No. XXXVII (2006)

Patterns of Martyrial Sanctity in the Royal Ideology of Medieval Serbia: Continuity and Change

Smilja Marjanović Dušanić
University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, History Department

Published 01.12.2006


  • medieval Serbia,
  • holy king,
  • royal sainthood,
  • cults of the Nemanjić rulers,
  • holy relics

How to Cite

Marjanović Dušanić, S. (2006). Patterns of Martyrial Sanctity in the Royal Ideology of Medieval Serbia: Continuity and Change. Balcanica - Annual of the Institute for Balkan Studies, (XXXVII), 69–79.


Especially important for the development of the holy king concept with the Serbs appears to be the early period of Serbian sovereignty, initially in Zeta, and subsequently in Raška under Stefan Nemanja and his descendants. During the eleventh century, cults of royal martyrs arise across the Slavic world, receiving a most enthusiastic response connected with the spread of the martyrial and monastic ideals in Byzantium. The cult of St Vladimir is the earliest royal saint’s cult with the Serbs, and it is rightfully set apart from the ideologically consistent whole encompassing the subsequent cults of the Nemanjić rulers. The cult of this royal saint undergoes a change in the twelfth century as regards the image of the exemplary ruler. The martyrial cults of holy kings emerge in medieval Serbia only in the fifteenth century, under the influence of completely different motives. The cults of national royal saints associate domestic dynasties with the Old Testament-based traditions of God-chosenness, which play a central role in the processes of securing political legitimation for ruling houses. At the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we can see both the national and universal relics being used for raising an awareness of chosenness, observable in expanding the sacred realm as the fatherland’s prayerful shield. In that sense, all-Christian relics, especially those of Constantinopolitan provenance, become integrated into domestic traditions.


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