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Stefan Nemanja (Old Church Slavonic: Ст фань, , ) (1109 13 February 1199) was a Medieval Serb nobleman, descended from the Vukanović who was Grand Prince (Serbian: Велики Жупан) of the medieval Serb state of Raška (Рашка) from 1166 to 1199. He established control over the territories of neighboring Serb states, including Zeta/Doclea, and unified them into a single state. He founded the Nemanjić dynasty and became recognized as an Orthodox Christian Saint (Symeon) after numerous alleged miracles following his death.

Name and title

Various names have been used to refer to Stefan Nemanja, including Stefan I and the Latin Stephanus Nemanja. Sometimes the spelling of his name is anglicised, to become Stephen Nemanya. In the latter part of his life, he became a monk and hence was referred to as Monk Simeon or Monk Symeon. After his death, he was canonised by the Orthodox Church, and became St. Simeon the Myrrh-flowing (Greek: Elaiovrytis; English: He who flows with the Holy Oil). Nemanja's name is a Serbian version of Nehemiah. His son and successor, Stefan the First-Crowned, called him The Gatherer of the Lost Pieces of the Land of his Grandfathers, and also their Rebuilder.


Nemanja was born in 1109, in Ribnicamarker, one of the largest continental towns of Doclea/Zeta. He was the firstborn son of Zavida, allegedly exiled Serb Prince of Zachlumia, of the House of Vojislavljević, although, for this claim, there are no evidence. Real identity about Zavida and his religion is still dubious. As Zeta had an overwhelming Roman Catholic influence, Nemanja was baptised by a Catholic Priest. Stefan, Nemanja's biographer, wrote: And as in that land were Latin heretics; so by God's will (Nemanja) in that temple received Latin Christianity. In Nemanja's honour, a Monastery of Saint Peter and Paul was later raised at the place of his birth.

Although of noble descent, Nemanja had a humble childhood in an uncomfortable house made of solid stone, with cotton and cloth-made curtains to protect the interior from the sun and the doors and floor covered by many-coloured sheets. At nighttime, the house was lit by candles and lanterns, unlike the ordinary poor housings. Ordinarily, all precious objects were held in a chest to which only the house elder possessed a key. As bedsheets were very rare in those days, even for the wealthiest, Nemanja often slept at the floor, covered only with fur. Later were mattresses, plumes and straw-mattresses used. The main types of food eaten were herbal, bread (unleavened or otherwise), gruel and meat or cheese pies. The most used nutritious product was, naturally, cheese, but pig and goat meat was used substantially as well. Of the pigs' products, the most appreciated was ham and bacon. Much rarer was fish and game on the menu. The standard drinks on Nemanja's table were wine and mead.

Nemanja spent his free time hunting quails, partridges and other birds, which was considered a noble trade. He received the most prestige for capturing falcons. He used to take part in regular falcon captures in the hills near Kotormarker and their training grounds to help men hunt. Beside hunting, martial games were also an important aspect of Nemanja's life. Nemanja learned to handle swords, as well as to shoot from bows and slings. Nemanja often participated, as was usual for those times, in numerous feast that always came with dancing, most notably the kolo. The most often played instruments were pipe, fiddles, bagpipes and horn. Fancy-dress balls were frequent subjects of these parties; animal masks were used. When there were no such things, sources of entertainment were most often found at taverns, where women worked, over whom brawls often erupted. Singing was also of great importance to life and songs were used for all occasions, but especially at weddings - epic poems were a necessity of life whose continuity could not be interrupted.

After the defeat of Duklja's King Đorđe, and the exodus of his branch of the Vojislavljević family and their supporters to Rascia, Nemanja went with his family to their Rascian family estates. Upon his arrival in Ras, the capital of Rascia, Nemanja was re-baptised into the Eastern Orthodox Church in Ras' Church of Saint Peter and Paul. This mainly political action was conducted due to the dominating influence of the Eastern Church in Rascia.


