THE ROLE OF BANDITRY IN THE CREATION OF NATIONAL STATES IN THE CENTRAL BALKANS DURING THE 19TH CENTURY A CASE STUDY: SERBIA
BA, University of British Columbia, 2000
THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
In the Department
© Aleksandar Petrović 2003
SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY
All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by photocopy or other means, without permission of the author
This thesis deals with the role of banditry in the formation of the Serbian state in the 19th century. The thesis examines conditions that allowed banditry to flourish and influence political developments during the period, with a particular emphasis on bandits’ military contribution to the Serbian national revolutions of the early 19th century. The study also considers how the bandit groups came full circle, first as an internal enemy of the Ottoman Empire to the forefront of the popular resistance against the Ottomans, and then becoming an internal threat to an independent Serbia.
The thesis analyses the use and impact of bandit groups as paramilitary forces employed by the local Serbian and Ottoman leadership. Another focus of this work is why the bandits decided to get involved in the Serbian national revolutions that eventually resulted in the formation of Serbia as a state.
In conclusion, the thesis explains why bandits of Serbia were, in essence, unintentional state builders. Despite the bandit’s lack of interest in state formation and absence of any ideological and political agenda, their involvement in the national revolutions laid the foundations for the creation of the Serbian state, although this was a development not sought by the bandits themselves.
I would like to thank my Senior Supervisor, Dr. Andre Gerolymatos, for his help and encouragement without which this thesis would not be possible.
Special thanks to Dr. Radoš Ljušić, professor at the University of Belgrade and member of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, for his advice during my research period in Belgrade.
o see decapitated heads along the road, with their grinning teeth and staring blooded eyes – it was an ordinary thing. Seeing decaying corpses on the side of the road, gnawed by dogs, ravens and other animals, was also nothing unusual”
– Vuk Karadžić (1787-1864)
The phenomenon of banditry has a long and established history throughout the Balkan Peninsula, with some descriptive accounts dating back to the time of Thucydides while other reports speak of bandit activity occurring up to the present day in certain areas. The presence of banditry was apparent not only in the lands of the former Yugoslavia but also in Albania, Greece and Bulgaria, leading to the rise of a local folkloric tradition, comprising songs and stories which are still told (and taught within the school system) in the region today. The image of the bandits portrayed in the local Balkan folkloric tradition was a glorious one, revolving around a distinguished hero leading his unit into battle against the hated Ottoman oppressors. Answering to no one and free from any economic, social or political constrains, Balkan bandits became the embodiment of popular resistance against the Ottomans in the minds of local people. In the epic literature of the Balkans, the bandits are described only as robbing the Ottomans and exercising vendettas against the oppressors on behalf of the common people. Thus, the bandits (called Hajduci and Uskoci in the Slavic tradition of the western and central Balkans) epitomised all that the local people wished for, oppressed by the harsh realities of living under the Ottoman economic and political system.
There is, however, a need to distinguish between folk traditions and history. If one shifts the focus away from local folklore, the image of banditry in the Balkans radically changes. Judging from the primary sources that survive, it is evident that the bandits frequently robbed and murdered whomever they came across, regardless of ethnicity or creed. Far from being an idealised form of people’s resistance against the Ottoman occupation, in most cases banditry in the Balkans was a criminal activity of violent outlaws conducted by many who could not (or would not) follow a different lifestyle.
Such tactics were essential for the bandits’ very survival. In addition, many Balkan bandits – those of Serbia included – found occasional employment in the Habsburg Freikorp (volunteer) units, as well as with the Ottoman military, participating in the conflicts of the late 18th century on both sides. Usually going back to their bandit lifestyle after being released from the paid armed services, the Balkan bandits used the experience acquired from their army days in order to broaden their understanding of fighting, becoming even more lethal and elusive in their pursuits. Thus, bandit groups also developed into a breed of paramilitary units, guided by their own motivations but also occasionally available for hire. This ‘paramilitary’ aspect of the bandits’ activity will be a major focus of this research – or more precisely, its utilisation by the Serbian leadership in the armed conflicts with the Ottomans in the early 19th century.
The focus of this study is the role of banditry in the creation of the Serbian state during the 19th century. Banditry contributed to the process of creating Serbia on a number of different levels, all of which need to be examined in order to reach a full understanding of how bandits played a significant role in the establishment of the modern Serbian state in the 19th century. Moreover, Serbian banditry strongly influenced Serbian society during the century in which the autonomous principality of Serbia was moving towards independence. The mark left by the role of Serbian banditry in the Serbian revolutions of the early 19th century influenced fundamental beliefs regarding the process of state creation in the region, in part influencing not only Serbian but also Balkan politics during both the 19th and 20th centuries.
The nineteenth century was a very important and turbulent time in the central Balkans. It saw the erosion of Ottoman state control and the birth of the modern states of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as the passing of the control of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all of which was finalised and officially recognised at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Serbia as a national state was carved out from the Ottoman Empire during the 1804-1878 period through a mixture of violent peasant uprisings, war and diplomacy. The most significant of the Serbo-Ottoman armed conflicts during this period were the First and Second Serbian Uprisings (1804-1813 and 1815 respectively). The role of bandit groups – as well as the contribution of individual bandits in leadership and command roles – in these national revolutions in Serbia will be another primary focus of this study.
That said, it should be noted that the role of bandits in the process of creating a Serbian state was neither consistent nor often consciously recognised nor uniformly clear throughout the course of the 19th century. As soon as the Second Serbian Uprising drew to a close with a Serbo-Ottoman compromise establishing an autonomous Serbian principality, the bandits became superfluous. Indeed, they were seen as a major threat by the Serbian leadership, which tried to consolidate its power and could not make use of the bandits. Thus, the bandits travelled full circle by once again becoming enemies of the state – the very state that they had helped create.
The first section of this thesis will focus on the question of what distinguished the Hajduci from ‘ordinary’ criminals, and whether Hajduk units can in retrospect be viewed as paramilitary units prior to their role in the revolutionary armies. In order to answer the first of these two questions, the roots of the Hajduk phenomenon will be addressed, including the peculiarities of the existing social system in the late 18th and early 19th century Ottoman Balkans that made banditry possible. To answer the second of these questions, the internal organisation of a Hajduk unit will be examined, with particular emphasis given to understanding the various ranks and responsibilities. The examination of how a Hajduk unit would engage in combat will then be discussed to clarify the semi-military nature of these bands and, thus, their military potential in times of war.
The second section of this thesis will deal with the use of the bandit units in the Serbo-Ottoman armed struggle that set the stage for the creation of Serbia as a state. After providing an overview of the presence of bandits in geographical Serbia in the years just prior to the First Serbian Uprising, the questions raised here focus on the regular military training many Serbian bandits had serving as Habsburg as well as Ottoman soldiers. This section of the thesis will go on to deal with the role of banditry in the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813), one of the defining developments in the creation of a Serbian state, paying particular attention to the individual roles of bandits in the civil and military leadership of the First Serbian Uprising. Another consideration is the extent to which the Hajduci were responsible for the initial attacks on the Ottomans in the Uprising. The thesis concludes by examining the period from the end of the Second Serbian Uprising (1815) to the end of the 19th century. The main question to be addressed here is what happened to the bandits of Serbia after the autonomous principality was created (a time during which the Hajduci became increasingly irrelevant to fight the Ottomans). This part of the thesis will address the changing perspective of the Serbian leadership towards the Serbian Hajduci, together with how and why the bandits of Serbia gradually became the primary enemy of the state for the ruling Obrenović dynasty.
From a historiographical point of view, the role of banditry in the creation of Serbia has never been properly addressed. While there is a large body of historical work devoted to the study of the national revolutions in 19th century Serbia, considerably less is available on the study of banditry in the region. As far as it can be ascertained there is no work that has been specifically devoted to the role of banditry in the Serbian national revolutions. It remains unclear whether simple neglect – or other reasons – can account for this omission. Nonetheless, consideration of the impact of banditry is an integral part of the military history of the Serbian Uprisings, and the significance of bandit involvement in the process of creating Serbia as a state comprises an important element in the political and social history of the country.
Arguably, the single most challenging aspect in conducting research on the topic of central Balkan banditry in the 19th century is absence of specific statistical information. Had it been possible to clearly gauge a precise numerical total of the Hajduci in the Pašaluk of Belgrade just prior to the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising, it would have been much easier to accurately assess the specific contribution they made in the events of the Uprising itself, especially its initial phase. It is evident from a variety of sources that at the beginning of 1804 the Pašaluk of Belgrade was indeed ‘infested’ with banditry; what remains unclear is the size of that infestation. The suggestion of Vuk Karadžić that a tenth of the whole population indulged in bandit activities just prior to the Uprising of 1804 – the only remark which alludes to actual statistics – is best interpreted as more the product of artistic licence than actual fact.
The same problem exists in assessing the overall percentage that the Hajduci represented in the Serbian forces during the First Serbian Uprising. Here, though, more sources are available, but the assessment is still very limited. For example, it is possible to conceptualise different phases through which the Serbian forces passed over time, namely from the Hajduk-led forces in the early days of action against the Dahije regime, through a Hajduk-peasant mix to a peasant-dominated Serbian Army in the later stages of the Uprising. The only official estimate of the number of Hajduci in the Serbian force comes from Bećir-Paša’s report to Istanbul in May of 1804, indicating that the Hajduci, totalling 6,000 men, represented a quarter of the overall Serbian force at that time. Even here, it remains unclear from where and how this figure originates (and, thus, how accurate and useful it is). It is really only possible to be certain about one thing: that as peasant recruitment increased, so the overall percentage of Hajduci – which had almost certainly reached its peak at 25% of the Serbian force in 1804 – declined thereafter. The same lack of raw numbers is even more apparent with regards to the Second Serbian Uprising, which was in military terms a four month long affair. Moreover, it also remains unclear is the total number of Hajduci that decided not to join either Uprising at all, for it would be facile – perhaps even folly – to assume that each and every bandit was committed and prepared to become involved in the Uprisings.
Furthermore, the lack of sources renders it difficult to determine the fluctuating numbers and nature of Hajduci in Serbia in the 1817-1897 period. From the sources that exist, it is evident that banditry in Serbia during this time became geographically confined to the western Dinaric part of the country. It is also clear that the Hajduci represented a serious challenge to the Serbian state authorities, and were seen as a major destabilising factor. However, in order to clearly assess the level of threat to the state as well as the extent of the bandit presence, one would need to have estimates on the number of Hajduci in the region as well as the ability to track the decline in numbers over time.
An additional limitation of conducting research in this field is a lack of material which provides insights into the personal perspectives of the Hajduci. Were this available, it would provide a welcome counterbalance to the highly selective glimpses into Hajduk life garnered, by definition, purely from the brief exposure to the bandits (invariably violent in nature) gained by outsiders. Any first-hand accounts (in the form of a journal, for example) provided by the bandits themselves concerning their activities and feeling towards them would have undoubtedly proved most illuminating, had such resources existed. It remains unclear how the bandits actually viewed the struggle against the Ottomans, and the prospect of the creation of Serbia as an independent state. It also remains unanswered how the bandits saw their own role in the fighting against the Ottomans in both the First and Second Uprisings beyond the vendettas for their executed or imprisoned fellow Hajduci and family members. Were there any nationalistic sentiments amongst the Hajduci? What was their perception of the world around them and how did that change over time with new developments on the ground as the century progressed? These questions remain unanswered due to a lack of resources revealing personal perspectives.
The main reason for this absence of first-hand perspectives is that the Hajduci of Serbia were all illiterate men. As such, they left no records, journals or correspondence of any kind in relation to their own experiences and circumstances. This was also the reason why the traditional Hajduk knowledge of herbalism in treating wounds and fractures was not preserved, since that knowledge was disseminated only by word of mouth. Moreover, because of their own bandit lifestyle, it was virtually impossible for literate outsiders to accompany the Hajduci in order to observe them in any kind of anthropological manner, rendering such insights doomed to the same fate of extinction as the Hajduci themselves.
The literature on the topic of banditry in the central Balkans during the 19th century is limited. There are very few specific works devoted exclusively to the subject. Instead, discussions on banditry in the region are mostly found in passim in various works that deal with other topics, from travel journals and books on geography of the region to general history books about the Balkans. Of few works that are specifically devoted to the study of banditry in the region, there are none that deal exclusively with the role banditry played in the national revolutions and process of state formation in Serbia.
In respect to the works on the banditry in the central Balkans, the first attempt at scientific discussion on the topic is found in Vuk Stefanović Karadžić’s ‘Geographical and Statistical Description of Serbia’ (Географическо-Статистическо Описаније Србије), which was published in Vienna in 1860. This work, written in the form of a travel guide, had the aim of describing Serbia of this era from many different angles. Karadžić provided the reader with a physical description of the lands that comprise Serbia, moving on to survey both urban and rural settlements, as well as characteristics of the populations. The author then turned his attention to major events in contemporary Serbian affairs and gave short biographies of distinguished individuals. He provided, in the chapter about the people of Serbia, a short but very valuable five-page discussion under the title ‘Ајдуци’ (‘Hajduci’). This short chapter is the first contemporary glimpse at the 19th century bandits of Serbia that can be found outside the vast body of epic poetry.
Some three decades later, in 1897, the Serbian public was exposed to fascinating details of Hajduk life for the first time through a series of newspaper articles following the court case against the bandits of western Serbia. This special report on bandits entitled ‘Hajdučija’ (Хајдучија) was published as a supplement to the Belgrade-based Serbian newspaper ‘Male Novine’ (‘Мале Новине’) between September 4th 1897 and February 5th 1898. Totaling 120 issues, the Hajdučija report followed on a daily basis the court case against the bandits. The court case itself, known in the local historiography as ‘Hajdučki Pretres’ (Хајдучки Претрес), was in many ways a culmination of some eighty years of struggle by the emerging Serbian state in eradicating banditry in the country. Starting with Knez Miloš Obrenović’s first measures against the Hajduci immediately after the closure of the Second Serbian Uprising (1815), the conflict between the state and the bandits continued until the end of the 19th century. The Hajdučki Pretres of 1897 was to be a final blow for the bandits in this struggle, and as such attracted a lot of attention from the public. The court case exposed for the first time many secrets of Hajduk life to the general public, revealed in person by the accused Hajduci in the courthouse. Although still in the field of journalism, this collection of articles and court case transcripts provides a valuable source of information on the Hajduk life and activities, as well as the internal structure and mechanics of a Hajduk unit.
After more than three decades Serbian historian Dušan Popović published a two-volume book on the Serbian Hajduci in 1930-1931, which is still considered the most thorough work on the subject. The author relied heavily on the information on perceptions of the Hajduci found in the epic tradition of the region. The main problem with Popović’s work is the uncertainty about the timeframe in which his discussion places the bandits – more often then not, the author gives no explanation as to when the forms he is describing existed, and when (and why) they changed, which means that the use of the work for the specific study of the 19th century banditry is a challenging task. Unfortunately, Popović made no attempt to discuss the contribution of the Hajduci to the national revolutions in early 19th century Serbia. The author envisioned his books as a general work on the Serbian bandits, with a primary focus on describing the Hajduci and their world in greatest possible detail without going into specifics regarding the political developments that surrounded them.
More recent works on the topic of banditry in the region are in the form of journal articles. Jovan Milićević’s article titled ‘Hajduci Before the First Serbian Uprisings’ (Хајдуци Уочи Првог Српског Устанка), published in 1980, came close to discussing the role of the bandits in the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813). A number of works on the banditry in western Serbia during the later part of the 19th century (publications by Serbian historians Vulović Milovan, Radoš Ljušić and Blagoje Radivojević), all provide valuable insights in the Hajduk world of the period, but are more sociological, and even criminological, in their focus. Another interesting study is Slavko Gavrilović’s book on the banditry in the Srem region during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Thorough and well documented from the Habsburg police sources, this work is an important step on the study of banditry in general, but provides only limited usefulness due to the fact that the Srem region is geographically outside the central Balkans.
The large body of works devoted to national revolutions in Serbia is of little help with regards to the study of bandits. With their primary focus on political and constitutional developments in the region, many works do not even mention the bandits. Even more surprising is the fact that a large number of biographical studies on the military leaders of the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813), many of whom were Hajduci (including the supreme leader of the Uprising, Karađorđe Petrović), devote very little space to the study of these individuals’ bandit past. Only in recent years some works in the field, such as Radoš Ljušić’s extensive two-volume bibliography of Karađorđe Petrović titled ‘Vožd Karađorđe I-II’ (Вожд Карађорђе I-II), give more attention to the Hajduk past of Serbian Uprising leaders and their reliance on their Hajduk experiences in waging war against the Ottomans.
Outside of Serbian historiography there are certain publications that can be indirectly useful to the study of banditry in the central Balkan region. One such work is Edmon Spencer`s `Travels in European Turkey in 1850`. This primary source, in the form of a travel journal, with a monumental length of more than eight hundred pages organised into two volumes, is one of the richest sources of information about the Balkans in the 19th century. In Volume I, devoted to the lands that today comprise Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the author comments directly and indirectly on banditry in these areas. With regards to Serbia, in Chapter III, Spencer provides the reader with an insight into the wilder side of Serbia’s forests, areas which – together with the mountains – provided the main hiding places for the bandits. In Chapter IV, the author provides descriptive sketches of Serbia, including the conditions of roads and the Ottoman fortresses built to protect these roads (in his own time, still occupied but in serious disrepair) in case of Hajduk raids on the caravans passing thorough. There are two different sections of Spencer’s work where he devotes his attention directly to the activities of the Hajduci: in Chapter VIII, where he describes what he calls the ‘Bulgarian insurrection of 1841’ in the vicinity of Niš in present-day Serbia, and in Chapter XVIII, where he creates a sketch of the Hajduci and the Uskoci in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Eric Hobsbraun’s work on the bandits (simply titled ‘Bandits’), with a chapter devoted to the Hajduci, places the Balkan banditry in context. The usefulness of Hobsbraun’s work for the topic of this thesis is nevertheless limited due to the fact that he drew his analysis from the study of the Bulgarian Hajduci. Although there are many similarities between the Serbian and Bulgarian Hajduci, there are significant regional differences that limit Hobsbraun’s work. John Koliopoulos book ‘Brigads with a Cause’, published in 1987, deals with the bandits of Greece (Klephts and Armatoles) and their relationship to the Greek revolutions during the course of the 19th and early 20th century. Despite the fact that Koliopoulos’ work is a case study for Greece, its value for this thesis is in providing a methodological example on how the relationship between the bandits and an emerging Balkan national state can be approached, thus providing a formula that can be utilised as a guideline for making a case study for Serbia.
The name ‘Balkans’ is a Turkish word which literally can be translated as ‘a thickly wooded mountain range’. The actual meaning of this designation is not surprising since mountains and forests are integral to the topography and history of the peninsula. The first writer to use the term ‘Balkans’ (or Balkan Peninsula) was a German geographer August Zeune, who in 1889 began referring to ‘European Turkey’ – a common term throughout the 19th century – as ‘Balkanhabinsel’ or ‘Haemushalbinsel’. The term ‘Balkans’ was previously introduced to western Europe by the French traveller Ami Boué, who in 1847 included it in his writings, albeit with a slightly different meaning. Bouй wrongly believed that the word Balkan – which he had heard from the Ottomans while travelling through European Turkey – actually meant ‘the mountain’. In fact, the term was used by the Ottomans when referring to the Haemus mountain range in present day northern Bulgaria (known in Bulgarian as ‘Стара Планина’, transliterated ‘Stara Planina’). The discussion over the most appropriate name for the peninsula continued amongst geographers up to 1922, when the Balkan geographer Jovan Cvijić officially adopted the name ‘Balkans’ in his seminal work ‘The Balkan Penninsula’. Cvijić used the term ‘Balkans’ as a label for the peninsula with the full knowledge that its original meaning was a Turkish name for the Haemus mountain range; nonetheless, he proceeded to use it believing that it was too late to correct the wide-spread mistake and to seek alternatives (such as ‘South-eastern Europe’). Almost by chance, the Haemus mountain range – hardly the most important and distinguishing geographical feature of the peninsula – had given its name to one of Europe’s three major southern peninsulas.
However, even today the Balkans, as a defined region on the map of the European continent, remains somewhat elusive. The confusion lies in the fact that while some geographers incorporate political borders as a means of delineating a region (an example of which would be the work of Frank W. Carter), others rely purely on the geographical features (as exemplified by Jovan Cvijić).
Jovan Cvijić thought of the Balkan Peninsula as a large landmass attached to Europe by two mountain chains, one arm in the west, where the Dinaric Mountain chain is attached to the foothills of the Alps; the other arm in the east, where the Carpathian Mountain chain joins with the Balkan Mountain chain. The Balkan Peninsula is also an intermediary between Europe and Asia, not only via the Bosphorus but also through the Aegean Sea and its islands. Cvijić argued that the Balkan Peninsula is, in a geographical sense, on a par with Asia Minor – both sharing what he called true Eurasian characteristics. Moreover, the Balkans have always represented a blend of influences from both western and eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East, via Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean.
One of the distinctive features of the Balkan Peninsula is the expansiveness of its northern reach towards the Pannonian basin. All of the northern border rivers originate in central Europe, the Danube being the most important (as it is navigable for most of its course). Beyond the border regions of the Peninsula, there are long valleys that transverse the Balkans along both a North-South and East-West axis (the former being the more important and geographically larger). Between these valleys there are numerous mountain chains that, in addition to being significant geographical entities in their own right, also serve to separate large areas. The Balkan valleys and mountain chains dictated the course of history of the Peninsula from Roman times to the modern era. Along the North-South axis, the most important geographical feature in the central Balkans is the Morava river valley. The valley is located almost in the centre of the Peninsula along a North-South axis, eventually becoming the Marica river valley (which connects Belgrade and Istanbul) and the Vardar river valley (which connects Belgrade with Thessalonica).
