Medieval western European knights and Japanese Samurai from the same period are widely known and their codes of conduct became famous and highly praised in modern times.
The Code of Chivalry of medieval warriors dictated that a Knight should be brave and fearless in battle but would also exhibit cultured Knightly qualities showing themselves to be devout, loyal, courteous and generous. The qualities expected of a Medieval knight included bravery, courtesy, honor and gallantry toward women from which we get the image of the Knight In Shining Armor. The concept of a Code of Chivalry led to an idealized view of medieval knights in later times resulted in various legends knights and their adventures.
Bushido , probably the best known warrior’s code of conduct is basically a copy of European Code of Chivalry. Bushido was followed by Japan's samurai warriors and their precursors in feudal Japan, as well as much of central and east Asia. The principles of bushido emphasized honor, courage, frugality, skill in the martial arts, and loyalty to a warrior's master (daimyo) above all else
While history gave its final word on real medieval knights in Europe and Japan which is quite different from myths and legends, there is a small country in Europe whose knights ,and not only knights but all warriors until today upheld the code of honor to the maximum possible level. Serbian warriors had and still have the hardest code of conduct among all the warriors anywhere on the world. Also Serbian code of conduct was pretty much different from its western European or Japanese counterpart and there are several reasons for this.
First reason was socio- political system, Serbia never had slavery nor Feudalism. Slavery in ancient world played an important role in society and the economy, but Serbian people never had slaves and they would rather die than become one. While social hierarchy played important role in ancient Greece and Rome, among Serbian people such hierarchy was completely unknown, everyone were equal and there was no leaders. The only case when leaders were chosen was time of war , people would chose a war leader but immediately after the war he would return to everyday life and would not have any special privileges nor his social status would be different from any other person . Unlike Feudal western Europe where peasants were part of the property(land) and were basically slaves who could not marry or even travel without the special permission of their lord in Serbia peasants were free people . On the west feudal lord had complete control over the lives of the people on his land, Feudal lords were also part of the judicial system and it was there responsibility to uphold the law. In Serbia nobility who owned most of the land was not a part of the judicial system which was independent and based in Roman Law, peasants were really protected by law and had the right to sue the landlord. Also, after 30 years of renting one piece of land peasants earned a form of pseudo-ownership, the landlord could expel them form the property although the peasants could not sell the land which still belonged to the landlord. Even if knight owned the land he had no real power over the peasants until the law was broken and even then law protected the peasants. The idea of freedom and equality among all people is in the very root of Serbian ( and other Slavic) culture. Serbian people were free since the beginning of history and they value freedom above all else. That is the reason why Serbia never tried to occupy any foreign territory, all wars were defense wars without exception.
Second reason was religious. Majority of Serbian people were and still are devoted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Unlike Roman Catholic church which was dominant political force in Europe for centuries and was more interested in political domination and economical domination by any means necessary including war, political persecutions, slaughter of heretics ect where millions of people became victims of the “Church” and the Monarch that Church controlled , Eastern Orthodox Church remained on the original path of Jesus Christ, being what Church suppose to be . Serbian Orthodox Church never had any direct influence nor connections to politics and if any influence was made it went to direction of peace. Serbian Orthodox Church was people’s church , it cared for its people and shared its destiny . Often, throughout history the church fathers along with priests and monks put them self in front of the incoming evil and took the first and hardest blow giving the common people time to find refuge for woman, children and elderly. Simply it cannot be found in Christian world (or any other religious realm) closer connection between Church and its people. In Serbia, Church represents much more than just a religion it is a pillar of Serbian national being. There is no boundary between nationality and fate, being Serbian means being Orthodox Christian. Church was behind cultural and scientific progress for centuries. Its influence was and still is in every pore of the society and in every aspect of life but in very specific way. Church’s influence is, much more spiritual in the past, equally moral, ethical, cultural and in dark ages that ravaged western world , kept and preserved classical Greek literature, science, medicine ,history ect which were taught to upper social classes. While western Europe swam in blood from religious persecution of the “heretics” where millions were slaughtered because their fate, witches were burned alive and books considered enemies and burned along with their owners, these things never happened in Serbia. No one believed in witches and books were not burned but kept and preserved as the rare treasure they were at the time. “Heresy” was forbidden by law but there was no death penalty for it. In fact in 13th century Serbian law was the most progressive and the most advanced law system in Europe based in Roman Law but improved and adjusted to the socio-political system in the country. It is impossible to separate Serbian nation from its church, they are one and the same. This Church through the course of centuries , nurtured the moral and ethical code of Serbian people , that code in many ways improved original moral code from the Bible , making it more strict and more diverse in order to cover any possible situation. This code is the most strict but most emphatic moral code, the true representation of Christian values and believes. Christianity had such a deep roots in Serbian culture due to the fact that ancient Slavic people already had moral code identical to that form the New Testament based in love, understanding , compassion and acceptance.
