Petar of Serbia

This article is about medieval Serbian prince. For last king of Serbia, see Peter I of Serbia.

Map of Peter's Serbia
Prince of Serbia
Reign 892–917
Predecessor Pribislav
Successor Pavle
Born ca. 870
Died after August 917
Burial Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
Full name
Petar Gojniković Vlastimirović
Dynasty Vlastimirović
Father Gojnik
Religion Christian

Petar Gojniković or Peter of Serbia (Serbian: Петар Гојниковић, Greek: Πέτρος;[lower-alpha 1] ca. 870 – 917) was Prince of the Serbs from 892 to 917. He ruled and expanded the First Serbian Principality (Rascia), and won several wars against other family members that sought the crown. He was the first Serbian monarch with a Christian (non-Slavic) name.

Petar was the son of Gojnik, the youngest son of Vlastimir (r. 831–851) of the first Serbian dynasty (ruling since the early 7th century).

Early life

Vlastimirović dynasty

Petar was born between 870 and 874, as the son of the Prince Gojnik, the youngest son of dynastic founding father Vlastimir.[1] His Byzantine Christian name, in relation to the previous generation of pagan names, shows the spread Christianization among the Serbs.[2] At the time of his birth, Serbia was ruled as an Oligarchy of the three brothers Mutimir, Gojnik and Strojimir,[3] although Mutimir, the oldest, had supreme rule.[4]

In the 880s, Mutimir seized the throne, exiling his younger brothers and Klonimir, Strojimir's son to the Bulgarian Khanate; the court of Boris I of Bulgaria.[3] This was most likely due to treachery.[4] Young Petar was kept at the Serbian court of Mutimir for political reasons,[4] but he soon fled to Branimir of Croatia.[3]

Civil wars

Mutimir died in 890 or 891, leaving the throne to his oldest son, Pribislav.[3] Pribislav only ruled for a year when Petar returned in 892, defeating him in battle and seizing the throne, Pribislav fled to Croatia with his brothers Bran and Stefan.[3] Bran later returned and led an unsuccessful rebellion against Petar in 894.[5] Bran was defeated, captured and blinded (blinding was a Byzantine tradition that meant to disqualify a person to take the throne[6]). In 896, Klonimir returned from Bulgaria, backed by Tsar Boris, and invaded Serbia, taking the important stronghold Dostinika (Drsnik, in Klina[7][8]). Klonimir was defeated and killed.[9]

Bulgarian alliance

After several failures to capture the throne by other Vlastimirovićs, including the one backed by the Bulgarians, tsar Simeon I of Bulgaria recognized Petar as ruler.[3] He was put under the protection of Simeon I, resulting in a twenty-year peace and Serbian-Bulgarian alliance (897–917).[3] Petar was probably not happy with his subordinate position, and may have dreamed of reasserting his independence, his situation and the succession wars of the three branches of Vlastimir's sons was to play a key part in the coming Bulgarian-Byzantine War.[3]

Christianity presumably was spreading in his time,[3] also since Serbia bordered Bulgaria, Christian influences and perhaps missionaries came from there. This would increase in the twenty-year peace.[10]

According to De Administrando Imperio, Constantine VII's own work, Petar ruled under the suzerainty of Leo VI and at peace with Bulgaria for twenty years.[11]

Bulgarian-Byzantine War, Expansion to the west, and death

Constantine VII and Symeon dining.
(Madrid Skylitzes, fol. 120r)