The Morava-Vardar Valley can be observed as a single geographical entity, directly connecting the Danube river with the Aegean sea. The importance of this valley in the history of the Balkans has been significant. During the middle ages, the Morava-Vardar Valley was the link between the Byzantine Empire and the Serbian Sclavinie, and for the Serbs controlling it ensured independence from the rule of Constantinople. During the period of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, the Vardar-Morava Valley was the route of both Serbia’s retreat to the north as well as the Ottoman advance in the same direction. Later on, the valley was to become the main incursion route for the Ottoman advances into the Habsburg Empire, as well as Habsburg advances into Ottoman territory.
The Morava-Marica Valley, connecting Belgrade and Istanbul, had been used as a major route as early as Roman times. The valley road was a heavily patrolled via militaris, connecting Singidunum (present day Belgrade) with Byzantium (present day Istanbul) through the city of Neissus (present day Niš). In order to ensure the safety and comfort of travellers, there were two types of stations along the road: mansions (inns with sleeping accommodation, one day’s walking distance from each other) and mutationes (where travellers could take a rest and replace their horses). The Roman road between Singidunum and Byzantium was 624 Roman miles, or 924.5 km long. In Byzantine times the route remained a major artery (known among the Slavs as the Imperial Road or ‘Царски Пут’), and the Ottoman conquest did little to change this (in the centuries following the Ottoman conquest this road became a major European road for the Empire; it was known as the Stambulđ ol). Today, the Morava-Marica Valley hosts a railway connection between central Europe and Asia Minor.
There are a number of geographical and administrational terms that will be frequently cited in this text which need to be explained within a 19th century context. These terms are ‘Serbia’, ‘Sandžak (Pašaluk) of Belgrade’, ‘Šumadija’ and ‘Srem’. With respect to what the term ‘Serbia’ signified at the turn of the 19th century, the most widely held notion among the Serbian people was that the region’s geographical borders were easily defined by the natural features of the Balkan physical landscape, and did not correspond to the Ottoman administrative division of the area. The Serbs believed that geographical Serbia consisted of the space between the Timok River in the east, the Drina River in the west, the Sava and Danube Rivers in the north and Šar Planina in the south (many wrongly believed that Šar Planina ran along an east-west axis, joining the Balkan mountain chain somewhere in Bulgaria). It was also commonly understood that Šar Planina was a natural border between geographical Serbia and geographical Macedonia. At the beginning of the 19th century many important figures of Serbian culture (such as Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, Sava Tekelija or Pavle Solarić) held such views, although there were some who held contrasting notions. The area of geographical Serbia described above corresponds approximately to the area of modern-day Serbia without today’s northern province of Vojvodina. For the most part, geographical Serbia is a mountainous and forested region. A critical factor in the development of banditry in Serbia was the impact of such a terrain on the social, political and economic evolution of the Serbian people. Serbia’s mountains and forests provided a refuge for those who chose the life of a bandit and a significant impediment to the Ottoman authorities. Later on, Serbia’s terrain provided a base for various guerrilla movements in the region, including the resistance groups that operated during the First and Second World War.
At the turn of the 19th century the territory of geographical Serbia was administratively divided by the Ottomans into two ‘Vilajeti’: the ‘Vilajet of Bosnia’ and the ‘Vilajet of Rumelia’. The Vilajet’s sub-divisional unit was the ‘Sandžak’. One Sandžak from the Vilajet of Bosnia included parts of the territory of geographical Serbia (the Sandžak of Zvornik), while the rest of geographical Serbia lay in the Vilajet of Rumelia. The Vilajet of Rumelia was a much larger administrational entity than the Vilajet of Bosnia, comprising most of European Turkey and also including most of the Greek mainland. The territory of geographical Serbia included the following ‘Sandžaci’ of the Rumeli Vilajet: Belgrade, Novipazar, Niš, Leskovac, Vranje, Peć, Priština as well as certain parts of Vidin, Skadar and Prizren. The events described in this thesis focus on the Sandžak (or Pašaluk) of Belgrade.
Šumadija is the central region of Serbia, and a main stage for the events of the First and Second Serbian Uprisings (1804-1813 and 1815 respectively). Šumadija is a geographical term that can be defined as a sub-region of geographic Serbia north of the Kopaonik and Jastrebac mountains and the town of Niš. Šumadija contains all of the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The northern borders of Šumadija are marked jointly by the Sava and the Danube rivers, with the Drina river in the west and Timok river in the east.
Srem is the elongated region sandwiched between the Danube river in the north and the Sava river in the south. One can easily define its borders by taking into consideration the administrative sub-divisions of modern day Serbia and Croatia. Srem as a geographical unit corresponds to the territory of the Sremski Okrug administration unit plus the municipalities of Novi Beograd and Zemun (these latter two are part of Belgrade City Authority) in present-day Serbia. In addition, Srem includes the territory of the Srijemsko-Vukovarska Županija administration unit in contemporary Croatia. Thus, roughly two-thirds of the region is part of modern Serbia while one third is in present-day Croatia. Srem played a critical role in the development of banditry in Serbia, and was home to some of the most famous Hajduci of the 19th century. The region was also significant in the events of both the First and the Second Serbian Uprisings.
Besides geographical terminology, there is one important sociological term used in this thesis that needs to be explained within the context of the early 19th century Serbia. This is the label ‘Turk’. In the central Balkans of the time, the label ‘Turk’ was a synonym for a Muslim, regardless of his or her ethnicity (or ability to speak the Turkish language). Both Slavic and non-Slavic Muslims considered themselves to be ‘Turks’, and were in turn seen as ‘Turks’ by the local Christian population. This terminology found its way into epic poetry and other literary forms of the time, but more importantly it has become ingrained in the local Balkan historiography dealing with the period. Thus, when reviewing Balkan historiographical sources, the term ‘Turk’ should not be confused with what might be understood today as a way of denoting a member of the Turkish ethnic group, but should be thought of instead as a religious term.
Centuries of Ottoman rule over the Slavs in the central and western Balkans (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina) resulted in the emergence of a sizable Slavic Muslim (‘Turkish’) population in those regions by the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The numbers of Slavic converts to Islam (together with their descendants) were largest in Bosnia, followed by Serbia, Herzegovina and Montenegro. At the turn of the 19th century, the Ottoman state apparatus in those regions granted a good deal of authority to local Slav Muslims. This trend was particularly prevalent in Bosnia, though also applied to geographical Serbia. The Slavic Muslims in these regions were strong supporters of the Ottoman state, mainly because of their awareness that the preservation of their status and privileges was possible only by maintaining the status quo.
At the turn of the 19th century Serbian language reformer and writer Vuk Karadžić argued that Slavic Muslims considered themselves to be ‘Turks’ because they were of ‘Turkish faith’, a view that was shared by Slavic Christians in the region. This meant that the widespread sharing of the same language and blood ties between Slavic Christians and Slavic Muslims signified very little – if anything at all – to their relationship. Moreover, the Slavic Muslims of the Balkans (especially those in Bosnia-Herzegovina) thought of themselves as the real Turks, more hard-line and orthodox than those Turks coming from Asia Minor (for which they had many derogatory names, such as ‘Turkuše’, ‘Gangrci’ or ‘Mandžuke’). As will be noted later, Slavic Muslim ‘Turks’ played a very important role in the outbreak and the events of the First and Second Serbian Uprising (1804-1813 and 1815 respectively).
It is also necessary to define the term Hajduk, which is universally adopted when referring to the bandits in the central Balkans in the 19th century. It remains unclear what is the actual origin of the word Hajduk. One theory is that Hajduk was derived from the Turkish word ‘hajdud’, which was used by the Ottomans to label Hungarian infantry soldiers. Another theory suggests that the word comes from the Hungarian ‘hajtу’ (plural ‘hajtok’), which means ‘a cattle herder’. Driving cattle in 16th century Hungary was an important and sometimes dangerous business. It took an entire three months to take a herd of cattle from southern Hungary to Vienna, a distance of more than 600 km, and as a matter of course, the people who did this kind of work would carry weapons with them in order to meet any dangers along the way. During the course of the 16th century, many of the hojtok ceased herding cattle, and instead became soldiers. Thus, for the hojtok the nature of their work had changed but the label remained the same (in other words, the group known as the hojtok were now soldiers). The word may then have eventually found its way into Turkish (‘hajdud’) and, eventually, into the Serbian language as Hajduk (Хајдук). An example of this process at work comes from the late 18th century in Hungary where Hajduk described an armed servant at the courthouse or on the estates of Hungarian noblemen. When employed on an estate, the Hajduk had the task of providing security for the residents in addition to the usual roles of a servant. These Hajduci (the plural form) were young men, physically strong and tall, and were always armed with two loaded guns and two long knives, even when serving dinner. In geographical Serbia and the Banat region during the first half of the 18th century, the word Hajduk was also used to refer to an infantry soldier.
What remains unclear is how a word that referred to Hungarian infantry soldiers became synonymous with bandits, if indeed the word ‘hajtу’ is the root of the word Hajduk. It is possible that the Ottomans viewed members of the Hungarian infantry as equivalent to bandits, and thus the term for the former became synonymous with the latter.
Another possibility is that the word Hajduk came to represent the bandit and infantry soldier precisely because many bandits were employed by the Habsburgs as either regular soldiers or paramilitary units paid to fight the Ottomans. Whatever the case, the label Hajduci was widely accepted label for bandits. What remains certain is that the word Hajduk in its main connotation (as a term to describe a bandit) had not existed in either the Serbian or Hungarian languages prior to the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.
The Serbs settled in the Balkans during the reign of the Roman Emperor Heraclius (610-641), as tributary allies. The main source for the history of the Serbs in the early Middle Ages is ‘De Administrando Imperio’, written by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959) as a set of guidelines for his son and successor. In DAI, Constantine Porphyrogenitus described the events surrounding the settlement of the Serbs in the Balkan Peninsula during the reign of Emperor Heraclius as well as a history of the Serbs from the time of their arrival in the Balkans up to his own time (including description of their social organisation and geographical distribution on the peninsula). According to DAI, the lands settled by the Serbs were sub-divided into ‘Sclaviniae’ and ruled by the local tribal chiefs. Porphyrogenitus wrote that the Serb-settled Sclaviniae in the coastal areas were Pagania, Zahumlje, Travunia and Duklja, extending as a whole from the Cetina river in the west to the Drim river in the east. The Serb-settled Sclaviniae in the interior were Bosnia and Raska, separated by the Drina river. Porphyrogenitus referred to these two Sclaviniae as ‘Christianised Serbia’. It is difficult to delineate the exact borders of the lands in the interior, partly due to the fact that the Emperor’s descriptions became more vague as his account shifts away from the Adriatic cost. The principal reason for this was undoubtedly the emphasis on trade and political developments that featured prominently along the coast, whereas the interior was of far less interest and consequence to the Byzantine rulers in Constantinople. Nevertheless, the most common view held by historians today is that the Morava River in the east and the Vrbas river in the west marked the borders of the interior Sclaviniae. The history of the Serbian Sclaviniae during the first six centuries in the Balkans was closely tied to the Byzantine Empire. The Serbian Sclaviniae were in a state of constant flux between dependence, semi-dependence or full independence from Byzantine (and periodical Bulgarian or Hungarian) rule until the death of the Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180).
The death of Emperor Manuel I marked the true beginning of the Serbs as an independent people, as well as the rise to power of Veliki Župan Stefan Nemanja in the Sclaviniae of Raška. Stefan Nemanja was the founder of the Nemanjić dynasty which ruled Raška from 1180 to 1371, and this period of Serbian history is still considered as a ‘Golden Age’. It should also be noted that what historians refer to as mediжval ‘Serbia’ is actually a state developed from the Sclavinia of Raška. Raška had replaced Duklja as the centre of power among the Serb-settled Sclaviniae by the time of Stefan Nemanja, encompassing all of the Sclaviniae with the exception of Bosnia. Most of those lands were kept as part of Raška until the end of the Nemanjić dynasty. Medićval Raška under the Nemanjić dynasty continued to expand southwards, into Macedonia and later continental Greece, taking advantage of the decline of the Byzantine Empire caused by the Fourth Crusade. In 1217 the second ruler of the Nemanjić dynasty, Stefan Prvovenčani, became king by receiving a crown from the Roman Pope.
The heyday of mediжval Serbia came during the reign of Stefan Dušan Silni (who ruled between 1331-1355). During this period mediжval Serbia acquired the largest territorial gains in her history, stretching from the Danube river in the north to the Akarnania region of Greece in the south, thus encompassing a large chunk of the Balkan peninsula. After elevating the leader of the Orthodox Church in Serbia from Archbishop to that of Patriarch, Stefan Dušan Silni proclaimed himself Emperor in 1346, a title that would be carried on by his son Stefan Uroš (Emperor 1355-1371). The reign of Stefan Dušan Silni was also significant from the perspective of the legal code it introduced, the first of its kind in mediæval Serbia, which brought elements of Roman law into the interior of the Balkan peninsula for the first time since the rule of Justinian the Great in the 6th century AD.
By 1371, however, the brief ‘golden age’ of mediжval Serbia was over. In that year, Stefan Uroš Nemanjić died without an heir, which meant the demise of the central authority and consequent break up of Dušan’s Empire. Moreover, on September 26th, 1317 near Černomen on the Marica river (in geographical Macedonia) Serbian forces suffered their first major defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. The outcome of this battle was a double loss for the Serbs. The Ottomans subdued the local feudal lords in Macedonia, thus opening a route for a further advance into the Balkan interior. Furthermore, the rulers of the Mrnjavčević family, based in central Macedonia and the strongest of all Serbian feudal principalities, perished in battle. With the demise of the Mrnjavčevići, the only candidates who could have replaced the extinct Nemanjići line as a central authority in Serbia disappeared; decades of civil war and squabbles over territory between various Serbian feudal lords immediately followed.
A sequel to the Marica river disaster soon arose in the more famous battle of Kosovo Polje, which commenced on June 28th, 1389. Both the Serbian leader (Knez Lazar Hrebeljanović, the ruler of the largest slice of territory of medićval Serbia) and the Ottoman leader (Sultan Murat I) perished in the battle. Although the Ottomans initially retreated, the final outcome of the battle was the emergence of vassal status for all feudal lords in mediжval Serbia to the Ottomans. The situation in Serbia attained some stability after the Battle of Kosovo Polje, but pressure by the Ottomans continued to be applied. The vassal state of Serbia (Српска Деспотовина) continued to exist until 1459, continuously losing territory to the Ottomans in the south. Following the downfall of Serbia (1459), independence was lost in Bosnia (1463), Herzegovina (1481) and Zeta (present-day Montenegro, 1499), thus bringing all Balkan Serbs under the umbrella of the Ottoman Sultans.
The last echo of mediжval Serbian independence survived on Hungarian soil, where King Matthias Hunyadi Corvinus (1458-1490) introduced in 1481 the vassal title of Despot (Деспот) for the leader of the local Serbian nobility which had moved to Hungary and settled in the Srem region, located between the Sava and Danube rivers north-west of Belgrade. The idea behind this move was to establish a Serbian buffer state between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (and territorially expand it south of the Danube river). The task of re-establishing Serbia fell on the Serbs themselves with some Hungarian help. The Despotovina of Srem (Сремска Деспотовина) continued to officially exist until 1537, but after the Hungarian disaster at the battle of Mohač in 1526 it became clear that Hungary itself was also destined to the same fate bestowed on Serbia some six decades later.
The Ottoman conquest of the Balkan Peninsula brought with it profound changes for the social and ethnic geography of the Serbs. The once geographically compact Serbian ethnic nucleus started to dissipate to the north and west in the direction of the Habsburg Empire. Migrations of the Serbs started in the early 15th century and did not effectively cease until the end of the First Balkan War in 1912. The most famous of all these migrations was the ‘Velika Seoba’ (Велика Сеоба) of 1689, which saw tens of thousands of Serbs leaving their homes in Kosovo, Metohija and northern Macedonia following the Habsburgs’ retreat from their brief advance into the region. By the beginning of the 19th century, due to constant migrations, Serbian presence was considerably weakened in what previously had been the core territory of mediжval Raška in the south, while at the same time a substantial presence emerged in what is now the Vojvodina region north of the Danube, as well as in north-western Bosnia, Croatia, Slavonia and the Dalmatia region of the western Balkans.
During the long period of Ottoman rule in the Balkans, the only national institution for the Serbs that remained functioning was the Serbian Orthodox Church. The importance of the church was in keeping alive the traditions of an independent Serbia. Over time the peculiarities of the Ottoman state system contributed to the creation of a new identity for the Serbs, one defined almost exclusively around membership of the Serbian Orthodox Church. By the beginning of the 19th century, being a Serb became synonymous with being a member of the Church. This new identity signified a departure from the old tribal Slavic concept that had existed in the Middle Ages with regards to what it meant to be a Serb. This, in essence, laid the foundations for many of the conflicts that are still evident in the region to this day.
The first systematic attempt to provide a definition of the ‘Hajduci’, together with their raison d’кtre, can be traced back to the ‘Dictionary of the Serbian Language’ (Српски Рјечник), written by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić and published in Vienna in 1852. The dictionary entry for ‘Hajduci’ was reworked and republished by the same author in Vienna some eight years later, and was at this time included as a short chapter in his historical work titled ‘Serbian History of Our Time’ (Српска Историја Нашег Времена). Both versions of this text are significant for the study of banditry in the central Balkans during the 19th century given that they contain first hand accounts on the bandits. Thus the real value of these works lays not only in the fact that they were the first of their kind, but that the author was also a witness to the events he was describing. The Hajduci were well known to Karadžić, representing a part of the world in which he had grown up. He also personally met the most famous Hajduci of his time and even went on to write their biographies. Karadžić enjoyed the benefit of being familiar with both the genus loci and zeitgeist with regards to his topic.
Karadžić argued that existence of banditry in geographical Serbia was, to a great extent, a reaction to the Ottoman occupation. According to Karadžić, geographical Serbia saw an almost complete social segregation between the Serbs and the Turks during the time of the Ottoman rule. Due to the despotic nature of Ottoman rule, the rights of the Serbs were minimal while the rights of the Turks over them were absolute, something clearly illustrated in the law courts where a Serb stood no chance of winning a case involving a Turk. In most cases all types of violence committed by a Muslim against a Christian, including rape and murder, went unpunished. Because of this situation, it was in the ongoing interest of the Serbs to distance themselves from the Turks in order to avoid violence and abuse. Thus, geographical Serbia prior to the First Serbian Uprising was a region where the urban-rural split followed religious lines – another important factor that divided the Muslims from the Christians. The Turks lived in towns, while the Serbs lived exclusively in villages. The villages were always quite some distance from the towns, away from main roads, usually on the edge of woods and in the foothills of the mountains. Serbs went to the towns only when absolutely necessary, and there were many old people in the villages who had never been to a town during their entire life. Similarly, the Turks rarely went to the villages, and even had explicit orders from the Paša to refrain from doing so unless on official business. Karadžić noted that the Turks had very little regard for the life of a Serb, and that these sentiments were reciprocated with equal force.
Bandits in Serbia fall into four different categories. The first concerns those individuals who were motivated to join banditry by reasons of fear for their own lives. Geographical Serbia was a place where the Christian population had little real legal protection from the Ottoman state. This led to fear and resentment, and bred an ever-present hostility among the Serbian population toward the Ottoman state. Many Serb individuals who were called by the Ottoman authorities to show up in a town for questioning (be it for minor indiscretions of the law, failure to pay taxes, or to provide information about other Serb individuals sought by the Ottoman authorities), whether guilty or not, feared for their life to the point that they would frequently avoid showing up altogether.
If the Serbs failed to obey the local authorities, they could not risk staying in their villages. The only choice such individuals had was to turn to a life of hiding in the woods and mountains and to survive there by theft and robbery. Since there were always established numbers of existing ‘deserters’ (the Hajduci) in the mountains and forests, any new arrivals would initially have to join an existing Hajduk band in order to survive. The second category of Hajduci included those Serbs against whom one or more Turks harboured a personal grievance, and thus had to flee in order to avoid being killed. It should be understood that there was no serious option for a Serb to go to or expect the Ottoman authorities to seek arbitration or justice in such cases. The third consisted of people who fled to the woods and the mountains in order to seek vengeance against a Turk, and sought the opportunity to do so among the Hajduci. This group was the most dangerous for the Ottoman authorities, since they were motivated by anger. For this very reason, the group forms the major (indeed, sole) inspiration for the epic poetry on the subject of the Hajduci. Finally, there were those Serbs who joined the Hajduci not out of fear of the Ottomans, or for a revenge, but rather to live an alternative (and presumably, for some, adventurous) lifestyle. For this group, involvement with the Hajduci meant freedom from all existing social constraints and obligations, at least as long as one could successfully avoid being captured.
Besides the pattern of settlement between the Serbs and the Turks discussed previously (with the former almost exclusively in villages, and the latter in towns), other factors relating to social geography contributed to the emergence of the Hajduci. Hajduk bands comprised mostly of the people who originated in the Dinaric Alps region. These highly mobile mountaineers, most of whom earned their living through cattle and sheep herding, were constantly migrating from their native regions due to a high birth rate and scarce resources. This pattern of migration from mountains to lowlands greatly accelerated in geographical Serbia during the second half of the 18th century. Thus, in the years immediately prior to the First Serbian Uprising, the population of the Pašaluk of Belgrade swelled by an influx of Dinaric migrants from the poor mountain regions seeking a better life and conditions from those they had left behind.
The Dinaric migrants who found themselves in Serbia’s lowlands were very much poorer than the local agricultural population they came into contact with. Being able to bring very few (if any) valuables with them from their previous homes, many Dinaric immigrants lived lives that were on the verge of starvation. Coming from regions where local autonomy was extensive and Ottoman interference was at a minimum, these mountain dwellers of some physical repute often greeted their new conditions of extensive taxation and direct Ottoman oppression with violence. Easily uprooted, with very little to lose, the Dinaric migrants in geographical Serbia represented a natural recruiting pool for the Hajduci.