Third reason is cultural. In Serbian society, the family and mutual support among members is highly valued. It is common to find several generations living under the same roof. Grandparents often help to look after their grandchildren while children look after their parents as they age. Many family members in the extended family try to remain in close contact with one another. Serbians will often view their cousins as siblings, in part because the Serbian language does not distinguish between cousins and siblings. Serbs have a special name for each direct and indiect ancestor 16 generations back, and for 5 future generations. Besides this, Serbs can easily determine relation to most cousins of the second and third generation simply by having particular name for uncles and aunts. Not only this, but their children are not called „cousins“ – they are brothers and sisters on uncle’s/aunt’s side. While in most countries the law allows marriage between 4th degree cousins in Serbia 4th degree cousins are considered close family , only in very special occasion Church will examine and maybe allow marriage between 7th degree cousins. There is the tendency among Serbians to stay in close proximity to their family in order to remain emotionally close. For example, children tend not to be encouraged to be independent or leave home. If they do move out, younger generations often live near their relatives. It is common for a Serbian family to host events or to frequently visit their family in order to maintain familial ties.
The typical household structure is patriarchal, with authority tending to come from the most senior male. Women are considered equal to men but are expected to honor their husband, on the other hand husband is expected to treat his wife as equal. In the past role of woman different from today but was still way better than anywhere else in the feudal world. Age also gives authority in Serbian families and in society in general. The elderly are given utmost respect and are consulted when major decisions are made.
Giving the close bonds among relative Serbian build a strong bonds among friends and they are ready to help each other at any moment. This is clearly visible in small towns where people are closer and “old ways” are still the only ways. Especially in the time of tragedy literary the whole town will come to help and closest relatives and neighbors will take over everything on them self until the necessary things are finished ( like funeral ). Even people who hate each other will forget their dispute in the time of need and help as much as they can. Friends in Serbia have much closer relationships than closest relatives in most of the world.
The typically Western sense of individualism is not as prevalent in Serbia. They are often more family- and friend-minded. Individualism is most common in the time of danger such as war or some natural disaster when people sacrifice them self in order to save others.
“ Inat” is a peculiarly Serbian concept. Many nations will claim that it exists all over the world, but nowhere has the track record and evidence to back up the claim like Serbia. In short, it is the idea of doing something precisely because you have been told you can’t, the acting out of proud defiance in the face of insurmountable odds. It is record numbers turning up for a fun run in the streets of a city under aerial bombardment, or men and women holding BBQ parties on the roofs of that same town. It is being given the choice of changing religion or dying, and subsequently going for the latter.
The people of Serbia have never played nice with those in power, be they Ottoman leaders in the 17th century or international alliances in the 20th, or their own leaders. Serbs don’t like to be told what to do, especially by countries perceived as trying to police the world. Serbs have extremely strong sense of national pride and they value the autonomy of the nation.
Hospitality plays important role in Serbian culture. Being invited to someone’s home for a meal is a great honor. Serbian family treats guests as royalty and they will serve only the best of everything they have. In the past hospitality played great social role because Serbs will cease all hostility towards person they shared food with. Even if the worst enemy seeks shelter and food he cannot be denied and he will be protected by all means necessary.
Honor is an extremely important principle in Serbia and is closely related to family values. One’s honor is connected with family reputation. Thus, preservation of honor is often understood in terms of the collective rather than the individual. In the event of an individual’s shortcoming, the whole family’s name and honor are often affected. There is also an expectation that family members will make necessary sacrifices for the common good. Family honor manifests in the loyalty that one has among family members. Betraying one’s kin brings a sense of dishonor and shame to the individual .Betrayal is one of the worst things individual can do in Serbia.
Based in Serbian culture and world view, code of honor of Serbian knight and the code of honor of the common soldier are the same. While in the West it was never expected from the common soldiers to follow any code of honor in Serbia that was natural thing. Knights and common people never differed as much as they did in the West in every way. Being a Knight in Serbia was the hardest possible thing , not only the warrior had to train rigorously with weapons but he also had to live his life as monk if he is not married and even if he was situation wouldn’t change much . Every Serbian knight also had to be educated in history with emphasis on every recorded battle of the past and military strategy, mathematic, reading maps, Greek language and sometimes poetry.
