Prince Marko

Prince Marko
King of the Serbian Land
(only de jure)

King Marko on a fresco above the south entrance to the church of Marko's Monastery near Skopje. He was a ktetor of this monastery.
Reign 1371 - 1395
Full name Marko Mrnjavčević
Died May 17, 1395
Place of death Rovine
Predecessor Vukašin Mrnjavčević
Successor none (the state disintegrated)
Consort Jelena, Hlapen's daughter
Royal House House of Mrnjavčević
Father Vukašin Mrnjavčević
Mother Alena

Marko Mrnjavčević (Serbian Cyrillic: Марко Мрњавчевић, Serbian pronunciation: [mâːrkɔ mr̩̂ɲaːʋt͡ʃɛʋit͡ɕ]) (c. 1335–1395) was de jure the Serbian king from 1371 to 1395, while de facto he ruled only over a territory in western Macedonia centered on the town of Prilep. He is known as Prince Marko (Serbian Cyrillic: Краљевић Марко, Kraljević Marko, IPA: [krǎːʎɛʋit͡ɕ mâːrkɔ]) and King Marko (Bulgarian and Macedonian: Kрaли Марко) in South Slavic oral tradition, in which he has become a major character during the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans. Marko's father, King Vukašin, was the co-ruler of Serbian Tsar Stefan Uroš V, whose reign was marked by the weakening of the central authority and the gradual disintegration of the Serbian Empire. Vukašin's personal holdings included lands in western Macedonia, Kosovo and Metohija. In 1370 or 1371, he crowned Marko "young king"; this title included the possibility that Marko succeed the childless Uroš on the Serbian throne.

On 26 September 1371, Vukašin was defeated and killed by the Ottomans in the Battle of Maritsa, and about two months later Tsar Uroš died. This formally made Marko the king of the Serbian land; however, great Serbian noblemen, who had become effectively independent from the central authority, did not even consider to recognize him as their supreme ruler. At an uncertain date after 1371, he became an Ottoman vassal. By 1377 significant parts of the territory he inherited from Vukašin, were seized by other noblemen. King Marko in reality came to be a regional lord who ruled over the relatively small territory in western Macedonia. He funded the construction of the Monastery of Saint Demetrius near Skopje, better known as Marko's Monastery, finished in 1376. Marko lost his life on 17 May 1395, fighting on the Ottoman side against Wallachians in the Battle of Rovine.

Although he was a ruler of modest historical significance, Marko became a major character of South Slavic oral tradition. In Serbian epic poetry he is named Marko Kraljević, which is rendered as "Prince Marko" in English translations of the poetry; kraljević means "king's son". He is venerated as a national hero by the Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgarians, remembered in the Balkan folklore as a fearless and powerful protector of the weak, who fought against injustice and confronted Turkish forces during the earlier period of the Ottoman occupation.



Until 1371

Marko was born in c. 1335 as the first son of Vukašin Mrnjavčević and his wife Alena.[1] The patronymic "Mrnjavčević" comes from Mrnjava, described by 17th-century Ragusan historian Mavro Orbin as a minor nobleman from Zachlumia (in present-day Herzegovina and southern Dalmatia).[2] By Orbin, Mrnjava's sons were born in Livno in western Bosnia,[2] where he could have moved to after Zachlumia was annexed by Bosnia in 1326.[3] The Mrnjavčević familyn.b.1 may have later supported Serbian Tsar Dušan in his preparations to invade Bosnia, as did other Zachlumian nobles, and fearing punishment, emigrated to the Serbian Empire before the war started.[3][4] These preparations possibly began two years ahead of the invasion,[4] which took place in 1350. From that year comes the earliest written reference to Marko's father Vukašin, denoting him as Dušan's appointed župan (district governor) of Prilep,[3][5] which had been acquired by Serbia from Byzantium in 1334 together with other parts of Macedonia.[6] In 1355 the tsar suddenly died of a stroke at the age of about 47.[7]

Dušan was succeeded by his 19-years-old son Uroš, who apparently regarded Marko Mrnjavčević as a man of trust. The new tsar appointed him the head of the embassy he sent to Ragusa at the end of July 1361, to negotiate peace between the Empire and the Ragusan Republic during the hostilities that started earlier that year. The peace was not concluded on this occasion, but Marko successfully negotiated the release of Serbian merchants from Prizren detained by the Ragusans. He was also allowed to withdraw the silver his family had deposited in the city. The account of that embassy in a Ragusan document contains the earliest known undisputed reference to Marko Mrnjavčević.[8] An inscription written in 1356 on a wall of a church in the Macedonian region of Tikveš, mentions a Nikola and a Marko as governors in that region, but the identity of this Marko is disputable.[9]

Dušan's death was followed by the stirring of separatist activity in the Serbian Empire. The southwestern territories, including Epirus, Thessaly, and lands in southern Albania, seceded already by 1357.[10] The core of the state remained loyal to the new Tsar Uroš. It consisted of three main regions: the western lands, including Zeta and Travunia with the upper Drina Valley; the central Serbian lands; and Macedonia.[11] Nevertheless, great local noblemen asserted more and more independence from Uroš' authority even in that part of the state that remained Serbian. Uroš was weak and unable to counteract these separatist tendencies, becoming an inferior power in his own domain.[12] Serbian lords also fought each other over territories and influence.[13]

Marko's father King Vukašin, a fresco in the Psača Monastery, Macedonia.

