The Serbs, a South Slav people, moved from the area north of the Carpathian Mountains into the region of their present homeland during the 6th and 7th centuries. From the 8th to the 12th centuries the Serbs were under the nominal control of either Bulgar or Byzantine rulers. During this period, there were constant struggles for supremacy among the Serbian upanates (clans). The Serbs were converted to Christianity in the 9th century.

By the 11th century two rudimentary states had emergedZeta (Montenegro) in the west and Raka in the east. When Zeta declined in the 12th century, Raka became the center of Serbian power. Stephen Nemanja, grand upan (chieftain) of Raka (116996), united the Serbians for the first time and founded a dynasty, the Nemanjid, that ruled for about 200 years.

The greatest period of the dynasty was the reign of Stephen Duan, 133155. He conquered most of Macedonia, Albania, Epirus, and Thessaly and had himself crowned emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, Bulgars, and Albanians. During his rule, an independent church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, was established. After Duan's death, misrule so weakened Serbia that it fell to the Turks at the battle of Kosovo in 1389 and became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire.

Serbia remained under Turkish domination until the 19th century. In 1804 the Serbs rebelled under the leadership of Karageorge, but he was eventually driven into exile. In 1815 a rival Serbian leader, Milo Obrenovic, began a revolt that won Serbia limited autonomy and himself the hereditary title of prince. Bitter rivalry for leadership between the Obrenovic and Karageorgevic families dominated Serbian politics for decades. In 1878 Serbia was granted full independence by the Treaty of Berlin. Its territory was more than doubled as a result of the Balkan Wars, 191213. ( )

Conflict with Austria had existed for some time but reached a climax on June 28, 1914, when the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated while visiting Sarajevo. Austria blamed Serbia and declared war, beginning World War I. ( After the war, Serbia joined with Croatia and Slovenia to form a union of South Slavs called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929). Yugoslavia later became a federation of six republics.

During the 1970's and 1980's tensions mounted between the various national groups in Yugoslavia. In 1989 Slobodan Miloevi, a Serb nationalist, was elected president of Serbia. In 1991, Yugoslavia collapsed. Serbia and Montenegro formed a new Yugoslav federation, and the other republics declared independence. Incited by Miloevi, civil wars erupted in two of these newly independent nationsin Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbs, who opposed independence, fought Croats and Bosnians, who favored independence.

In 1992 the United Nations imposed sanctions on Serbia for aiding Serb fighters in those wars. A cease-fire went into effect in Croatia in 1992 and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. All remaining sanctions on Serbia were lifted. Miloevi assumed the presidency of Yugoslavia in 1997 and a short time later sent Yugoslav forces into the Serb province of Kosovo to suppress a growing ethnic Albanian independence movement. He withdrew the Serb-led forces in 1999, after they had killed thousands of Kosovar civilians. Immediately after the withdrawal of his forces, the United Nations war crimes tribunal indicted Miloevi for atrocities committed in Kosovo. He was ousted from the Yugoslav presidency in 2000 in the wake of riots sparked by his refusal to concede a loss in federal elections. Vojislav Kostunica then became president.

In 2002 the republics of Serbia and Montenegro began talks to loosen their federation, and in 2003 they formed a new federation named Serbia and Montenegro. They agreed to hold a referendum three years later on granting full independence to each republic.

In a referendum held in 2006, citizens of Montenegro voted to separate from Serbia. Shortly afterward, Montenegro declared independence. Then Serbia declared its own independence.