An important psychological factor in the origin of the Hajduci was the ‘Akin’, a specific method of conducting warfare developed by the Ottomans. During wartime (and sometimes even during periods of peace) the Ottomans would conduct cross-border raids into neighbouring countries with specialised paramilitary units called ‘Akindžije’. Their main objective was looting, and this was invariably accompanied by torture and mass murder of the victimised population. Fundamentally, the ‘Akin’ was not considered to be a criminal activity by the Ottomans. On the contrary, it was considered most noble. This type of warfare was most frequently practised during the first centuries of Ottoman rule in the Balkans.
While the ‘Akin’ cannot be seen as a direct cause in the emergence of the Hajduci, it was an important psychological factor in moulding the perceptions of the local population within Ottoman borders. In other words, the practice of ‘Akin’ helped establish the widely held belief that amassing loot through raids was a noble and heroic act – a belief strongly held and exemplified by the Hajduci. Like the ‘Akindžije’, the Hajduci were amassing loot through raids – something noble and heroic – the only difference being that they were raiding the local villages and caravans. Not surprisingly, many Hajduci were to be found in the border regions of the Ottoman Empire, which were the areas that coincided with the presence of the Akindžije.
Karadžić was quite aware that, in the 19th century, the existence of the Hajduci was not something entirely new to this area. Inferring from the epic poetry, the author commented on the famous Hajduci bands and individuals of the 16th and 17th centuries which protected Venetian Dalmatia from the Ottomans. According to Karadžić, the first Hajduci were members of the nobility who had turned to guerrilla warfare after the Ottomans had stripped them of their lands and possessions. This supposition is very hard to confirm in the light of the existing primary sources, but is indeed to be found in the Balkan epic tradition that refers to banditry. Karadžić fell into the trap of holding double standards about the Hajduci of the past and the Hajduci of his own present. Drawing his conclusions from the epic poetry, the author argued that the Hajduci of old used to attack and rob only the Ottomans. However, in his own time, the Hajduci were targeting local merchants and travellers much more frequently than the Ottomans, no doubt easier and more plentiful targets.
Karadžić had little sympathy for the contemporary Hajduci. Calling them “rejects of society”, the author argued that sooner or later all the people who joined the Hajduci would inevitably become involved in robbery and murder. Karadžić also provided a valuable insight into the Hajduk mind, exposing an elaborate moral code that existed among the bandits. For the Hajduci, committing murder for no apparent reason (at the time of a robbery or otherwise) was unacceptable. Murder was justifiable only if a personal issue was involved. Robbery of the poor was also forbidden, with the exception of stealing weapons. On the other hand, robbing a merchant or a well-to-do peasant was not considered a shameful act. Kidnapping and blackmail were also part of Hajduci operations. If the Hajduci broke into the home of a wealthy family but failed to find any money or valuables, they would abduct male members of the household (usually the sons of the owner), not releasing their victims until the ransom was paid in full.
Although these activities represented criminal behaviour of the worst kind, the Hajduci did not think of themselves as criminals. On the contrary – they considered their actions as noble. Those who made the mistake of calling a Hajduk ‘criminal’ would pay with their life in the most gruesome of ways. The Hajduci considered themselves good Christians, respecting all the feasts in the Christian calendar and praying on a regular basis. There seemed to be no internal mental or moral conflict for the Hajduci between their Christian beliefs and their lives of robbery and murder.
Regarding the organisation of a Hajduk unit, in the 19th century they usually consisted of 10-12 men. The normal size of the Hajduk unit prior to the 19th century had been no more than 30 men, since a larger group would have been hard to control, feed and hide. What all Hajduk units had in common, regardless of their size, was a highly defined command and seniority structure. Even if the Hajduk unit had only two members, it was clear which individual was the ‘Harambaša’ (Харамбаша), or leader; all other members of the unit were known as ‘Četnici’ (Четници). Amongst the Četnici there were various roles to which were assigned different tasks and degrees of importance. The most important figure in the unit beneath the Harambaša was the ‘Barjaktar’ (Барјактар), or the ‘flag bearer’ for the unit. The next individual down the ladder was the ‘Kalauz’ (Калауз), or the terrain guide for a certain area. The remaining members of the unit were fighters, ranked by their ability and experience. At the lowest level was a ‘Torbonoša’, the Harambaša’s porter, usually the youngest and newest member of the unit, who had the task of carrying around the leader’s belongings wherever the unit went. All of these ranks will be addressed in more detail in order to show the military-like nature of Hajduk organisation, the importance of which will become more evident in the discussion of the early days of the First Serbian Uprising in the Pašaluk of Belgrade.
The Harambaša was unquestionably the most important figure in the Hajduk world. The original meaning of the word ‘Harambaša’ referred to the commander of the ‘Haramije’, Christian soldiers in the Ottoman service (either Serbian or Romance-speaking), also known as ‘Mertolosi’. The Harambaša could also enter the Habsburg service, where he would be subordinate to an Habsburg captain. The Harambaša was not only a commander of the Hajduk unit but also a father-figure to the other members, taking care of their personal well being and morale, though arguably one of his most important tasks was planning. The Harambaša had to think ahead about possible locations for a main base and potential places of refuge, food supplies, weapons and ammunition. During the winter months, when the members of the unit dispersed to their hiding places in the villages, tracking each individual was the job of the Harambaša. Furthermore, the Harambaša was also responsible for the families, if any, of the Hajduci in his unit – and even for the close friends of his Hajduci and their families. If the Hajduk unit was small, the Harambaša had to meet all of these responsibilities as well as doing all the work normally carried out by regular members of the unit. The Harambaša was also judge and jury in any disputes that may have risen amongst the members of the unit. His job was also to be a spokesperson and negotiator representing his unit to other Hajduk units, private individuals or state authorities.
The electoral process of a Harambaša had some elements of democracy to it. The Harambaša was elected to his post either by the agreement of all the members of a unit or, occasionally if there was more then one candidate, by a members’ vote. On rare occasions the Harambaša could hand over his post as leader to another individual in the unit, but again this could not be done without the consent of all members. When a Harambaša was elected in a unit, other members would symbolically hand over to him ‘feathers of leadership’. By the 19th century the gesture was rather symbolic, but in previous centuries (and specifically in the Srem region until the late 18th century) the Harambaša would indeed carry feathers in his cap. The Harambaša was almost always an older, more experienced, predictable and reliable individual than the younger newcomers; he combined physical strength with outstanding personal bravery and experience in combat together with firm, but just, reasoning and devotion to the Hajduk unit.
Interestingly, there were Hajduk units that had two or more ‘Harambaše’ (the plural form), even if the units were not large in terms of membership. A number of different scenarios could lead to such a development within a unit. Sometimes, the individual accomplishments of a member could be recognized by his promotion to the position of Harambaša without demoting the existing leader. Other possible reasons for having more than one Harambaša included the merging of two (or more) smaller groups into a single larger unit, with neither Harambaše forced to stand down. Sometimes the existing unit was quite eager to encourage a particular individual from outside to join, and would try to attract him by offering the position of Harambaša immediately (without introducing a threat to the existing Harambaša of losing his position). If the Hajduk unit covered vast areas, having more than one Harambaša was a pragmatic necessity. In such cases, a different Harambaša, familiar with a particular region, would take over command each time the unit crossed into ‘his’ territory, only to hand over leadership to another Harambaša once the unit left the region.
Elections of Harambaše did not always go smoothly. Sometimes bitter disputes arose among unit members over the election issue, leading to break-ups of the existing unit into two or more factions, which could in turn even lead to a complete disbandment of the Hajduk unit. In the Lika region (present day Croatia) the Hajduk units even had a system of rotating the position of the Harambaša amongst members for fixed periods of time. This system removed most of the squabbling about the position of leader, but jeopardised the effectiveness and safety of the unit because sometimes the leaders in a given difficult situation were not necessarily those most able to cope effectively.
Sometimes members of a Hajduk unit would request a re-evaluation of a Harambaša. This process would usually be conducted immediately following a period of intense activity for the unit. If an operation (eg. a raid) had been successful, the position of an existing Harambaša would simply be strengthened. Had the operation been a failure, however, the unit would normally replace the existing leader with a new one. These elections would most often take place when any loot from a raid was being shared, and sometimes the Harambaša (be he newly elected or reinstated) would receive a gift from other members in the form of additional loot. In some instances, when there was pressure from the unit for a certain course of action that the Harambaša refused to comply with, he would offer the position, his weapons and clothing to any individual who was ready to lead the unit in such an endeavour.
Oaths were quite important in the Hajduk world. All members of a unit swore an oath to their Harambaša that they would follow his orders and respect his leadership. Every Hajduk also swore an oath of trust to every other member of the unit. Discipline was very important within a Hajduk unit, and questioning the highly defined system of seniority within a unit was considered sacrilege. Nonetheless, the Hajduci never spoke to their Harambaša by means of a formal address, invariably relying on first-name terms with all. The Hajduk unit was fundamentally an expression of companionship, despite the many elements of military-type organisation.
The position of the Harambaša carried with it the burden of many responsibilities, although the benefits were undoubtedly attractive. The Harambaša was the individual who most benefited materially from any loot collected by the unit. As the leader of a Hajduk unit, the Harambaša was bestowed with the best weapons and clothing available. The Harambaša’s security was also a high priority for all members of the unit. Sometimes the Harambaša was so esteemed by the Hajduci of his unit that they would comb his hair, carry him around in a chair and generally pamper him. On the other hand, if there were to be growing resentment in the unit for a Harambaša, this could lead to threats, banishment and even the murder of the leader. Many Hajduk units never adopted particular names, although some were known by their Harambaša’s name (eg. ‘Karađorđe’s unit’).
The second most important person in a Hajduk unit was the ‘Barjaktar’ (Барјактар), the ‘flag bearer’ for the unit. The use of flags was a Hajduk custom that survived up to the time of the First Serbian Uprising. The Hajduk flags were carried on spears, with a cross as the dominant feature on them, although the specific details of each flag would differ for each unit. The background of a Hajduk flag was usually made up of a single colour and – if the Hajduk unit could afford it – it would be made out of silk. Religious undertones on the Hajduk flag, in certain cases strengthened by adding Christian icons, were prominent amongst the Serbian Hajduci. The Muslim Hajduci (known as ‘Kesedžije’ or ‘Krdžalije’, discussed later) also had their own flags (with Islamic symbolism incorporated) together with the position of the Barjaktar in their units.
To the Hajduci, their flag was an important symbol that had to be defended at any cost, even death. Because of this, the individual who was elected as Barjaktar was considered to be the bravest of the unit. The main task of a Barjaktar was to carry the flag, and keep it safe from damage or capture under any circumstances. The Barjaktar also had to be the fastest runner in the unit, especially if the enemies that the unit encountered were on horse back. The flag was placed on a spear only when the Hajduci went into battle. On all other occasions, the Barjaktar carried the flag over his right shoulder or in his right hand.
During the winter months, when the Hajduci dispersed to their hiding places, the Barjaktar took the flag with him, safely hidden under layers of clothing. Some ‘Barjakari’ (the plural of ‘Barjaktar’) expressed a wish to be buried together with their flag, and this later on developed into a Hajduk custom. When a Barjaktar was buried (Hajduk graves were always in remote and inaccessible locations), his wooden cross was decorated with the flag he had protected during his life with the unit. The Barjaktar was also the main recruiter for the unit. He was responsible for informing new recruits of all the hardships and dangers that Hajduk life brought with it.
The Ottomans forbade the use or display of Hajduk flags since they represented military identification. A use of flags gave impression of legitimacy to the Hajduci, a dangerous development in the eyes of the Ottomans. When the Hajduk units that became officially involved in the struggle of the First Serbian Uprising they did so under their own flags, contributing each of their own insignias to that of the entire Serbian rebel force. During the First Serbian Uprising, the flags of the main military commanders being larger than the Hajduk flags connoted a hierarchy of command.
Another distinctive member of the Hajduk unit was the ‘Kalauz’ (Калауз), the terrain guide for a certain area. The position of the Kalauz was bestowed on-demand; a Hajduk who served as a guide to a particular region was simply a regular member at all other times. The Kalauz would lead the way by advancing in front of the unit, always by night and by an off-road route. Sometimes, when entering new territory, a unit would pay a temporary local guide, somebody ready to co-operate with the Hajduci, to lead them through the area. To avoid getting lost in the dark, the Kalauz would usually tie a long rope around his waist so that the Hajduci behind could hold on. The Kalauz was one of the few positions in the Hajduk world that could be granted to a female, undoubtedly a reflection of Hajduk pragmatism: if the best and most reliable local guide was a woman, then she – by virtue of her superior knowledge – would be the one to follow. Sometimes the Harambaša or Barjaktar could also serve as the Kalauz in certain areas with which they were very familiar. In addition to some of the duties and requirements already outlined for the role of the Kalauz, it is also important to note that a fluent knowledge of the Turkish language was essential in case any Ottomans were inadvertently encountered while leading the way.
The least desirable position in the Hajduk unit, reserved for the individual with least seniority, was that of ‘Torbonoša’, the Harambaša’s porter. While it should be noted that some small Hajduk units were simply not large enough to incorporate a Torbonoša at all, the role was commonplace in most units. The Torbonoša would be the newest member of the Hajduk unit, yet to prove his worth, endurance and reliability. The Torbonoša was armed and equipped like any other member of the Hajduk unit, but his main task was to carry around and take care of the Harambaša’s personal effects (in addition to his own). The Torbonoša held this position until another recruit joined, at which point the burden would pass to the newest member and the recently relieved Torbonoša would be consequently promoted to a regular Četnik. That said, a Torbonoša would sometimes prove himself in combat and be promoted right away, without having to wait for the arrival of a new recruit. Such a situation did not necessarily lead to the demotion of another member to Torbonoša; rather, the unit would be without one until a new recruit arrived. Moreover, if the Torbonoša were to display exemplary skill or bravery in a crisis he could even be elected as a Harambaša. In the Hajduk world, seniority was ordinarily earned over time, though this was not cast in stone and – as the meteoric rise from Torbonoša to Harambaša outlined above demonstrates – rapid advances were certainly possible (and indeed, dramatic demotions were equally possible).
Another important factor in the existence of the Hajduci were ‘Jataci’ (Јатаци) – people outside the Hajduk unit, ordinary peasants in the villages, on whom the Hajduci could rely for help and support. Wherever they operated, the Hajduci developed a network of Jataci in order to have access to food and to safely store their loot and other items they could or would not carry around all the time. The importance of having the Jataci as an asset for the Hajduci became most evident during the winter season. During the winter months, when the deciduous woods of geographical Serbia lost their green cover and the snow blanket could make tracks easy to follow, the Hajduci had no choice but to find a place to safely hide among the local population. From late autumn through to spring, the Hajduci lived in the households of their Jataci, posing as hired help. This period that the Hajduci spent with their Jataci was referred to as a ‘Trust period’ (Вјера). If the trust was broken by the Jataci, resulting in the capture or death of a Hajduk, carrying out a vendetta was seen by the Hajduk community as almost a sacred duty.
Vendettas, which played an important role in the world of the Hajduci, were primarily motivated by the prospect of acquiring loot, without which the Hajduci, their families and system of support could not have existed at all. Loot consisted of anything that was taken from a targeted enemy (as well as random victims of robbery) that would have attractive sale or exchange value: money, weapons, clothing, horses or other domestic animals, saddles and other horsemen’s equipment, merchant goods – even decapitated heads or whole corpses of distinguished individuals that could be returned for a price. The loot would sometimes be divided between members of the unit on the spot, though more commonly this would be done after an incident, in a safer location. The Harambaša was responsible for distributing the loot amongst the members of his unit, this being one of the critical moments in determining his own popularity, requiring a lot of personal diplomacy on his part. The Harambaša would select from the loot whatever he most desired for himself before distributing the remainder to the other men. After the Harambaša had made his selection, the rest of the Hajduci would help themselves to the remaining loot by virtue of their seniority in the group. Each Hajduk was free to express preferences for the items he desired from the loot, but it was the Harambaša who had the last word in the matter. The monetary value of each item was estimated and recorded, in order to keep track of who received what over time in some systematic way. The Jataci and other friends of the Hajduci would also receive recompense from the loot. Hiding an item that had been acquired through an ambush from the rest of the unit was considered to be a grave offence, and at best would be punished by expulsion from the unit. Although in most cases the loot was not distributed evenly, nonetheless some units would periodically agree on equal shares in order to avoid potential internal strife.
The Harambaša’s rationale in distributing the loot was influenced by a variety of factors. The seniority of a member in the unit had to be taken into account, as well as the role that each individual had played in the seizing of the loot and issues of compensation for any injuries sustained would all be considered. The whole process was a delicate one, and relied on a consensus of agreement by most (if not all) in the unit. This process was very much a test of the Harambaša’s leadership and the internal cohesion of a unit, and could result in individuals leaving a group, or even provoke the dissolution of an entire unit, sometimes in as dramatic a fashion as a fatal shoot-out between the contesting Hajduci.
When loot was being distributed following a vendetta-motivated attack, the procedure would differ somewhat from the norm. Even though the whole unit would go into action to avenge the grievance of a particular member (not necessarily a Harambaša), the nature of the strike changed the way the Hajduci would share the acquired loot (if any). If the targeted individual(s) were killed in the attack, the head(s) would become the actual reward for the particular Hajduk that was seeking revenge. The other loot, including recognised valuables, would be divided among the other Hajduci. Sometimes, by way of simplifying things, the bandits would agree that each member of the unit would share the loot in such a way that each individual was to keep the possessions of any victim(s) he personally killed or captured. In some cases the bandits would sell their loot to the local villagers using improvised markets set up in the foothills of a local mountain or at the edge of a forest, and would then divide the acquired cash. So as not to risk the consternation of attempting to sell items back to the very victims (and their relatives) from whom they had been originally stolen, the Hajduk unit would establish these impromptu markets only after leaving the region in which they had committed their attacks. Another method of readily liquidating the loot was to cross the Ottoman border into Habsburg (in the earlier times, Venetian) Dalmatia, and to then sell the goods in an open market posing as villagers from across the border – no questions asked. The markets abroad were often reached by those individual Hajduci who had relatively few valuables in their possession, allowing them to operate undetected. In some cases, the unit would disperse for a period of time in order to allow each member to cash the valuables individually, although sometimes a selected few members would sell the whole unit’s loot and bring back the cash for distribution.
For the Hajduci the most common approach to fighting was by ambush, mainly due to the limited manpower and resources that were at hand. In most cases, the attacking Hajduk force was considerably smaller than the trade caravan it was ambushing (Ottoman or otherwise), even if a number of different units combined their efforts in an operation. The small size of the Hajduk unit allowed for great mobility in critical moments, though it made the actual fighting very dangerous and highly dependent on the performance of each individual.
The actual planning of an ambush was a careful and time-consuming task. Narrow roads, gorges and mountain passes were favourite locations to consider. The advantages of a confined space for an ambush revolved around the severe restrictions that an enclosed area would impose upon the mobility of mounted caravan escorts, thus enabling fighters on foot to eliminate this otherwise formidable opponent quickly. Moreover, this made the Hajduci particularly dependent on certain types of (steep) terrain in order to deal effectively with these mounted opponents, thus making the presence of the Hajduci in the mountain regions much more abundant than in the valleys and flatlands, where the Ottoman presence and control was much more visible and direct.
Once the location for an ambush had been decided upon, the Hajduci had to ensure that their weapons were fully functional and poised for action. A system of guards and patrols was set up in the vicinity in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises prior to launching the attack. The Hajduk unit would divide the men into three separate groups, known as ‘Zastava’ (Застава), ‘Udorac’ (Удорац) and ‘Rebardžije’ (Ребарџије). From each of these groups there would normally be two individuals on each side of the road (although a Hajduk unit could technically set up an ambush as long as there were at least three people in a group). The Hajduci would fortify their ambush hideouts with stones and/or earth, and camouflage them with branches and grass.
The Hajduci in the Udorac (‘A’ in the diagram) group were the first that the intended targets would (unwittingly) pass as they went along a road, thus making this group form the rear in the ambush configuration. Similarly, the intended targets would unwittingly pass the second group of Hajduci – the Rebaržije (‘B’ in the diagram). The Hajduci positioned in the third group – the Zastava (‘C’ in the diagram) – were positioned furthest along the road, in what was to become the front of an ambush.
As the intended victims approached, the Hajduci of all three groups would lie down on the ground in order to avoid being prematurely detected. The Hajduci in the Udorac group would allow the caravan to pass just a few metres from them without being detected. It would only be as the caravan neared the third (Zastava) group that the intended victims would become aware that they were under attack. The caravan would naturally try to retreat, only to be met by firing from the Hajduci positioned in the Udorac group. The caravan members would start to flee in panic towards both sides of the road, only to be met by the Rebardžije. If a caravan proceeded directly into an ambush, and no mistakes were made on the part of the Hajduci, the end result would be a complete annihilation of all personnel. This lethal technique of ambushing by the Hajduci severed the Ottoman overland supply chain in the interior of the Pašaluk of Belgrade during the First Serbian Uprising, resulting in a rather rapid establishment of Serbian control of the countryside and Ottoman besiegement in the fortresses and fortified towns (many of which later on surrendered due to starvation).
The least secure position in an ambush was given to the most experienced fighter or the best Harambaša if there was more than one unit involved. In ambushes set up by a single unit, however, the Harambaša was positioned in the location that ideally allowed him to observe everything that was going on simultaneously. The Harambaša had to be positioned within shouting distance so that he could issue orders if needed; he would also give the signal to attack, usually by firing his gun in the air.