But talking only about medieval knights wouldn’t be fair because same moral code guided Serbian warriors for centuries and it still in use today.
Serbia, like very few other countries on the world, never invaded other country, all wars were defensive wars. Serbia never fought against the enemy of the same size, we always fought unmeasurably stronger opponent. Serbia did loose wars but it was never defeated, never broken, never on its knees. Serbian warrior takes weapon in his hands for only one reason, to defend his children, to defend his family, woman and elderly, to defend his land which gives him life. Never in its history Serbian warriors crossed the borders of other country in order to occupy, rule, to make colony, to have slaves, to rob natural resources and other valuable things. Serbian warrior can only fight the righteous fight, to defend what is sacred to him, his family and his land.
Serbian warrior is never afraid of death, not because he is insanely brave but because he is defending something much more valuable than his own life, he is defending his children, his family, his future. When you have you child behind no enemy can scare you, no force can break you, no evil can pass as long as you fight. In that fight there is simply no place for fear because if you are afraid everything you fight for will be ruined. Warrior may die ,battle may be lost, but his example will lead future generations on the path of final victory.
In Serbian culture death is not something to be feared, not in a way others fear death. Moment of death is a defining moment for Serbian warrior and the pinnacle of his life. The way Serbian warrior perceive death is described best in epic poetry. In epic poem, based on true events prior to WWI, old warrior, Krsta Radunovic sends his three sons to a battle against Turkish occupation forces and he is escorting them with these words :
“ There is no death , beside judgment day
Nor warrior’s glory without fighting
Those who die where they suppose to die
They built a monument for their lives “
All three sons died and old man, when he heard the news about his sons’ fate, with heart full of sorrow, said how proud he is and that he only regrets he couldn’t die with them together.
In other epic piece , the poet wrote these verses:
“ Everyone is born to die once
Honor and shame live forever”
Serbian warrior is afraid of dishonorable death, not death it’s self.
The way someone live and especially the way someone die is of outmost importance. Concepts of Honor and shame shaped the life of Serbian people from the beginning of time. Not only in war but in everyday life as well, keeping the honor intact is what life is all about. Life without honor is no life at all. There is no shame in losing the battle, no shame to be defeated by better or stronger opponent, if you die by fighting stronger opponent you gain eternal glory. On the other hand, lying, cheating, braking given word, is unforgettable and unforgivable. Loosing honor is worse than loosing life.
Someone’s life worth as much as his word. Saying things without consequences is completely alien to Serbian culture, once given, word cannot be broken, not even if that would mean certain death.
Warrior can lose only two things, face and honor. Neither of them can be bought, sold or owned separately from the person, either you have it or not. Those who die with honor stay alive in memory of the people and never truly die, same goes for those who lose honor.
Bravery and honor is so highly valued among Serbian people that there are countless examples of honoring fallen enemy who fought with honor, such enemy would get a funeral like any other Serbian hero. Captured in battle, brave enemy would be released with his weapons and would get respect like any other Serbian hero. Losing the battle or being captured does not mean losing honor. Serbian warrior is not a superman, he is just a man who fights for his freedom and his land and he is painfully aware that despite all efforts there will always be stronger, better, larger forces that cannot be overwhelmed.
Serbian warrior myth is more a real record of the events than an actual myth. While in other cultures knights do not have any flaws and they are undefeatable with often superhuman powers and magical weapons , Serbian knights on the other hand are so profoundly human, they have doubts, regrets, fears ,they make mistakes , yet they always manage to conquer fallen human nature and win the hardest battle of all, battle with them selfs.
Unlike western Europe there is nothing in Serbian ethos that will attack in any way strict warrior’s code. One of the key pieces of European literacy which is a corner stone of western civilization , Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” was dedicated to only one thing, to ridicule high moral values of the knight , totally unfit for the modern world. This piece proclaims poor knight for a fool and down to earth servant on a donkey for an example of wisdom , promoting the victory of the practical mind. History showed consequences of this set of values. Western “enlightened” nations occupied most of the planet killing hundreds millions , making them into slaves, robbing their natural resources and destroying entire civilizations and their cultural heritage. In their madness they will give them self right to judge others, wildly attacking anything different proclaiming it dangerous.
