The Kingdom of Serbia (Краљевина Србија — Kraljevina Srbija), often rendered as Servia in English sources during the time of its existence, was created when Prince Milan I of Serbia, ruler of the Principality of Serbia, was proclaimed king in 1882. It was located in south-eastern Europe bounded by Romania and Bulgaria to the east, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to the north, Greece to the south, and Albania and Montenegro to the west. At its height, it held an area of 18,650 square miles (48,303 square kilometers) and a population in 1910 of 2,911,701. its capital, Belgrade, ranks among the oldest and largest cities in Europe.
Following the Slavic migrations to the Balkans postdating the 6th century, Serbs established several states in the early Middle Ages. The Serbian Kingdom obtained recognition by Rome and the Byzantine Empire in 1217, reaching its peak in 1346 as a relatively short-lived Serbian Empire. By the mid-16th century, the entire modern-day Serbia was annexed by the Ottomans, at times interrupted by the Habsburg Empire, which started expanding towards Central Serbia from the end of the 17th century, while maintaining a foothold in modern-day Vojvodina. In the early 19th century, the Serbian Revolution established the nation-state as the region’s first constitutional monarchy.
Beginning in 1817, the Principality of Serbia (Кнежевина Србија — Kneževina Srbija) was ruled by the Obrenović dynasty (replaced by the Karađorđević dynasty for a short time). The Principality, suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, de facto achieved full independence when the last Ottoman troops left Belgrade in 1867. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 recognized the formal independence of the Principality of Serbia, and in its composition Nišava, Pirot, Toplica and Vranje districts entered the South part of Serbia.
In 1882, King Milan I proclaimed the Kingdom of Serbia and maintained a foreign policy friendly to Austria-Hungary. Between 1912 and 1913, Serbia greatly enlarged its territory through engagement in the First and Second Balkan Wars — Sandžak-Raška, Kosovo Vilayet and Vardar Macedonia were annexed. As outcome of the World War I in 1918 it united with Vojvodina and Kingdom of Montenegro. Towards the end of 1918, Serbia joined with the newly created State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs to form the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later known as Kingdom of Yugoslavia) under the continued rule of the Serbian Karađorđević dynasty.
The origin of the name Serbia is unclear. Various authors mentioned names of Serbs (Срби — Srbi) and Sorbs (Serbja in Upper Sorbian and Serby in Lower Sorbian) in different variants: Surbii, Suurbi, Serbloi, Zeriuani, Sorabi, Surben, Sarbi, Serbii, Serboi, Zirbi, Surbi, Sorben, etc. The root *sъrbъ has been variously connected with Russian paserb (пасерб, “stepson”), Ukrainian priserbitisya (присербитися, “join in”), Old Indic sarbh- (“fight, cut, kill”), Latin sero (“make up, constitute”), and Greek siro (ειρω, “repeat”). However, Polish linguist Stanisław Rospond derived the denomination of Srb from srbati. Sorbian scholar H. Schuster-Šewc suggested a connection with the Proto-Slavic verb for “to slurp” *sьrb-, with cognates such as сербать (Russian, Ukrainian), сербаць (Belarusian), srbati (Slovak), сърбам (Bulgarian) and серебати (Old Russian).
The Principality of Serbia was a state in the Balkans that came into existence as a result of the Serbian revolution which lasted between 1804 and 1817. Despite brutal oppression and retaliation by the Ottoman authorities, the revolutionary leaders, first Karađorđe and then Miloš Obrenović, succeeded in their goal to liberate Serbia after centuries of Turkish rule.
At first, the principality included only the territory of the former Pashaluk of Belgrade, but in 1831–1833 it expanded to the east, south, and west. A limited Turkish post operated after 1840, and several post offices were in operation by 1866. It began to issue its own stamps in 1866, the earliest issues featuring the Coat of Arms (Scott #1-3) and Prince Michael (Obrenović III) (Scott #4-15). These were printed locally at the state printing works in Belgrade but the higher values were produced in Vienna. In 1867, the Ottoman army left the Principality, securing its de facto independence.