Vukašin Mrnjavčević was a skillful politician, and gradually assumed the main role in the Empire.[14] In August or September 1365, Uroš crowned him king, making him his co-ruler. By 1370, Marko's potential patrimony increased as Vukašin expanded his personal holdings from Prilep further into Macedonia, Kosovo and Metohija, acquiring Prizren, Priština, Novo Brdo, Skopje, and Ohrid.[3] In a charter he issued on 5 April 1370, Vukašin mentioned his wife Queen Alena, and his sons Marko and Andrijaš, describing himself as the Lord of the Serbian Land, of the Greeks, and of the Western Provinces (господинь зємли срьбьскои и грькѡмь и западнимь странамь).[15] In late 1370 or early 1371, Vukašin crowned Marko "young king".[16] This title had been given to heirs presumptive of Serbian kings to secure their position as successors to the throne. Since Uroš was childless, Marko could thus become his successor, starting a new—Vukašin's—dynasty of Serbian sovereigns.[3] This would mean the end of the two-centuries-long reign of the House of Nemanjić. Most of the other Serbian lords were not happy with this situation, which strengthened their aspirations towards independence from the central authority.[16]

Vukašin wanted to obtain a well-connected spouse for his eldest son Marko. A girl of the Croatian House of Šubić from Dalmatia, was sent by her father Grgur to the court of their relative Tvrtko I, the ban of Bosnia, to be raised and suitably married by Tvrtko's mother Jelena. The latter was daughter of George II Šubić (Juraj II), whose maternal grandfather was Serbian King Dragutin Nemanjić.[17] As the ban and his mother approved of Vukašin's idea to marry the Šubić girl to Marko, the wedding was about to be held.[18][19] In April 1370, however, Pope Urban V sent a letter to Tvrtko in which he forbade him to give the Catholic lady in marriage to the "son of His Magnificence the King of Serbia, a schismatic" (filio magnifici viri Regis Rascie scismatico).[19] The pope also wrote about this impending "offence to the Christian faith" to King Louis I of Hungary, the nominal overlord of the ban,[20] and that marriage never happened.[18] Marko married Jelena daughter of Radoslav Hlapen, the lord of Beroea and Edessa, the major Serbian nobleman in southern Macedonia.[21]

In the spring of 1371, Marko participated in the preparations for a campaign against Nikola Altomanović, the major lord in the west of the Empire. The campaign was planned jointly by King Vukašin and Đurađ I Balšić, the lord of Zeta, who was married to Olivera, the king's daughter. In July that year, Vukašin and Marko camped with their army outside Scutari, on Balšić's territory, ready to make an incursion towards Onogošt in Altomanović's land. The attack never happened, as the Ottomans threatened the land of Despot Jovan Uglješa, the lord of Serres, Vukašin's younger brother who ruled in eastern Macedonia. The forces of the Mrnjavčevićs were quickly directed eastward.[22] Having in vain looked for allies, the two brothers finally entered with their own troops into the territory controlled by the Ottomans. At the Battle of Maritsa on 26 September 1371, the Turks annihilated the Serbian army; not even the bodies of Vukašin and Jovan Uglješa were ever found. The place where it was fought, near the village of Ormenio in the east of present-day Greece, has ever since been called Sırp Sındığı "Serbian Rout" in Turkish. The outcome of this battle had serious consequences—it actually opened up the Balkans to the Turks.[23][24]

After 1371

Approximate borders of the territory ruled by King Marko after 1377 (shown in the darker green).

When his father died, "young king" Marko legally became a king and the co-ruler of Tsar Uroš. Soon afterwards came the end of the Nemanjić dynasty, when Uroš died on 2 or 4 December 1371, which formally made Marko the sovereign of the Serbian state. Serbian lords, however, did not even consider to recognize him as their supreme ruler,[25] and the separatism within the state increased even more.[23] After the demise of the two brothers and the destruction of their armies, the House of Mrnjavčević was left without any real power.[25] Lords surrounding Marko took the opportunity and seized significant parts of his patrimony. By 1372, Đurađ I Balšić grabbed Prizren and Peć, and Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović took Priština. By 1377 Vuk Branković acquired Skopje, and Albanian magnate Andrija Gropa became practically independent in Ohrid. The latter possibly remained a vassal to Marko as he had been to Vukašin.[23][26] Gropa's son-in-law was Marko's relative Ostoja Rajaković of the clan of Ugarčić from Travunia. He was one of the Serbian nobles from Zachlumia and Travunia (adjacent principalities in present-day Herzegovina) who had received lands in the newly-conquered parts of Macedonia during Tsar Dušan's reign.[27]

The remains of King Marko's fortress above Prilep, known as Markovi Kuli "Marko's towers".