When he reached adulthood, Nemanja became Prince (Serbian: Жупан) of Ibar, Toplica, Rasina and Reke, ruling in the name of his grandfather, Grand Prince Uroš I, who was a first a vassal of the Byzantine Emperor, and then later of the King of Hungary. Nemanja married a Serbian noblewoman, Ana, with whom he had two sons: Vukan and Stefan, naming them in accordance with Doclean tradition. The political scene in Rascia switched rapidly. The next Grand Prince, Uroš II Prvoslav, was deposed because of his support of the Hungarian Crown. After interregnums of Princes Desa and Beloš, Desa finally became Nemanja's liege in 1162. Desa refused to accept the Byzantine Emperor's demands and Nemanja supported the dethronement of Desa by the Byzantines in 1163.

In 1163, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos installed Nemanja's older brother Tihomir as Grand Prince of Rascia in Prince Desa's place, which disappointed Nemanja greatly, as he expected that he would get the throne. Nemanja met the Emperor Manuel in Nišmarker in 1162, who gave him the region of Dubočicamarker to rule over and declared him independent. The Emperor gave him the title of Imperial Dream already in 1161—a high title in the Byzantine hierarchy, as it was important for the Byzantine Emperor to have the borderlands of the Empire ruled by loyal leaders. Nemanja's Serb squadrons fought in the Imperial Army in 1164 in Sremmarker during the Emperor's 1163 War against the Kingdom of Hungary. Nemanja ruled independently, as he built the Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Kuršumlijamarker and the Monastery of the Holy Mother of Christ near Kosanicamarker-Toplica without the approval of his older brother, the Grand Prince of Rascia. His brothers invited him to Ras to a Council, supposedly to resolve the situation, but instead they imprisoned him and had him closed in a nearby cave. According to myth, Saint George himself freed him from the cave.

Grand Prince

First reign

In 1166-1168, Prince Nemanja rebelled against his older brother, the Grand Prince of Rascia, deposed him and exiled him with his brothers, Miroslav and Stracimir. The Byzantine Emperor raised a mercenary army for Tihomir, made up of Greeks, Francs and Turks, which was defeated by Nemanja at the Battle of Pantino, south of Zvečanmarker. Nemanja assumed the title of Grand Prince of All Rascia, and took the first name Stefan (Greek: Stephanos (crowned)) in honour of his patron saint - Saint Stephen. Tihomir drowned himself in the river of Sitnicamarker. Stefan Nemanja built the church of Đurđevi Stupovimarker (English: Pillars of St. George) in Ras in 1171. According to the legend, this was to thank Saint George for freeing him from the cave in which he was imprisoned by his brothers. The same year, Nemanja had his third son - Rastko. Nemanja attributed his rise to power to none other than Saint George.

In 1171, Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja sided with the Venetian Republicmarker in a dispute with the Byzantine Empire, with the aim of gaining full independence from Byzantine rule. The Venetians incited the Slavs of the eastern Adriaticmarker littoral to rebel against Byzantine rule and Nemanja wished to join them, launching an offensive towards the coastal city of Kotormarker. A German fleet was formed to replace the Venetian navy, and it advanced eastwards in the September of 1171, capturing Ragusamarker. Nemanja was ready to make a full-scale rebellion. Nemanja also made an alliance with the Kingdom of Hungary, and, though the Hungarians, with the Duchy of Austria. Grand Prince Nemanja dispatched a force to the Morava valley in 1172, to jeopardise communications and the traffic between Nišmarker and Belgrademarker and to instigate a rebellion amongst the local Serbs at Ravnomarker. As a result, the Serb citizens of Ravno refused to allow passage to the King of Saxony Heinrich the Lion , a Byzantine ally. The Serbs organised a surprise attack on the German camp; they then attacked their own neighbours and disturbed the peace in the local region. In 1172, Nemanja joined the anti-Byzantine coalition with the Kingdom of Hungary, the Venetian Republicmarker and the Holy Roman Empire. The alliance, however, soon collapsed as Venice faced a mutiny and an outbreak of plague that devastated her navy, while the King of Hungary died and a new, pro-Byzantine, King ascended the throne, so the Rascian Grand Prince was left alone. The same year the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos launched an expedition against Rascia and defeated Nemanja's forces, so the Grand Prince met him in Nišmarker to surrender. He came to the Emperor with his head and feet bare, bowed before him and gave him his own personal sword as a mark of surrender. Emperor Manuel had him imprisoned and brought him to the Imperial Capital of Constantinoplemarker as a personal slave. In the Byzantine Empire's capital, Nemanja was tutored by and befriended Manuel. Nemanja vowed to never again attack Manuel, while the Emperor in return recognized Stefan Nemanja and his bloodline as the rightful Grand Princes of the Rascian lands. William, archbishop of Tyre, who visited Constantinople in 1179, described the "rebellious Serbs" as "an uneducated people, lacking discipline, living in mountains and forests, unskilled in agriculture. They are rich in herds and flocks and unusually well supplied with milk, cheese, butter, meat, honey and wax".