The dynamics of an ambush would change if the motivation was a personal vendetta rather than a robbery. While the general formula would remain the same, the command to attack would be given by the individual whose personal grievance was about to be avenged. It should also be added that before such an attack, the Hajduci would decide amongst themselves who would murder which specific individuals, in order to make sure that everybody gained the sense of vengeance they sought. In such a vindictive scenario, the loot – which was normally the main goal of an ambush – was considered secondary. Indeed, so as to make a statement that revenge was all they had been seeking, the Hajduci would sometimes leave the potential loot uncollected at the scene, beside the bodies.
The Hajduci of the 19th century relied mostly on their rifles. Due to the fact that caravan escorts normally carried protective vests and solid steel helmets in anticipation of being attacked by the bandits, the Hajduci had to aim precisely. Properly functioning rifles were essential for success in an attack. The Hajduci used sabres and knives after firing from their rifles, engaging their enemy in hand-to-hand combat. If the rifles failed to fire, the Hajduci would run towards the enemy in order to get close enough to prevent them from firing their own rifles. Sometimes even the sabres would break in the fighting, leading to a prolonged fist-fight between the Hajduci and their victims.
One of the tactics that the Hajduci would use during an attack was to shout loudly, not only to elicit panic amongst the enemy, but also to attempt to disguise their own relatively paltry numbers. The Harambaša would shout out orders, which worked well so long as the caravan being attacked was comprised of non-Serbian speakers. Techniques of deception employed by the Hajduci during an attack also included referring to each other by false names (in case some of the victims escaped and managed to reach the authorities), and calling upon an absent but well-known and widely-feared Hajduk by name to provoke even more panic amongst the victims.
Nevertheless, sometimes events did not unfold favourably for the bandits. The Hajduci faced grave danger if the convoy escort noticed the would-be attackers beforehand, or if the convoy personnel under attack remained calm and kept order. In the early 19th century, Vuk Karadžić noted that large Ottoman convoys had developed the tactic of sending escorts into a gorge while the convoy waited outside. The convoy’s armed forerunners would enter the gorge in separate groups using different paths in order to survey the area and possibly surprise the waiting Hajduci. The cavalry section of the escort was placed in the middle instead of the front of a convoy in order to protect it from being targeted first. If the Hajduci started losing the battle, the Zastava group had the task of protecting the retreat of the Udorac and Rebaržije groups before retreating themselves.
The most difficult scenario that the Hajduci faced, however, was to be detected while crossing wide open spaces. Since the Hajduci had no horses, the possibilities of outrunning their enemies were slim, especially if they were caught far from any natural hideouts (such as forests), in which case they would have no choice but to fight. The Harambaša would issue an ‘every man for himself’ order by forming what was known as a ‘Šuplje Kolo’ (Øупље Коло). This was a circular formation in which all members of the unit took part, all of them facing outward so that they would not be individually attacked from the back. The goal was to gain some control of the situation and make a safe break through the encirclement in a certain direction by which the whole unit could escape. Even if the Hajduci managed to break the encirclement and escape, staying alive until they reached the closest protective terrain (woods, mountain or even a cave) was a daunting task. While escaping the encirclement, the Hajduci would have to constantly fire and reload their rifles while running, requiring a great deal of skill. Loading a 19th century rifle necessitated holding it in one hand while reaching for a gunpowder cone with the other, opening the cone with one’s teeth, successfully pouring the contents of the cone into the barrel, reaching for a metal rod that was used for ramming the gunpowder down into the barrel, then securing the rod before aiming and firing. No doubt because of such difficulties to overcome, the Ottoman authorities more often than not captured the Hajduk unit completely or partially in instances of encirclement.
The Hajduci sometimes simulated a rout in order to lure their enemy into mountainous terrain or into woods. There the Hajduci, familiar with the terrain, had a much better chance of winning a fight even with a much more numerous enemy. Knowing the danger, the Ottoman authorities rarely pursued the Hajduci beyond the foothold of a mountain or the edge of a forest. Despite the fact that the Hajduci were no match for the regular Ottoman military in the open field, the Ottoman commanders never solved the problem of dealing with the Hajduci on difficult terrain. This fact, combined with the inability or unwillingness of the Ottoman state to employ measures that would eradicate the drain from the local village populations to the Hajduk ranks, ensured the continuation of the Hajduk phenomenon around the Balkan Peninsula.
Another important skill that some of the Hajduci mastered well was the treatment of wounds with herbal medicine derived from local vegetation. Developed out of pure necessity and passed on from one Hajduk generation to another, this knowledge was unique to the Hajduci and is now completely lost as a result of never having been formally recorded. From the scattered sources that have survived, it seems that a herbal remedy would be applied to a wound after it had been washed with spring water and disinfected with alcohol. One remedy for a wound would be prepared by melting bee’s wax, spruce resin and grated elder bark. This mixture was heated up over an open fire, and then applied directly to the wound. There were a number of different remedies for various types of wounds, depending on their nature and severity.
Besides ambushing, the Hajduci were sometimes brave enough to attack an isolated tower or small fort. The main goal in such cases was plunder. An attack on an Ottoman tower was more dangerous than carrying out an ambush, and required more planning and resources. Indeed, if and when possible, the Hajduci preferred tactics of trickery, whereby contact would be established with one of the servants from the tower, and a deal would be made to have the gate secretly opened from inside in return for a hefty reward. This approach gave the Hajduci a strategic advantage in storming a tower, though it ran the risk of exposing their plans in cases where a bribe was refused. If the Hajduci decided that they should attack a tower without any help from inside, they would employ one of three different approaches. The first involved deploying a ‘volunteer’ who would sneak into a tower alone in order to open the gates from inside. The second option was to sneak the whole unit into a tower by using rope ladders which would have hooks at the ends in order to successfully attach to a window ledge or wooden roof. The third – and most dangerous – option would be to storm a tower directly by attacking the front gates.
If the Hajduci managed to enter a tower by any of these methods, the actual fighting inside would invariably degenerate into a bloody struggle with blades and sabres. Guns and rifles were seldom used on such occasions because the Hajduci wanted to make as little noise as possible in case more troops were in the area. The bandits would have very little time to complete the plunder of a tower because reinforcements would eventually arrive and make an attempt to capture them by sweeping the area. The Hajduci would murder most of the adult males, and take with them distinguished individuals, as well as women and children, in order to use them for ransom later. Moreover, they would do their best to raze a tower to the ground while fleeing. In case they failed to get inside quickly, the Hajduci would shift their actions to setting the tower on fire from the outside. This tactic was especially employed in border areas, where the attacking Hajduci had more time because they could easily skip across the border in case Ottoman reinforcements showed up.
The individuals that the Hajduci abducted were treated well as long as the ransom was deemed to be an obtainable goal. The bandits would exchange their prisoners for money, goods and valuables, depending on their particular needs at that time. Sometimes, they would exchange their Ottoman prisoners for their own captured men held in state prisons. The Hajduci tended to take the Ottomans as prisoners more in the border regions, where they could safely claim ransom from the other side of the state line. This practice was more frequent in the Herzegovina region than in Serbia. The Hajduci of Montenegro would exchange the captured Ottomans for pigs, in part to acquire food but also to deeply insult the Ottomans on both personal and religious grounds.
The Hajduci suffered a much higher casualty rate when attacking towers than when ambushing convoys, thus limiting the number of attempts they would make to engage in such endeavours. Nevertheless, the Hajduci did indeed have the skills needed in order to deal with fortified towers, something that proved to be crucial in the opening phase of the First Serbian Uprising. During the years immediately prior to the outbreak of the Uprising, the Ottomans built ‘Hanovi’ (fortified watchtowers), by using the local population as slave labour, in every significant settlement in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, totalling six hundred by 1802. The Hanovi were build exclusively from wood, and strategically located along roads or next to churches in order to provide better surveillance and control of the local population. The Hanovi were the staging grounds for many violations committed against local people; because of this it comes to no surprise that the Hanovi were the very first set of targets in the actual Uprising – their widespread burning in 1804 officially opened the hostilities between the Ottomans and the Serbs. The Hajduci played a significant role during the eradication of the Hanovi in the interior of the Pašaluk of Belgrade, a process which resulted in the besiegement of Ottoman forces in forts and fortified towns and the emergence of Serbian control of the countryside in a relatively short period of time.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, various measures against the Hajduci were taken by the local and state authorities. In every Knežina there was a number of ‘Panduri’ (Ďŕндури). Acting as local policemen, these people, mostly Serbs (though occasionally with the help of the Ottomans), spent the majority of their time chasing the Hajduci. The resources available to the Panduri were sometimes not even enough to keep the number of Hajduci under control, let alone eradicate them from the area. When the number of Hajduci became high enough in a certain area to make everyday life difficult for the locals, the population of the region joined in collective efforts to pursue and eradicate the bandits. Due to the secret identity of any Jataci within a local community, it was often the case that some of the people who participated in these purges were actually harbouring Hajduci in their own homes. At times the villagers succeeded in finding Hajduci, upon which exterminating them inevitably followed. The ultimate proof of their success in attempting to eradicate the Hajduci was for the Panduri to parade the decapitated head of a Hajduk through the streets of a local village, and then take it to a local town in order to present it to the Ottoman authorities. The Ottomans would then impale the Hajduk’s head with a spear and decorate the town’s fortifications with it.
The motivation for the local population to join these ‘hunts’ was not only to create a safer environment for themselves, but also to avoid provoking the Ottomans into making their own expeditions. An Ottoman expedition against the Hajduci, called a ‘Teftiš’, meant that a large number of Turks would come to the local Serbian villages and try to crack the Jataci network through beatings, imprisonment and fines. The Turks would also make an example of the families of men who had became Hajduci, in effect blackmailing the Hajduci into choosing between their own and their family’s lives. The local population, thus, had a strong personal interest in keeping the Turks from coming to a village under any circumstances, a Teftiš being the least desirable of situations. Since the Hajduci numbers grew rapidly during times of chaos and anarchy, the Teftiš became quite a common occurrence after wars.
For the Hajduci facing the prospect of being captured by the Ottoman authorities, instant death at the hands of the villagers was probably a relatively more attractive option than a torturous death at the hands of the Ottomans. In the late 18th century, the least unpleasant punishment that could befall a captured bandit would be to get his feet beaten with a stick. He would be strapped on his back with his legs secured around a pole in an upright position. On the each side of a table there would be a torturer with a stick, and they would alternate their blows to the bandit’s feet. The number of strikes would vary, and could be anywhere between fifty and three hundred. The greater the number of strikes, the greater the likelihood that the flesh would become dislodged from the bone, rendering a person unable to walk for months. Since no medical services were provided in dungeons, a prisoner would often simply be left to die after such a punishment due to infections or gangrene developing in the open wound. During the rule of the Dahije in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, the Ottoman authorities also punished women in this fashion for any associations with the Hajduci, amongst a range of other minor offences. The Ottomans were still regularly practising this method of punishment in the Bosnia-Herzegovina region in the mid-19th century.
Another punishment the Ottomans would employ against captured Hajduci and their associates – officially considered to be non-lethal (along with the foot beating procedure) – was to hang a person from the ceiling of a room by tying a rope around each of their big toes. The torturers would place the head of a prisoner in a bag that was half-filled with ashes, which would be shaken hard to make breathing more difficult. Sometimes the torturers would even light a fire just below the prisoners’ head to burn his face and choke him with smoke, and occasionally stones or weights would be added to the body of a prisoner to further his suffering. Vuk Karadžić wrote that this particular punishment was commonly applied to prisoners of both sexes in the years prior to the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising, although the practice continued in the areas under Ottoman control until the mid-19th century.
Many official punishments took the form of the death sentence, of which there were many methods of delivery, and which were invariably conducted in front of an audience comprised of members of the public (whom the authorities had forced to attend). Public executions were held along main roads, major crossroads, in front of city gates or mosques, major bridges or any other suitable location where locals could be easily gathered. Sometimes, the Hajduci would be taken to the exact location where they had committed their last crime and were executed there. If the Hajduci were caught far from their home region, and the resources were available, the Ottomans would take them back to their native villages and execute them there. The purpose of public executions was to serve as a deterrent to any locals who might have been thinking about joining or helping the Hajduci, although the most gruesome of execution methods tended to create more anger than fear in those who witnessed them. Executions were customarily held by the Ottomans on Fridays.
Executions of the Hajduci took two forms: a straightforward and rapid death, or a more prolonged tortuous affair. Turning first to the quicker methods, these included decapitation, shooting and hanging. Decapitation was considered to be the most humane of all methods, deemed to be the least painful (as long as the executioner did his job correctly). The so-called ‘Seča Knezova’ (Seча Кнезова), an event in 1804 that involved a systematic hunt and execution of important Serbian leaders in the Pašaluk of Belgrade just prior to the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising, generated numerous accounts of the practice of decapitation. The sentenced prisoner would be made to sit on the ground, with his (or, indeed, her) legs and arms tied around a thick tree stump. Around the prisoner’s neck two executioners would strap a leash with two holding ropes on each side that were used to pull the head down to the level of the tree stump, exposing the back of the neck and rendering the prisoner immobile. If the execution were conducted efficiently the prisoner would be decapitated by one sabre stroke, though this was by no means always the case – much to the consternation of the assembled masses. Death by shooting was a relatively rare occurrence in the late 18th and early 19th century, and it was considered to be something of a ‘privileged’ method of execution for the Hajduci. A firing squad was employed when the authorities were anxious to dispose of their prisoners quickly, in addition to which this method was not considered to offer much of a public spectacle compared to some other options.
The third common method of ‘instant death’ – public hangings – were very common, most often reserved for the ‘lowest’ form of criminals, including rapists and petty thieves. Thus, death by hanging was the ultimate humiliation for any captured Hajduci, as they did not consider themselves to be criminals in the first place, less still petty or relatively insignificant ones. This method was also deliberately employed by the Ottomans as a means of reducing the potential for hero worship to develop around executed Hajduk individuals, though history has shown that humiliating forms of death can actually contribute to the esteem in which the executed individual is posthumously held. In most instances, however, death by hanging was reserved for the least significant Hajduci, their Jataci or other sympathisers.
In contrast to the relatively quick (and least painful) methods of death outlined above, the slower and more tortuous methods included the Čengele (also known as a ‘Moroccan Hook’) or impaling, described in detail below. The Čengele method was comprised of two large upright wooden beams, connected at the top by a third, horizontal beam. On the horizontal beam there were usually three winches, each with a rope fed through it. At the bottom end of each rope there was a large sharpened metal hook (the Čengele proper), some 5 cm in diameter. The prisoner would be stripped naked, with his or her feet and arms tied together in one bunch behind the back, exposing the belly forward. The unfortunate prisoner would then be lifted from the ground by the executioners, and thrown on one of the hooks with the tip pointing upwards. Once the hook had lodged itself inside the body, the executioners would raise the prisoner by rope all the way to the top of the wooden frame (the three winches allowing for three simultaneous executions to take place). The damage that the hook made to the internal organs varied from case to case, depending on the way a person would fall on the hook. If the prisoners were ‘fortunate’, the hook would pierce major organs upon their fall, resulting in death within a few hours. However, most of the prisoners would die only after hanging on the hook for a day or even, in some cases, as long as three days.
Impaling was the most common (and most painful) way for the captured Hajduci to be put to death. This form of punishment had very ancient roots, dating back to the days of the Assyrian Empire. Judging from historical records, the tradition of impaling was brought to the Balkans by the Ottomans from the Middle East. In the central Balkans, the last accounts of this form of execution were recorded in the Bosnia-Herzegovina region as late as the mid-19th century. Death by impaling was regularly practiced in geographical Serbia until the end of the Uprisings.
Impaling was carried out using a two and a half metre high pole (or longer), about fifteen centimetres in diameter. The tip of the pole was sharpened with a knife, sometimes being strengthened with a pointed iron cap. The prisoner would be placed lying down with his back on the ground, his hands and feet tied and stretched in all four directions. The stick would be positioned between his legs, with the prisoner’s anus as an entry point. The main executioner would guide the stick into the body, while his helpers would hold the prisoner down. Using a hammer as the main tool, the main executioner would force the stick through the prisoner’s body with the exit point between his neck and the collarbone. The stick would pass through the body between the spine and all the major organs, with the main goal of missing both. If the job was done correctly, the stick would not brake the spine or damage any vital organs, thus resulting in up to eight days of suffering. Once the stick passed through the body, the prisoner’s legs would be tied around it, and the impaled body would be raised to the upright position.
It was not uncommon for travellers through European Turkey in the late 18th century to see impaled bodies along the major roads, acting as a graphic deterrent to any rebellious behaviour. The Ottoman authorities would often leave the bodies of the impaled displayed for days after death, as a stark reminder to those who would consider pursuing a life of banditry.
The particularly sadistic approach in administering punishments was at the discretion of local Ottoman officials, who were free to carry out torture as they pleased after the courts had determined that the accused was guilty of banditry. The courts, controlled by the central administration based in Istanbul, had no mechanism for overseeing the delivery of punishments. This allowed for serious abuses of prisoners once they had left the courts and were handed over to the local authorities. This system of justice led not only to a high level of hostility felt by the local population towards the Ottoman state and the Turks in general, but also evoked a level of sympathy for the Serbian bandits that would not necessarily have been present had the Ottomans taken a different approach.
Notably, the severity of Ottoman punishments failed to eradicate the problem of banditry in geographical Serbia. On the contrary, the extreme punishments motivated many to join the ranks of the Hajduci so that they could carry out their own vendettas against the local Ottomans and thus avenge family members or friends. The situation also made many local villagers more inclined to become Jataci for the bandits, primarily out of sympathy. Ottoman violence played a major role in moulding the perceptions of the local populace in viewing the Hajduci as a mixed blessing; the reality that the Hajduci themselves were committing various abuses against the locals was largely overshadowed by the fact that it was the Hajduci alone that were the only ones who could effectively strike back against the Ottomans if they wanted or deemed it necessary to do so. Thus, no matter how much the locals themselves suffered at the hands of the Hajduci, they nonetheless saw the bandits as a necessary evil, and certainly as less of an evil than the Ottomans. The systematic violence (including brutal torture) committed by the Dahije between 1802 and 1804 in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, which saw the imposition of disproportionately severe punishments for minor offences, pushed the locals beyond their limits and ultimately served to ignite an outburst that was to become a bloody peasant uprising, lasting for nine years and extending beyond the immediate borders of the Pašaluk.
In the light of this persecution the Hajduci experienced at the hands of both the Ottomans and the local villagers, it was perhaps not surprising that some Hajduk members ultimately chose the possibility that was open to them of returning to the community whence they came. A Hajduk who wished to leave his life of banditry and settle down in his village again had to ask for pardon from the local Knez as well as the other villagers. If the pardon was granted, the local Knez would ask for an official pardon from the local Paša on behalf of the reformed Hajduk. If this official pardon was granted, the former Hajduk would be cleared of all charges in the eyes of both the community and the Ottoman authorities, and any transgressions encompassed by the pardon could not be subsequently brought to bare. With the possibility of a pardon being granted in some cases, the Ottoman authorities hoped that at least a part of the problem of banditry would solve itself. Local peasants and Knezovi frequently made proclamations to the Hajduci of their region to follow this line of action in the hope that the numbers of Hajduci could at least be reduced.
For the former Hajduci, returning to the old ways of peasant life invariably proved to be a difficult challenge. Agricultural life was hard work, and those who had spent long periods of time surviving by robbery and blackmail had a problem re-adjusting to such taxing manual labour. Thus, the most popular occupation for an ex-Hajduk was as a Pandur, the local policeman. Being a local Pandur gave to the former Hajduci an alternative through which they could earn a living without forcing them to work the fields. The Ottomans also believed that this was a suitable occupation for an ex-Hajduk, because those Panduri who were recruited from the former Hajduci ranks knew how to follow the Hajduci’s tracks and where to find them. This tactic of ‘fighting fire with fire’ through utilising former Hajduci was one of the reasons why the authorities would often be willing to grant a pardon.
The Serbs were not the only ones to experience banditry. The Turks also had their own Hajduci, called ‘Krdžalije’ (Ęđџалије). The Krdžalije were quite a different group from the Serbian Hajduci. Unlike the Hajduci who operated on foot, the Krdžalije were horsemen and operated openly, in public, with almost no fear of the Ottoman authorities. Karadžić notes that in his own time the Krdžalije were most commonly found in Macedonia, where they concentrated after the Austro-Ottoman war of 1788-1791. According to Karadžić, the Krdžalije got their name from the Macedonian town of Krdže (Крџе), where many of them originated.
The Krdžalije operated in large groups, each consisting of a few hundred members. In contrast to the Hajduci, the Krdžalije raided and blackmailed complete settlements instead of mere individuals. In many cases settlements which refused to co-operate, or could not deliver the requested loot, were completely razed to the ground. The author gives an example of Voskopolje (‘Воскопоље’), a small romance-speaking town in Macedonia which was completely burned down and forcefully emptied of its inhabitants by the Krdžalije. The author notes that the Krdžalije mostly spoke Turkish and Albanian among themselves, but that they would also accept recruits of any nationality – sometimes even non-Muslims – if they saw fit. Every ‘Krdžalija’ (member of the unit) had his own horse, as well as a uniform dress code and equipment detail. The Krdžalije wore blue pants, brightly coloured jackets decorated with golden embroidery and a silk turban. In terms of equipment, the Krdžalije carried pistols, knives and sabres decorated with gold and silver. In addition, they were armed with custom-made long rifles called ‘Krdžalijke’, which could be distinguished by the shape of the buttstock.
The Krdžalije also kept female slaves with them at all times. In most cases these were kidnapped girls from the Christian villages, and had the task of taking care of the horses and entertaining their kidnappers (sexually and otherwise). In battle, the Krdžalije would dress their female slaves in men’s clothing, and had them hold the horses in case the bandits themselves had to dismount and fight on foot. The main reason for dressing the slaves in this manner was to fool an enemy into believing the numbers of Krdžalije were even greater than was already the case, thus relying on the psychological tactic of intimidation.