The only significant town that Marko kept was Prilep, from which his father's rise had started. So, King Marko in reality became a petty prince who ruled over a relatively small territory in western Macedonia, bordered in the north by Mount Šar and Skopje, in the east by the Vardar and the Crna Reka Rivers, and in the west by Ohrid. The southern limits of his territory are uncertain.[21] Marko was not the sole ruler even in this little domain, as he shared it with his younger brother Andrijaš, who had his own land in it.[23] Their mother Queen Alena became a nun after Vukašin's death, taking the monastic name Jelisaveta, but she was the co-ruler with Andrijaš for some time after 1371. The youngest brother Dmitar lived on the territory controlled by Andrijaš. There was yet another brother named Ivaniš, about whom very little is known.[28] The exact date when Marko became an Ottoman vassal is uncertain, but it probably did not happen immediately after the Battle of Maritsa.[29]

At some point, Marko separated from his spouse Jelena and lived with Todora, the wife of a man named Grgur. Jelena returned to her father Radoslav Hlapen in Beroea. Marko later sought to reconcile with her, but to get his wedded wife back, he first had to send Todora to Hlapen. As Marko's domain was bordered to the south by Hlapen's land, this reconciliation may have been motivated by the fact that Marko did not want an enemy in the south, after all those territorial losses he had in the north.[21] That this marital episode is known is due to scribe Dobre, a subject of Marko's. Dobre transcribed a liturgical book for the church in the village of Kaluđerec,n.b.2 and when he finished the job, he wrote an inscription in the book which begins as follows:[30]

Слава сьвршитєлю богѹ вь вѣкы, аминь, а҃мнь, а҃м. Пыса сє сиꙗ книга ѹ Порѣчи, ѹ сєлѣ зовомь Калѹгєрєць, вь дьны благовѣрнаго кралꙗ Марка, ѥгда ѿдадє Ѳодору Грьгѹровѹ жєнѹ Хлапєнѹ, а ѹзє жєнѹ свою прьвовѣнчанѹ Ѥлєнѹ, Хлапєновѹ дьщєрє.

Glory to God the Finisher for ever and ever, amen, amen, amen. This book was written in Porečje, in the village called Kaluđerec, in the days of the pious King Marko, when he handed over Todora the wife of Grgur to Hlapen, and took back his first-wedded wife Jelena, Hlapen's daughter.
The fresco ensemble above the south entrance to the church of Marko's Monastery. It comprises the images of King Marko (left) and King Vukašin (right, rather damaged), complemented by a semicircle of seven saintly busts, all of which frame the portrait of Saint Demetrius.

Marko's fortress was situated on a hill to the north of present-day Prilep. Its remains, partially well preserved, are called Markovi Kuli "Marko's towers". Beneath the fortress lies the village named Varoš—the site of medieval Prilep. The village contains the Monastery of Archangel Michael renovated by Marko and Vukašin, whose portraits are depicted on the walls of the monastery's church.[21] Marko was the ktetor of the Church of Saint Sunday in Prizren, which was finished in 1371, just before the Battle of Maritsa. In the inscription above the church's entrance, he is titled "young king"[31]

The Monastery of Saint Demetrius, popularly known as Marko's Monastery, is situated at the village of Markova Sušica near Skopje. Its construction lasted from c. 1345 to 1376 or 1377. Kings Marko and Vukašin, its ktetors, are portrayed above the southern entrance of the monastery's church.[1] Marko is represented as an austere-looking man in purple clothes, wearing a crown adorned with strings of pearls. With his left hand he holds a scroll, the text on which begins with the words: "I, in the Christ God the pious King Marko, built and inscribed this divine temple..." In his right hand he holds a big horn that symbolizes the horn of oil with which the Old Testament kings were anointed at their enthronement (as described, e.g., in 1 Samuel 16:13). According to an interpretation, Marko is shown here as the king chosen and anointed by God to lead his people in the times of crisis after the Battle of Maritsa.[25]

A silver coin minted by King Marko with the reverse depicting Christ seated on a throne.

Marko minted his own money, as did his father and other Serbian nobles of the time.[32] His silver coins weighed 1.11 grams,[33] and were produced in three types. In two of them, the obverse contained this text in five lines: ВЬХА/БАБЛГОВ/ѢРНИКР/АЛЬМА/РКО "In the Christ God, the pious King Marko". The reverse depicted Christ seated on a throne in the first type, and Christ seated in a mandorla in the second. In the third type, the reverse represented Christ in a mandorla, and the obverse contained the text in four lines: БЛГО/ВѢРНИ/КРАЛЬ/МАРКО "Pious King Marko".[34] With this simple title Marko referred to himself also in the aforementioned church inscription. He did not include any territorial designation in his title, probably in tacit acknowledgment of his limited sway.[21] His brother Andrijaš also minted his own money; still the money supply on the territory ruled by the Mrnjavčević brothers mostly consisted of the coins that had been struck by King Vukašin and Tsar Uroš.[35] It is estimated that about 150 pieces of Marko's coins are kept today in various numismatic collections.[34]

By 1379, Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, the lord of Pomoravlje, emerged as the first and most powerful among Serbian nobles. In his signatures, he titled himself as the Autokrator of all the Serbs (самодрьжць вьсѣмь Србьлѥмь); nevertheless, he was not powerful enough to unite all Serbian lands under his authority. The Houses of Balšić and Mrnjavčević, Konstantin Dragaš (maternally a Nemanjić), Vuk Branković, and Radoslav Hlapen, ruled in their respective domains without consulting with Lazar.[29][36] Another king besides Marko advanced on the political scene: in 1377, the Metropolitan of Mileševa crowned Tvrtko I, maternally related to the House of Nemanjić, King of the Serbs and of Bosnia. He had previously taken some western parts of the former Serbian Empire.[37]

