“War ends only when it has carved its way across cities and villages, bringing death and destruction in its wake,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Americans are pretty lucky when it comes to where they are on the map. Only a handful of times in the country’s history has war ever come home to its cities and villages.
The Revolution, the British burning Washington, DC, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are just a few attacks on American soil that come to mind — luckily, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without that kind of a conflict. The aforementioned attacks are also spread out across the nation’s nearly 250-year history.
Other nations aren’t so lucky.
Here’s an ink drawing from the 1600s.
Belgrade, the capital and largest city in Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), is one of those who has not enjoyed such luck. Its location on the crossroads of the Sava and Danube Rivers and its fertile valleys means it will always be an attractive area to any potential invader.
But it’s also right on the path from European Turkey into the heart of Western Europe. You can’t invade the Middle East from Europe without going through Belgrade and, as logic would have it, you can’t invade Europe from the Middle East without passing Belgrade either. All told, the city has been completely destroyed and rebuilt 44 times and has seen 115 different wars.
It’s amazing just how many different art styles throughout the years depict the destruction of Belgrade.
Here’s an Ottoman miniature of another Siege of Belgrade.
Flashback to pre-historical times: As mentioned, a land so well suited for growing crops is going to be settled rather quickly by the early Slavic farmers of Europe. The area’s inhabitants were first known as Thracians and Dacians before the area was conquered by Celts, who ruled for more than 200 years.
Until Belgrade was captured by Rome.
To be fair, Attila razed cities like it was his job. Because it was.
Rome held the city for some 400-plus years until the Roman Empire was split in two. Roman Dacia was on the edge of the Eastern Roman Empire and they could not protect it properly. In 441, the city we call Belgrade was captured and razed by Huns, who sold its population off into slavery.
The Huns held the city for more than ten years before the Romans could come recapture it, but it was soon taken again, this time by Ostrogoths. It was quickly captured and retaken in succession by the Eastern Romans, Avars, and later, Attila the Hun.
“Here they come… Shit, there goes the city. Again.”
After Attila, the Romans (now called Byzantines) wrestled for control over the city with Avars, Gepids, Hungarians, and Bulgarians for some 400-plus years. The city saw armies of the first, second, and third crusades march through it as the Serbian Empire began to establish itself in the area. That empire was relatively short-lived, however, and Belgrade was firmly in Hungarian hands.
Until it wasn’t. The site became a focal point for the ongoing Ottoman-Christian struggle in the Balkans. Eventually, the Ottomans captured the city, destroyed it, and sent its Christian population to Istanbul in chains. But it thrived under Turkish rule and became an appetizing target for the rising Hapsburg Empire based in Austria.
The two powers fought over the city of Belgrade all the way through the First World War, even though Serbia was an independent kingdom for much of the time.
Who not only mine the streets, but also spray paint the old buildings. Good work, a-hole.
After World War I, Serbia becomes part of the greater Yugoslavia, which was great for Belgrade until Yugoslavia joined the Axis pact. The citizens rebelled and declared the twenty-something (and anti-Axis) Peter II the rightful king and the one calling the shots on Yugoslavia’s foreign relations. The only answer the Axis had was to bomb the sh*t out of Belgrade and invade with literally every Axis power available.
“Leave us alone, literally everyone ever!”
Of course, this means the city had to be retaken by the Allies, who decided to bomb the city into oblivion… on Easter. It was then captured by the Red Army and Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. The city (and Yugoslavia) remained firmly in Tito’s good hands until the Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s, where it was bombed by NATO forces.