The Krdžalije, like the Hajduci, had a clearly defined command structure. The equivalent of the Hajduk Harambaša was the ‘Bimbaša’ for the Krdžalije. Due to the sheer size of their units, the Krdžalije had a two-tier system of command, by which the smaller sections of the unit were led by a less senior leader – the ‘Buljubaša’. The Krdžalije were also available for hire. For an appropriate fee, the Krdžalije would do anything for a client, including committing murder. Pazvan-Oglu, a local Ottoman ruler from the town of Vidin in present day Bulgaria, used the Krdžalije to successfully defeat the regular Ottoman army sent against him after he had attempted to wrestle away some authority from the central Ottoman powers.
During the course of the 18th century, many Serbs participated on both sides of wars fought between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. As the century progressed, however, the percentage of Serbian soldiers in the Ottoman service decreased, while the Habsburg units saw an opposite trend. Serbs were not only conscripts of the regular Habsburg army, but were also members of the paramilitary formations, including Hajduk units in the Habsburg service. One of the most important events in the development of banditry in Serbia in the period prior to the First Serbian Uprising was the Austro-Ottoman war of 1788-1791.
In 1787 the Habsburgs called upon Serbs of both Empires to join their effort as a part of their overall preparation for the upcoming war against the Ottomans. The Ottomans, for their part, conducted an aggressive search for weapons in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, more often than not accompanied by intimidation and violence against the local population. As a result, many Serbs escaped across the Sava and Danube rivers into Habsburg territory, welcomed by the local authorities there. Due to the enlisting of both escapees from the Pašaluk of Belgrade as well as the local Habsburg Serbs, this final Austro-Ottoman war of the century saw massive Serbian involvement on the Habsburg side through the volunteer units known as Freikorps. Many of those who escaped from the Pašaluk of Belgrade were Hajduci.
One of the leaders of the Serbian Freikorps was Koča Arandjelković, a former merchant from Panjevac near Jagodina, who had in 1787 crossed into Habsburg territory. Arandjelković participated in the war from the outset, including the first attack on the Ottoman ships positioned on the Danube river. Arandjelković then proceed to attack Požarevac with his Serb unit, followed by Palanka, Batočina, Bagrdan and Kragujevac. Arandjelković’s unit constantly grew in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, numbering some five hundred recruits by the time of the capture of the gorge of Bagrdan. In capturing the gorge, Arandjelković’s unit cut the main communication line between Belgrade and Istanbul. The actions of Koča Arandjelković became so well known that the whole 1788-1791 war came to be known in Serbia as ‘Koča’s War’ (‘Кочина Крајина’).
Koča Arandjelković was not the only Serbian commander in this war. In the Pašaluk of Belgrade itself, local Serbs organised volunteers who would aid the Habsburg war effort. Marjan Jovanović, situated in the Homolje region in the eastern part of the Pašaluk of Belgrade, gathered some three hundred volunteers and operated in the Resava region. Similar to Arandjelković’s unit, this unit grew quickly to a total of seven hundred men. There were also Freikorp units which were led by professional Serbian officers of the Habsburg army, such as those of Mihaljević and Branovički. Although there were obvious differences between the leaders and the way the units came into existence, they all dipped into the same recruiting pool in the Hajduci of the Pašaluk of Belgrade. As the Habsburg war effort progressed, more people joined (many with Hajduk ties).
With the Austro-Ottoman war imminent, the name of Karadjordje Petrović, a part-time Hajduk and the future leader of the First Serbian Uprising, featured prominently on the Freikorp’s enrolment lists. Karadjordje went to an Habsburg military school for non-commissioned officers, which he successfully completed before engaging in any action with the Freikorp. The well-documented participation of Karadjordje Petrović in the Habsburg Freikorp serves as an example of the Hajduk involvement in the conventional warfare of the time, resulting in the valuable military experience which was to be utilised later, during the events of the First Serbian Uprising.
After the war with Austria became official, Karadjordje crossed the Ottoman border not as a Freikorp but as a Hajduk. He quickly assembled a Hajduk band with which he operated against the Ottomans in the Šumadija region of the Pašaluk of Belgrade. However, very soon Karadjordje’s band stumbled upon an Habsburg Freikorp unit commanded by Serbian officer Radić Petrović, which was advancing towards the south. Following the usual practice by the Habsburg Army in the Srem region where he normally served, Radić executed all the Hajduci on the spot – except for Karadjordje. Radić knew of Karadjordje’s ties with the Freikorp, and because of this Karadjordje’s life was spared. The episode ended with Karadjordje’s conscription into Radić’s unit. This was an example of both the expendability and the utility of Hajduci to the Habsburgs in the war. If the Hajduci operated on their own and were caught by the Habsburg authorities, they would face a summon execution as ordinary criminals. However, Habsburg authorities saw no problem in utilising some of the Hajduci for their own war effort whenever they wished. It was an inconsistent but pragmatic approach by the Habsburgs.
In December of 1787, Karadjordje Petrović participated as a member of Radić’s Freikorp unit in an attempt to storm the fortress of Belgrade. While the unit managed to penetrate the fortress itself a mistake made by the Habsburg naval units caused the whole endeavour to ultimately fail. Nevertheless, the episode provided Karadjordje Petrović and his peers with an insight into the strengths and vulnerabilities of Belgrade’s fortress – information which was to prove most useful some fifteen years later. After the siege Karadjordje Petrović retreated to Srem, taking leave of Radić’s unit – though this was not to be the end of the relationship between Karadordje and Radić. In an interesting turn of events, Radić left the Habsburg service at the beginning of the First Serbian Uprising in 1804 and crossed into the Pašaluk of Belgrade, offering his services to the Serbs. Between 1804 and 1813, Radić served as an army officer under Karadjordje’s command.
In 1788 Karadjordje crossed the border for a second time with the Serbian Freikorp (commanded by Mihaljević) into the Pašaluk of Belgrade, this time as a member of a unit led by Lieutenant Commanded Sokolović. The unit Karadjordje Petrović participated in succeeded in capturing the city of Šabac on April 27th 1788, and after a few squirmishes with the Ottomans in the vicinity of Belgrade, the Serb Freikorp captured the city of Valjevo in June of that year. Karadjordje Petrović, with the permission of his superiors, then left the Freikorp and formed his own Hajduk band in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. He had more than a hundred men in his Hajduk band, which suggests that many of the recruits came from the same Freikorp unit he was in. It is hard to separate Karadjordje Petrović’s Hajduk activities from his involvement in the war itself at this time; he kept an open line of communication with the Habsburg officers in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, and aided the Freikorp when asked to do so.
In 1790 the Ottomans gained the upper hand in the war and forced the Habsburg Army to retreat from the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Consequently, most of the Serbian Freikorp soldiers deserted the army once they were across the Habsburg border, creating many Hajduk bands in the Srem and Banat regions. By the end of that year, the Habsburgs had disbanded the Freikorp altogether. The press of the time characterised former Freikorp soldiers as the worst and most brutal of all bandits operating in the Empire. Another important pool for the Hajduk bands in the Srem and Banat regions came in the form of Serbian deserters from the Habsburg border units. Hajduk bands in the Srem and Banat regions also recruited many Serbs from the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The most famous Hajduk from the Srem region, the Habsburg border unit deserter Lazar Dobrić, had as his deputy Stanoje Glavaš, a Hajduk from the Pašaluk of Belgrade and a personal friend of Karadjordje Petrović. The Hajduci from the Srem and Banat regions frequently crossed the Ottoman border, creating havoc on the roads in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Incursions of the Hajduk units from the Pašaluk of Belgrade across the Sava and Danube rivers were also a frequent occurrence, giving Hajduk activity a truly cross-border character. Many Hajduci from the Srem and Banat regions sought refuge from crackdowns by the Habsburg authorities by simply crossing the border; a parallel scenario played out in the case of the Hajduci from the Pašaluk of Belgrade pursued by the Ottoman authorities. In order to effectively deal with the problem, local Habsburg and Ottoman authorities co-operated on the issue, exchanging Hajduk prisoners across the border and killing captured Hajduk leaders on the spot.
The Hajduk bands that were led by or composed of Freikorp and Habsburg border unit deserters – such as the band of Lazar Dobrić and Stanoje Glavaš – proved to be more elusive and harder to fight against than other Hajduk units, in large part due to their prior Habsburg military training. The experience gained from fighting the Ottomans as part of the Freikorp, as well as insights into the operational ways of the Habsburg army, gave these Hajduci an advantage in facing both adversaries. The real value of the former, however, came into play with the beginning of the First Serbian Uprising. It is estimated that some 18,000 men with Habsburg military training and Freikorp experience participated in the First Serbian Uprising of 1804.
Beside gaining official military training and practice in fighting the Ottomans, another important aspect of the Freikorp experience for the Serbian Hajduci was the ability to travel all around the geographical region of Serbia and establish personal bonds, relationships and allegiances. Karadjordje Petrović, during his Freikorp days in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, created a circle of friends (many of them former and/or future Hajduci) that were to become his closest allies during the time of the First Serbian Uprising.
Following the end of the Austro-Ottoman hostilities in 1791, the new Sultan Selim III decided to pursue internal reforms in order to eradicate state corruption. With particular respect to the Pašaluk of Belgrade, the Sultan’s reforms meant that the order of ‘Janičari’ could not live within its borders. This measure made a lot of sense from the Sultan’s point of view: by the time of the last Austro-Ottoman conflict the military order of Janičari had deteriorated into a brood of rebellious activity against central authority, while corruption ran rife. The power of Janičari had grown to such an extent prior to the outbreak of the final Austro-Ottoman war that Habsburg Emperor Joseph II ignored the Paša in Belgrade altogether, talking instead to the Janičari commander Deli-Ahmed when he wanted to negotiate. Sultan Selim III sent Bećir-Paša, quite an energetic man, to deal with the Janičari in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. One of the first measures taken by Bećir-Paša was to murder Deli-Ahmed, leader of the Janičari from Belgrade. During the course of 1791, Bećir-Paša managed to push the Janičari out of the Pašaluk of Belgrade. However, in 1792 Bećir-Paša was re-assigned to Bitola in Macedonia; his post was taken over by Mehmed Pekmedži-Paša, and events took a different turn. As soon as Bećir-Paša left for Macedonia, Janičari staged a rebellion, and in August of 1792, with the help of the Turks in Belgrade, they took over the fortress of Belgrade, capturing Mehmed Pekmedži-Paša in person. The Ottoman authorities sent an army from Bosnia to re-capture Belgrade, only to see this force obliterated by the Janičari. Another army, this time sent from Niš and led by Topal Ahmed-Paša, managed to re-take Belgrade in November 1792. Topal Ahmed-Paša continued with the policies of Bećir-Paša, and was bestowed with the title of Vesir from the Sultan as a recognition of his success.
The aftermath of the whole Janičari affair of 1791-2 was very important for the Serbs, Hajduci included. During the events of 1791-2 in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, both sides in the conflict considered using Serbian recruits as allies. The Serbs were more receptive to offers made by the central authority, partly due to a wide-spread animosity held among the Serbs towards the Janičari. Topal Ahmed-Paša was the first Ottoman official who took steps towards realising this idea by asking the local Serbian leaders to create conscription lists of all able-bodied men in their communities.
By 1793 the new leader in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, Hadži Mustafa-Paša, formed a first Serbian unit of some 1,500 men in order to confront the Janičari. Mustafa-Paša even kept some of these men stationed in the fortress of Belgrade. The first major victory of the Ottoman Serb army against the Janičari occurred near the village of Kolar in 1793, convincing Mustafa-Paša that arming and training the local Serbs for the Ottoman service was indeed a right course of action. The Ottoman Serb army grew considerably in size by 1797. The growth of the army was the consequence of a deal between Paša and the local leaders, by which an Ottoman proposal to increase taxes was countered by a Serbian offer to provide conscripts to the Ottomans. Mustafa-Paša did not trust the Serbs, and wanted a mixed force where Serbs and Turks would serve side by side so that the latter could keep a close eye on the former. However, the Serbs resisted the idea and the Serbian Ottoman army ultimately had its own infrastructure with a Serbian officer core, which was led by Stanko Harambašić. Stanko Harambašić’s army found a natural recruiting pool among the Hajduci of the Pašaluk of Belgrade.
This army was legally borne of the three stages of privileges granted to the Pašaluk of Belgrade by the Sultan in 1793, 1794 and 1796. The privileges granted to the Serbs in the Pašaluk of Belgrade were similar to those that had been granted to the people of the Ionian islands. These privileges included a substantial level of local autonomy for the Serbian population, administered in each village by the traditional figure of the ‘Knez’ (leader of the village) and by an ‘Obor-Knez’ (senior leader) in the larger territorial units (‘Knežine’), which were comprised of a group of villages. Turks were forbidden from entering purely Serbian villages, while local ‘Knezovi’ (the plural form) were allowed to administer police units in order to safeguard the roads against the bandits within the area of their authority. A tax was to be collected twice yearly, at the time of Djurdjevdan and Mitrovdan in the Eastern Orthodox calendar. The Serbs were granted the right to rebuild destroyed or damaged churches, and freely build new ones if they could afford to. At first, the tax collection continued under direct Ottoman supervision, but after a while this duty was passed to the local Knez.
It is possible that there was a hidden agenda behind the Ottoman creation of the Serbian army in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Fully aware of the Serbian activities during the war of 1788-1791 with the Habsburgs, Topal Ahmed-Paša ordered a conscription census in the local Knežine in order to gain some idea of the scenario the Ottomans might face were there to be a full-scale uprising in Serbia. By granting various privileges to the Serbs – including their own army – the implicit motivation was to ‘buy’ the loyalty of the Serbs and thus deter them from considering any rebellion against the central authority. Whatever the motivations were, the Pašaluk of Belgrade by 1797 had a sizable Serbian Army of some 16,000 men fighting for the Ottomans.
However, the privileges granted to the Serbs were not to last for long even though the sequence of events that led to their revocation had little to do with the Serbs themselves. In the summer of 1798, the Ottomans were faced with the French seizure of Ottoman Egypt. They proclaimed ‘Holy War’ (Jihad) against France, and in accordance with this new situation, Istanbul gave pardon to all dissidents who at least formally proclaimed their loyalty to the Sultan. The immediate effect of the Sultan’s pardon became clear to everyone in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The Janičari were allowed to come back, while Pazvan-oglu was returned to power in Vidin. Mustafa-Paša, in charge of the Pašaluk of Belgrade at the time, decided to send the Janičari outside of Belgrade fortress into the Pašaluk’s interior, but this proved to be a disastrous mistake. The Janičari, deprived of all their possessions, started re-building their material wealth through brutal looting of Serbian villages, causing many to join Hajduk bands in order to survive. Less than a year later, in 1799, Pazvan-oglu rose once again in a revolt against the Sultan, joined by the Janičari from the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The Janičari also started pre-emptive killings of important Serbian figures (Obor-Knezovi and Knezovi, as well as church leaders). Among the first to be killed was Stanko Harambašić, the leader of the Serbian Ottoman army. By December 15th 1801, the Janičari had stormed the Belgrade fortress, killing Mustafa-Paša. Soon, the Janičari were in control of the whole of the Pašaluk of Belgrade. In 1802 the power grip tightened at the hands of four men, known as the four ‘Dahije’: Kučuk-Alija (murderer of Mustafa-Paša), Aganlija, Mula-Jusuf and Mehmed-Aga Fočić. During that year Dahije legally abolished the autonomy that had been granted to the Serbs by the Sultan in 1793, 1794 and 1796.
The loss of autonomy in 1802 played an important part in the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising in 1804. The tightening of the constraints after a period of significant concessions severely affected the local population in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The ‘Dahije’ period (1802-1804) was both chaotic and brutal. One of the most evident consequences of the effects of the Dahije was the exponential increase in cases of banditry in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Intimidated by violence and insecurity, many left their villages and indulged in a life of lawlessness. The mountains and forests in the region swelled with bandits and refugees, setting the stage for what was to become known as the First Serbian Uprising.
The First Serbian Uprising was significant in the creation of Serbia as a modern state, being one the most important steps on the road to independence which was achieved at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Although the First Serbian Uprising ultimately failed in 1813, the restoration of Ottoman power in the Pašaluk of Belgrade was only a brief episode.
In late January of 1804, the Dahije decided to execute all men of importance amongst the local Serbs in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, sensing a certain degree of threat and the possibility of an oncoming revolt. This event, recorded in the local tradition as the Seča Knezova (Ńĺча Кнезова or literally ‘The slaughter of the Knezovi’), acted as an immediate catalyst for the outbreak of the Uprising. Intended by the Dahije as a pre-emptive strike on the local Serbian leadership that would make the potential uprising impossible, the Dahije’s plan misfired for three different reasons. Firstly, the brutal hunt and summary executions of all the Serbian Knezovi, important church figures, wealthy merchants and prominent Hajduci that the Dahije could find provoked outrage, not fear, among the local population. Thus, the reaction in the Pašaluk of Belgrade was quite the opposite than that which the Dahije had intended. Secondly, by convicting members of different social groups by the same means, the Dahije managed – for the first time – to unite against them all the various Serbian groups in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Bandits and merchants, priests and secular leaders now all had a common enemy, and the same goal – survival, possible only by the elimination of the Dahije in the region. This fusion of strong anti-Dahije sentiment created an atmosphere that was to make the Uprising possible. Groups such as the Knezovi or merchants now had nothing to gain from being loyal to the Ottoman authorities (as had been previously the case); indeed, they had much to lose.
The third (unintended) consequence of the Seča Knezova, however, was specifically related to the Hajduci, who proved to be the most elusive of all the individuals that the Dahije tried to capture and execute. During the two weeks of their doomed initiative, the Dahije executed some 150 distinguished individuals in the Pašaluk of Belgrade (and many more ordinary people), with the Hajduci affected by the overall lowest number of executions of any given group. This said, where the Dahije were unable to find and execute a particular Hajduk, they would execute his immediate and extended family, in a sheer act of malice. This, naturally, made the issue an extremely charged and personal one for the Hajduci, immediately provoking a drive for vendettas. Motivated by the need for personal revenge, the Hajduci now focused solely on the Ottomans. The Seča Knezova crystallised the concept and identity of an enemy for the Serbian bandits in a new way, relegating the time and energy that would normally have been devoted to plundering and robbery. In essence, a large group of armed, violent and disenchanted men who had previously indulged in relatively small scale, albeit serious, attack on near-random targets suddenly found themselves highly focused on the state, motivated by a common and overwhelming goal to overthrow the regime.
The Hajduci of Serbia played as crucial a role in the First Serbian Uprising as the Uprising itself played in the creation of an independent Serbia. The Hajduci contributed to the Uprising in three distinct ways. Firstly, many of the Hajduci who participated in the initial stages of the Uprising remained active as soldiers and commanders until the very end. Many important military leaders (examples being Hajduk-Veljko Petrović and Karadjordje himself as the supreme commander) were of Hajduk extraction. Leaving the life of banditry behind them, some of the Hajduci found themselves as heads of large Serbian peasant armies. Secondly, the Hajduk units were behind the initial attacks of the Uprising, which included strikes on the Hanovi, eradication of the Ottoman presence in the villages, gradual establishment of Serbian control of the countryside and loss of Ottoman control of the roads. The bandits of Serbia helped catalyse the Uprising by acting as the first strike force against the Ottomans, as well as spreading the reach of the Uprising across the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Thirdly, the Hajduk units served as a nucleus for larger rebel units. The peasants who left their villages out of fear of or opposition to the Ottomans went directly to the bandits in the woods and mountains, seeking their protection and counting on their support for survival in the new conditions. As the Uprising spread, the number of peasants who went to various Hajduci units soon outnumbered the actual Hajduci, changing the nature of these units into a peasant-bandit rebel force.
The Orašac gathering, which was held on February 14th 1804, traditionally marked the beginning of the First Serbian Uprising. The gathering was attended by most of the leaders from the central Šumadija region of the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Among the participants were community heads such as Knezovi, priests and merchants, former leaders of the Ottoman Serb army and prominent Hajduci. Hajduci were represented by Karadjordje Petrović, Stanoje Glavaš, Hajduk-Veljko Petrović and a number of other secondary figures. The central issue at the Orašac gathering was the election of a leader (‘Вожд’, transliterated ‘Vožd’) for the uprising.
The election of the Vožd, the description of which can be found in the writings of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, confirmed both the popular perceptions about Hajduci (as being untrustworthy) as well as their role in the whole uprising. The first person proposed for the honor of the Vožd was the famous Hajduk Stanoje Glavaš, although he refused. Glavaš was aware of the fundamental difference between Hajduci and the people: in a speech given to the gathered assembly, Glavaš argued that while he could extend his authority over the Hajduci, he was not the best choice to become leader of a popular uprising. Glavaš thought that the Hajduci could not win the trust of the people, because most of the population believed that the Hajduci would flee into the woods and mountains were the whole endeavour to fail, leaving behind those in the villages to face the consequences alone. Because of this lack of respect for the Hajduci, Glavaš declined the position himself and recommended an alternative, such as any of the Knez (in other words, somebody who could engender a high degree of trust in the people). Glavaš promised that, regardless of the outcome of the election, he would do all that he could to support the Uprising with his Hajduk unit.
Each of the local Knezovi in turn declined the position of leader, partially out of fear of being directly linked to the Hajduci. This fear was not only instilled by the infamous repercussions from the Ottomans that would inevitably follow any co-operation with the Hajduci, but also a not insubstantial reluctance of having to deal with the Hajduci themselves. The speech made by Knez Teodosije, from the village of Orašac itself, indicates that the Knezovi believed they could not head Hajduk units any more than Glavaš believed he could lead the national uprising. Moreover, Knez Teodosije argued (somewhat surprisingly, perhaps) that the Knezovi could hand-over the Hajduci if the uprising were to fail, but if the Knezovi put themselves in the position of leading the Hajduk units, this would not be possible. Given that Knez Teodosije was explaining this argument to an assembled group of Hajduci, it seems extraordinary that history records no particular reaction or dissent among those present at an obvious reference to their expendability. It is interesting to note, however, that Knez Teodosije was later killed at the hands of Karadjordje, although there is lack of clear information as to why (and, indeed, whether Teodosije’s distaste for Hajduci had had anything to do with it).
