Serbian Epic Poetry


1. Although the size of forces at Kosovo was indeed very large for the time, the figures given in the epic poems are greatly exaggerated. Typical estimates vary from 12,000 to 20,000 on the Serbian side, and 27,000 to 30,000 on the Ottoman side.

2. The ravens here are “vrana”, not to be confused with “kos” (blackbird).

3. It’s a stretch to say that the Ottoman army came “from Turkey” if by that is meant Asia Minor. At the time of the battle of Kosovo (1389) the Ottomans had been established in Europe for three decades. Since 1377 the Sultan’s primary residence (one hesitates to call it a “capital”) was Adrianople, in Europe.

4. I recognize only some of these place names, and they are primarily in central and northern Serbia, within Lazar’s realm. In the mid-1380s Ottoman military activity in Europe was primarily in Thrace and Macedonia, but there were several raids further north as well, both by bands of independent marauders and by the Ottoman army itself. Although the places listed here may well have been raided by Turkish forces, I don’t believe the list should be read as a historically precise account of Ottoman military movements.

5. Records indicate that Lazar and Milica did indeed have a daughter named Mara who married Vuk Branković. I’m not aware of any record of a daughter named Vukosava. The latter, who in the epic is married to Milos Obilić, I believe represents Lazar and Milica’s daughter Helen (Jelena), who was married to Branković’s rival George Balšić.

6. Written accounts [e.g., Herodotus] record the presence of lions in the Balkans during the age of classical Greece. Exactly when lions became extinct in Europe is not clear, but it seems to be around the time of Christ. They were certainly gone by the time of the battle of Kosovo.

© Mark D. Lew / May 4, 1999