Kosovo: 1389 and All That
The Battle of Kosovo on 28 June 1389 has been, says Roberts, "depicted by Serb historians as the most tragic and sacred event in Serbian history - a heroic defeat that ushered in five centuries of Turkish Muslim rule while reserving for the Serbs the moral high ground. For nineteenth century Serbian national leaders the need to avenge Kosovo became the most potent source of inspiration in the uprisings against the Turks." However, she continues, "for Montenegrins…the import of the story is slightly different."
In popular culture Montenegrins trace their origins back to the flight of the Serb nobility who sought shelter in their mountains after the fall of the empire at Kosovo. Yet here the emphasis is less on victimhood than on heroism born of the desire to avenge the defeat. Certainly it is likely that at least some of the vanquished remnants of Lazar's forces did seek refuge from the Ottomans in the more remote regions including Montenegro's Dinaric Mountains. Yet many more were killed, while others stayed on to accept Ottoman overlordship and even serve in the Ottoman armies. Moreover, inaccessible as they were, the mountainous areas of the western Balkans already sheltered groups of people - many of them Vlachs - who had fled from earlier invaders. In the years that followed the battle of Kosovo, these groups were to be joined by others as Christian populations from the more accessible regions withdrew from the advancing Ottomans. The notion that the people who were eventually to become Montenegrins are direct descendents of the warriors of Kosovo Polje thus contains more myth than reality; nonetheless it continues to provide an important strand in the tangle of Montenegrin identity.
By 1391 the Ottomans were launching raids as far as the coast and soon the scene was to be set in Zeta for the pattern of history for centuries yet to come.
From their base in Skadar the Ottomans began to consolidate their position in Albanian lands putting pressure on local lords who usually had no choice but to submit or seek terms with the other major power in the region, Venice. In their weakened state the leading noble families oscillated between Venetian and Ottoman suzerainty, often fighting wars with one another on behalf of their patrons.
Realm of the Black Mountain: A History of Montenegro. 2007. [C.Hurst & Co]