Višeslav (Serbian Cyrillic: Вишеслав, Greek: Βοϊσέσθλαβος) or Vojislav (Serbian Cyrillic: Војислав) is the first Serbian ruler known by name, who ruled in c. 780. Serbia was a Slavic principality subject to the Byzantine Empire, located in the western Balkans, bordering with Bulgaria in the east. Mentioned in the De Administrando Imperio (DAI) from the mid-10th century, Višeslav was a progenitor of the Serbian ruling family, known in historiography as the Vlastimirović dynasty changed name to Stanimirović .He descended from "the Serbian prince" who led his people to the Dalmatia province and established hereditary rule under Byzantine suzerainty. The names of Višeslav's predecessors were not included in the DAI. The dynasty ruled the Serbian Principality from the early 7th century until c. 960.
The history of the early medieval Serbian Principality and the Vlastimirović dynasty is recorded in the work De Administrando Imperio ("On the Governance of the Empire", DAI), compiled by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (r. 913–959). The DAI drew information on the Serbs from, among others, a Serbian source. The work mentions the first Serbian ruler, who is without a name but known conventionally as the "Unknown Archon", who led the Serbs from the north to the Balkans. He received the protection of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641), and was said to have died long before the Bulgar invasion of 680. Slavs invaded and settled the Balkans in the 6th and 7th centuries. Porphyrogenitus stressed that the Serbs had always been under Imperial rule. His account on the first Christianization of the Serbs can be dated to 632–638; this might have been Porphyrogenitus' construction, or may have really taken place, encompassing a limited group of chiefs and then very poorly received by the wider layers of the tribe.
According to the DAI, "baptized Serbia", known erroneously in historiography as Raška (Latin: Rascia), included the "inhabited cities" (kastra oikoumena) of Destinikon, Tzernabouskeï, Megyretous, Dresneïk, Lesnik and Salines, while the "small land" (chorion) of Bosna, part of Serbia, had the cities of Katera and Desnik. The other Serb-inhabited lands, or principalities, that were mentioned included the "countries" of Paganija, Zahumlje, Travunija, and the "land" of Duklja which was held by the Byzantine empire though it was presumably settled with Serbs as well. These were all situated by the Adriatic and shared their northern borders (in the hinterland) with baptized Serbia. The exact borders of the early Serbian state are unclear. The Serbian ruler was titled "archon of Serbia". The DAI mentions that the Serbian throne is inherited by the son, i.e. the first-born; his descendants succeeded him, though their names are unknown until the coming of Višeslav.
Serb lands in the 9th century
View of the highland part of the Stari Ras complex
The first ruler of the dynasty known by name was Višeslav, who began his rule around 780, being a contemporary of Frankish ruler Charlemagne (fl. 768–814). The Serbs at that time were organized into župe (sing. župa), a confederation of village communities roughly equivalent to a county, headed by a local župan (a magistrate or governor). The governorship was hereditary, and the župan reported to the Serbian prince, whom they were obliged to aid in war. According to V. Ćorović, the Serbs at first lived withdrawn in gorges, in their old tribal organization, while Byzantine rule was nominally recognized. Domestic rulers, veliki župani, ruled Serbia by right of inheritance. The land was divided between the ruler's brothers, with the oldest brother having certain domestic rule over the collective. According to a theory by historian B. Radojković (1958), Serbia was a "divided principality" and Višeslav could have been a chief military leader (veliki vojvoda), who, with his company, seized absolute control of ruling power and turned himself into a hereditary ruler, as veliki župan. In this way, the first Serbian state was thus established after 150 years of permanent living in the new homeland and existence of military democracy. B. Radojković's work was however discredited by S. Ćirković.
Although Višeslav is only mentioned by name, the DAI mentions that the Serbs served the Byzantine Emperor, and that they were at this time at peace with the Bulgars, their neighbours with whom they shared a common frontier. The Bulgars, under Telerig, planned to colonize Bulgaria with Slavs from the neighbouring Berziti, as the earlier Bulgar expansion had caused massive Slav migrations and depopulation of Bulgaria when, in 762, more than 200,000 people fled to Byzantine territory and were relocated to Asia Minor. The Bulgars were defeated in 774, after Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–775) learned of their planned raid. The Bulgars had by 773 cut off the communication route, the Vardar valley, between Serbia and the Byzantines. In 783, a large Slavic uprising took place in the Byzantine Empire, stretching from Macedonia to the Peloponnese, which was subsequently quelled by Byzantine patrikios Staurakios. In Pannonia, to the north of Serbia, Frankish ruler Charlemagne (r. 768–814) started his offensive against the Avars. Dalmatia, at this time, had firm relations with Byzantium. There was a Byzantine–Frankish conflict in the period of 789–810 over Dalmatia, although nothing is known from contemporary sources about the Slavs in the hinterland. When the general Byzantine–Frankish conflict ended in 812, the Franks held the Dalmatian coast while the Byzantines held the Dalmatian cities.
Aftermath and legacy
Višeslav was succeeded by his son Radoslav followed by his grandson Prosigoj, and one of these two most likely ruled during the revolt of Ljudevit of Lower Pannonia against the Franks (819–822). According to Einhard's Royal Frankish Annals, Ljudevit fled from his seat at Sisak to the Serbs (who were believed to have been somewhere in western Bosnia) in 822, with Einhard mentioning "the Serbs, who control the greater part of Dalmatia" (ad Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur).
Višeslav's great-grandson Vlastimir began his rule in c. 830; he is the oldest Serbian ruler of which there is substantial data on. Between 839 and 842, a three-year war was fought between Vlastimir and Bulgarian ruler Presian, which ended in Serbian victory. The dynasty's longevity demonstrates the stability of the monarch and state. The names of Serbian rulers through Mutimir (r. 851–891) are Slavic dithematic names, per the Old Slavic tradition. With Christianization in the 9th century, Christian names appear.
The four named succeeding Serbian rulers are not mentioned in the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja (CPD), a source dating to c. 1300–10 and considered unreliable by historians with regard to the Early Middle Ages. Instead, the CPD mentions several historically unconfirmed or legendary rulers, Svevlad, Selimir, Vladin and Ratimir, although it maintains the patrilineal succession tradition. Historian Panta Srećković (1834–1903) believed that the CPD's Christian author was unwilling to name these rulers due to their being pagans who also perhaps had a reputation for defeating, killing and dispersing Christians.
An illustration of Višeslav is included in Kosta Mandrović's 1885 work. A street in the Čukarica neighbourhood of Belgrade is called Prince Višeslav Street (ulica kneza Višeslava).