Vlastimir (Serbian: Властимир, Greek: Βλαστίμηρος; c. 805 – 851) was the Serbian prince from c. 830 until c. 851. Little is known of his reign. He held Serbia during the growing threat posed by the neighbouring, hitherto peaceful, Bulgarian Khanate, which had significantly expanded to the southeast, closing in on Serbia.
At the time, the Bulgars and the Byzantine Empire were in peace by treaty, and although the Byzantine Emperor was overlord of the Serb lands, he was unable to aid the Serbs in a potential war. Presian I of Bulgaria eventually invaded Serbia, resulting in a three-year-war, in which the Bulgar army was devastated and driven out. Vlastimir then turned to the west, expanding well into the hinterland of Dalmatia. He is the eponymous founder of the Vlastimirović dynasty, the first Serbian dynasty.
Serbian realm and family history
The prince (archon) that led the Serbs to the Balkans and received the protection of Heraclius (r. 610–641), known conventionally as the Unknown Archont, was an ancestor of Vlastimir. The Serbs at that time were organized into župe, a confederation of village communities (roughly the equivalent of a county), headed by a local župan (a magistrate or governor). According to Fine, the governorship was hereditary, and the župan reported to the Serbian prince, whom they were obliged to aid in war. Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (r. 913–959) mentions that the Serbian throne is inherited by the son, i.e. the first-born, though in one occasion there is a triumvirate in his enumeration of monarchs. The Serbs established several future principalities by the 10th century: Serbia (roughly the later province of Rascia, including Bosnia; part of Zagorje - "hinterlands"); and Pagania, Zachlumia, Travunia (including Kanalitai) and Dioclea (part of Pomorje - "maritime").
Višeslav, the great-grandfather of Vlastimir and first Serbian monarch known by name, was a contemporary with Charlemagne (fl. 768–814). He directly held the hereditary lands of Neretva, Tara, Piva and Lim. Constantine VI conquered the Sclaviniae (slavdom - "slav area") of Macedonia, situated to the south, in 785. Radoslav, then Prosigoj, succeeded Višeslav, and they ruled during the revolt of Ljudevit Posavski against the Franks (819–822). According to the Royal Frankish Annals, written in 822, Ljudevit went from his seat at Sisak to the Serbs somewhere in western Bosnia, who controlled the greater part of Dalmatia.
Rise of Bulgarian power
In the east, the Bulgarian Empire grew strong. In 805, khan Krum conquered the Braničevci, Timočani and Obotrites, to the east of Serbia, and banished their tribal chiefs and replaced them with administrators appointed by the central government. In 815, the Bulgarians and Byzantines signed a 30-year peace treaty. In 818 during the rule of Omurtag (814–831), the Braničevci and Timočani together with other tribes of the frontiers, revolted and seceded from Bulgaria because of an administrative reform that had deprived them much of their local authority. The Timočani left the societas (association, alliance) of the Bulgarian Empire, and sought, together with the Danubian Obotrites and Guduscani, protection from Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious (r. 813–840), and met him at his court at Herstal. The Timočani migrated into Frankish territory, somewhere in Lower Pannonia, and were last mentioned in 819, when they were persuaded by Ljudevit to join him in fighting the Franks. The Danubian Obotrites stayed in Banat, and resisted the Bulgars until 824, when nothing more is heard of them. The khan sent envoys to the Franks and requested that the precise boundary be demarcated between them, and negotiations lasted until 826, when the Franks neglected him. The Bulgars answered with attacking the Slavs that lived in Pannonia, and subjugated them, then they sent ships up the Drava river, and, in 828, had devastated Upper Pannonia, north of the Drava. There was more fighting in 829, as well, and by this time, the Bulgars had conquered all of their former Slavic allies.
The Bulgarian Khanate (later Empire) had a general policy of expansion in which they would first impose the payment of tribute on a neighboring people and the obligation of supplying military assistance in the form of an alliance (societas), leaving them internal self-government and local rulers, and when the need for this kind of relationship expired, they would terminate the self-government of the said people and impose their direct and absolute power, integrating them fully into the Bulgarian political and cultural system.
Life and reign
Vlastimir succeeded his father, Prosigoj, as the archon of Serbia. According to Živković, the date of Vlastimir's accession was around 830. He united the Serbian tribes in the vicinity. The Serbs were alarmed, and most likely consolidated due to the spreading of the Bulgarian Khanate towards their borders (a rapid conquest of neighbouring Slavs), in self-defence, and possibly sought to cut off the Bulgar expansion to the south (Macedonia). Emperor Theophilos (r. 829–842) was recognized as the nominal suzerain (overlord) of the Serbs, and most likely encouraged them to thwart the Bulgars. The thirty-year-peace treaty between the Byzantines and Bulgars, signed in 815, was still in effect.
War with the Bulgarian Khanate
According to Constantine VII, the Serbs and Bulgars had lived peacefully as neighbours until the invasion in 839 (in the last years of Theophilos). It is not known what exactly prompted the war, as Porphyrogenitus gives no clear answer; whether it was a result of Serbian-Bulgarian relations, i.e. the Bulgar conquest to the southeast, or a result of the Byzantine-Bulgarian rivalry, in which Serbia was at the side of the Byzantines as an Imperial ally. It was not unlikely that the Emperor had a part in it; as he was in war with the Arabs, he may have pushed the Serbs to drive the Bulgars from western Macedonia, which would benefit them both. According to J. Bury, this alliance would explain the cause of Malamir's action. Zlatarski supposes that the Emperor offered the Serbs complete independence in return.