It that Europe a small nation will still uphold traditional moral values , Serbian national anthem still begins with words “ Lord give justice to all…” . Because of that , because of their faith, their moral values , their love for truth and justice Serbian people faced physical annihilation 3 times only in 20st century. In WWI country known as “dungeon of nations” along with germans and Bulgarians killed 30% of entire population, that was the largest genocide in the history of human kind. In WWII same enemies with support of Vatican killed over 2 million people, where 800 000 Serbs were killed in concentration camp Jasenovac in Croatia. First and only time in history of human kinds there was a concentration camp for children, Serbian children , opened with blessing of Vatican. In 1999 western countries under the umbrella of criminal , genocidal NATO alliance attacked Serbia and dropped so many uranium bombs that rate of cancer jumped 200 % . There isn’t a household in Serbia where someone didn’t die or is currently sick of cancer. This is the same pattern repeated so many times through history. Western “enlightened” nations first lead tremendous propaganda war convincing their people that Serbs are not human beings, that killing Serbian children is not a crime and then they send their soldiers to bring “culture” and these days “democracy”. Serbia was attacked for the same reason in the last 2000 years, we do not want to be like them, we have our own values ,our own faith, our own way of life, and we want to stay like that. West and East tried to change us, to break us, to make us more suitable for their global plans but we were never defeated and despite of all we still keep our heads high, we still live for justice and peace, we still pray in our own church.
Despite everything that was done to Serbian people, there is no hate nor desire for revenge. Serbian people do not forget, ever, but Serbian people do forgive easily, giving anyone a second chance.
While fierce during fighting Serbian warrior would never do anything to dishonor his enemy, alive or dead. While many armies would rob prisoners of war often taking everything including cloths and same thing they did to fallen ones, Serbs never did such a thing. On the other hand, knowing with kind of people they fight, Serbs would always dress their best clothes and bring gold pieces that enemy could find something on their corpses, it was dishonorable if enemy would find a warrior in poor cloths and without money. Even in death, people cared about these things , no one wanted to be remembered as poor.
Mutilating corpses was common thing , especially for middle eastern muslim armies although examples on the west are not rare. Such thing was impossible in Serbia, enemy corpses if no one claimed them would be buried with military honors. Even more , there are examples where enemy soldiers were burred together with Serbian soldiers in the same tomb. After the battle on Cer and Kolubara where first WWI allied victory was won by small Serbian army that defeated more 10 times stronger opponent , several thousand Hungarian and Austrian soldiers found their final rest in the same tomb with their enemy. Serbian army honored all victims of that insane attack. While alive, Hungarian and Austria soldiers were enemies, but in death we are all equal in front of the Lord and we will all answer for our deeds. Dead soldier is no one’s enemy , just a lost souls that needs prayer for forgiveness of his sins.
Prisoners of war were often treated better than regular army, simply , there is nothing that would make Serbian solider to do anything wrong to person who cannot defend him self. Even in the last war , all NATO soldiers caught on the territory of Serbia were returned to their homes in much better condition than when they came.
Perfect example how Serbian warriors treated enemy, especially wounded ones can be found during Serbo-Bulgarian war in 1885. Bulgarian army, although well armed didn’t have any medical equipment , nor medical staff and many wounded soldiers suffered immensely. Being aware of the situation Serbia stopped the war for a day a allowed Red Cross train with medical supplies to go to Bulgaria. Although not well equipped its self ,Serbian army added four complete field hospitals to the Red Cross train composition. No army in history of human kind did such a thing for the enemy.
Other example happed in modern times, more precisely in 1993. During civil war in Bosnia all sides, Serbs, Croats and muslims were enemies. In summer 1993 overwhelmed by local muslims and “holy warriors, muslim terrorists from middle east Croats , stunned by the ferocity of muslims decided to search refuge from another enemy, Serbian army. Although extremely scared and fed with anti Serbian propaganda they realized that there is no other way. 15o Croat civilians and 450 members of Croatian rebel army seek help from Serbian army. Immediately Serbian army command refitted a school into refugee center and all necessary material was provided with children’s food and clothes that was found in an instant. Army command appealed to the civil population to help and in a matter of instant local people brought everything. Sick refugees were sent to the nearest hospitals. Wounded Serbian soldiers on their demand waited to receive help until several pregnant coratian woman finished the labor. All refugees , their condition, treatment and medical procedures were recorded by Red Cross and on their demand sent mostly to Croatia and other places according to their desires . Two years later croatin so called army burned a bus full of Serbian refugees , mostly woman and children.