The reasoning of Knez Teodosije, shared by most of the Knezovi in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, exposed two important views held by most of the Serbs at the time. The first view reflected the widespread belief that driving the Ottomans out of the region would be very difficult, if not impossible. This is understandable; by that time geographical Serbia had been under Ottoman rule for almost three and a half centuries. The Austro-Ottoman wars of the 18th century, all of which were fought within the territory of geographical Serbia, saw temporary Habsburg gains invariably followed by Ottoman counterstrikes and full restoration of Ottoman power in the region. With these factors in mind, an Ottoman-free Serbian state was generally held to be an impossible dream by those living in the Pašaluk of Belgrade in 1804.
The second view – expressed by both Stanoje Glavaš and Knez Teodosije – was that the two groups (Hajduci and Knezovi) could not mix, and that any co-operation would be problematic at best. The discussion exposed the deep mistrust and division that existed between the Hajduci and the leaders of ordinary peasants in geographical Serbia at the time. It is highly significant that this incompatibility between the Hajduci and Knezovi has been neglected by historians. This is due almost certainly to historians’ widespread acceptance of the view that the Hajduci were seen as being both acceptable and approachable by the Knezovi. It is easy to trace the roots of this misconception: until recent decades, Serbian historians fell into the trap of adopting and reiterating the views of the Hajduci that had long been expressed in the epic poetry. This traditional view of the Hajduci was both idealised and selective, portraying the Hajduci as protectors of ordinary folk against the Ottoman oppression. These epic verses never addressed the ‘dark side’ of Hajduk activity – acts committed against the local Christian population, from simple robberies to rapes and murders. This simplified and sanitised view is echoed in the accounts of Stojan Novaković, Dušan Popović and Leopold Ranke. For example, Dušan Popović, in his two-volume work on the Hajduci, argued that he was dealing not with bandits, but with those Hajduci who were fighting against the Ottomans, thus implying (and, indeed, fabricating) a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banditry.
At the end of his speech, Knez Teodosije proposed that the Vožd should be Karadjordje Petrović. In a way, Karadjordje represented the ‘best of both worlds’ – he was a man with a Hajduk past, but in contrast to Stanoje Glavaš (who was purely Hajduk), Karadjordje was neither a typical Hajduk nor Knez. He was known as a man of action due to his Freikorp and Hajduk days, and he was also known amongst the ordinary people as a merchant. Thus, Karadjordje was acceptable to both the Hajduci, over whom he could extend his authority on the grounds of his own Hajduk past, as well as to the Knezovi as a former well-to-do merchant. Another argument in favour of Karadjordje was his pervious leadership experience and refined skills from his Freikorp background. Among those present, Karadjordje was the only person who had actually commanded a larger unit of a few hundred people during an armed conflict. Karadjordje kept arguing that Glavaš would have been the better choice, but in the end yielded. Both the Hajduci and the rebels now shared the same Vožd, thus overcoming the rift between the two groups by the election of a common leader, a man with the characteristics of both.
The very first confrontational episodes between the Serbs and the Ottomans had already occurred before the Orašac gathering. However, the resistance presented against the Janičari prior to the Orašac gathering was mostly ad hoc and on a very small scale, often occurring in self-defence or through family protection during the Seča Knezova episode. The bandits were a part of that resistance from the outset. Reports such as the one about Šumadija’s Hajduk Janićije Djurić, who was in full flight with his nine member unit after murdering an Ottoman official sent against him, indicate that some Hajduci came into open conflict with the Ottomans not by their own choosing. Others amongst the Hajduci, such as Djordje Ćurčija and his men in western Serbia (between Mount Kolubara and the Drina river), attacked the Ottomans first. It was obvious that the momentum was there, but what the Uprising needed was leadership and a supreme command that would direct and synchronise the actions of various elements opposed to the Dahije regime.
Following the Orašac gathering, the nature of the resistance changed, however, becoming organised and eventually centralised under Karadjordje’s leadership, first in the Šumadija region and subsequently in the Pašaluk of Belgrade as a whole. The attack and burning of the Han at Orašac, led personally by Karadjordje immediately after the gathering, marked the first overt demonstration of organised resistance against the Dahije regime. The attack served as a precedent, and a wave of similar attacks against the Ottomans soon swept across Šumadija (to be copied by other regions in the Pašaluk of Belgrade).
Among the first measures taken by Karadjordje after Orašac was to fan the flames of the Uprising, using force when necessary. His early movements around the villages in the vicinity of Orašac were partially motivated by the need for mobilisation. Karadjordje imposed on the village families a military conscription that took away one adult male from each household (or more, if there were several), dealing with those who opposed the idea forcefully. While a strong momentum for the Uprising existed, the leadership was nonetheless convinced that this alone was insufficient to guarantee success.
The size of the rebel units at the time of the Orašac gathering was already larger than the typical Hajduk unit of the time. The largest unit at the Orašac gathering was that of Karadjordje, numbering sixty men. Other Hajduk (and non-Hajduk) participants had units with thirty to fifty men. An Habsburg report (dated February 25th, 1804) regarding the situation in the Pašaluk of Belgrade discusses the position of the Serbian rebels and the Ottoman forces, listing the Serbian commanders who operated units of up to 1,800 rebels. This helps illustrate the speed with which the Uprising spread in a matter of weeks.
The immediate priority for the rebel Serbs was the eradication of any Ottoman presence in and around their villages. This was achieved by isolating, attacking and razing to the ground the wooden Ottoman Hanovi, strategically positioned around, and sometimes in, the Serbian villages (this was done so that they could not be re-occupied later). The role of the Hajduci in this process was very important, their relatively small but experienced units being capable of destroying the Hanovi with few casualties, thus laying the foundations for Serbian control of the countryside. The speed with which Karadjordje’s unit dealt with the Hanovi helps illustrate the ability of the Hajduci in small scale warfare. On the same day in which Karadjordje and his men burned the Han at Orašac, they proceeded to destroy three more Hanovi (together with their personnel) in neighbouring villages.
The contribution of the Hajduk unit to military matters was limited to small-scale guerrilla-style warfare. Ambush remained the most effective tool for the Hajduci. However, this was a technique that had its limitations in terms of both the numbers involved on both sides and also the idiosyncrasies (and potential restrictions) of the terrain. Although highly effective if the conditions were right, the military skills of the Hajduci amounted to very little when the enemy had to be engaged in an open field, or when the Hajduci were confronted with a large regular army unit.
Instances of the military contribution of the Hajduci to the Uprising occurred in the first half of 1804, when the conflict was still being fought by smaller units for control of the countryside – examples being the clashes in the villages of Sibnica (February 6th, 1804) and Svileuva (February 28th, 1804). The operation at Sibnica was personally conducted by Karadjordje and his men. Karadjordje learned that a thirty-five strong force of Janičari, on their route between Belgrade and Rudnik, planned to re-occupy the Han in the village of Sibnica. Karadjordje surveyed the village, and decided to set up a classical Hajduk ambush. He divided his men into three separate groups, the Zastava, Udorac and Rebardžije. The Rebardžije were positioned in the houses along both sides of the main road, down which the Janičari force was expected to enter the village. The Hajduci of the Zastava group were located in the Han and the surrounding houses at the centre of the village. The third set of the Hajduci, the Udorac group, hid around the small bridge at the entrance to the village. The Janičari crossed the bridge, and proceed along the main road without noticing the Hajduci. Only once the Janičari approached the Han did the Hajduci open fire. The Janičari tried to seek cover in the houses along the main road, only to be greeted by more Hajduk fire from the Rebardžije group. The survivors tried retreating towards the bridge in order to exit the village, but once they realised that the path was blocked by the Hajduci in the Zastava group, the remaining Janičari surrendered.
The Hajduk ambush in the village of Sibnica was an example of the traditional technique, albeit modified to accommodate a new situation. Instead of setting up an ambush along a road or in a gorge, the Hajduci from Karadjordje’s unit opted for an ambush inside a settlement. The other significant difference was the size of the forces involved – instead of a traditional band of a dozen or so Hajduci, Karadjordje’s unit was swelling to a few dozen men. This trend towards larger numbers in Hajduk units would continue over time as the Uprising pressed on.
By the end of the February 1804, there were already large peasant-Hajduk units, each numbering several hundred men. One such force, led by the Knez Jakov Nenadović, collided with a large Janičari force in the village of Svileuva on February 28th. The conflict started when the Ottomans located in the town of Šabac learned about the arrival of a strong Serbian force which had built light fortifications in the centre of the nearby village of Svileuva. The Ottomans decided to send a few hundred-strong Janičari, comprising of recruits from both the Pašaluk of Bosnia and the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The Serbs, upon spotting the Janičari, left the fortifications in order to avoid besiegement, and moved out of the village. However, as soon as the Janičari entered the village and occupied the fortifications, the Serbs placed the village under siege. After three days of armed stand-off, the Janičari ran out of food for both men and horses, and decided to open negotiations. The Serbs issued terms which allowed for the Janičari that came from the Pašaluk of Bosnia to leave unharmed, as long as they retreated immediately across the Drina river. The Janičari that came from the Belgrade fortress, however, had to surrender to the Serbs. Those Janičari that were from the Pašaluk of Bosnia accepted the terms and started leaving, but could not exclude themselves from the Belgrade Janičari, who had no intention of surrendering and thus were attempting to slip out under the guise of a Bosnian. Therefore, the Serbs – seeing all the Janičari leaving – decided to attack.
The Janičari, attempting to retreat from the village in various directions while coming under fire, stumbled into three different Hajduk-style ambushes before some managed to escape. Once again, the Hajduk technique proved to be truly devastating. Some of the Janičari, together with their wounded, managed to break the encirclement and reach safety in Bosnia, but only after suffering heavy casualties. According to a contemporary report, the Janičari suffered the loss of 70 dead soldiers together with 52 horses. The Serbs faired better, leaving the battlefield with only 6 dead and a dozen wounded. By the end of February 1804 it became obvious that the techniques of the Janičari were not adequate for dealing with the rebel forces that engaged in guerrilla-style combat. The Ottomans were rapidly losing control of the countryside, and could do little to stop it.
For the time being, however, the Ottomans were safe in the fortresses and fortified towns as long as they had enough stockpiles of water, food and ammunition. The Ottomans in the fortresses and fortified towns located along the shores of the Danube, Sava and Drina rivers (such as Belgrade, Šabac and Soko) were still able to communicate and share supplies via river boats. Already in mid-February, Dahija Mehmed-Aga Fočić, residing at that time in the town of Šabac, was instructed to use the river route for all traffic with Belgrade because the roads were not safe due to the presence of the Hajduci. The fortresses and fortified towns located in the interior of the Pašaluk of Belgrade, on the other hand, found themselves more isolated with each passing day. Another advantage for the Ottoman-controlled fortresses and towns located on the banks of the Sava and Danube rivers was the presence of the Habsburg border – the merchants from the Habsburg side were happy to sell foodstuffs and ordinance to both the Ottomans and the Serbs who had hard currency. Until the Serbs acquired artillery and/or built a river navy that could cut the supply routes of the Ottoman river fortresses, the Dahije could remain safe behind the fortress walls.
Capturing fortresses with the use of artillery and building a sizable river navy was beyond the scope of the guerrilla-style Hajduk operations. The same was true of direct combat in the face of an army. An example of the Hajduk inability to wage classical warfare on an open field was demonstrated on a hill near the monastery of Čokešina, fought on April 28th, 1804. The Čokešina episode was not a crucial battle in the Uprising itself, but represented a defining moment for the banditry in Serbia as well as its role in the Uprising. The events preceding the battle demonstrated the tension that was building between the Hajduci and rebel leaders of non-Hajduk background, and the decreasing relevance of Hajduk units in the face of the full scale war that was developing on the ground.
Even though the majority of the Hajduci did indeed choose to pursue the option of becoming part of a greater effort in the Uprising, there were still vestiges of the old ways and mode of thinking which brought many of them into conflict with non-Hajduk leadership and in many cases signalled their downfall. This was exemplified by the actions of Knez Jakov Nenadović who, at the time of the conflict at Svilueva, was still capable of exerting control over the Harambaše and their men. However, once Nenadović realised that he could no longer exert effective control over Ćurčija or even the Hajduci under his direct command, he decided to exclude the bandits from any subsequent military endeavours. He therefore simply left the Hajduci who were under his direct command to take a stand at Čokešina (at their own request) and, inevitably, be decimated in the process. Knez Jakov Nenadović subsequently orchestrated the murder of Ćurčija (as well as his brother and thirty hard-core followers in order to prevent possible vendettas).
By the late spring of 1804, the central Ottoman authorities realised that the Dahije could not overcome the Uprising in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, and that the danger of its continuation could have far-reaching effects on the Empire’s possessions in Europe. Since the Serbs were still expressing grievances against the Dahije regime, and not against the Ottoman Empire as a whole, the Sultan decided to remove the Dahije before the Uprising grew into a separatist movement. In order to achieve the intended regime change in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, Istanbul issued orders to Bećir-Paša, located in the Pašaluk of Bosnia, to take over the Belgrade fortress. Bećir-Paša approached Belgrade with a force of 2,000 men on July 7th, 1804. A few weeks before that (June 15th), Bećir-Paša gave an ultimatum to Gušanac Alija, the leader of the Krdžalije force of some nine hounded men hired by the Dahije at the beginning of the conflict to fight the Serbs, to either leave the Pašaluk of Belgrade or to join his side (and, thus, change his employer). Gušanac Alija choose wisely to stand by Bećir-Paša’s side.
Bećir-Paša and the Krdžalije of Gušanac Alija now began to play a complex game of trickery and deceit with the Dahije, the Serbs and each other. Bećir-Paša’s goals were to remove the Dahije, crush the Serbian Uprising in the process, and finally eliminate Gušanac Alija and his men. The Krdžalije, for their part, wanted to make the best of the situation. Bećir-Paša’s plan was to force the Dahije out of the Belgrade fortress, then lure the Serbian leadership inside the fortress and straight into Gušanac’s trap, and finally to besiege Gušanac and his men with his own force. To this end, Bećir-Paša ordered Gušanac to enter into negotiations with Karadjordje about (supposedly) joining forces to expel the Dahije, and then to take control of the Belgrade fortress.
The take-over of the Belgrade fortress occurred on July 16th, 1804. Seeing a large Serbian force that was assembling in the vicinity of the city gates (as tacitly sanctioned by Gušanac Alija), the Dahije opted for a pre-emptive strike (in accordance to Bećir-Paša’s desire to see the Serbs crushed) before the Serbs could bring in more reinforcements from the interior. The plan, agreed between the Dahije and the Krdžalije, was to fake a betrayal of Gušanac – the Dahije and their Janičari force were to leave the fortress heading towards the Serbian positions; as soon as they left, the Krdžalije were to occupy the fortress and raise the bridges. This course of action was intended to give the impression to the Serbs that the Krdžalije had betrayed the Dahije, luring them into encircling the Janičari force, which – in turn – would bring them into position between the Janičari and the fortress. Once this had happened, the Krdžalije were to charge from the fortress and attack the Serbs from behind.
The Krdžalije, however, never charged from the fortress, thus leaving the Dahije to their fate. The death of the Dahije represented a crucial moment in the Uprising. Since its beginning, Karadjordje and his men had argued that the purpose of their actions was to remove the local Dahije regime, and that they were not in conflict with the Ottoman Empire as a whole. Thus, the removal of the Dahije from the picture should have, in theory, marked the end of the Uprising. However, Karadjordje and his men were not ready to settle for a simple restoration of Ottoman authority in the Pašaluk of Belgrade in the form that had existed prior to the Dahije’s rise to power. What Karadjordje wanted was a substantial local autonomy, under his leadership as the supreme Knez, for which he and his men were prepared to fight for. Critically, though, such an armed struggle would put the Serbs directly against the central Ottoman authority, which was a much more ominous prospect for both sides. Needless to say, this is exactly what happened, entrenching the position of both sides over time, especially after a failed attempt to reach a peace deal in 1806. The Uprising would eventually grow from a struggle against the local regime to an outright secession of a newly founded Serbia, which would expand by force beyond the administrational boundaries of the Pašaluk of Belgrade, prompting the Ottomans to wage a full scale war that would eventually usher in a new regime (more brutal than the Dahije had ever been) to the Pašaluk of Belgrade – provoking in turn the outbreak of the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815.
For the time being, however, the Ottomans sent a new administrator, Sulejman-Paša, to lead the Pašaluk of Belgrade. In October 1804 Bećir-Paša returned to Bosnia, and as soon as he left Belgrade with his forces, the Krdžalije placed Sulejman-Paša under house arrest and effectively yielded whatever Ottoman control remained in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The continuation of hostilities would, for a while, see the Ottoman forces controlled by the Krdžalije pitted against the Serbian forces commanded by former Hajduk Karadjordje. Ironically, the role of the bandits now reached its heyday for both sides.
The Krdžalije, in contrast to the Hajduci, were a crossover between bandits and mercenaries. During the times when they had no employer, the Krdžalije would live a life of banditry. They would put this life on hold if they found an employer, which made them much more entrepreneurial than the Hajduci. The danger of relying on a mercenary force, however, was always in the potential for desertion to a higher bidder. This is exactly what had happened in the relationship between the Dahije and the Krdžalije of Alija Gušanac once the Bećir-Paša entered the scene with a sizable force and highly tempting financial incentives. Although there had been some friendly contact between the Dahije and the Hajduci in the years before the Uprising, the deliberate targeting of the Hajduci during the Seča Knezova episode ensured that any reconciliation was impossible. Thus, the Dahije had no chance of employing the Hajduci of Serbia for their own purposes, and never made any attempt to even try. Any arrangement that might have seen Hajduci in the service of the Dahije (had it even been possible) would have been a much more anomalous situation than the Krdžalije in the service of the Serbs. The reasons for this were embedded in the contrasting motivations and conduct of banditry activities that the Hajduci and the Krdžalije were respectively involved in. The Hajduci in the Pašaluk of Belgrade were far less business-oriented than the Krdžalije of Gušanac Alija were.
The Dahije believed that the Krdžalije could deal with the mixed Hajduk-peasant force before it grew significantly in numbers. Thus, the Dahije planned to use one group of bandits to deal with another – to fight fire with fire. They were perhaps not altogether misguided in their logic, though the lynchpin in their plans was to retain control of the Krdžalije. Their plan, of course, backfired – their downfall ironically being brought upon them by the very bandits they had employed. With hindsight, the Krdžalije’s most important contribution to the whole situation in the Pašaluk of Belgrade was undoubtedly their role in the complex outmanœuvring which led to the death of the Dahije at the hands of the Serbs, with a nod from Istanbul.
Realistically, the Krdžalije had only ever been at best of limited use to the Dahije, since the beginning of May 1804 saw the swelling of the Serbian force to some 25,000 men. Clearly, Gušanac’s men were not a factor that could have ever counter-balanced a force of that size. As the Uprising went on and more thorough mobilisation was introduced by Karadjordje, the Serbian force eventually reached a peak of 50,000 men. Bećir-Paša, in his plotting to deal with the Dahije, the Krdžalije and the Serbian rebels, gave an official estimate in his correspondence with Istanbul that among the rebel Serbs there were 6,000 bandits (clearly referring to the Hajduci), all of which had to be eliminated no matter what the potential settlement with the Serbs consisted of. This desire to eliminate the Hajduci at any cost comes as no surprise in hindsight, as it was the Hajduci who indeed proved to be the most dangerous, vital and elusive element in this opening phase of the Uprising. If Bećir-Paša had been correct in his estimate, at the closing of the first phase of the Uprising (concluding with the death of the Dahije), the Serbian banditry still amounted to a quarter of Karadjordje’s total forces. This represented the peak of Hajduk involvement, numerically speaking, in the entire Uprising. As time went on, not only did the recruitment of peasants continuously lower the overall percentage of the Hajduci involved, but also many among the Hajduci lost interest in the Uprising and fell back into their old way of life as their small units of a dozen or so men became decreasingly relevant in the face of large-scale operations involving armies of thousand of men on both sides. At the end of the Uprising, the Hajduci who had played a role in the Serbian armies as either combatants or commanders comprised less than 10% of the overall force. In essence, the nature of the force under Karadjordje’s command had gone through three distinct phases by 1813: from the initial Hajduk force in the first weeks of the Uprising, to a mixed Hajduk-peasant force in the following few months to, ultimately, an overwhelmingly peasant army by the end of the first year of hostilities.
By the end of the initial phase of the Uprising, which was brought to a close with the death of the Dahije in mid-July 1804, the nature of the Serbian forces was already that of a mixed Hajduk-peasant one. What had once been fairly clear distinctions between different Hajduk units (as well as peasant rebel units that had begun forming as a reaction to the Seča Knezova) began to blur as early as February 1804 in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The locals who started fleeing the villages out of fear of executions and violence found a place of refuge amongst the Hajduci in the woods and mountains of geographical Serbia. The number of locals who left their settlements (with or without taking their families) and approached the Hajduci soon outnumbered the Hajduci themselves. As a result, many Hajduk units became the core of larger rebel units, with the number of peasants in any unit actually higher than the number of the Hajduci. The social barrier that had previously kept the ordinary peasants and Hajduk outlaws quite separate now came crashing down, as an unintended consequence of the punitive actions of the Dahije.