Second reign

The map of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja's unified Serb lands

Nemanja used the following decade to deal with the Bogomil heresy that was present in his realm, as well as strengthening Eastern Orthodox Christianity. He declared the Bogomils heretics and punished them because of their religious beliefs, burning their books. He had their lands confiscated, burned some at the stake, and exiled others. By the end of his reign, Duke Stefan Nemanja had completely rooted out the Bogomils. Stefan Nemanja forced his brothers, Stracimir of West Moraviamarker and Miroslav of Zachlumia and Lim to accept his supreme rule in return for his forgiveness; he also made Tihomir's son Stefan Prvoslav give up his claim to the throne. The Duke's army was involved only in a single conflict at the request of his Byzantine liege; in Asia Minormarker. In the meantime, Prince Stracimir built the Monastery of the Mother of Christ in his capital at Moravian Gracmarker (today Čačakmarker), while Great Prince Miroslav raised the Monastery of Saint Peter on Lim. Miroslav also married the sister of Kulin Ban of Bosnia, creating an important bloodline link between the ruling dynasties of Serbiamarker and Bosnia.

Following the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, Stefan Nemanja no longer considered that he owed any allegiance to the Byzantines since he viewed his vows as being to the Emperor, not the Empire, so he took advantage of the Empire's weakened state. Prince Miroslav put under his protection the Narentine Kačić family, who had orchestrated the murder of Rajneri, the Bishop of Split . Additionally, he kept the Bishopric's money for himself. He was altogether reluctant on allowing the Catholicism to spread in his demesne as he did not allow the organization and recruitment of new members in the Cathedrals in his lands. Because of this, Miroslav was excommunicated by the Papacy in 1181. As a gesture, the Bishop of Stonmarker abandoned his seat and since then the Bishopric of Ston has remained vacant. In 1183, Duke Stefan Nemanja formed alliances with King Bela III of Hungarymarker and invaded Byzantine soil. The main reason was the new usurper to the Imperial throne, Andronicus Comnenus, that was not recognized; as well as the slaughter of Constantinoplemarker's Latins. Duke Nemanja was also assisted by his relative, Kulin Ban of Bosnia. The Byzantine forces in the eastern Serb borderlands were led by Alexios Brannes and Andronicus Lapardas . Inner fights occurred, as Brannes supported the new Emperor and Lapardas, opposing, deserted with his troops. Without difficulties the Hungaro-Serbian military pushed the Greeks out of the Valley of Morava advanced all the way to Sophia, raiding Belgrademarker, Braničevo, Ravnomarker, Nišmarker and Sophia itself. But the Hungarians soon withdrew from the war, leaving the Duke's forces raiding across western Bulgariamarker.

In 1184, the Great Prince of Zahumlje Miroslav went to retake the islands of Korčulamarker and Vis. On 18 August 1184 Miroslav's fleet was devastated by the Ragusian navy at Poljice near Koločepmarker, and signed peace with the Dubrovnik Republic. He channelled the order to his brother, Prince Stracimir. In 1185, Prince Stracimir raided Korčula and Vis with the Doclean fleet. He joined the war against the Republic of Ragusa, but was forced to withdraw because Miroslav already made peace by the time Stracimir marshaled his forces. The same year the Byzantines launched a counter-attack on Serbia, but a Bulgarian uprising was raised in the Danubian areas which made the offensive get called-off, so Duke Stefan Nemanja utilized the situation and conquered the Timok Frontier with Nišmarker and sacked Svrljigmarker, Ravno and Koželj. While Stefan Nemanja held Niš, it served as his capital and base of operations.