According to Porphyrogenitus, the Bulgars wanted to continue their conquest of the Slav lands - to force the Serbs into subjugation. Presian I (r. 836–852) launched an invasion into Serbian territory in 839, which led to a war that lasted for three years, in which the Serbs were victorious; Presian was heavily defeated and lost a large number of his men, he made no territorial gains and was driven out by the army of Vlastimir. The Serbs held out in their hardly accessible forests and gorges, and knew how to fight in the hills. The war ended with the death of Theophilos in 842, which released Vlastimir from his obligations to the Empire.
According to Živković, it is possible that the Bulgarian attack came after the failed invasion of Struma and Nestos in 846 (see next section): Presian may have collected his army and headed for Serbia, and Vlastimir may have participated in the Byzantine–Bulgarian Wars, which would mean that Presian answered to a direct Serbian involvement.
The defeat of the Bulgars, who had become one of the greater powers in the 9th century, shows that Serbia was an organized state, fully capable of defending its borders; a very high military and administrative organizational frame to present such effective resistance. It is not known whether Serbia at the time of Vlastimir had a fortification system and developed military structures with clearly defined roles of the župan.
After the victory over the Bulgars, Vlastimir's status rose, he went on to expand to the west, taking Bosnia, and Herzegovina (known as Hum). Vlastimir married off his daughter to Krajina, the son of a local župan of Trebinje, Beloje, in ca. 847/848. With this marriage, Vlastimir elevated the title of Krajina to archon. The Belojević family was entitled the rule of Travunia. Krajina had a son with Vlastimir's daughter, named Hvalimir, who would later on succeed as župan of Travunia.
Vlastimir's intention to connect to the ruling house of Travunia shows, in its circumstances, that his reputation among the neighbouring Serbian archontes and župani was on its rise, and therefore corresponded to the political importance and military strength of Serbia. It is possible that prior to Vlastimir's reign, the Travunian župan sought to free himself from Serbia's influence, but that Vlastimir found the solution in the political marriage of his daughter to Krajina. The elevation of Krajina's title (practical independence of Travunia) strongly points that Vlastimir was a Christian ruler who very well understood the monarchal ideology, that developed in the early Middle Ages. There is a possibility that the marriage took place before the conflict with the Bulgars, which makes another theory likely, that the Bulgars answered to Vlastimir's rising political position, who with the help of Byzantium, had the right to confirm rulers in the neighbouring Serbian principalities. Although Vlastimir's elevation of titles were merely symbolical rather than a view of the administrative political relation, it does show that he had the right to act this way, which undoubtedly puts him at the height of all Serbian archontes; as the leading ruler among the Serbian principalities.
The Paganians, also known as Narentines, who are described by De Administrando Imperio as Serbs, engaged the Venetians on the Adriatic (they were noted pirates), and killed more than 100 of doge Pietro Tradonico's men.
Soon after 846, with the end of the thirty-year-truce, Malamir (or Presian) invaded the regions of the Struma and the Nestos, and Empress-Regent Theodora (r. 842–855, the wife of Theophilos) answered by attacking Thracian Bulgaria. A brief peace was concluded, then Malamir proceeded to invade Macedonia. The Bulgars also imposed rule on the Morava region, the frontier region between Serbia and the Bulgarian Khanate; in 844, an anonymous Bavarian geographer mentions the Merehani as the people that borders the Franks furthest away. They lived in the valleys of present-day Morava river basin, and were still unconquered by the Bulgarians. However, after 845, the Bulgars added these Slavs to their societas (they are last mentioned in 853).
The Byzantines were also active in the hinterland of Dalmatia, to the west of Serbia; the strategos of the cities of Dalmatia came into conflict with Frankish vassal, Croatian Duke Trpimir in 846/848, in which battles the strategos was defeated.
Vlastimir was succeeded by his three sons about 851.
Vlastimir had three sons and one daughter:
Vlastimir's three sons successfully fought off an onslaught by Boris I of Bulgaria in 853 or 854 (shortly after the death of Vlastimir), when they captured 12 great boyars and the commander himself, Vladimir, the son of Boris. The Bulgars sought to avenge the previous defeat of Presian 839–842. The two sides made peace, and possibly an alliance. The two younger brothers later revolted against Mutimir, due to undisclosed reasons. Mutimir sent them as prisoners, a guarantee of peace, to the court of Boris I at Pliska. After Mutimir requested that the Emperor Basil I (867–886) baptize his lands, Constantinopolitan priests were sent and a Serbian bishopric was founded. The Christianization is evident in the tradition of theophoric names found in the next generation of Serbian monarchs (e.g. Petar Gojniković, Pavle Branović). The three branches of Vlastimir's sons continue in a succession war over the decades.
The Bulgars under Boris I were persuaded by Moravian Prince Rastislav to attack Louis the German of East Francia. The Bulgar-Slav campaign ended in disaster, and peace was signed in 855. The following year, the Byzantine army led by Michael III and caesar Bardas recaptured Philippopolis (Plovdiv), the region of Zagora and the ports around the Gulf of Burgas on the Black Sea. In 863, the Byzantines invaded the Khanate once again, during a period of famine and natural disasters. Boris I was forced to sign peace, and to convert to Christianity, in return he was gifted Zagora. The cradle of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was founded about 870 in Pliska.
On July 11, 2006, A Golden seal of Strojimir, dated to 855-896 was acquired by the Republic of Serbia in auction in Munich, Germany. It was sold by an unknown Russian, for a price of 20,000 €, outpaying a Bulgarian offer of 15,000 €. The seal is of Byzantine handcraft (from Athens, Thessaloniki or Constantinople), weighs 15.64 g, and has a patriarchal cross and Greek inscriptions that reads: "Strojimir" and "God, Help Serbia".
A street in Novi Sad is named after him (Ulica Kneza Vlastimira).