Under Andronicus III, John V's predecessor, Stephen Dushan had already taken possession of northern Macedonia and the major part of Albania. With the ascension to the throne of the boy John V, when a devastating civil war began to tear the Empire, Dushan's aggressive plans widened and took definite form against Constantinople itself. A Byzantine historian of the fourteenth century, Nicephorus Gregoras, put into the mouth of John Cantacuzene these words: The great Serb (Stephen Dushan) like an overflowing river which has passed far beyond its banks, has already submerged one part of the Empire of Romania with its waves, and is threatening to submerge another.
Stephen Dushan came to an agreement, now with Cantacuzene, now with John V, as it seemed advantageous to him. Taking advantage of the desperate situation of the Empire, whose forces were occupied by internal troubles, Stephen conquered all of Macedonia except Thessalonica without difficulty and after a siege took Seres, an important fortified place in eastern Macedonia, lying on the way from Thessalonica to Constantinople. The surrender of Seres was of great importance; Dushan gained a fortified and purely Greek city, only slightly inferior to Thessalonica, which might serve as a key to Constantinople. From this time on, broader plans against the Empire developed in the mind of the Serbian leader.
Contemporary Byzantine sources connect with the capture of Seres Dushan's assumption of the title of tsar and the open display of his claims to the Eastern Empire. John Cantacuzene, for example, wrote, The Kral (King) approached Seres and took possession of it. ... After that, becoming excessively conceited and seeing himself master of the major part of the Empire, he proclaimed himself Tsar of the Romans and Serbs, and upon his son he conferred the title of Kral. In his letter to the Doge of Venice from Seres, Dushan, among other titles, glorifies himself as the master of almost all the Empire of Romania (et fere totius imperii Romaniae dominus). His Greek decrees Dushan signed in red ink Stephen in Christ God the faithful Kral and autocrat of Serbia and Romania.
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