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King Marko (Serbian: Краљевић Марко; Bulgarian and Macedonian: Крали Марко) was an independent Serbianmarker feudal lord in Macedoniamarker from 1371-1395. Marko is venerated as a national hero by the the Serbs and Bulgarians and he is also the protagonist of many epic poems. Folklore came to remember him as a respected protector and savior of the Christians during the period of early Ottoman Turkish occupation of Macedonia.

Marko, the historical figure

Marko was the eldest son of Serbian feudal ruler king Vukašin ( 1366-1371 ) and his wife Elena. Vukašin and his brother despot Uglješa came to power after the death of emperor Stefan Dušan (1355) when they practically became independent under the nominal suzerainty of Dušan's son Stefan Uroš V (1355-1371). At the peak of his power Vukašin ruled the area corresponding to northern and western part of present day Republic of Macedoniamarker, region of Metohija and southern part of Kosovomarker region. When Vukašin was coronated as king (around 1366) Marko was coronated as young king or heir presumptive and latter he participated in his father's military campaign against another powerful Serbian feudal lord Nikola Altomanović. It's unknown wherever Marko participated in Battle of Maritsa 1371 where Serbian army suffered defeat against Ottoman Turks and his father and uncle lost their lives. After the battle Marko inherited his father as king of Serbia but soon he lost significant parts of his land, namely Metohija with the cities of Pećmarker and Prizrenmarker which were taken by Đurađ I Balšić , and south Kosovo and the city of Skopjemarker which were conquered by Vuk Branković. After this loses Marko ruled as Ottoman vassal in the area corresponding roughly to the western half of the present-day the adjacent areas of Kastoriamarker and Florina in present-day Greecemarker, and the area of Korçëmarker in Albaniamarker. His capital was at Prilepmarker. Marko was married to Jelena, daughter of Hlapen, Serbian lord of Beroiamarker and Edessa in northern Greece. They did not have any known offspring. After king Vukašin died in 1371, fighting against the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Maritsa, Marko became an Ottoman vassal and later died, alongside Serbian feudal lord Konstantin Dragaš, at the Battle of Rovine, fighting the Vlachs, in 1395.

Marko in Serbian epic poetry

Coin minted by Marko
Serbian epic poems attribute to Marko superhuman strength: He is said to be able to squeeze water from cornel dried for nine years; his weapon of choice is said to be a mace (Slavic: Топуз, topuz) of 66 oka (85 kilograms); the horse he chose was said to be the only one he could not throw over his shoulder.

The poems also assert his knightly valor: Even though he is prone to short-tempered outbursts, he remains a protector of the poor and the helpless, a guardian of the law and order, even when to his disadvantage. In one song he mourns killing a better hero, Musa, the Albanian robber; in another, he decides on the rightful ruler of the Serbian Empire, Uroš, even though his dishonesty could have benefited his own father or his uncles. It is told that he chose to die when guns were invented (thus living for hundreds of years) and when he saw that "every coward can kill a hero," even from a distance. By some legends even in death he only sleeps, waiting in a cave until he is needed again, a typical king in the mountain motif. Marko's horse was named Šarac (Шарац; ). His godsister is a vila called Ravijojla (Равијојла).

His mother Jevrosima (Јевросима) is sister of Momchil Voivoda, although Marko and his brother Andrеja (Андреја, sometimes known as Andrijaš) both exist in the historical chronicles of King Vukašin. In Serbian epic poetry Mother Jevrosima becomes a symbol of justice, morality, and Christian virtues. Marko's father - Vukašin Mrnjavčević wanted Momchil's wife, Vidosava, as his own, and she helps him kill her husband, Marko's uncle. Jevrosima tries to stop them from killing her brother, but fails to do so, which costs her dearly by medieval criteria: her beauty is lost as her long mane is shorn off. When Vukašin, scrutinizing the lifeless body of Momchil, notices what an awesome man Momchil was — even stronger than himself — he says: "If she (Momchil's wife) betrayed such hero, God knows what will she do to me!". Instead, he chooses Jevrosima as his wife and kills Momchil's wife as a traitor, in the manner in which traitors were usually punished: quartering by horses. It was later said that Marko looked more like his uncle than his own father.

Marko in Bulgarian epic poetry

Krali Marko is one of the most popular characters in the Bulgarian folklore from Macedonia for centuries. According to the local legends, his mother was Evrosiya (Евросия), sister of the Bulgarian Voivode 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 Bulgarian folk epos from Macedonia was created as late as 14-18th century. Bulgarian epic tales, including those about Krali Marko, are particularly common.

In the Bulgarian epic songs about King Marko, the most beutiful is undoubtedly the one which describes how Marko lost his strength as the greatest hero. It was recorded by Macedonian Bulgarian teacher Trayko Kitanchev in the region of Resen in Western Macedonia. According to the Bulgarian philologist Krste Misirkov, Krali Marko songs in Macedonia and especially in Serbia, the so called Bugarstici are a result from Bulgarian musical influence over the Serbian folk music. Marko Cepenkov, another Bulgarian folklorist from Prilep, has also collected folk stories about Marko from different areas in the region.

Marko in modern literature

  • In 1848 Jovan Sterija Popović wrote the tragedy San Marka Kraljevića (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.
  • Radoje Domanović wrote the satirical story Kraljević Marko po drugi put među Srbima (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 Domavoić's time as unworthy of their forefathers and heroes.
  • 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.
  • In 2006 Boris Starešina wrote the book Marko Kraljević — Natprirodni ciklus (Prince Marko — Supernatural Cycle) which parodies Serbian epic poems. In Starešina's poems Marko fights aliens, samurais, canibals, Superman's great-great-grandfather and other enemies.

King Marko in popular culture

  • In 1966 the Prilep brewery introduced a light beer called Krali Marko.


  1. Volume 2 of Shaping the Superman: Fascist Body as Political Icon, J. A. Mangan, Publisher Routledge, 2000, ISBN 0714649554, p. 88.
  2. Studies and Monographs, Textualization of Oral Epics, Lauri Honko, Walter de Gruyter, 2000, ISBN 3110169282, p.302.
  3. The River Danube in Balkan Slavic Folksongs, Ethnologia Balkanica (01/1997), Burkhart, Dagmar; Issue: 01/1997 , range Range: 53-60.
  4. A history of Bulgarian literature 865-1944, Volume 112 of Slavistic printings and reprintings, Charles A. Moser, Publisher Mouton, 1972.
  5. The Bugarstica: A Bilingual Anthology of the Earliest Extant South Slavic Folk Narrative Song (Illinois Medieval Studies) John S. Miletich, ISBN 0252017110, University of Illinois Press.
  6. К. Мисирков. Южнославянските епически сказания за женитба­та на крал Марко сред южните славяни. Одеса, 1909. с. 6.; К. Мисирков. Народният ни епос и Македония. - Развитие, II, кн. 2-3, февруари-март 1919, с. 80.; К. Мисирков. Крали Марко. - Илинден, III, бр. 12, 25 март 1923.
  7. Прилеп; зап. Марко Цепенков (СбНУ 2, с. 116-120, № 2 - "Марко грабит Ангелина").

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