In 1186, Duke Stefan Nemanja launched a campaign to invade and annex the place of his birth - Doclea. Already in 1185, he annexed and victouriously entered the city of Kotormarker - sparing it from any destruction - where he built himself a Chateu. Duklja, as a coastal land, had a dominant Catholic Christian character spreading from the City of Barmarker with a Roman Catholic Archbishopric and also from Kotormarker and Ragusamarker. Rascia stood as an ethnicly purer, patriarchal, more conservative, with the national language and heritage staying at large and with an insignificant number of Romanized nomads, over Duklja—significantly populated by the autochthonous Romanized populace and Arbanasses next to Slavs and having almost all inscriptions written in Latin. This ethnic mixture greatly affected its political life. Doclea was no longer in its high ages of glory. The time was ripe for a final decision between the two conflicting elements over the Serbian people - the West or East. When Stefan's forces reached Barmarker on their road, they besieged it. As a ransom, the Duke demanded that the City pays him 800 perpers. The City was defended by its patriotic Archbishop, Primate Gregory (Grgur). He has been writing his Chronicle since 1171, in which he presented a calling the return of former Doclean power and celebrated the fame and longevity of Dioclea's Latin Cities. Archbishop Grgur requested reinforcements from Doclea's ruling Prince Mihailo, but Mihailo was being attacked by Nemanja's brothers Stracimir and Miroslav. In 1186 Stefan Nemanja appointed his oldest son Vukan of Nemanja as the ruler of the province of Zeta (Kingdom of Dioclea and Dalmatia), and made his second son, Stefan II of Nemanja, the successor to the Grand Princely throne. To confirm his grip over Doclea, Duke Nemanja harshly persecuted the local Greek nobility, charging them for molesting and torturing his people for centuries, and ultimately cursing the Greeks and exterminating them in Duklja through exiles.

In 1187, Duke Stefan Nemanja attempted one final attack against the Republic of Dubrovnik with his brothers. Long street fights followed within the City. Norman reinforcements finally arrived and succeeded in pushing the Serbian troops out of some sectors of the City. On 27 September 1187, a peace treaty was negotiated in Dubrovnik. The Serbian side was represented by Prince Nevdal and Družina Vidošević, while Dubrovnik's Prince Krvaš and Archbishop Tribun together with a Norman emissary from the Kingdom of Sicily represented the Ragusian side. It was arranged that ever since there would be eternal peace between Serbia and Dubrovnik, that Dubrovnik will accept the nominal rule of the Serb Kings and that the House of Nemanjić would forever maintain the statehood of the Republic. The Ragusian traders received free passage rights across the Serbian Lands and were entitled to use Nemanja's fields and forests that surrounded the city. In turn, the Republic's border would be always open to the Zachlumians and its Government had to pay taxes to the Serbian Lords.

