Nis in the Middle Ages and Byzantium


In Attila's conquest of 441 Nis was devastated. The well-known Byzantine diplomat Priscus described the condition he had found while passing through Naissus in 448: “When we arrived in Nis, we came across a desolate town, as it was ripped to pieces by the enemy (the Huns)”.

The city flourished again in the 6th century, when it started to be built afresh by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Procopius noted that Justinian “had surrounded Nis by a fortress and made it unconquerable…”.

From this period, in the vicinity of Nis, on the location Kulina in the village of Balajnac, among the remains of a Byzantine forum, a portrait of the Byzantine empress was found, the only known example of the early Byzantine culture in this part of the Balkans (early 6th century). Art historians propose two theories on who this portrait represents – the Byzantine empress Theodora, Justinian's wife, or the wife of Justinian's uncle, Byzantine tsar Justinian I - the Byzantine empress Euphemia. As it may be, this gorgeous portrait of a woman of  elusive Byzantine beauty, smiling lightly, is an important artistic and historical discovery.

The Slavic tribes started attacking Nis in mid 6th century and finally took it over in mid 7th century. This marked the beginning of the medieval era in the town.

The period of Slavic arrival (7th and 8th centuries) remains without written testimonies, so that little can be claimed for sure about this time. A historically important period for the city began again in the 9th century and continued through the 12th century, when Nis became a part of the Serbian state under the well-known Serbian ruler, Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja. The crusaders, who set out from France and Germany, arrived here in 1189, when the German Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa was welcomed by Stefan Nemanja in the estate of what is today the Church of St. Panteleimon. In addition to abundant presents and food for the army, Nemanja offered Barbarossa military assistance and suggested vassal relations for all Byzantine lands that he would or would not conquer.