The First Anna

(The future St. Anastasija)

In the times of the Nemanjic family, alongside the zupans (regional rulers), kings and emperors, were seated upon the throne various Annas. These women were from various regions: Epirus, Venice, Constantinople, Trnovo, Wallachia…. There were also Serbian daughters who bore this name and during those times became queens and wives of noblemen.

The first among the Serbian Annas was the wife of Nemanja. For a long time there had been controversies about her true origins. Some thought she was from Hum (Zahumlije), and that Nemanja chose her for a wife because of the needed friendship with the western territories; and this Anna, being the daughter of a nobleman of Hum, would secure a solid friendship. This theory was quickly abandoned. Then it was thought that Nemanja’s Anna was in fact the cousin of either Stefan the Third or Bela the Third, a Hungarian. This thinking was widely accepted, as it was thought that during the period of battles with Byzantium Nemanja needed the support of the Hungarians, and the best proof of an alliance with them would be shown in a marriage with a Hungarian woman. Lastly, actual sources confirm the fact that Nemanja’s Anna, the first Serbian zupanka, was from Epirus, the daughter of Roman the Fourth, king of Epirus, who was in conflict with Byzantium. Being at war with Byzantium, he was Nemanja’s faithful ally, and thus Anna came from Epirus to Ras.

In his marriage with Anna, Nemanja had six children. First, two sons, then three daughters, and finally another son. The names of his sons are known: Vukan, Stefan and Rastko. The name of the eldest daughter is known, Vuka (her monastic name was Euphemia), but regarding the other two we know only that one was married to Michael Andjel, emperor of Epirus; and the other to Constantine Asen, emperor of Bulgaria. The youngest son, Rastko, received his name from the desire for him to be firm and strong like an oak (hrast), or, to grow in abundance (rasti), or even to grow in glory. That was a time when names like Hreb and Miroslav (the glory of peace) were given to children. Rastko, according to the desire of his parents, was to grow in the glory and well-being of Rashka.

Anna lived mainly in Ras, but later in Kotor and then again in Ras. She lived in Kotor during the time when her husband “reinforced Kotor and transferred his courts there, where they remain to this very day” (taken from the Life of Stefan Nemanja, prepared by his son Stefan the First Crowned).

Zupanka Anna took care of her children in Ras; and the more they grew, the more she feared for their safety during their hunting trips, playing games of the knights, or accompanying their father during battle. Among the children, Rastko was an exception. He liked to converse with his mother, and to ask her questions which would surprise even her. Anna awoke in him a curiosity, and was proud of his maturity as early as the age of fifteen or sixteen.

With time, Anna became all the more happy, and the numerous wars were greatly reduced. Nemanja returned home a victor, and afterward began less and less to personally participate in the battles. She was pleased with his visits to the church and the monastery. She would wait for him with the grandchildren in her arms. Vukan had given her four grandsons, as did Stefan, along with one granddaughter, Komnina. Anna especially loved her. However, her beloved Rastko gave her worry. Unexpectedly, just when she thought that he would be a good king for Travunia, Rastko went on a hunting excursion, after which he directly set off for Mount Athos with one of the Athonite monks. Anna begged Nemanja to order the most able military leaders to search for him and bring him back. She made them swear that they would return her son. It is known that they did catch up with him on Mount Athos but that night, while they were resting from the long journey, Rastko was tonsured a monk; and so it was, that they were no longer able to bring back Rastko. He had become the monk Sava.