The Serbian Cross: The History of Serbia's National Symbol

Serbias flag on a wooden sign with mountains in the background
Serbia's flag on a wooden sign with mountains in the background | © Gustavo Frazao / Shutterstock

The Serbian cross is not just the national symbol of the country. It features on the flag, the coat of arms, the flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church and seemingly every concrete wall on the country’s streets. What is the story of the Serbian cross? Before the history, let’s take care of the aesthetics.

What is the Serbian cross?

A white cross on a red background, the Serbian cross is thought to be based on a tetragrammic cross of the Palaiologos dynasty from the 13th century, although this has never been confirmed. The similarities are clear for all to see, although the Serbian version comes with four stylised C letters. To clear up any confusion, the C in question is actually the Cyrillic character for the Latin letter S. What do the letters stand for? More on that shortly.

Serbia’s flag on a wooden sign with mountains in the background

Harking back to the glory days

The famous Battle of Kosovo painting by Uroš Predić

Only Unity Saves the Serbs

So what do the four S letters stand for? They unsurprisingly stand for the national motto, a slogan that has been a part of the Serbian mentality since the battles with the Ottomans in the 14th century. The phrase is ‘Only Unity Saves the Serbs’, which translated into Serbian becomes ‘Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava’.
What is the idea behind the phrase? It is a relatively simple one. It is a cautionary warning against foreign domination, a plea to all Serbs to stick together in times of need. It is a central part of the Kosovo myth, a battle that Serbia only failed to win because of Vuk Branković’s treachery (as the legend goes).
The phrase became a major rallying cry following the nation’s fall, and has found its way into countless epic poems and songs over the centuries. It received a major push in the work of Jovan Sterija Popović during the 19th century, although it had long been in use before that time.

Monastery of Prohor Pcinjski is one of the oldest Serbian monasteries situated on the border with the Republic of Macedonia.

A popular graffiti

A crude version of the cross began to spread throughout the late 1980s, scrawled on the walls of the hulking concrete buildings of Yugoslavia. It was a display of Serb nationalism, and as Yugoslavia fell apart in an orgy of violence, the cross became more and more visible. Slobodan Milošević made it a major part of his nationalist propaganda in the 1990s, and the cross became something of a Serbian flag of St. George in the process.
The Serbian cross is still a hugely important visual for the nation and its people; however, the fact that it is routinely rolled out by the most nationalist elements of society has tarnished it somewhat for the wider majority. This has created another division in society, which is ironic considering the message at the heart of this national symbol.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article