In 1188, Duke Stefan Nemanja sent an envoy to Nirnberg, Friedrich Barbarossa's Capital of the Holy Roman Empire inviting him to stay during while Crusading to the Holy Land, Count Berthold Andex of Istriamarker's Krain who was at the same time Duke of Croatiamarker and Slavoniamarker. The Holy Roman Emperor disembarked on the Third Crusade and arrived on 27 July 1189 to Nišmarker with 100,000 Crusaders, where Stefan Nemanja and Stracimir accepted and guested Emperor Friedrich. A marriage was arranged between Barthold Andex's daughter and Miroslav's son Toljen to strengthen Serbian-German relations. Nemanja's proposals to Barbarossa that he should abandon the Holy War and strike at the Byzantines with him met little approval. Friedrich needed Byzantine help to move his military might to Asia. Friedrich's plans changed when a Byzantine force stopped him from reaching his next stop - Sophia. The Greeks also started raiding his Army, which infuriated the Emperor so much that he planned an offensive to Constantinople itself. Stefan Nemanja offered 20,000 men to support the Emperor's military campaign, while the Bulgarians offered more than twice that amount. Despite being in his early 70s, Stefan Nemanja followed the Crusaders with his Army to the border at Trojan's Gate, when he moved to new conquests and dispatched envoys to Adrianopolismarker to officialize the Alliance with Emperor Friedrich. While his envoys were negotiating with Berthold Andex, who was negoatiating in Friedrich's place, Nemanja took Pernikmarker, Zemenmarker, Velbužd, Žitomisk, Stob, Prizren and rest of Kosovomarker and Metohija and even Skopjemarker. The alliance with the Crusaders was not forged, because Friedrich signed peace with the Byzantines on 14 February 1190 in Adrianopolis.
The Seal of Stefan Nemanja from the late 12th century
In 1189, Duklja's Prince Mihailo died, leaving the future rulers of his demesne undisputable. Realizing that their time has passed, his wife Desislava went with the remaining still loyal Doclean nobility in her two ships seeking shelter in the Republic of Dubrovnik. She was accompanied by Grgur who was just exiled from the Bar Archbishopric by Nemanja's order. She would then gift the two ships to the Republic and retire to Omišmarker. Grgur left to Split seeking the local Archbishop for assistance, but found no one seated there. He would continue to travel and finish his famous Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja upon his death in 1196. Stefan Nemanja introduced Orthodox Christianity in Zeta, putting a halt to the dominating Latin culture and language and Catholic religion as masses of the population were being forcibly converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and the Latin books were burnt and no longer written. Thankful to Nemanja's rapid actions, Bogumilism didn't breach to Zeta and lastly, Nemanja exiled the Greeks from this new land. In 1189, Prince Miroslav of Zahumlje created the omnibus of the Medieval Slavic litteratrue - the famous Miroslav's Gospel. The work was so inspiring that Ban Kulin of Bosnia had his edict to the Dubrovnik Republic written by the same scribes. Around this time, Nemanja's brother Stracimir died, so Stefan acquired his demesne - West Moravia.

In 1190, the new Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelo prepared a massive and experienced Army to strike against Nemanja. The same year, Stefan Nemanja finished his magnificent Temple of the Immaculate Holy Virgin the Benefactor out of the White Marble as his dynasty's endowment. It became the Temple of the House of Nemanjić. Also in 1190 Prince Miroslav died of old age, so Stefan Nemanja implaced his son Rastko as the new Prince of Zahumlje in Ston, who induced the religious spirit of the populace greatly.

In Fall, 1191, this well-prepared Byzantine Army, led by the Emperor himself, clashed with Nemanja and his forces in South Moraviamarker. Stefan Nemanja suffered a terrifying defeat, which made him retreat to the mountains. The Byzantines raided all lands around the bank of the river and even burned down Stefan's Court in Kuršumlijamarker. Nemanja had the tactical advantage and began raiding the Byzantine armies, so Emperor Isaac decided to negotiate a final peace treaty. Stefan Nemanja had to give up a large part of his conquests, east of the river of Morava and recognize the Byzantine Emperor's supreme rule, while the Emperor recognized him as the rightful Grand Prince. To signify the final peace, Nemanja's son Stefan married the Byzantine Princess Eudocia and received the title of Sebastokrator - among the highest Byzantine Courtier titles, only given to the Emperor's family members. The Emperor only wanted to separate the Serbs from the Bulgarians, so he kept Niš and Ravno; while the Greek Lands of Zeta, Kosovomarker with Lipljanmarker, Metohija to Prizrenmarker and the Arbanass Pilot were kept by Stefan Nemanja.

In 1192, Rastko flees his Monastery in Ston to Mount Athos in the Byzantine Empire where he accepted Monastic vows and asserted the name Sava. This greatly saddenned the Grand Prince. In Rastko's place, Miroslav's son Toljen became Prince of Zahumlje and founded a local dynasty. Rascia was in danger once more as Nemanja's former ally, King Bela Arpad invaded his realm from the north. The Grand Prince's quick military activities pushed the Hungarians across the border northwards in 1193.

