The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

A picture containing sky, outdoor, building, place of worship Description automatically generated
Serbia and its capital city

As I started to write this paper, Serbia was front-page news with their most famous tennis star, world number 1 Novak Đoković, in dispute with the immigration authorities in Australia over his visa. He was deported to Serbia via Dubai after being forced to leave Australia just as the Australian Open tournament started, ending a two-week drama over his decision not to be vaccinated against COVID.

Pobednik, Belgrade Fortress, Kalemegdan Park, Belgrade, Serbia

A picture containing sky, outdoor, building, place of worship Description automatically generated
Picture Attribution: Andrija12345678, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
The file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Belgrade (Serbo-Croatian Beograd: “White Fortress”) is the capital city of Serbia. It lies at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers in the north-central part of the country. To the north and West of Belgrade lies the Pannonian Basin, which includes the great grain-growing region of Vojvodina. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the only one built on the confluence of two rivers.

The most significant landmark in Belgrade is the Beogradska Tvrđava (see above), an imposing fortress at the confluence of the Danube and the Sava rivers. The fort is a testament to the city’s strategic importance to the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Serbian and Austrian empires.

Belgrade is located at the convergence of three historically important travel routes between Europe and the Balkans:

  • an east-west route along the Danube River valley from Vienna to the Black Sea;
  • another that runs westward along the valley of the Sava river towards Trieste and northern Italy; and
  • a third running southeast along the valleys of the Morava and Vardar rivers to the Aegean Sea.

History of Belgrade
There is evidence of Stone Age settlements in the area. The territory of present-day Serbia is situated in the central region of the Balkan peninsula. It lies on one of the major migration routes connecting the Middle East with central Europe. Traces of human population in this area go back at least 400,000 years (see Sićevo Gorge). In June 2008, a lower jaw fragment was excavated in the Mala Balanica cave, one of several cave sites in the gorge.[1] The hominin jaw bone fossil has been dated as being between 397,000 and 525,000 years old.

The MoravaVardar corridor has seen regular waves of migrations throughout its history. It is one of the probable paths of original human expansion into Europe. This region was home to several important Mesolithic and Palaeolithic cultures. Some of the oldest traces of agriculture in Europe are found in this area. Its fertile river valleys are the probable conduit through which agriculture has spread from the Middle East and Asia Minor to central Europe. Archaeological sites in present-day Serbia contain some of the earliest examples of metallurgy, especially copper processing.

The city of Belgrade grew up around an ancient fortress on the Kalemegdan headland. The first fortress was built by the Celts in the 4th century BC and was known by the Romans as Singidunum. It was destroyed by the Huns in 442 and changed hands among the Sarmatians, Goths and Gepidae before it was recaptured by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It was later held by the Franks and the Bulgars and, in the 11th century, became a frontier town of Byzantium[2]. In 1284, it came under Serbian rule, and in 1402 it became the capital of Serbia. The Ottoman Turks besieged the city in 1440, and after 1521 it was in their hands except for three periods of occupation by the Austrians (1688–90, 1717–39, and 1789–91).

In 1804, Belgrade became the Serbian capital during 1807–13, but the Turks recaptured it. The Serbs were given control of the citadel in 1867 when Belgrade once more became the capital of Serbia. From 1921, Belgrade was the capital of the three successive Yugoslav states. The city’s rapid population growth since World War II resulted primarily from the migration from rural areas of Serbia following industrialisation. Most of the inhabitants are Serbs; the largest non-Serb groups are Croats and Montenegrins. Since World War II, Belgrade has become an industrial city producing motors, tractors and combine-harvesters, machine tools, electrical equipment, chemicals, textiles, and building materials. It is the largest commercial centre in Serbia.

Since ancient times, the city has been known by many names – Alba Bulgariae, Alabanandor, Nandoralba, Nandorfejervar, Griechisch Weissenburg, Alba Graeca, Castelbiancho… but the name of the fortress that, when looked at from the Pannonian side, and the rivers appear white, remained until today: WHITEcity (BEOgrad – Belgrade). Today, Belgrade is a large modern European city with a population of about 1.7 million people.

History of Serbia
The Romans conquered parts of Serbia in the 2nd century BC, in 167 BC when conquering the West, establishing the province of Illyricum and the rest of Central Serbia in 75 BC, establishing the province of Moesia. Srem was conquered by 9 BC and Bačka and Banat in 106 AD after the Trajan’s Dacian Wars[3].

