San José State University
Department of Economics

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Thayer Watkins
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& Tornado Alley
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The Economy and Economic History of Serbia

The Origin of the Serbs

It is widely believed that the Serbs and the Croats are the same people and speak the same language and are only differentiated because the Croats came under the influence of the Catholic Church in Rome whereas the Serbs came under the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church. The reality is more complex. In medieval times there were peoples in what are now southeast Germany and the Czech Republic known as the White Serbs and the White Croats. In historical time these related but separate peoples migrated south in the sixth century A.D. into the Balkans. Some of the White Serbs did notleave and their descendants are known as Sorbs.

The kingdoms of the White Serbs and the White Croats were created by a martial elite of Sarmatians, a nomadic people from area north of the Caspian and Black Seas speaking a language in the Iranian family. The people of the kingdoms of White Serbia and White Croats were Slavic. Over time the Slavic population absorbed the Sarmatian element. The situation was similar to the creation of Bulgaria by nomadic Turks of the Volga River area. Over time the Slavic population absorbed and assimilated the Turkish elements.

The Serbs in Medieval Times

In the late ninth century the leader of the Serbs, the zupan, converted to Christianity of the Greek Orthodox variety and so the rest of the Serbs followed.

In the 14th century, before the Ottoman Turks had a presence in the Balkans, the Serbs created a kingdom under the leadership of Stefan Dushan, later Tsar Stefan Serbia ruled over not only the present Serbia but also what is now Albania and parts of what is now Greece.

The Rule of the Ottoman Turks

Even before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople they were conquering large segments of the Balkans. In 1389 the Serbs confronted the Ottomans in a fight to the finish in Kosovo and the Serbs lost. Soon the Serbs were under Ottoman control. By 1459 all the land of Serbia was owned by the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul and the people of Serbia werer serfs attached to the land. That condition continued until Austria obtained some concessions after its war with the Ottoman Empire in 1715-1718. There were uprisings in the early part of the nineteenth century and Russia obtained Serbia independence in 1878 after its war with the Ottoman Empire over the period 1877-1878.

(To be continued.)


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