This process did not occur without its problems. There were individuals amongst the local Serbs who were alarmed by the new course of events in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, especially the developing fusion between the bandits and peasant rebels. During the opening phase of the Uprising, some in the peasant community urged their fellow villagers not to listen to the Hajduci and, indeed, to resist joining the bandits. Some village leaders of secondary importance, who had not been affected by the Dahije slaughter, were afraid that the Uprising would ultimately fail which, in turn, raised the unwelcome spectre of being held personally accountable by the Ottoman authorities. Some surviving leaders who supported the Uprising favoured waiting until spring of 1804, demonstrating the early military thinking of the Serbian leadership. In their view, the only realistic way to fight the Ottomans would be by employing the same methods practised by the Hajduci. Leaf cover and warmer weather, as noted earlier, were crucial for the success of these tactics – such hit and run methods being, in essence, guerrilla warfare strategies and the only feasible option for the Serbs given their resources and manpower.
The situation gradually changed, however, and from July 1804 the strength of the Serbian forces gradually grew sufficiently to allow formations of defined fronts and the introduction of trench warfare along the lines of defence. However, as is the case with most popular uprisings, the leadership of the First Serbian Uprising was frequently overwhelmed by events beyond its control. The situation during the 1804-1808 period presented a serious challenge to Karadjordje and his men in exercising effective command and control over all of the Serbian forces that operated against the Ottomans. Prior to 1808, the Serbian forces were in essence a ‘people’s army’ – comprised of rebel peasants, bandits, armed refugees and volunteers from outside the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The only real standing force were the ‘Momci’ (Ìомци), the armed guards of Karadjordje and other Uprising leaders, many of whom were Hajduci. The Momci were regularly paid by the Serbian leadership not only to fight the Ottomans and act as bodyguards, but also to act as police and execution forces if needed. Another segment of the Serbian forces that was regularly paid prior to 1808 were the ‘Bećari’ (Бећари). The Bećari were Christian mercenary soldiers, mostly ethnic Serbs, from the Ottoman regions outside the Pašaluk of Belgrade as well as from Austria and Vallachia. Their main purpose was to guard the frontiers, and man the fortresses and fortified positions on the front lines.
As noted earlier, the significance of the Hajduci had already begun to wither in 1804 due to the establishment of Serbian control in the countryside. However, the final blow to the importance of the Hajduci came in 1808 with the introduction of a regular standing Serbian army brought about by the introduction of conscription of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 50 in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, a development which came as part of an overall attempt by the Serbian leadership at state-building. The Serbian Army, formed in 1808 and lasting until the defeat of 1813, was trained by Russian instructors and Serbian officers of the Habsburg army that crossed over into Serbia once the Uprising was underway. By the summer of 1812, the Serbian Army had six battalions, amounting to 4,308 professional soldiers and officers. At the eve of the Ottoman offensive in 1813, the Serbian Army had 12,000 conscripted garrison soldiers in 32 towns and 41,500 conscripted field soldiers.
The newly-created Serbian Army was not, however, built from scratch. Although the modern European organisational and commanding structures were freshly introduced, existing Serbian formations were utilised as much as possible. As previously noted, many of those formations had initially been formed around the small Hajduk units that already existed before the Uprising. Thus, when the Serbian Army was finally formed after four years of hostilities with the Ottomans, its roots were indirectly attributable to Hajduk organisation. The contribution of the Hajduci to the Serbian Army was multi-faceted: the Hajduci served as individual soldiers and commanders, but also provided the building blocks in the form of their embryonic units, employed during the 1804-1808 period, a crucial role without which the Serbian Army may not have been created at all.
The collapse of the Uprising in 1813 was a major setback for the creation of Serbia as a state, though this only temporarily arrested the development of the state as a formal entity. Despite the ultimate failure of the Uprising, almost a decade of Ottoman-free rule in the Pašaluk of Belgrade changed the region to such a degree that a return to the old mould that had existed before the Uprising was impossible. The achievements of that crucial decade (1804-1813) changed many perspectives among the local Serbs. Despite the defeat of 1813, many now believed that the Ottomans could be overpowered, in contrast to the widely held former opinion. Also, judging from the experiences of 1804-1813, many Serbs now believed that they had the ability to rule and administer themselves on all levels. The events of 1804-1813 made the Second Serbian Uprising – which was, in contrast to its predecessor, led by a man who was ready to cut a deal with the central Ottoman authority from the outset – both possible and probable, and to both the Ottomans and the Serbs it came as no surprise that less than two years after the end of the First Serbian Uprising, the Pašaluk of Belgrade was once again in full revolt.
The First Serbian Uprising was also a crucial period for the Serbian Hajduci. During the 1804-1813 period, for the first time in living memory the local Serbs exercised state authority on all levels in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. For those Hajduci who decided not to participate in the Uprising, but to continue pursuing a life of banditry as before, they now found themselves confronted not by the Ottomans, but by the police forces, soldiers and courts of their fellow Serbs. This development represented a fall from grace for the heroes of traditional epic poetry – the free and vengeful Hajduk elusively roaming the mountains and forests of the region. The Hajduk would no longer represent an island of freedom in a sea of Ottoman oppression. With the emergence of the Serbian state apparatus (except for an interruption between 1813-1815), local support for the Hajduci of Serbia began to rapidly wane – now simply becoming criminals in the eyes of the Serbian state and local population alike. As will be discussed later, the Hajduci were to ultimately be seen as the primary enemy in the emerging Serbia as the nineteenth century progressed and as the numbers of murdered Serbian merchants, peasants and policemen increased at the hands of the bandits.
The return of Ottoman rule in the Pašaluk of Belgrade meant the return of a degree of terror the likes of which surpassed anything that had been seen during the oppression in the Dahije’s reign. One of the first measures undertaken by the restored Ottoman rulers was to proclaim Jihad, which meant that the Christian population in the region was placed outside of the protection of the law for a period of twelve days. A sweeping tide of murder, rape and mass confiscation descended on the Pašaluk of Belgrade. The Ottomans took away all cattle, foodstuffs and portable goods from the peasantry, creating a widespread famine. Thousands of locals, regardless of their age and gender, were abducted into slavery. The men were taken to the Ottoman estates or factories (such as the state-owned gunpowder factories near Istanbul) to be used as slave labour, while the women were forced to serve in the harems of the Ottoman officials throughout the Empire. Estimates of the waves of refugees who escaped the Pašaluk of Belgrade in 1813 totaled 120,000 into Austria and 20,000 into Romania. Given the fact that the total population of the Pašaluk of Belgrade had been some 400,000 people at its peak, this meant that 35% of the total population fled their homes, resulting in a demographic catastrophe in the region. Dozens of villages in central Serbia, and especially in the north (in the vicinity of Belgrade, and regions close to the Habsburg border along the Sava and Danube river banks), were completely abandoned. Although a gradual return occurred, it took more than four decades for the population of the region to recover to pre-1813 levels, and this was achieved in large part through the colonisation policies of the Obrenović dynasty. Miloš Obrenović and his descendants officially sponsored Serb settlement from beyond the borders of Serbia back into the country. The migrants came from the regions still under direct Ottoman control in the south, as well as from neighbouring eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most significant colonisation, numerically speaking, was that from Montenegro which (in concert with the Montenegrin leadership) saw hundreds of Montenegrin families permanently settling in devastated central Serbia from 1817 on.
The depopulated Pašaluk of Belgrade back in 1813 witnessed a massive growth in the occurrence of banditry. There were various reasons why many took off into the relative safety of the mountains and forests of the region: from those who were hiding in an attempt to escape persecution, to those who had lost everything and had to steal to survive. The Ottoman authorities wanted to restore order as soon as possible, and towards that goal the new ruler in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, Sulejman Paša, halted the reign of terror in the late autumn of 1813 . He restored all the taxes and dues that had existed in the region before 1804. Sulejman-Paša also called upon all the Uprising leaders who were in hiding to come out and surrender by offering a full amnesty. Many did, including Karadjordje’s famous Hajduk companion and right hand man Stanoje Glavaš, who was appointed as head of security for the main imperial road in the Pašaluk of Belgrade, connecting the capital with the rest of the Ottoman Empire to the south. However, a number of key Serbian figures, including Karadjordje himself (who was excluded from the amnesty, and had in any case left for Austria on October 3rd), rejected the offer. Most of these men would eventually reach Austria and beyond, although a large number of commanders would join the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815. The problem for Karadjordje and those who accompanied him in exile was their inability, due to their isolation, to become the driving force of any new Uprising. Instead, the leadership of the Second Serbian Uprising would eventually emerge from those Knezovi who remained on the ground in Serbia, including Knez Miloš Obrenović, a lesser-known leader who also had participated in the First Serbian Uprising.
The favourable situation of clemency introduced by Sulejman-Paša proved to be short-lived. In the spring of 1814, oppression returned: the Ottoman Teftiš practice was reinstated in the villages of the Pašaluk of Belgrade in the first weeks of 1814, unleashing terror under the pretext of a search for Hajduci. With the introduction of new taxes and forced labour in order to repair the Belgrade fortress, the peasantry in the Pašaluk sank even more deeply into harsh Ottoman feudalism. One contemporary source in the spring of 1814 described a scene of Ottoman repercussions against the local population thus: “Men were roasted alive, hanged by their feet over smoking straw until they asphyxiated, castrated, crushed with stones, and bastinadoed. Their women and children were raped and sometimes taken by force to harems…Outside Stambul Gate in Belgrade, there were always on view the corpses of impaled Serbs being gnawed by packs of dogs”.
The first sign of fresh resistance against such oppression came in the form of a small scale revolt that occurred in the central Šumadija in September of 1814. Known in the historiography as Hadži-Prodanova Buna (named by its leader, Hadži-Prodan Gligorijević, Vojvoda of the Stari Vlah region), the short-lived revolt remained largely a local affair that was crushed by the joint efforts of the Ottoman and local Serbian authorities, including Knez Miloš Obrenović himself. However, the reaction of the Ottoman authorities to the revolt was severe. They enslaved hundreds of peasants from the region where the revolt had occurred, and publicly impaled three hundred captives in Belgrade, including the local leaders. Sulejman-Paša also ordered the execution of the previously pardoned Hajduci, with Stanoje Glavaš being one of the first victims of this new development. Vuk Karadžić noted at the time that the methods of abuse and torture at the hands of the Ottomans were unheard of by contemporary European standards. The intention of the Ottomans with these measures was to create a paralysing fear in the local Serbian population. However, in much the same way as the oppressive measures of the Dahije had backfired in 1804, those by Sulejman-Paša now faced the same fate.
The decisive factor that triggered the new Uprising was an order by Sulejman-Paša, issued in mid-February of 1815, which called for all the Knezovi in the Pašaluk of Belgrade to assemble in the Belgrade fortress. For the Serbs, this invitation menacingly resembled that which had been issued by the Dahije as a prelude to the Seča Knezova episode. Secret meetings between prominent Serbs followed on what to do next, and many, fearing the worst, decided not to obey the order. These men now had no choice but to go into hiding. Miloš Obrenović was amongst the few brave enough to follow the order and go to Belgrade. However, it had already been decided by the Serbian Knezovi that an Uprising would be staged as soon as the spring leaf cover developed, and as soon as Miloš Obrenović returned from Belgrade (if, indeed, he was to return).
The Second Serbian Uprising was a shorter version of the First Serbian Uprising in many respects except, crucially, its outcome. The only person that appeared to have learned the lessons of 1804-1813 was Miloš Obrenović himself who, in contrast to Karadjordje, seized the first opportunity to reach a negotiated settlement with Istanbul, thus securing a very different outcome to the whole affair than had been attained in the First Serbian Uprising.
The chaos of 1813 provided a fertile breeding ground for banditry in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Banditry as a social phenomenon was intricately connected with disorder and war, both of which were found in abundance in the region at the time. Thus, the Hajduci of Serbia received their last boost in the 1813-1815 period, when their numbers and activities increased exponentially, feeding on lawlessness and desperation. The growth in numbers amongst the bandits in Serbia during the brief restoration of Ottoman power following the Serbian defeat of 1813 was similar to the growth experienced in the years just prior to the 1804 Uprising. Thus, even for the bandits, history was to repeat itself – albeit briefly.
The Second Serbian Uprising was, compared to its predecessor, a much less dramatic military affair. In contrast to almost a decade of continuous fighting during the First Serbian Uprising, the fighting in the Second Uprising lasted for about four months. In military terms, the fighting in 1815 was a small-scale re-enactment of the events of 1804-1812 (with the exception of the collapse of Serbian resistance in 1813). The Second Serbian Uprising, like its predecessor, brought together various (and under different circumstances usually opposed) elements within the Serbian population. From merchants and priests to local bandits – once again the influential figures from the Serbian community came together in the face of a common Ottoman threat. Many amongst the Hajduci in the Pašaluk of Belgrade joined the new Uprising from the outset, but there was some differences from the situation of 1804. As well as the individuals who were bandits by personal choice, by 1815 there were many others among the Hajduci in the Pašaluk of Belgrade who had been forced into banditry as a last resort. These individuals were ostracised in 1813, and remained in hiding thereafter. Comprised of former soldiers, officers and other figures from the First Serbian Uprising that decided not to trust the Ottoman amnesty offer – and were also unwilling to leave for Austria – these dissidents were able to survive by adopting the bandits’ way of life. Hearing news of the renewed Uprising against the Ottomans, these men rallied quickly around the cause.
By June 1815, Ottoman rule in the interior of the Pašaluk of Belgrade effectively had ceased to exist. Using the exact same devices and methods of struggle that had been employed in 1804, the Serbian forces managed to besiege the Ottomans in a few isolated fortresses. The Ottomans, for their part, proved to be as unprepared to deal with a guerrilla-style peasant Uprising as they had been in 1804. The Ottoman military response in 1815 demonstrated that nothing had changed with regards to their strategic thinking in the region, and that the events of 1804 had not been reflected upon carefully enough. Thus, the situation on the ground in the Pašaluk of Belgrade in June of 1815 closely resembled that of June 1804. At the beginning of July 1815, the Ottomans opened up negotiations with Miloš Obrenović, closing the military phase of the Uprising and opening a diplomatic one.
The contribution of the Hajduci in the military phase of the Second Serbian Uprising was much less direct than it had been in the previous one. The main reason behind this was the fact that in 1815 there were many individuals in the Pašaluk of Belgrade who had combat and military leadership skills from the 1804-1813 period, but who were not necessarily Hajduci. Thus, the role of the Serbian banditry as a catalyst of the Second Serbian Uprising was not as pronounced as it had been 1804, because there was now an alternative source from which a military force could be drawn. That said, the Hajduci’s role in the Second Uprising remained relatively consistent (in that they eradicated the Ottoman presence in the interior), the reason being that the Second Uprising never moved into the phase which had featured in the First Uprising in which large armies were fighting along broad fronts, thus overshadowing the importance of smaller autonomous units.
The existence of the Hajduci in the Pašaluk of Belgrade also indirectly affected Ottoman military operations at this time. Movements of Ottoman troops and goods along main roads – and especially in inaccessible areas – was very hazardous due to the constant presence of bandits, considerably limiting the Ottoman military operational area. For example, following the Serbian takeover of the town of Čačak (central Šumadija) on May 24th, 1815, the Ottomans made an attempt to withdraw to the town of Sjenica in south-western Serbia, just outside the Pašaluk of Belgrade. In order to reach Sjenica, the Ottomans had to cross the Hajduci-infested Stari Vlah mountain. The Hajduci on the Stari Vlah mountain, without any instruction from the Serbian leadership, obliterated the Ottoman force for their own material gain in terms of weapons, horses and valuables. The Serbian leadership would have almost certainly applauded such events, and was ready to co-operate with (and tolerate) banditry as long as the Hajduci’s actions furthered their own cause. As soon the struggle against the Ottomans was over, however, the relationship between the two groups changed dramatically.
The radical change of attitude by the Serbian leadership towards the Hajduci became evident as soon as the position of the leaders began to solidify and grow more secure in the region. Early indications on what the relationship between Serbian authorities and the Hajduci were to become once the Ottoman influence had faded were demonstrated by measures that were introduced by Karadjordje in the Serbian-controlled areas of the Pašaluk of Belgrade against freelance bandits during the First Serbian Uprising. As soon as a relative stabilisation of Serbian control had been achieved, the free-roaming Hajduci that had chosen to stay outside of the Serbo-Ottoman struggle became the main target of the Serbian forces.
The presence of freelance Hajduci in Serbia was to become quite localised over time. In geographical Serbia the most notorious bandit presence during the course of the 19th century had been in the south-western region around the town of Užice. The area became the scene of clashes between Serbian authorities and independent bandits as soon as the Ottomans were driven out in 1806: the clashes were to continue until the end of the First World War. There were several reasons why the region was plagued by bandits for such a prolonged period of time. Mountainous and thickly-wooded terrain allowed the Hajduci to survive, while on the other hand presenting a serious challenge to the local authorities in their attempts to eradicate all bandit presence. During the 1806-1813 and 1815-1912 periods, the region was a borderland between Serbia and the Ottoman-controlled lands to the south, making it easy for the Hajduci to traverse between the two administrative regions (and, later, states), thus avoiding Serbian pursuits by escaping to the Ottoman territory and vice versa. The region was also populated by migratory segments of the population, mostly refugees from the Ottoman regions further to the south and west, people who were more prone to uprooting and indulging in a bandit lifestyle due to their poor quality of life. Within this region, the Zlatibor mountain region was the most dangerous and bandit-ridden of all.
Karadjordje introduced the first radical measures against the bandits in south-western Serbia as early as 1806. The leadership of the First Serbian Uprising placed the independent Hajduci outside of the protection of the law as soon as their authority became relatively stable. This meant that anyone could kill a Hajduk without being charged for murder, and this measure was enforced until the collapse of the Uprising. Despite this, several Serbian army commanders deserted their units in the region in 1809 in order become bandits. As late as 1812, Karadjordje kept ordering local military leaders to eradicate the local Hajduci. Many bandits were killed or captured, the more significant individuals being sent to Karadjordje’s headquarters. However, the Serbian authorities in the region were far from claming victory over the bandits by the end of the First Serbian Uprising.
The years immediately following the Second Serbian Uprising saw little change in terms of bandit presence in the south-west of Serbia. As soon as he reached a settlement with the Ottomans in 1815 Miloš Obrenović, the supreme Knez of Serbia, turned his attention to fighting the Serbian Hajduci. Unlike his predecessor Karadjordje, Obrenović was not a man with a Hajduk past. A merchant and a Knez, Obrenović despised banditry, often referring to it as ‘the nation’s sickness’.
In 1816 the region became a site of conflict between local bandits and Obrenović’s forces. Obrenović used extensive brutality to suppress the activities of the Hajduci, methods that were not unlike those previously used by the Ottomans. An example of such brutality comes from an order by Obrenović in 1816 that commanded local policemen in the region to poke out the eyes of a Harambaša that had been recently captured. Until mid-1817, the local Vojvode had had the right to decapitate all captured Hajduci on the spot and send their heads to Obrenović, but later on the captives were to be sent directly to the supreme Serbian Knez in shackles and chains. The situation with the banditry had become so serious that by 1817 the local Serbian authorities complained about not being able to rest at all from harassment by the local Hajduk units. During the first period of joint Serbo-Ottoman rule in Serbia, the local population in south-western Serbia continued to suffer from the notorious Teftiš practice of the local authorities, with the difference now being that the pursuing party was not Ottoman but Serbian.
What is striking during the 1815-1830 period in south-western Serbia is the fluidity with which different segments of the local population joined the ranks of the bandits despite severe reprisals. Various reports from the region refer to well-to-do peasants, servants, seasonal workers, policemen – even local monks as people who chose to leave their lives behind in order to pursue a life of banditry. The struggle against the Hajduci in south-western Serbia during the 1815-1830 period was also hampered by the existence of both Serbian and Ottoman authority figures in the region. Co-ordination between Serbs and Ottomans in fighting the Hajduci was rare and inefficient, particularly because of mutual distrust and the fear that the pursuing Serbian and Ottoman forces might turn on each other instead of hunting down the bandits. Another problem in suppressing banditry was the corruption of the local commanders and police force, including individuals at the top of the structure who were supposed to head the struggle against the bandits. After 1830, however, the reach of local Serbian autonomy was expanded, and Miloš Obrenović now had a much more secure position which allowed him to engage in his oppression of banditry even more rigorously than before.
One of the new measures introduced after 1830 was the forced re-settlement of Hajduk families out of the region. Complete families that had had some association with local Hajduci were forced to leave the region, with all of their land and fixed possessions confiscated. Only those families who could get other families (who were not related by blood) to act as guarantors over future non-Hajduk involvement on their behalf were allowed to stay. This system of re-settlement by force reduced the number of Hajduci in the region over time, but could not eradicate the problem completely.
Serbian historian Radojko Nikolić conducted an interesting survey of the presence of banditry in south-western Serbia during the course of the 19th century based on the epitaphs traditionally found on the gravestones in the region. Spanning the whole course of the 19th century, the most recent epitaph found in the region that refers to an individual killed by the Hajduci is dated September 30th, 1918. The epitaphs found are largely those of victims of Hajduk attacks, though in a number of remote locations there were also gravestones of the Hajduci themselves. These gravestones with their epitaphs provide not only evidence of the magnitude of Hajduk presence in the region, but also a wealth of information on how the Hajduci operated during this period.
Most of the victims’ epitaphs note that the individuals killed were ambushed on the road while travelling to and from their villages, falling prey to the local Hajduk trap. This goes to show that the roads remained far from secure in that part of the principality of Serbia throughout the 19th century, even though the Hajduk units from 1830 onwards were much smaller than they had previously been, now numbering a dozen men at most. Interestingly, while most of the epitaphs did indicate that the victim was killed at the hands of ‘evil doers’, many of these gravestones did not explicitly or directly refer to the Hajduci. The family members who had the task of erecting the gravestone and epitaph avoided the word ‘Hajduci’ out of fear of reprisals from the bandits, and certainly went to great lengths to avoid mentioning the name(s) of the killer(s), even if this was common knowledge. Only a small number of gravestones actually mentioned the word ‘Hajduci’ and/or the individual names of the killers, though this practice seems to have been limited to those instances where the responsible party was killed or captured before the gravestone was erected by the family. This fear of mentioning the very word ‘Hajduci’ indicates how strong a grip of fear the banditry held over the local population throughout the 19th century, and how plagued the region was by the bandit phenomenon.
