Dušan's Code

Dušan's Code (Modern Serbian: Душанов законик, Dušanov zakonik) is a legal code, one of two the most significant cultural-historical monuments of medieval Serbia, accompanying St. Sava's Nomocanon. It was presented by Tsar Dušan in two state congresses: in 1349 in Skopje and in 1354 in Serres. The original manuscript is not preserved, but around twenty copies of transcripts, dating from 14th to 18th, century remain.

The code was based partly on common law, partly on old church law, and somewhat on Greek imperial laws, but in its essence it has predominantly autonomous character. It even has some elements of constitutional law, so it could be viewed as a kind of constitution. There are around 200 articles in the Code.


  • On The Law

Further commandeth our Imperial Majesty:
Should our Imperial Majesty write a letter
Out of wrath, or out of love
Or out of mercy for any one,
And should such a letter contravene the Code
And be at variance with the law and justice
As set down in the Code,
The judges
Shall not comply therewith
But shall judge
And act withal as justice commandenth.

  • On Poor Women

Any poor woman unable to litigate
Or defend herself shall choose an attorney
Who shall speak on her behalf.
The poorest hemp-spinstress shall be as free as a priest shall.

  • On Prisoners

Whoso escapeth from prison to the Imperial Court, be he a serf of the Crown, or of the Church, or of a nobleman, shall by the act itself be set free; should he be bearing any gifts for the man to whom he hath escaped, he shall return them to the man from whom he hath escaped.

Whoso escapeth from the prison at our Imperial Court to the patriarchal court shall be set free; also shall be set free any man who escapeth from the patriarchal prison to the Imperial Court.

Also, should any one give shelter to a man from a foreign land, and that man be a fugitive from his master of from justice holding our imperial letter of clemency, said letter shall not be contested; should he hold no such letter, he shall be returned wherefrom he hath escaped.

Excerpts: On the Law, On Poor Women; On Prisoners; are taken from Stefan Dušan's Code, Prizren Manuscript (1346-1349).

Cited from: (cc) Predrag. R. Dragić Kijuk: Anthology of Medieval and Renaissance Serbian Poetry and Culture, Belgrade, 1987, with a permission of the author.

Further reading

Alexander Soloviev

  • Selected Monuments of Serbian Law from the 12th to 15th centuries (1926)
  • Legislation of Stefan Dušan, Emperor of Serbs and Greeks (1928)
  • Dušan's Code in 1349 and 1354 (1929),

Stojan Novaković, Zakonik Stefana Dušana cara srpskog 1349. i 1354.
(Legal Code of Stefan Dušan Serbian Emperor 1349 and 1354), Belgrade, 1898

Т.Флоринский (T Florinsky), Памятники законодатльной дъятельности Душана Царя Сербовъ и Грековъ. Киевъ 1888.
(Legislature Monuments of Tzar Dusan, Emperor of Serbs and Greeks, Kiev, 1888)

Emperor Stefan Dušan’s Legal Code, the Struga and Athos Manuscript, book 1, Belgrade, 1975.

Emperor Stefan Dušan’s Legal Code, the Studenica, Hilandar, Hodoš and Bistrica Manuscript, book 2, Belgrade, 1981.

Emperor Stefan Dušan’s Legal Code, the Baranja, Prizren, Sisatovac, Rakovac, Ravanica and Sofia Manuscript, book 3, Belgrade, 1997

External links

  • Dusanov Zakonik site made on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of the proclaiming of the Code. Contains the full text of the Code in Serbian, Russian and English.

  • Batricevic, Ana, "Legal Transplants and the Code of Serbian Tsar Stephan Dushan: A Comparative Study" (December 22, 2006). Available at SSRN:
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