blood through the glorious manner of martyrdom as victims of the dead leader over his ugly corpse.[20]

Another Italian account, Mignanelli's work of 1416, asserted that it was Lazar who killed the Ottoman sultan.[21]

Both armies were broken by the battle.[11] Both Lazar and Murad lost their lives, and the remnants of their armies retreated from the battlefield. Murad's son Bayezid strangled his younger brother, Yakub Çelebi, upon hearing of their father's death, thus becoming the sole heir to the Ottoman throne.[22] The Serbs were left with too few men to defend their lands effectively, while the Turks had many more troops in the east.[11] Consequently, the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals became so in the following years, yielding one by one.[11] Furthermore, in response to Ottoman pressure,[23] several Serbian noblemen wed their daughters, including the daughter of Prince Lazar, to Bayezid.[24][25] 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.[26]


Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870).
Turkish armor during battles of Marica and Kosovo.

The Battle of Kosovo is particularly important to Serbian history, tradition and national identity.[27]

The day of the battle, known in Serbian as Vidovdan (St. Vitus' day) and celebrated according to the Julian calendar (corresponding to 28 June Gregorian in the 20th and 21st centuries), is an important part of Serb ethnic and national identity,[28] with notable events in Serbian history falling on that day: in 1876 Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire (Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–78); in 1881 Austria-Hungary and the Principality of Serbia signed a secret alliance; in 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was carried out by the Serbian Gavrilo Princip (although a coincidence that his visit fell on that day, Vidovdan added nationalist symbolism to the event[29]); in 1921 Serbian King Alexander I proclaimed the Vidovdan Constitution; in 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the battle, Serbian political leader Slobodan Milošević delivered the Gazimestan speech on the site of the historic battle.

The Tomb of Sultan Murad, a site in Kosovo Polje where Murad I's internal organs were buried, has gained a religious significance for local Muslims. A monument was built by Murad I's son Bayezid I at the tomb, becoming the first example of Ottoman architecture in the Kosovo territory.[citation needed]

See also