The Hajduci of south-western Serbia were notorious for carrying out vendettas on the local village people, and were renowned for their particularly sadistic methods of torture. Written statements by victims indicate that the local Hajduci bridled their captives with hot iron rods across the body, and cut their faces with knives. The brutality with which Miloš Obrenović fought the Hajduci was certainly matched by the Hajduci themselves.
The region of south-western Serbia remained a scene of conflict in the latter half on the 19th century during the rule of Miloš’s successors, all of whom also had to deal with the Hajduci on a regular basis. A report from the ministry of internal affairs during the reign of Knez Mihailo Obrenović, created in 1861, complained about the arrival of the spring leaf cover in the region, as this inevitably brought with it heightened bandit activity every year. Another report, now from the independent Kingdom of Serbia during the rule of King Milan Obrenović, concerning the same region in 1884, acknowledged that widespread pursuits of the Hajduci yielded no results, and that government-funded and trained guerrilla units needed to be established in order to patrol the nearby mountains and forests in order to search out the Hajduci. The last Obrenović, King Aleksandar, faired no better; a series of reports from south-western Serbia, sent in 1895, told of a ‘small scale war’ with the Hajduci, listing the figures of wounded and killed members of the Serbian police in the struggle against the local bandits.
The reasons behind the local Serbian banditry becoming a primary enemy of the principality of Serbia are complex. It is clear that the change of perceptions of the role of the Hajduci was not entirely one-sided, experienced not only by the Serbian leadership – who saw the Hajduci as redundant once the settlement with the Ottomans had been achieved – but also by the Hajduci themselves, who changed their focus during the 1815-1830 period. The single biggest historical reason that had forced people to join the bandit ranks – violence and abuse by the Ottoman state system, and the struggle against its confines – disappeared with the establishment of the principality of Serbia. From 1830 on, the dual Serbo-Ottoman authority ceased to exist, leaving Miloš Obrenović firmly in control. However, the autocratic nature of Miloš Obrenović’s rule helped in many ways to prolong Hajduk activity, since many saw his regime as little better than it Ottoman predecessor. Thus, many individuals embarked upon a life of banditry because they were afraid of the authorities or wanted to escape police violence. Another major reason for the continuation of bandit activities revolved around personal vendettas, as many people had no faith in the crude system of justice that was still in its infancy. The culture of violence that existed in the region, bred by a long period of Ottoman rule and its peculiarities, needed time to be dissipated and defeated. The population of the principality of Serbia, especially its south-western part, had to learn to settle down into modern modes of trade and agricultural production, as well as to invest a previously absent level of trust in the justice system such that they would turn to the courts to settle their disputes, a process which took decades to become firmly ingrained.
In parts of geographical Serbia that had not been part of the autonomous principality of Serbia before independence in 1878, but were still under Ottoman control, the Hajduci remained active. An important source of information regarding the situation in the South Morava river valley to the south east of the principality of Serbia is the journal of the British traveller Edmond Spencer. Spencer explores in great detail the series of events that led to what he refers to as the ‘Bulgarian Uprising’ of 1841, an event in which the local Hajduci had a prominent role echoing their involvement in the Serbian Uprisings earlier in the century, and which can be used as an example of the developments in the Ottoman-controlled regions during the latter part of the 19th century.
According to the author, the whole affair started when Paša of Niš’ nephew kidnapped one of the local girls in the middle of a local village celebration, wounding many and killing one in the process. The boyfriend of the kidnapped girl decided to go into the mountains and address the local assembly of Hajduci about the injustice. The whole affair elicited the utmost fury amongst the Hajduci, who, according to Spencer, were particularly reactive to Ottoman abuses of local women. The response of the Hajduci was quick and decisive because – according to them – the woman “…is the mother; the guardian of infancy; the preserver of man during helplessness; without her watchful care, the whole race would become extinct”. Hajduk activity escalated with lightning speed, and soon the Hajduci commanded all the passes leading from the area to Istanbul, cutting the communication and flow of Ottoman troops in or out. Hajduk activity inspired others in towns and villages, and soon the main priest in Leskovac, together with Karadjordje’s Hajduk commander Milo found themselves with a growing Hajduk-peasant army of 15,000 men. The army burned many smaller Ottoman towns and besieged the Paša himself inside the town of Niš.
The rebellion was eventually subdued by two Ottoman armies, one Albanian and the other comprised of Bosnia’s Muslims, together with co-operation from Serbian Prince Miloš Obrenović, who closed Serbia’s border (and the only possible escape route for the rebels) for a large payment in valuable metals from the Ottomans. The Hajduci dispersed upon seeing the large conventional armies, and the Ottomans proceeded to assist the besieged Niš, razing to the ground the towns of Leskovac and Vranje along the way. However, the affair was far from over. With the completion of their task, the Bosnian Muslim and Albanian elements prepared a large booty to carry back with them to their respective barracks. However, many never reached their destination, and virtually none of the booty survived the retreat – bands of Hajduci, virtually intact after the conflict, intercepted and ambushed the Ottomans continuously along the way. Ultimately, the amount of spoils, including weapons and ammunitions taken – especially from the Albanian army – was so great that it weaved its way into the local folklore. The real victors of the whole affair were the Hajduci, who suffered very few casualties and ended up with much more than they started with.
The story of the Bulgarian Uprising of 1841 is relevant in an analysis of banditry activities and achievements for a variety of different reasons. Firstly, it provides an illustration of the continued inability of the Ottomans to successfully deal with Hajduk forces through conventional military means, echoing earlier doomed efforts from the beginning of the 19th century; the Hajduci, with their manœuverability and excellent knowledge of the terrain, still proved highly elusive to the Ottomans. Secondly, the story recorded by Spencer illustrates the differences in the influence that banditry had, and the way it was perceived by the local people on different sides of the Serbo-Ottoman border. The account illustrates how the Hajduk movement could still serve as a catalyst for popular uprisings in the areas under direct Ottoman control, decades after the initial unrests in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. These two points illustrate that the Hajduci in areas under direct Ottoman control could initiate and influence events that had the potential for creating national autonomies (and ultimately national states). However, as soon as this regional autonomy had been achieved – as seen with the principality of Serbia – Hajduk actions and presence became both hazardous and redundant, ultimately invoking the wrath and persecution from the very state structure that they (consciously or otherwise) had helped create.
The Hajduci of Serbia were men with various degrees of military experience and training. What all Hajduci had in common was their own grassroots way of fighting, perhaps best described in modern day military terminology as a ‘guerrilla style’. There were, however, some members of the Hajduci (including the most important figures of the First Serbian Uprising) who had also had a degree of formal military training and regular army experience. This training and experience had come from both the feuding Habsburgs and Ottomans, since each side had used the Serbs (and Serbian bandits) to fight the other or – in the case of the Ottomans – to settle internal disputes within the Pašaluk of Belgrade. This combined military knowledge and experience was critical in allowing the Hajduci to have a significant impact in the First and Second Uprisings.
Indeed, the Hajduci of Serbia played an important role in confrontations with the Ottomans during the First and Second Serbian Uprisings (1804-1813 and 1815 respectively). Their contribution was more significant in the First Serbian Uprising, which can be view from three different perspectives. It was the bandits who were the first amongst the resisting Serbs to attack the Ottomans after being particularly targeted during the Seča Knezova episode in February of 1804. In doing so they set an example and paved the way for other segments of the population to join in. Secondly, the bandits of Serbia – with their already formed units in the hills and forests – quickly became a logical source of refuge and a magnet for those who wanted to hide from the Ottomans as well as those who wanted to fight. In time, the Hajduci themselves were to become outnumbered in the swelling ranks of Serbian forces, although they had nonetheless always served as a nucleus and catalyst for the formation of larger rebel units. Thirdly, many individuals from the Hajduk ranks became leaders and commanders of the emerging Serbian army, including the supreme leader himself. Although the relevance of the small hit-and-run Hajduk units had completely withered by 1806, when Serbian control of the countryside became entrenched and broad fronts with large armies began to form, it is clear that those achievements would have been difficult – if not impossible – had there been no Hajduk presence in the Pašaluk of Belgrade in 1804.
The First Serbian Uprising ultimately failed after some nine years of conflict. The Ottoman summer offensive in 1813 resulted in a Serbian defeat and the consequent restoration of full Ottoman control in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. Feeding on the fresh wave of violence and anarchy as Serbian defences collapsed in front of the Ottoman onslaught, the Serbian banditry was to see its last significant increase in numbers, never to be repeated. Many Serbian soldiers and commanders refused to surrender and place themselves at the mercy of their Ottoman enemy. Karadjordje and many others from his inner circle left for Austria, while others decided to stay. Those who refused to leave the Pašaluk of Belgrade headed for the forests and mountains, living a life of banditry for the next few years.
However, the full restoration of Ottoman power in the Pašaluk of Belgrade proved to be short-lived. As the terror returned, so did the reaction to it. Eighteen months after the collapse of the First Serbian Uprising, the Ottomans had another full scale revolt on their hands in the same region as before. The Second Serbian Uprising was a miniature version of its predecessor, with military hostilities lasting only four months. In contrast to the First Serbian Uprising, the Second Serbian Uprising did not last long enough to see large armies on both sides fighting on broad frontlines. Limited to squirmishes in the countryside, the Second Serbian Uprising never outgrew the usefulness of the Hajduk units, essentially seeing the bandits repeating the role they had played during the opening phase of the First Serbian Uprising. However, the importance of the Hajduci as leaders and commanders this time was significantly less than it had been eleven years earlier, mainly because there were now enough individuals of non-Hajduk origin who could take up the leadership and military commanding roles. The bandits that joined in the struggle of the Second Serbian Uprising were also different than those of 1804, as many of the Hajduci who joined the fight in 1815 were not traditional bandits but rather former soldiers who took to the hills in 1813 in order to avoid being captured by the Ottomans.
Serbia finally emerged as an independent state after a long process of diplomatic and military action. However, the role of banditry after the end of the military phase of the Second Serbian Uprising proved to have a negative impact on the process of gaining independence. From the moment semi-autonomous Serbia gained official recognition from Istanbul, the local Serbian leadership turned on the Hajduci, believing it to have outlived its former raison d’кtre. With the development of the Serbian administrative apparatus, the Hajduci of Serbia were now robbing and murdering Serbian merchants, tax collectors and policemen. The leadership of the principality of Serbia from 1817 in many ways mimicked the Ottomans in their portrayal of the Hajduci as everyday criminals and a major destabilising force. From playing an important role in the two Uprisings - without which the principality of Serbia may not have emerged at all – the Hajduci of Serbia by the end of the 19th century had come full circle, finding themselves once again prime enemies of the state – though, ironically and significantly, this time a state which they themselves had helped to create.
It is first necessary to address the question of what factors distinguished the 19th century Hajduci of Serbia from the ordinary criminals of the day, to wit three factors can be identified. The first factor concerns the roots of the Hajduk phenomenon, or more precisely with its well-established institutionalisation amongst the local population at the turn of the 19th century. In the years immediately prior to the First Serbian Uprising, the Hajduci in Serbia represented a distinct segment of the local population, having been continuously active for centuries. A part of the local tradition, praised and immortalised by local epic poetry, banditry in Serbia was an institution in itself, comparable to that of the Knezovi.
The second factor that distinguished the Hajduci from ordinary criminals was the self-imposed moral code of conduct and behaviour that existed for each individual Hajduk. This moral code followed traditional lines, and was passed on from one Hajduk generation to the next. Actions that could cause a Hajduk to fall from grace in the eyes of his companions (such as murder outside of vendettas or self-defence, robbing of the poor, associating with women, breaking a promise or betraying the trust of a fellow Hajduk as well as failure to respect Christian prayers and feasts) testify to the fact that the Hajduci were more than a simple gang of robbers on an indiscriminate criminal rampage, and that the criminal dimension of their world was only a part and by no means the totality of their existence.
The third factor which set apart the Hajduci as a distinct group was the manner by which their ranks became swelled, in that a life of banditry was something of a statement of resistance to the Ottoman regime – almost a political declaration of opposition to an oppressive system. Rather than short-term opportunistic petty crime, a life of banditry for some represented freedom from the system and camaraderie with those who shared disdain for the Ottomans. In this regard, the Hajduci can be clearly seen not simply as a group of roadside bandits, but rather as a form of popular resistance.
The issue of the military potential of the Serbian Hajduci in the period just before the Serbian national revolution of 1804 can be explored in the wider context of regional conflicts. The Habsburgs and the Ottomans both practised hiring existing Hajduk units, as well as individual Hajduci, for their military and security operations. During the Habsburg-Ottoman war of 1788-1791, the Habsburgs used some Hajduk units to aid their war effort, and also created Serbian Freikorp (volunteer) units, comprised of Serbs from both sides of the border who wished to join the fight. Many of those individuals who became Freikorp soldiers were members of the banditry, including future Uprising leaders such as Karadjordje Petrović or Stanoje Glavaš. The total number of Serbs that received Habsburg military training and participated in combat on the Habsburg side amounted to some 18,000 men. Many, though not all, of these men were Hajduci – members of the banditry by their very nature were more inclined to becoming mercenaries than other more sedentary elements of the population. The significance of the involvement on the Habsburg side in the 1788-1791 war for the Hajduci was not only in receiving regular military training which augmented their traditional knowledge of guerrilla-style fighting, but also in learning command skills over large groups of combatants and in acquiring valuable experience in confronting the Ottomans. For those Hajduci that eventually joined the First Serbian Uprising in 1804, these assets proved to be quite valuable.
Similar benefits were reaped by the Ottoman-sponsored Serbian army that operated during the 1793-1799 period. Peaking at some 16,000 men in 1797, this Serbian Ottoman army also engaged in significant recruitment from the local banditry. Providing many Hajduk individuals with further military training, lessons in command and important experience in fighting the Janičari – the most dangerous adversary the Serbs had to deal with in the 1804-1813 Uprising that was to soon follow – the whole affair proved to be very useful to the bandits. Those Hajduci who participated in the Habsburg Freikorp and Serbian Ottoman army – or even both – were more elusive and dangerous than those who had not benefited from regular military training and experience.
The largest military utilisation of the Serbian banditry in the 19th century occurred during the First Serbian Uprising, or more precisely during the February-July period of 1804, known as the ‘Revolt against the Dahije’. The Hajduci joined the First Serbian Uprising from the outset, but their motivation for adopting this course was neither ideological nor political. The essential reason why the Serbian bandits joined the Uprising was reactionary – the Hajduci fought in both self-defence and revenge after being one of the most persecuted groups (together with their families and affiliates) within the Serbian population at the hands of the Dahije regime during the brief Seča Knezova episode that acted as the trigger for the revolt.
Another important factor was the role of individual Hajduci in the leadership of the Uprising. Here, the most significant figure was certainly Karadjordje Petrović himself as the Vožd of the Uprising. However, many other Hajduk individuals – examples being Stanoje Glavaš or Hajduk-Veljko Petrović – played important roles as commanders of large formations that would eventually form as the Uprising progressed. Many other Hajduci filled positions of command in small and mid-size Serbian units. The Hajduci contributed to the command element of the Uprising either as individuals, or as Harambaše with their own men, participating and synchronising their activities with other Serbian forces.
The Serbian bandits, as a distinct segment of Serbian society, were much more a means rather than an end per se in the overall scope of national revolution in Serbia. In other words, the Hajduci could contribute on a variety of levels to the struggle, though their motivation was narrow-sited and short-lived. Their initial motivation for involvement was a vendetta against the Dahije regime; once that goal had been attained in July of 1804, many Hajduci lost interest in further revolutionary-type struggles. In other words, the Hajduci generally had little interest in political goals – seeing such things as deceitful and unworthy – and lauded no idealism of any kind. The goal of the creation and consequent expansion of national state – the crucial element of 19th century Serbian revolutions – was alien to the Hajduci and the world in which they lived. By their actions, however, the Serbian Hajduci greatly aided and accelerated the attainment of state creation and expansion, even if this end result was an unintentional happenstance.
To address the question of the fate of Serbia’s Hajduci it is fitting to consider that many Hajduci went back to their old ways once the First and Second Uprisings were over, due to their lack of interest in the political developments within the newly created principality of Serbia, placing them on a collision course with the very structure they had helped create. As was noted in the discussion of the Hajduci following the Second Serbian Uprising, the Serbian leadership after the end of military operations in 1815 saw the bandits not only as redundant, but also as a dangerous destabilising force. Indeed, the Hajduci of Serbia soon became prime enemies of the Serbian state. For the Hajduci in the principality of Serbia, this was a return to the old pattern of playing bloody and brutal games of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, the only difference now being that the authorities were Serbian, not Ottoman. It is therefore possible to conclude that the emergence of Serbia as a national state changed nothing for the Hajduci in the longer term.
Interestingly enough, the Serbian Hajduci who operated beyond the borders of the principality of Serbia could still ignite popular revolts against the Ottomans decades after the end of the Uprising in the Pašaluk of Belgrade. This is, in part, testimony to the fact that in the regions that remained under direct Ottoman control to the south-east of the principality of Serbia, the situation that had once plagued the Pašaluk of Belgrade was still very much in evidence, particularly in the South Morava river valley (today known as South Pomoravlje) in the 1840’s. History was, therefore, ripe to repeat itself, providing the opportunity for the Hajduci to play a similar role in local rebellions, as they had once played in the First and Second Serbian Uprisings to the north. Needless to say, the Hajduci in this part of south-east Serbia became enemies of the state as soon as Serbia expanded in that region in 1878. Both in the Šumadija and South Pomoravlje regions the Hajduci demonstrated their capacity, albeit decades apart, to be not only a proto-paramilitary force, but also a ‘proto-state forming’ initiating force (given their unintended catalytic effect in facilitating the rise of local autonomy and even statehood – regardless of the actual outcome), even though their interests and conscious intent lay in neither direction.
A number of topics stand out as worthy of further research to complement this study. From a sociological standpoint, the family life of the Hajduci merits closer attention. It is evident that some Hajduci (well-known examples being Karadjordje and Hajduk-Veljko) had families of their own; further research might reveal how the bandit existence made family life for these men possible at all, as well as how it affected or changed the relationships and roles of individual family members compared to the traditional family model that existed in the region at this time.
Another issue that could be looked into in more detail is the process of the re-integration of Hajduci into ordinary society. Many Hajduci at some point decided to leave their lives of banditry, and become ordinary peasants or join the military service. Further research on the Hajduci could examine how a bandit past affected the day-to-day life of those individuals who wanted to merge back into society, and to what degree this goal was indeed possible at all. Along similar lines, further study might examine what happened to the children of the Hajduci in the principality of Serbia – investigating how significant the bandit heritage they carried with them was, and how many grew up to eventually engage in the same lifestyle as their fathers.
A logical continuation of this thesis would broaden the presented case study both geographically and temporally. For example, simply in dealing with the areas of Serbia not discussed in any detail in this thesis, a closer examination of the role of the Hajduci in the Serbo-Ottoman conflict of 1833 would prove interesting (during which the principality of Serbia expanded territorially to the south and west beyond the administrative borders of the Pašaluk of Belgrade). As seen in 1841, the Hajduci in the South Morava river valley south-east of Serbia’s border at that time were instrumental in the unsuccessful local uprising against the Ottomans that erupted there. This gives a good indication that the Hajduci in the regions annexed by Serbia in 1833, especially those from the Stari Vlah mountain area, could have played part in the brief military encounter with the Ottomans, becoming involved most likely in secret agreement with Serbia’s Knez Miloš Obrenović.
From the perspective of Hajduk activity in a different era, further studies could examine the role of the bandits in the South Morava river valley during the last two Serbo-Ottoman wars of the century, both of which commenced in 1876. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Serbia’s independence was acknowledged, together with recognition of the territorial expansion in this region. Plagued with uprisings throughout the course of the 19th century, the South Morava valley witnessed a large presence of bandits, both of Serbian as well as ethnic Albanian origins. Further investigations might address the role of these bandit groups in relation to both warring parties in 1876, as well as to each other.
The creation of Montenegro provides rich material for further study. The situation here was quite unique because it is the only state in the Balkans that was essentially a direct product of bandit activity. The territory that would become the state of Montenegro, geographically small but completely encased in a harsh mountainous environment, was free from outside interference and influence because of the bandits, not merely for decades but in fact for several centuries. During this prolonged period an upper ruling class emerged and slowly solidified its position and control over Montenegro, creating de facto a state that was still part of the Ottoman Empire only de iure. International recognition of Montenegro in 1878 thus came only as a logical conclusion of a situation that was already firmly in place. In Montenegro, banditry played a pivotal role in the creation of the state, albeit as a by-product of the bandit activity. The roots of Montenegro’s statehood thus established a concrete, yet seemingly paradoxical link between the essentially destructive and negative social phenomenon of banditry and the creation of a national state. Montenegro as a case study would help create a clearer picture of Balkan banditry as a whole in addition to its role in the creation of Balkan states in general. Similarly, a study of the role of the Hajduci of Bosnia, as well as the Uskoci (the name for local bandits) of Herzegovina – both Christian and Muslim – in numerous uprisings which occurred in those regions during the course of the 19th century would be worthwhile, despite the fact that no state creation occurred in those regions at the time.
Regarding Balkan banditry as a whole during this period, a general overview of the similarities and differences between bandits in different regions of the peninsula (both Christian and Muslim) is merited. Furthermore, a study of Balkan bandit groups of different ethnic and religious affiliations (or even those of the same affiliations but located in different regions) would complement the existing picture. In the absence of such an overview it is hard to tell whether the bandits of Serbia were in any way unique in the Balkans either in terms of their actions and nature or their role in various political processes.
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