On 15 June 1389, Serbian forces led by Prince Lazar, Vuk Branković, and Tvrtko's nobleman Vlatko Vuković of Zachlumia, confronted the Ottoman army led by Sultan Murad I. This was the Battle of Kosovo—the most famous battle in Serbia’s medieval history. The bulk of both armies was wiped out; both Lazar and Murad lost their lives. The battle was a draw,[38] yet in the wake of it 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, one after the other became so in the following years.[38]

In 1394 a group of Ottoman vassals in the Balkans decided to renounce their vassalage. Marko was not one of them, but his younger brothers Andrijaš and Dmitar refused to remain under the Turkish dominance. In the spring of 1394 they left their homeland and emigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary, entering into the service of King Sigismund. They travelled via Ragusa, where they withdrew two thirds of their late father's deposit of 96.73 kilograms of silver, the remaining third being left for Marko.[39] Andrijaš and Dmitar were the first Serbian nobles who emigrated to Hungary: the northward migration of the Serbs would continue throughout the Turkish occupation.[40]

In 1395 the Turks assailed Wallachia to punish its ruler Mircea I for his incursions into their territory. On the Ottoman side fought three vassals: King Marko, Konstantin Dragaš, and Despot Stefan Lazarević, the son and heir of Prince Lazar. So it happened that Christians were forced to help the Muslim Ottomans in their fight against other Christians. The Battle of Rovine took place on 17 May 1395, and was won by the Wallachians. King Marko and Konstantin Dragaš were killed in it. After their deaths, the Turks annexed their lands, and combined them into a single Ottoman province centered in Kyustendil.[41] Thirty six years past the Battle of Rovine, Konstantin the Philosopher wrote the Biography of Despot Stefan Lazarević. In this book Konstantin recorded an account of what Marko said to Dragaš on the eve of the battle: "I pray the Lord to help the Christians, no matter if I will be the first to die in this war."[42]

In folk poetry

Serbian epic poetry

Marko Mrnjavčević is the most popular hero of the Serbian epic poetry,[43] in which he is referred to as Kraljević Marko; kraljević, translated as "prince",[43] means "king's son". This informal title was often attached to the names of King Vukašin's sons in the contemporary sources. It was also used postpositively as a surname: Marko Kraljević.n.b.3 The title/surname was adopted by the Serbian oral tradition, and became an integral part of the hero's name.[44]

A Herzegovinian sings to the gusle (drawing from 1823). Serbian epic poems were often sung to the accompaniment of this traditional bowed string instrument.

The poems about Kraljević Marko are not sequels that continue the same story line—the only thing that binds them into a single poetic cycle is the hero himself.[45] His adventures are narrated with the goal to illuminate his character and personality.[46] The epic Marko was endowed with the life of 300 years, and other prominent heroes from the 14th to the 16th centuries appear sometimes as his companions,[45] including Miloš Obilić, Relja Krilatica, Vuk the Fiery Dragon, and Sibinjanin Janko with his nephew Banović Sekula.[47] The poems contain few historical facts about Marko Mrnjavčević, notably his connection to the epoch of disintegration of the Serbian Empire, and his vassalage to the Ottomans.[45] They were composed by anonymous Serbian folk bards during the Ottoman occupation of their land. American Slavicist George Rapall Noyes characterized them as "combining tragic pathos with almost ribald comedy in a fashion worthy of an Elizabethan playwright."[43]

The Serbian epic poetry accords with the historical fact that King Vukašin was Marko's father. It asserts that his mother was Jevrosima, the sister of Voivode Momčilo, the lord of the Pirlitor Fortress in Mount Durmitor (in Old Herzegovina). He is described as a man of immense size and strength, possessing magical attributes: a winged horse and a sabre with eyes. Vukašin murdered him with the help of the voivode's young wife Vidosava, despite Jevrosima's self-sacrificing attempt to save her brother. Instead of marrying Vidosava, as was the initial plan, Vukašin killed the treacherous woman. He took Jevrosima from Pirlitor to his capital city of Scutari and wedded her, as the dying Momčilo had actually advised him to do. She bore him two sons, Marko and Andrijaš, and the poem recounting these events concludes with the statement that Marko took after his uncle Momčilo.[48] This epic character corresponds historically to the Bulgarian brigand and mercenary Momchil, who was for some time in the service of Serbian Tsar Dušan; he later became a despot and died in 1345 in the Battle of Peritheorion.[49] According to another account, Marko and Andrijaš were born by a vila (Slavic mountain nymph), whom Vukašin wedded after he caught her by a lake and took off her wings so that she could not fly away.[50]

Prince Marko and Musa the Outlaw, painting by Vladislav Titelbah (1900). Prince Marko is on the right.