On May 11, 912, Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise dies, his brother Alexander III succeeds him.[10] The unpopular, inexperienced, ill and possibly drunk Emperor Alexander ruled until his death on June 6, 913. This was ideal to Symeon, who had his troops waiting in Thrace, to attack Byzantium. In August 913, Symeon appeared at the walls of Constantinople, seeking no plundering, only the crown. Symeon had, in contrast to Tsar Boris, been schooled in Constantinople and had the Byzantine ideology, and wanted to rule a joint Roman-Bulgarian Empire as Roman Emperor. Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos recognized Symeon as Emperor of Bulgaria, and married his daughter to Constantine VII. In February 914, Zoe Karbonopsina, the mother of Constantine, quickly ousted Nicholas as regent (although letting him remain the Patriarch), and she, as regent, nullified the title given to Symeon, as well as the marriage plans.[12] Zoe's acts enraged Symeon, who went on to conquer Thrace.[12] The Byzantines had no choice but to look for allies; sending envoys to the Magyars, Pechenegs and Serbs.[12]

As Peter had secured the eastern border, he had turned to the west, where he sought to strengthen his grip of the local Slavic principalities. He defeated Tišemir of Bosnia, annexing the valley of Bosna.[12] He then expands along the Neretva, annexing the Narentines, where he seems to have come into conflict with Michael Višević, the ruler of Zahumlje (with Trebinje and most of Duklja), who was an important Bulgarian ally.[13] Petar (since 897 theoretically a Bulgarian vassal, though not necessarily a willing one[12]) met with strategos of Durazzo Leo Rhabduchus in Neretva,[14] where he was offered money and greater independence[12] in exchange of leading an army (also containing Tourkoi, Magyars[15]) against Symeon.[15] It seems that Petar had now agreed to join the Byzantines, but this has not been fully determined.[12] Michael Višević heard of the possible alliance between Serbia and the Byzantines, and warned Symeon.[13]

Petar was entombed in the church of Peter and Paul in Stari Ras.

In 917, a Byzantine army led by Leo Phokas the Younger invaded Bulgaria, but was decisively defeated at the Battle of Achelous on 20 August 917.[13] After Achelous,[5] Symeon sends an army led by Pavle (the son of Bran), to take the Serbian throne, however, unsuccessfully as Petar proved a good opponent.[14] Symeon sent generals Marmaim and Theodore Sigritzes,[16][17] persuading Petar (through an oath[14]) to come out and meet them,[17] then captured and took him to Bulgaria where he was put in prison, dying within a year.[5] His remains are entombed in the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Stari Ras, the capital.[18] Symeon put Pavle, the son of Bran, on the Serbian throne.[5]

Peter, Prince of Serbia
Born: 870 Died: 917
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Prince of Serbia
Succeeded by


  1. Name: The first attestation of his name is the Greek Petros (Πέτρος), in Latin Petrus, in Serbian Petar. He was a descendant of Vlastimirović, his father was Gojnik, hence, according to the contemporary naming culture, his name was Petar Gojniković Vlastimirović.


  1. Konstantin Jireček
  2. The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, p. 209
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The early medieval Balkans, p. 141
  4. 1 2 3 Đekić, Đ. 2009, "Why did prince Mutimir keep Petar Gojnikovic?", Teme, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 683–688. PDF
  5. 1 2 3 4 The early medieval Balkans, p. 150
  6. Longworth, Philip (1997), The making of Eastern Europe: from prehistory to postcommunism (1997 ed.), Palgrave Macmillan, p. 321, ISBN 0-312-17445-4
  7. Relja Novakovic, Gde se nalazila Srbija od VII do X veka (Where Serbia was situated from the 7th to 10th centuries) [Serbia, Belgrade: Narodna knjiga, 1981], pp. 61–63.
  9. The early medieval Balkans, p. 154
  10. 1 2 The early medieval Balkans, p. 142
  11. Konstantinos Porphyrogenitos, De Administrando Imperio ch. 32, p. 156
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The early medieval Balkans, p. 148
  13. 1 2 3 The early medieval Balkans, p. 149
  14. 1 2 3 Srbi između Vizantije, Hrvatske i Bugarske
  15. 1 2
  16. Obolensky, D. The Byzantine Commonwealth, London, 1971, p.111
  17. 1 2 BBNB, p. 27
  18. Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja: Ljetopis' Popa Dukljanina
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