Serbia was one of the original signatories of the General Postal Union in 1874 and the principality became independent of Turkey in 1878. This was confirmed by Treaty of Berlin on August 22, 1878. At the same time, Serbia gained further territory to the south-east from Turkey including the towns of Niš and Pirot.
On March 6, 1882, the assembly elected Prince Milan to become king, and the country was proclaimed the Kingdom of Serbia.
The Serbo-Bulgarian War erupted on November 14, 1885 and lasted until November 28. The war ended in defeat for Serbia, as it had failed to capture the Slivnitsa region which it had set out to achieve. Bulgarians successfully repelled the Serbs after the decisive victory at the Battle of Slivnitsa and advanced into Serbian territory taking Pirot and clearing the way to Niš. When Austria-Hungary declared that it would join the war on the side of Serbia, Bulgaria withdrew from Serbia leaving the Serbo-Bulgarian border precisely where it had been prior to the war. The peace treaty was signed on February 19, 1886, in Bucharest. As a result of the war, European powers acknowledged the act of Unification of Bulgaria which happened on September 6, 1885.
In 1888, the People’s Radical Party led by Sava Grujić and Nikola Pašić came to power and a new constitution, based on the liberal Constitution of Belgium was introduced. The lost war and the Radical Party’s total electoral victory were some of the reasons why King Milan I abdicated in 1889. His son Alexander I assumed the throne in 1893 and in 1894 dismissed the constitution.
King Alexander I of Serbia and his unpopular wife Queen Draga, were assassinated inside the Royal Palace in Belgrade on the night of May 28-29, 1903. Other representatives of the Obrenović family were shot as well. This act resulted in the extinction of the House of Obrenović which had ruled Serbia since 1817.
After the May Coup, Serbian Skupština invited Peter Karadjorjević to assume the Serbian crown as Peter I of Serbia. A constitutional monarchy was created with the military Black Hand society operating behind the scenes. The traditionally good relations with the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended as the new dynasty relied on the support of the Russian Empire and closer cooperation with Kingdom of Bulgaria.
In April 1904, the Friendship treaty and in June 1905 the customs union with Bulgaria were signed. In response Austria-Hungary imposed a Tariff War (Pig war) of 1906-1909. After the 1906 elections People’s Radical Party came to power. In 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia, where Serbia had hoped to expand its territory.
The Bosnian Crisis of 1908–1909 (also referred to as the Annexation crisis) erupted into public view when on October 5, 1908, Kingdom of Bulgaria declared its complete independence from Ottoman Empire and on October 6, 1908, when Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was populated mainly by South Slavs.
Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Britain, Kingdom of Italy, Serbia, Principality of Montenegro, German Empire and France took an interest in these events. In April 1909, the 1878 Treaty of Berlin was amended to accept the new status quo and bringing the crisis to an end. The crisis permanently damaged relations between Austria-Hungary on the one hand and Russia and Serbia on the other. The annexation and reactions to the annexation were some of the contributing causes of World War I.
Negotiations between Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria led to the Serbian-Bulgarian Treaty of Alliance of March 1912, which aimed to conquer and to divide the Ottoman held Macedonia. In May, a Serbian-Greek alliance was reached and in October 1912, a Serbia-Montenegro alliance was signed.
After the war started, Serbia, together with Montenegro, conquered Pristina and Novi Pazar. At the Battle of Kumanovo Serbians defeated the Ottoman army and proceeded to conquer Skopje and the whole of Kosovo vilayet. The region of Metohija (known as the Dukagjini Valley to ethnic-Albanians) was taken by Montenegro. At Bitola and Ohrid, Serbian army units established contact with the Greek army.
Populations of ethnic Serbs and Albanians tended to shift following territorial conquests. As a result of the multi-ethnic composition of Kosovo, the new administrations provoked a mixed response from the local population. While Albanians did not welcome Serbian rule, the non-Albanian population (largely Serbs but other Southern Slavs too) considered this a liberation.