As Marko matured he developed a strong individuality, and Vukašin once declared that he had no control over his son, who went wherever he wanted, drank and brawled. Marko grew up into an extraordinarily large and strong man, with a rather terrifying appearance which was at the same time somewhat comical. He wore a wolf-skin cap pulled low over his dark eyes; his massive black mustache was as large as a six-months-old lamb; his cloak was a shaggy wolf-pelt. A Damascus sabre swung at his girdle and a spear was slung across his back. Marko's six-flanged mace weighed 66 okas (85 kilograms), which he hung at the left side of his saddle, balancing it with a well-filled wineskin attached to the saddle's right side. His grip was such that he could squeeze drops of water out of a piece of dry cornel wood. He defeated a succession of the greatest champions, fighting triumphantly against overwhelming odds.[45][46]

The hero's inseparable companion and friend was his piebald wonder-horse Šarac, who could talk. When Marko drank he always gave Šarac an equal share of the wine.[46] The horse could leap three spear-lengths high and four spear-lengths forward, which enabled Marko to pursue and capture the dangerous and elusive vila called Ravijojla. She then became his sister-in-God, promising to aid him if he should ever be in evil straits. When Ravijojla helped him to kill the monstrous, three-hearted Musa the Outlaw, who almost defeated him, Marko grieved because he had slain a better man than himself.[51][52]

Prince Marko, Miloš Obilić, and the vila Ravijojla in the painting by Paja Jovanović (1906) inspired by the poem "Marko Kraljević and the Vila". Its plot takes place on Mount Miroč.

Marko is portrayed as a protector of the weak and helpless, a fighter against Turkish bullies and against injustice in general. He acted as an ideal bearer of patriarchal and natural norms of life: amidst a Turkish military camp, he beheaded the Turk who dishonorably killed his father; he abolished the marriage tax by killing the tyrant who imposed it on the people of Kosovo; he saved the sultan's daughter from an unwanted marriage, after she entreated him as her brother-in-God to help her; he rescued three Serbian voivodes, his brothers-in-God, from a dungeon; he helped animals in trouble. He is shown as a rescuer and benefactor of people, promoter of life; "Prince Marko is remembered like a fair day in the year," as is stated in a poem.[45]

A striking characteristic of Marko's was his devotion to his mother Jevrosima, for whom he cherished a limitless reverence and love. He constantly sought her advice and obeyed it even when it contradicted his own impulses and desires. She lived with Marko at his mansion in Prilep, shining as his lodestar that led him toward the good and away from the evil, along the path of moral improvement and Christian virtues.[53] Marko's honesty and high moral courage are conspicuous in the poem in which he happened to be the only person who knew the will of the late Tsar Dušan regarding his heir. Marko refused to bear false witness in favor of the pretenders—his own father and uncles—and spoke out the truth that Dušan had appointed his son Uroš heir to the Serbian throne. This almost cost him life as Vukašin tried to kill him.[46]

Marko is also represented as a loyal vassal to the Ottoman sultan, fighting to protect the potentate and his empire from dangerous outlaws. When summoned by the sultan, he participated in Turkish military campaigns.[45] Yet even in this relationship, the hero's strong personality and sense of dignity were expressed. More than once the sultan actually showed anxiety towards his burly, wayward vassal,[46] and the interviews between Marko and his imperial master usually ended in this way:

Цар с' одмиче, а Марко примиче,
Док доћера цара до дувара;
Цар се маши у џепове руком,
Те извади стотину дуката,
Па их даје Краљевићу Марку:
"Иди, Марко, напиј ми се вина."[54]

The Sultan went backwards and Marko followed after,
Until he drave him even to the wall.
Right so the Sultan put hand in pocket
And drew forth an hundred ducats,
And gave them to Kraljević Marko.
"Go, Marko," quoth he, "drink thy fill of wine."[55]

Marko's fealty was skilfully combined with the suggestion that the nominal servant was in reality greater than his lord. Serbian bards thus reversed the roles and turned the tables on their conquerors. This dual aspect of Marko could be a reason why he became a national hero of the Serbs: for them he grew into "the proud symbol expressive of the unbroken spirit that lived on in spite of disaster and defeat,"[46] as stated by David Halyburton Low, translator of Serbian epic poems.

In fights Marko used not only his strength and prowess but also cunning and trickery. Despite all the extraordinary qualities, he was not depicted as some abstract superhero or a god, but as a mortal man. There were opponents in the presence of whom his courage wavered and those who surpassed him in strength; there were times when his spirit quailed. He had his evil moments, when he acted capricious, short-tempered, or even with cruelty, but these were few in number. The prevailing traits of the hero's nature were honesty, self-sacrificing loyalty, and the fundamental goodness.[46]

With his comically stylized appearance and behavior, and his wry remarks at opponents' expense, Marko is regarded as the most humorous character in the Serbian epic poetry.[45] When a Moor smote him with a mace, the hero spoke to the attacker laughingly, "O valiant black Moor! Are you jesting or smiting in earnest?"[56] Jevrosima once advised her son to cease from his bloody adventures and to plough fields. He obeyed, but in his grimly humorous way,[46] ploughing the sultan's highway instead of fields. There came a group of Turkish Janissaries, who transported three packs of gold. They shouted at him to stop ploughing the highway, to which he responded by warning them to keep off the furrows. Marko quickly wearied of the exchange of words:

Диже Марко рало и волове,
Те он поби Турке јањичаре,
Пак узима три товара блага,
Однесе их својој старој мајци:
"То сам тебе данас изорао."[57]

He swung plough and oxen on high,
And slew therewith the Turkish Janissaries.
Then he took the three charges of gold,
And brought them to his mother,
"Behold," quoth he, "what I have ploughed for thee this day."[58]
The death of Prince Marko, painting by Novak Radonić (1848).