About bravery of Serbian soldiers countless books were written. Serbian army never fought weaker opponent and never fought on equal terms. Serbian army always fought stronger opponent and often fought the impossible odds and at the end always won.
In 1330 A.D. 15000 Serbs completely destroyed 80 000 bulgarian soldiers. Instead of concurring Bulgaria and robbing it , Serbian King saved Bulgaria from total annihilation , established a new king and preserved Bulgaria as independent country
In 1389. A.D. 12 000 Serbs met between 30 000 and 40 000 turks in the Kosovo field. Serbs won the battle but that victory was so expensive that country couldn’t recover biologically form the loss of man but Turks were stopped and didn’t manage to enter Serbia next 70 years.
In 1402. A.D. in the battle of Angora , Serbian army fought on Turkish side. Turks lost, Turkish ruler was captured and all prisoners executed, all but Serbs. Tamerlane was so impressed by skill, discipline and bravery of the Serbian army that he released the with complete weapons.
In 1806.A.D. 9000 Serbs with 5 cannons fought against 40 000 well equipped Turks on the field of Mishar. After fierce battle Turks escaped in Bosnia losing 6000 people. On Serbian side 500 people died.
In 1809. A.D. near city of Nis 16 -18000 Serbs fought 36-40 000 Turks. Overwhelmed by the number of enemies Serbian defense broke and Turks entered the Serbian camp. Fierce battle was fought all day. Seeing the impossible situation , Serbian commander Stevan Sindjelic took his pistol , entered the gunpowder magazine and fire his gun in th nearest barrel. The entire camp was destroyed leaving a the end of the day 4000 dead Serbs and 16 000 dead Turks. In order to punish Serbs , turks collected all heads of Serbian soldiers and made 4 meters tall tower made of those skulls.
November 1914 A.D. First major battle of WWI. Austro Hungarian army with 450 000 solders, well equipped entered Serbia in with plane to crush Serbian army in one decisive blow. On the other hand Serbian army had less 400 000 soldiers , poorly equipped and almost without artillery ammo. Loses on both sides were immense , Austo hungrian army had 30 000 dead, 173 000 wounded and 70 000 captured soldiers. Serbia had 22 000 dead, 91 000 wounded and 19 000 captured. Invading army was totally destroyed and this was first allied victory in WWI.
Orthodox Christmas 1915 , battle of Mojkovac. 20 000 Austrians with 45 cannons attacked 6500 Serbian soldiers from Montenegro who had 25 cannons. It is the bloodiest battle of WWI. Invading army was totally destroyed , Austrian field commander committed suicide after such a defeat.
1918 . Thessaloniky front., 62 000 Serbian soldiers literary destroyed 600 000 German , Austrian and Bulgarian soldiers. German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm sent a telegram to Bulgarian king Ferdinand :” 62 000 Serbian soldiers decided the outcome of the war! Such embarrassment!
In September 1941 Royalist and Communist resistance rose against Germans and in a few days liberated a large part of Serbia forming the biggest free territory in occupied Europe known as Uzice republic.
9. April- 10. June 1999 , battle for Koshare. 2000 Serbian soldiers and few Russian voluntaries fought against more than 6000 albanian terrorist , French foreign legion, Italian mercenaries with a support of NATO air forces and artillery. Serbian army lost 108 people died, 150 wounded and one light military vehicle destroyed. Other side had more than 200 killed, around 350 wounded , 5 tanks destroyed, 2 A-10 thunderbolt II, one F-117а and one F-16 . Despite hell of fire coming from the air and earth, Serbian soldiers did not retreat one foot never allowing terrorist to enter Serbia.
I will finish this article with few quotations from one of the most beloved rulers of Serbia , Lazar Hrebeljanovic . These vise words were said when he was informed about the size and strength of the Turkish army which was coming to occupy Serbia. Painfully aware that there are no chance for victory he still led his people to the battle, most important battle in Serbian history and while he lost his life he didn’t lost the battle and his words led Serbian people through centuries and gave them strength to do things others can only read in fantasy books.
“I do not decide whether or not I will go into battle by the strength of force that is threating me, but by the importance of holy things I am defending.”
“It is better that our grandchildren remember our deaths than our sons to forget us alive”
“I don’t put my head into the grave, I am putting into foundation of our future”