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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

John V, John VI Cantacuzene and the apogee of Serbian power


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Dushan's broad plans concerning Constantinople differed from the plans of the Bulgarian kings of the ninth and thirteenth centuries, Simeon and the Asens. The chief aim of Simeon had been the liberation of the Slavonic lands from the power of Byzantium and the formation of one great Slavonic Empire; his very attempt, wrote T. Florinsky, to take possession of Constantinople was due to the same tendency to destroy the power of the Greeks and replace it by that of the Slavs... He wished to possess Tsargrad and to exert power over the Greeks, not as emperor of the Romans, but as tsar of Bulgaria. Similar aims were pursued by the Asens, who aspired to the liberation and complete independence of the Bulgarian people and wished to found a Bulgarian Empire which should include Constantinople.

In assuming the title of emperor (basileus) and autocrat Stephen Dushan was guided by different aims. The question was not only the liberation of the Serbian people from the influence of the eastern emperor. There is no doubt that Dushan set himself the goal ot creating a new empire instead of Byzantium, not Serbian, but Serbian-Greek, and that the Serbian people, the Serbian kingdom, and all the Slavonic lands annexed to it were to become only a part of the Empire of the Romans, whose head he proclaimed himself. Proposing himself as an aspirant to the throne of Constantine the Great, Justinian, and other Byzantine emperors, Dushan wished, first of all, to become emperor of the Romans, and then of the Serbs, that is, to establish in his person a Serbian dynasty on the Byzantine throne.

It was important for Dushan to draw to his side the Greek clergy of the conquered regions; he realized that, in the eyes of the people, his proclamation as tsar of the Serbs and Greeks would be legal only if sanctioned by the higher authority of the Church. The archbishop of Serbia, dependent upon the patriarch of Constantinople, was not sufficient; even though the complete independence of the Serbian church had been proclaimed, the archbishop or patriarch of Serbia could crown the kral (king) only as tsar of Serbia. In order to sanctify the title of the Tsar of the Serbs and Romans, which might help him to the Byzantine throne, something more was needed. The patriarch of Constantinople, naturally, would not consent to such a coronation. Dushan began to plan to sanctify his new title by the approbation of the highest Greek clergy of the conquered regions as well as by the monks of the Greek monasteries of the famous Mount Athos.

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