On November 29, 1913, the Drač County of the Kingdom of Serbia was established on the part of the territory of Albania captured from the Ottoman Empire during the First Balkan War. Serbian Drač County had four districts (срез): Drač (Durrës), Lješ (Lezhë), Elbasan and Tirana.
After the First Balkan War of 1912, Kosovo and north-western Macedonia was internationally recognized as a part of Serbia and northern Metohija as a part of Montenegro at the Treaty of London of May 1913.
The old disagreements regarding the territory of Macedonia among the members of the Balkan League and primarily Serbia and Bulgaria, led to the Second Balkan War. Here, Serbia and Greece fought against Bulgaria in 1913.
The final borders were ratified at the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913. Serbia came to control the land which became known as Vardar Macedonia, and today stands independent as the Republic of Macedonia but land-locked Serbia was prevented from gaining access to Adriatic Sea by the newly established Principality of Albania, while many ethnic Albanians remained within the new Serbian borders. As the result of these wars, Serbia’s population increased from 2.9 million to 4.5 million and territory increased by 81%. In a report to Rome, Lazër Mjeda, Archbishop of Skopje, estimated that 25,000 Albanians were killed by Serbian forces during and after the conflict.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo (then part of Austria-Hungary) brought the tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to a head. Behind the assassination in Sarajevo was the secret Serbian officers organization Black Hand. The assassins were supported by an “underground railroad” of Serbian civilians and military officers that provided transportation and hid them; members of the Serbian military that trained them, encouraged them, and provided weapons, maps, and other information. After the assassination, the conspirators were arrested in Bosnia-Herzegovina and tried in Sarajevo in October 1914.
The political objective of the assassination was to break the southern Slav provinces off from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered a chain of international events that embroiled Russia and the major European powers in the conflict. Austria accused Serbia of complicity. Because of the many interlocking alliances, this led to the outbreak of World War I.
On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia.
In 1915 Serbia was occupied by foreign troops after a combined invasion by Austro-Hungarian, German, and Bulgarian troops. The 135,000 soldiers of the Serbian Army retreated through Albania and were evacuated to the Greek island of Corfu, and in spring, 1916, they became part of a newly formed Salonika Front. In 1916, the Kingdom of Montenegro was conquered by Austria-Hungary. During the occupation of Serbia, Austro-Hungarian military post stamps were issued from 1915 and were overprinted from March 6, 1916.
At the end of the war and collapse of Austria-Hungary, Serbia went through radical changes within days. On November 28, 1918, it absorbed the Kingdom of Montenegro at the Podgorica Assembly. On December 1, 1918, Serbia united with the newly created State of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes to form a new southern Slav state, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Краљевина Срба, Хрвата и Словенаца — Kraljevina Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca). During 1919, Serbia occupied the areas of Baranya and Temesvar in Hungary. Overprinted stamps were issued on May 5 and 10 respectively. Serbia continued to issue stamps until 1920. The new country continued to be ruled by the Serbian monarchy when in August 1921 Prince Alexandar I became king.
For its first eleven years of existence, the Kingdom was officially called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but the term “Yugoslavia” was its colloquial name from its origins. The official name of the state was changed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Краљевина Југославија — Kraljevina Jugoslavija, “Kingdom of South Slavia”) by King Alexander I on October 3, 1929.
In April 1941, the country was occupied and partitioned by the Axis powers. After the Germans established the Government of National Salvation in 1941 it issued its own stamps until 1944. Initially, Yugoslavian stamps were simply overprinted in German with the word Serbien. Later, regular issues were inscribed both Serbien and Србија (Serbia). From 1944 onwards, Serbia was again part of Yugoslavia. Upon the dissolution of the union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, Serbia began issuing its own stamps once more. The Post of Serbia currently issues the country’s stamps.
Scott #69 was released by the Kingdom of Serbia in 1903, a 5-para yellow green and black stamp bearing a portrait of King Alexander I overprinted in blue with the Serbian Coat of Arms. It is perforated at a gauge of 13½.