In 1195, Stefan Nemanja's brother-in-law Alexius III inherited the Eastern Roman Imperial throne. Nemanja, tired of ruling, expanded the power and lands of his son Vukan. He put Zeta with Trebinjemarker, Hvosno and his capital of Toplica under Vukan's absolute rule.

Abdication & Later Life

On March 25 1196, Stefan Nemanja summoned a Council ( ) in Ras, where he officially abdicated in favour of his second son, Stefan, to whom he bequeathed all his earthly possessions. This decision was not in accordance with the traditional right of primogeniture, according to which Vukan, his first son, should inherited the throne. This was not accepted lightly by Vukan. Nemanja took monastic vows with his wife Ana in the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Ras and adopted the monastic name of Simeon. His wife took the name Anastasia. Simeon subsequently retired to his Studenica monasterymarker and Anastasia retired to the Monastery of the Mother of Christ in Kuršumlijamarker. After numerous pleas by his son Sava (originally baptised Rastko), Simeon left to the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos, and joined his son in 1197 in the Vatopedimarker monastery. In 1199, the two rebuilt together the ruined Eastern Orthodox Monastery of Hilandarmarker given to the Serbian people by the Byzantine Emperor, which became the heart of Serbian spiritual culture. Simeon died in front of his son Sava, on 13 February 1199, in front of the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria (The Three-Handed Virgin) in his 86th year of life. He was buried in the grounds of Hilandar monastery. His last words were to request that Sava take his remains to Serbia, "when God permits it, after a certain period of time". Nemanja's son Sava wrote the Liturgy of Saint Simeon in Nemanja's honour.

According to belief, a holy oil seeped from his tomb. This is how he gained the epithet "the Myrrh-flowing". This miracle is said to have not occurred in the past 300 years. His body is, however, even in modern times supposed to give off "a sweet smell, like violets" (Kindersley, 23). It is because of this and numerous miracles that occurred over his dead body that the Serbian Orthodox Church canonised him in 1200, and declared his feast-day on February 26 (February 13 Old Style). In 1206 his son Sava brought his remains to Rascia. The civil war between Nemanja's other sons Stefan and Vukan was tearing apart the Serb lands. It is over Simeon's deceased body that the two brothers made peace and returned to their demesnes. Simeon was re-buried in 1207 in his personal foundation, the Studenica monasterymarker, where holy oil again seeped, from his new grave. The Cult of Saint Simeon that was founded maintained his heritage and the foundations of a firm national identity amongst the Serbs. The Cult still lives on in Studenica and among the monks of Mount Athos, cherishing his life, works and remains:
  • Charter of Grand Prince Stephen to Hilandar
  • Old and new Relics of Saint Simeon
  • Vine of Saint Symeon
  • Cell of Saint Symeon
  • Icon of Saint Symeon

Marriage & Descendants

Nemanja was married to a Serb noblewoman by the name of Ana. They had three sons and three daughters:




See also


  1. William of Tyre, Historia Transmarina 20.4.
  2. Genealogy of the Nemanjić


  • Judah, Tim (1997). The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Yale University Press.
  • Kindersley, Anne (1976). The Mountains of Serbia: Travels through Inland Yugoslavia, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.
  • Mandic, O. Dominic (1970). Croats and Serbs: Two old and different Nations. Translated by Vicko Rendic and Jacques Perret. Available at:
  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (2002). Serbia: the History behind the Name, Hurst & Company.
  • The Serbian Unity Congress.
  • Servia/Serbia, Catholic Encyclopedia (1907)
  • Veselinović, Andrija & Ljušić, Radoš (2001). Српске династије, Platoneum.
  • CD Chilandar by Studio A, Aetos, Library of Serb Patriarchate and Chilandar monastery, Belgrade, 1998
  • Ćorović, Vladimir (2005). ИЛУСТРОВАНА ИСТОРИЈА СРБА, Book II, Politika.

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