Marko, aged 300 years, rode on 160-years-old Šarac by the seashore towards Mount Urvina, when a vila told him that he was going to die. Marko then stooped over a well and saw no reflection of his head from the water, hydromancy thus confirming the vila's words. He killed Šarac lest Turks capture and use him for menial labor, and gave his beloved companion an elaborate burial. He broke his sword and spear and threw his mace far out into the sea, before lying down to die. The hero's body was found seven days later by Vaso, the abbot of the Monastery of Hilandar on Mount Athos, and his deacon Isaija. Abbot Vaso transported Marko to Mount Athos and buried him at the monastery, leaving no sign of his grave.[59]

Epic poetry of Bulgaria and Macedonia

Krali Marko has been one of the most popular characters in Bulgarian folklore for centuries.[60] Bulgarian epic tales in general and those about Krali Marko in particular seem to originate from the Southwestern part of the Bulgarian ethnic area,[61] much of it on the territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia. Therefore, the same tales are also seen as part of the ethnic heritage of the present-day Macedonian nation, which had not yet come to be regarded as an entity independent from the Bulgarian ethnicity at the time when most of the songs were recorded.

According to the local legends, Marko's mother was Evrosiya (Евросия), sister of the Bulgarian voivoda Momchil, who ruled territories in the Rhodope Mountains. At the birth of Krali Marko, three narecnitsi (fate-fairies) appeared and foretold that he would become a hero and replace his father, the king. When king Volkašin heard this he threw his son in a basket in the river to get rid of him. But a samodiva (also called samovila) named Vila found Marko and brought him up, becoming his foster mother. Because Marko suckled the samodiva's milk, he acquired supernatural powers. He is portrayed as a Bulgarian fighter for freedom against the Turks. He has a winged horse, called Sharkolia (meaning Dappled) and a stepsister — the samodiva Gyura. The Bulgarian legends incorporate important fragments of pagan mythology and beliefs, even though the Marko epos itself was created as late as the 14-18th century. Among Bulgarian epic songs, songs from the cycle about Krali Marko are particularly common and occupy a central place in it.[62][63][64] Some prominent Bulgarian folklorists who collected stories about Marko are teacher Trayko Kitanchev (in the region of Resen in Western Macedonia), and Marko Cepenkov from Prilep (in different areas in the region).[65]

Prince Marko is known as Deli Marko in Bulgarian tradition and Marko Viteazul in Romanian folk legends.

In legends

Marko Kraljević, statue by Ivan Meštrović.

South Slavic legends about Kraljević Marko or Krali Marko are mostly based on mythological motifs that are much older than the historical Marko Mrnjavčević. There are differences between the hero's image in the legends and that in the folk poems. In some areas he was imagined as a giant who walked stepping on hilltops, his head knocking the clouds. It was also narrated that he helped God in shaping the Earth in ancient times, and created the river gorge of Demir Kapija ("Iron Gate") with a stroke of his sabre. Thus he drained the sea that covered the regions of Bitola, Mariovo, and Tikveš in Macedonia, which enabled people to inhabit them. After the Earth was shaped, he took to arrogantly showing off his strength. God took it away from him by leaving a bag as heavy as the Earth on a road: when Marko tried to lift it, he lost his gigantic strength and became an ordinary man.[66]

Legends also have it that the hero acquired his strength after he was suckled by a vila. King Vukašin threw his little son Marko into a river, because he did not resemble him, but the boy was saved by a cowherd who adopted him as a son, and the vila suckled him. By other accounts, Marko was a shepherd or a cowherd who found a vila's children lost in a mountain, and made a shade for them against the scorching sun, or gave them water. As a reward, the vila suckled him three times, after which he was able to lift and throw a huge boulder. In an Istrian version of this story, he made a shade for two snakes instead of the children. In a Bulgarian version, each of the three draughts of milk that he suckled from the vila's breast, turned into a snake.[66]

He was regularly associated with huge solitary boulders and indentations in rocks. The boulders were said to be thrown by Marko from a hill, the indentations being his footprints or those of his horse.[66] He was also connected with other geographic objects, such as hills, glens, cliffs, caves, rivers, brooks, and groves, which he created or did something memorable at. They were often named after him, so there are many toponyms from Istria in the west to Bulgaria in the east that are derived from the hero's name.[67] In stories from Bulgaria and Macedonia, Marko had a sister who was as strong as he, and competed with him in throwing boulders.[66]

Marko's wonder-horse was a gift from a vila by some legends, while a Serbian story gives the following account. He was looking for a horse that could bear him. To test a steed, he would grab him by the tail and sling him over his shoulder. Noticing a leprous piebald foal owned by some carters, he grabbed him by the tail, but could not move him at all. Marko bought and cured the foal, naming him Šarac (after šara "dapple"). He grew up into an enormously powerful horse, becoming the hero's inseparable companion.[68] A legend from Macedonia has it that Marko, on a vila's advice, captured a sick horse in a mountain and cured him. The patches on his skin that had been covered with crusts grew white hairs, so the hero's horse became piebald.[66]

