City at the confluence of the Rivers Danube and Sava, capital of Serbia and Yugoslavia. As the Roman city of Singidunum, it was the headquarters of the Danube fleet, and was, except when Dacia was held by Rome, on the frontier of the Empire. Indeed, through much of its history it has been on or near the frontier.
It was so in the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century. Late in the century the Avars and Slavs broke through the defences and began the conquest of the Balkans; Belgrade was among the fortresses taken, Not until the campaigns of the Emperor Maurice in the last decade of the 7th century was Belgrade recovered for the Empire and even then it had to withstand two sieges before final victory. The settlement of Slavs in the region around the city was irreversible.
In the early 9th century Belgrade fell to the Bulgarian Khagan and belonged to the First Empire in Bulgaria, which was destroyed by Byzantium in the early 970s. Internal problems within the Byzantine Empire allowed a new Bulgarian Kingdom, under Samuel and centred on Macedonia, to emerge almost immediately. The first two decades of the 11th century saw the destruction of that Kingdom, though around the year 1040 a Bulgarian rebellion broke out, which spread rapidly through the Slav regions. Its leader, Peter Deljan, claimed to be Samuel’s grandson and was crowned Tsar in Belgrade in 1040, but the revolt was broken in the following year.
By the 11th century the Hungarian Kingdom was being established in the lands north of the Danube. The Hungarians first took Belgrade in 1071 or 1072 though it seems that they almost immediately withdrew. The internal disorders in the Byzantine Empire after the death of Manuel I allowed Bela III, King of Hungary, to seize the city in 1183. This was the beginning of a period when the Byzantine Empire, Hungary, and the revived Bulgarian Empire of the Asens, whose centre of power lay in what is now northern Bulgaria and so was not far distant from Belgrade, contended for control of the city.
So Belgrade was Hungarian 1183, Byzantine 1185, Hungarian c.1196, Bulgarian c.1204, Hungarian again sometime between 1207 and 1213, Bulgarian (as dowry for the Hungarian wife of the Tsar) c.1221, Hungarian 1232, probably Bulgarian in the late 1230s, certainly Hungarian by the late 1240s. By that time Byzantium had long been knocked out of the reckoning, first by the internal troubles in the late 12th century and then by the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204. Though the Byzantine Empire was restored in 1261 it never recovered as an extensive Balkan power.
The Bulgarians suffered a double blow in 1241-2. Their ablest King died in 1241 and in the following year the Mongol/Tatar armies rampaged through their lands, reducing Bulgaria to vassal status. So it was Hungary that ended up as the winner in the three-way struggle.
The Serb Kingdom lay south of Hungary, but around Hungary’s city of Belgrade was a largely Serb population. In 1284 Stephen Dragutin, the brother-in-law of the Hungarian King, was granted an appanage. It consisted of some north Bosnian lands and the region of Maèva, which was south of the Rivers Danube and Sava, which at that time included Belgrade. Dragutin was the brother of the Serbian King and had himself reigned as King from 1276 until he abdicated in 1282. Three years after his death in 1316 Belgrade returned to full Hungarian rule.
In 1402 or 1403 Sigismund of Hungary, whose domestic situation was uncomfortable, granted Maèva, again including Belgrade, to his friend and ally Stefan Lazareviæ, the reigning Prince of Serbia, for his lifetime. Stefan made it his residence, thus beginning Belgrade’s role as Serbia’s capital. When Stefan died in 1427 his successor was obliged – grudgingly – to return Belgrade to the Kingdom of Hungary.
City and fortress defied the Ottoman armies in the sieges of 1444 and 1456, but eventually fell in 1521 so that the way was opened for a full assault on Hungary, which came in 1526. The advance of Austria into the heart of Hungary and beyond in the late 17th century put Belgrade on the border again. It was captured by Austria in 1689, but lost again in 1691. In 1717 Prince Eugene of Savoy captured it, and, together with northern Serbia, it was ceded by the Ottoman Empire to Austria in the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. War resumed in the late 1730s, with Ottoman victories in 1738 and 1739. In the Treaty of Belgrade, 1739, the Danube-Sava border was restored. The city of Belgrade and north Serbia became the Ottoman Pashalik of Belgrade. Austria again captured Belgrade in 1789 but the dangerous situation in the west diverted Austria’s attention and resources and the Ottomans recovered the city in 1792.
It was the Serbs who delivered Belgrade. In December 1804, the revolt, which had begun earlier in the year, at first directed against the janissaries rather than the Sultan, took control of Belgrade. The Ottoman recapture of the city in 1813 brought the first period of Serbian autonomy to an end. In 1815 a new revolt broke out, with the new regime receiving Ottoman recognition in 1817.
Under its terms the Ottoman Empire continued to garrison three fortresses within autonomous Serbia, including that of Belgrade, while the Turkish quarter of the city remained under Ottoman government. In 1862 after Turkish troops in the fortress had fired on the Serbian sector of the city the Turkish quarter was brought under the control of the Principality of Serbia and in 1866 Ottoman forces withdrew from the three fortresses.
Belgrade was occupied by Austrian troops, 1915-18. With the end of the war, the creation of the new Yugoslavia brought Belgrade’s history of being on the border to an end. It was to be occupied by the most ruthless of enemies, 1941-5.
Belgrade formed a separate province (banovina) in Yugoslavia, 1929-41.