Interestingly,17 Roman Emperors were born in present-day Serbia. By the early 6th century South Slavs, present throughout the Byzantine Empire in large numbers, merged with the native population (Dacians, IllyriansThracians) and assimilated them, forming the base of the ethnicity of modern Serbs.[4]

The history of Serbia covers the historical development of Serbia and its predecessor states, from the Early Stone Age to the present state, as well as that of the Serbian people and the areas they ruled historically. The scope of Serbian habitation and rule has varied much through the ages, and, as a result, the history of Serbia is similarly flexible in what it includes.

Slavs settled the Balkans[5] in the 6th and 7th centuries, out of which settlement the First Serbian Principality[6] of the Vlastimirovići[7] emerged. It evolved into a Grand Principality[8] by the 11th century, and in 1217 the Kingdom and national church (Serbian Orthodox Church) were established under the Nemanjići[9].

In 1345 the Serbian Empire was established: it spanned a large part of the Balkans. In 1540, the Ottoman Empire annexed Serbia.

The Serbian realms disappeared by the mid-16th century, torn by domestic feuds and overcome by Ottoman conquest. The success of the Serbian revolution against Ottoman rule in 1817 marked the birth of the Principality of Serbia, which achieved de facto independence in 1867 and finally gained recognition by the Great Powers in the Berlin Congress of 1878.

As a victor in the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, Serbia regained Vardar Macedonia, Kosovo and Raška (Old Serbia). In late 1918 the region of Vojvodina proclaimed its secession from Austria-Hungary to unite with the pan-Slavic State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs; the Kingdom of Serbia joined the union on 1 December 1918, and the country was named the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

Serbia achieved its current borders at the end of World War II, when it became a federal unit within the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (proclaimed in November 1945). After the dissolution of Yugoslavia in a series of wars in the 1990s, Serbia once again became an independent state on 5th June 2006, following the breakup of a short-lived union with Montenegro.

Serbia (officially called the Republic of Serbia) is a landlocked country situated at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe in the southern Pannonian Plain and the central Balkans. Its population is a little over 8.7 million people. It can trace its roots back to Yugoslavia, which came into existence after World War I in 1918 and constituted the first union of the South Slavic people as a sovereign state, following centuries in which the region had been part of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary.  Its name was changed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 3rd October 1929. Then came World War II. The Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia on 6th April 1941. In 1943, a Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was proclaimed by the Partisan resistance, and in November 1945, the monarchy was abolished. More name changes followed: Yugoslavia was renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1946 when a communist government was established. In 1963, the country was renamed again as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. After an economic and political crisis in the 1980s and the rise of nationalism, Yugoslavia broke up along its republics’ borders into five countries, leading to the Yugoslav Wars. Eventually, after several attempts to achieve some form of federacy, Montenegro and Serbia each became independent states in 2006, while Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Languages Spoken in Serbia[10]

Serbian (official) 88.1%, Hungarian 3.4%, Bosnian 1.9%, Romani 1.4%, other 3.4%, undeclared or unknown 1.8%; note – Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, and Ruthenian (Rusyn) are official in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina; most ethnic Albanians boycotted the 2011 census (2011 est.).

Religions[11] Orthodox 84.6%, Catholic 5%, Muslim 3.1%, Protestant 1%, atheist 1.1%, other 0.8% (includes agnostics, other Christians, Eastern, Jewish), undeclared or unknown 4.5% (2011 est.)

Population and Society[12]
Population: 6,974,289 (July 2021 est.) Ethnic Groups: Serb 83.3%, Hungarian 3.5%, Romani 2.1%, Bosniak 2%, other 5.7%, undeclared or unknown 3.4% (2011 est.).

  • 0-14 years: 14.07% (male 508,242/female 478,247)
  • 15-24 years: 11.04% (male 399,435/female 374,718)
  • 25-54 years: 41.19% (male 1,459,413/female 1,429,176)
  • 55-64 years: 13.7% (male 464,881/female 495,663)
  • 65 years and over: 20% (male 585,705/female 816,685) (2020 est.)