According to folk traditions the hero never died, but lives on in a cave, in a den covered with moss, or in an unknown land.[66] A Serbian legend recounts that Marko once fought in a battle in which so many men were killed that the fighters and their horses ended up swimming in blood. He lifted up his hands towards heaven and said, "O God, what am I going to do now!" God took pity on Marko transporting him and Šarac into a cave, where the hero stuck his sabre into the rock and fell asleep. There is some moss in the cave, which Šarac eats bit by bit, while the sabre slowly comes out of the rock. When it falls down after it completely emerges, and the horse eats all of the moss, Marko will awake and reappear in the world.[68] Some people allegedly saw him after they descended into a deep pit, where he lived in a large house in front of which his horse was also seen. Others saw him in a faraway land, dwelling in a cave. According to a tradition from Macedonia, Marko drank of "eagle's water" which made him immortal, and he now accompanies Prophet Elijah in heaven.[66]

In modern culture


In 19th century, Marko was the subject of multiple dramatizations. In 1831, Hungarian drama Prince Marko was shown in Budim, possibly written by István Balog[69] and in 1838 Hungarian drama Prince Marko - Great Serbian Hero by Celesztin Pergő was shown in Arad.[69] In 1848 Jovan Sterija Popović wrote the tragedy The Dream of Prince Marko which has the legend of sleeping Marko as its central motif. Petar Preradović wrote the drama Kraljević Marko which glorifies the strength of the South Slavs. In 1863, Francesco Dall'Ongaro presented his Italian drama Resurrection of Prince Marko.[69]

American Slavicist Clarence A. Manning wrote a novelization of Marko's life Marko, The King's Son: Hero of The Serbs, published in New York in 1932. Marko is also the titular character in Marguerite Yourcenar's short story Marko's Smile, published in the volume Oriental Tales. His character, while showing extraordinary courage and endurance, is at the same time portrayed as a selfish and ruthless man who does not fight for any particular ideals.

Other authors choose to parody Marko's adventures. Radoje Domanović wrote the satirical story Prince Marko among the Serbs for the Second Time in which God fulfills Marko's wish and brings him back to life to help the Serbs who are calling him for hundreds of years. The story portrays Serbs of Domanović's time as unworthy of their forefathers and heroes. Multiple modern authors have carried this even further, writing stories such as Prince Marko among the Serbs for the Third Time or Prince Marko among the Serbs for the Fourth Time, updated with modern events. In 2006 Boris Starešina wrote the book Kraljević Marko: Natprirodni ciklus pjesama [Prince Marko: Supernatural Cycle of Poems], which parodies Serbian epic poems. In Starešina's poems Marko fights aliens, samurais, canibals, Superman's great-great-grandfather, and other enemies.

Some recent Balkan epic fantasy writers also reuse Marko. Boriana Balin, a Bulgarian writer of historical and fantasy stories has a book Vechniyat Konnik [Eternal Rider] published in Bulgarian. The book deals with the life of Marko's father Valkashin as well as the life and death of the legendary hero himself. Similarly, Marko is one of the principal characters of the Kosingas fantasy series by Serbian writer Aleksandar Tešić.

Visual arts

Ivan Meštrović's sculpture of Marko on Šarac on 50 Yugoslav dinars banknote.

Of all the epic or historical figures of Serbian history, Marko is considered to have given the most inspiration to visual artists.[70]

The oldest known depictions of Marko are 14th century frescoes from Marko's Monastery and Prilep.[71][72] From 18th century a drawing of Marko on parchment is preserved in the Čajniče Gospel, reminiscent of the style of stećci reliefs,[73] while Vuk Karadžić wrote that in his childhood (late 18th century) he saw a painting of Marko carrying an ox on his back.[68]

In 19th century, lithographs of Marko were made by Anastas Jovanović,[74] Ferdo Kikerec[75] and others. 19th century romantist artists who painted Marko include Mina Karadžić,[74] Novak Radonić,[76] Đura Jakšić;[76] 20th century Nadežda Petrović,[77] Mirko Rački,[78] Uroš Predić,[79] Paja Jovanović.[79] Ivan Meštrović made a sculpture of Marko riding his Šarac that was reproduced on a Yugoslav banknote and stamp.[80]

A number of modern illustrators have taken upon themselves to draw Marko as well. They include William Sewel, Gilbert James, Alexander Key, Zuko Džumhur, Vasa Pomorišac, Bane Kerac and many others.

Some common motifs are present in works of multiple authors. These are: Marko and Ravijojla; Marko with his mother; Marko and Šarac; Marko shooting an arrow; Marko plows the roads; Fight between Marko and Musa; and death of Marko.[81] Also, several artists have tried to reconstruct a realistic portrait of Marko on the basis of his frescoes.[71]

Popular culture

The Prilep Brewery introduced in 1924 a light beer called Krali Marko.[82]


^n.b.1 The family name "Mrnjavčević" was not mentioned in the contemporary sources, nor was any other surname associated with this family. The oldest known source mentioning the name "Mrnjavčević" is Ruvarčev rodoslov "The Genealogy of Ruvarac", written between 1563 and 1584. It is unknown whether it was introduced into the Genealogy from some older source, or from the folk poetry and tradition.[83]
^n.b.2 This liturgical book, acquired in the 19th century by Russian collector Aleksey Khludov, is kept today in the State Historical Museum of Russia.
^n.b.3 The name Despotović ("despot's son") was applied in a similar way to Uglješa, the son of Despot Jovan Uglješa, King Vukašin's younger brother.[44]

  1. ^ a b Fostikov 2002, pp.49–50.
  2. ^ a b Orbin 1968, p.116.
  3. ^ a b c d e Van Antwerp Fine 1994, pp.362–3.
  4. ^ a b Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.323.
  5. ^ Stojanović 1902, p.37.
  6. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.288.
  7. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.335.
  8. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.51. Ćorović 2001, "Распад Српске Царевине".
  9. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.77.
  10. ^ Šuica 2000, p.15.
  11. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.358.
  12. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.345.
  13. ^ Šuica 2000, p.19.
  14. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.83.
  15. ^ Miklošič 1858, p.180, № CLXVII.
  16. ^ a b Šuica 2000, p.20.
  17. ^ Fajfrić (2000), "Први Котроманићи".
  18. ^ a b Jireček 1911, p.430.
  19. ^ a b Theiner 1860, p.97, № CXC.
  20. ^ Theiner 1860, p.97, № CLXXXIX.
  21. ^ a b c d e Mihaljčić 1975, pp.170–1.
  22. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.137. Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.377.
  23. ^ a b c d Van Antwerp Fine 1994, pp.379–82.
  24. ^ Ćorović 2001, "Маричка погибија".
  25. ^ a b c Mihaljčić 1975, p.168.
  26. ^ Šuica 2000, pp.35–6.
  27. ^ Šuica 2000, p.42.
  28. ^ Fostikov 2002, p.51.
  29. ^ a b Mihaljčić 1975, pp.164–5.
  30. ^ Stojanović 1902, pp.58–9
  31. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.166.
  32. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.181.
  33. ^ Šuica 2000, pp.133–6.
  34. ^ a b Mandić 2003, pp.24–5.
  35. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.183.
  36. ^ Mihaljčić 1975, p.220.
  37. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.393.
  38. ^ a b Van Antwerp Fine 1994, pp.408–11.
  39. ^ Fostikov 2002, pp.52–3.
  40. ^ Fostikov 2002, p.47.
  41. ^ Van Antwerp Fine 1994, p.424.
  42. ^ Konstantin 2000, "О погибији краља Марка и Константина Драгаша".
  43. ^ a b c Noyes 1913, "Introduction".
  44. ^ a b Rudić 2001, p.89.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g Deretić 2000, "Епска повесница српског народа".
  46. ^ a b c d e f g h Low 1922, "The Marko of the Ballads".
  47. ^ Popović 1988, pp.24–8.
  48. ^ Low 1922, "The Marriage of King Vukašin".
  49. ^ Ćorović 2001, "Стварање српског царства".
  50. ^ Bogišić 1878, pp. 231–2.
  51. ^ Low 1922, "Marko Kraljević and the Vila"
  52. ^ Low 1922, "Marko Kraljević and Musa the Outlaw"
  53. ^ Popović 1988, pp.70–7.
  54. ^ Karadžić 2000, "Марко Краљевић познаје очину сабљу".
  55. ^ Low 1922, p.73.
  56. ^ Karadžić 2000, "Марко Краљевић укида свадбарину".
  57. ^ Karadžić 2000, "Орање Марка Краљевића".
  58. ^ Low 1922, "Marko's Ploughing".
  59. ^ Low 1922, "The Death of Marko Kraljević".
  60. ^ Volume 2 of Shaping the Superman: Fascist Body as Political Icon, p. 88.
  61. ^ Българско народно творчество в 12 тома. Том 1. Юнашки песни.
  62. ^ Studies and Monographs, Textualization of Oral Epics, p.302.
  63. ^ The River Danube in Balkan Slavic Folksongs, Ethnologia Balkanica (01/1997), Burkhart, Dagmar; Issue: 01/1997 , range Range: 53-60.
  64. ^ A history of Macedonian literature 865-1944, Volume 112 of Slavistic printings and reprintings, Charles A. Moser, Publisher Mouton, 1972.
  65. ^ Прилеп; зап. Марко Цепенков (СбНУ 2, с. 116-120, № 2 - "Марко грабит Ангелина").
  66. ^ a b c d e f g Radenković 2001, pp.293–7.
  67. ^ Popović 1988, pp.41–2.
  68. ^ a b c Karadžić 1852, pp.345–6, s.v. "Марко Краљевић".
  69. ^ a b c Šarenac 1996, p. 26
  70. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 06
  71. ^ a b Šarenac 1996, p. 05
  72. ^ "Serbian Medieval Royal Attire". 2006-11-21. Retrieved 2011-06-27. 
  73. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 27
  74. ^ a b Šarenac 1996, p. 44
  75. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 27
  76. ^ a b Šarenac 1996, p. 45
  77. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 28
  78. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 24
  79. ^ a b Šarenac 1996, p. 46
  80. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 33
  81. ^ Šarenac 1996, p. 06-14
  82. ^ "Krali Marko". Prilep Brewery. Retrieved 2011-06-28. 
  83. ^ Rudić 2001, p.96.


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External links

Videos of Serbian epic poems sung to the accompaniment of the gusle:

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