Famous Serbs[13]
Some famous Serbs (with apologies for not naming all of them) include:

  • Nikola Tesla: this renowned genius of the 20th century is responsible for many discoveries and inventions. Examples include the first hydroelectric power plant, alternating current, the induction motor, the system for the production and distribution of electricity and over 700 other patents. Attempting to develop inventions he could patent and market, Tesla conducted a range of experiments with mechanical oscillators/generators, electrical discharge tubes, and early X-ray imaging. He also built a wireless-controlled boat, one of the first ever exhibited. Tesla became well known as an inventor and demonstrated his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures. The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade is an essential visit.[14]
  • Novak Đoković: one of the world’s best tennis players, as well as being one of the most famous Serbs. He has been ranked world No. 1 for a record 362 weeks and has finished as the year-end No. 1 a record seven times. He has won 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, including a record nine Australian Open titles. Djokovic began his professional career in 2003. Djokovic was ranked No. 1 for the first time, winning three out of four majors and a then-season record of five Masters events. After four consecutive year-end finishes at No. 3 through 2010, Djokovic finished No. 1 for six years and No. 2 for three years in the next decade.[15]
  • Karl Malden (born Mladen George Sekulović): in Serbia, Malden is known as the first Serb (actually of Serbian-Czech descent) who managed to win the prestigious award of the American film academy – the Oscar. He was primarily a character actor, who for over 60 years brought an intelligent intensity and a homespun authenticity to roles in theatre, film, and television”, especially in such classic films as A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting ActorOn the Waterfront (1954), Pollyanna (1960), and One-Eyed Jacks (1961).[16]
  • Duško Popov: Popov was a double agent in World War II and a genuine international playboy. He was a Serbian double agent who served as part of MI6 and Abwehr (the Nazi Spy agency equivalent). He passed off disinformation to Germany as part of the Double-Cross System while working as an agent for the Yugoslav government-in-exile in London. Deceptions in which he participated included Operation Fortitude, which sought to convince German military planners that the Allied invasion of Europe would take place in Calais, not Normandy, thereby diverting hundreds of thousands of German troops and increasing the likelihood that Operation Overlord would succeed.  Popov is considered one of Ian Fleming‘s primary inspirations for the character of James Bond. He has been the subject of several non-fiction books and documentaries.[17]
  • Philip Zepter (born Milan Janković): with a net worth of some $5 billion, he is probably the richest Serbian worldwide. His education was strict, focusing on mathematics lessons and intensive sports practice. He completed his education at the secondary school of Bosanska Dubica (Bosnia and Herzegovina), then went on to study Economics and graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Belgrade Faculty of Economics. He is fluent in Serbian, German and English. Zepter started in business by selling pots and pans, eventually growing his Zepter International company into a major global conglomerate.[18]
Sources and Further Reading Material

The 1456 Battle of Belgrade turned the tide of the Muslim Turkish conquests of Eastern Europe and secured peace for Balkan Christians for over a century
Attribution: Anton Bogner, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

File URL:

  1. Source: Roksandic, Mirjana; Mihailović, Dušan; Mercier, Norbert; Dimitrijević, Vesna; Morley, Mike W.; Rakočević, Zoran; Mihailović, Bojana; Guibert, Pierre; Babb, Jeff (2011-08-01). “A human mandible (BH-1) from the Pleistocene deposits of Mala Balanica cave (Sićevo Gorge, Niš, Serbia)”. Journal of Human Evolution. 61 (2): 186–196. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.03.003. ISSN 0047-2484. PMID 21507461
  2. Byzantium or Byzantion was an ancient Greek city in classical antiquity that became known as Constantinople in late antiquity and Istanbul today.
  3. The Dacian Wars (101–102, 105–106) were two military campaigns fought between the Roman Empire and Dacia during Emperor Trajan‘s rule. The conflicts were triggered by the constant Dacian threat on the Danubian province of Moesia and also by the increasing need for resources of the economy of the Roman Empire. Source:
  4. Source:
  5. The Balkans, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographic area in Southeast Europe with various geographical and historical definitions. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria. 
  6. See:
  7. Source:
  8. See:
  9. See:
  10. Source: Wikipedia:
  11. Ibid
  12. Source: CIA World Factbook at:
  13. Sources: Various, including The Vlastimirović was the first Serbian royal dynasty, named after Prince Vlastimir (ruled c. 831–851), who was recognized by the Byzantine Empire. The Vlastimirović dynasty ruled in Serbia until the 960s, when some of the Serbian lands were annexed by the Byzantine Empire.
  14. Source:
  15. Source:
  16. Source:
  17. See:
  18. See:

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: