News Serbia and Montenegro

Slaughter that followed Archduke's assassination in Sarajevo

Sampson Tchernoff's images portray Serbia's suffering during First World War

Serbian soldier eating the flesh of a dead horse, 1915, by Sampson Tchernoff

The assassination of the Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 was the trigger for the First World War, which began with Austria-Hungary’s attack on Serbia a month later. Serbia experienced occupation, devastation and the greatest loss of life, in terms of both soldiers and civilians, of all the countries involved in the war, writes Bojan Aleksov, lecturer in South-East European history, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.

Artists were among them: Serbia’s most renowned female painter, the Impressionist Nadezda Petrovic, died from typhus while serving as a nurse to wounded soldiers, and many more South Slav artists died on the front. And yet the Great War was celebrated because it eventually brought victory to Serbia and enabled the creation of the Kingdom of the South Slavs (Yugoslavia). The most memorable images of the war were produced by the Russian-born photographer Sampson Tchernoff (1887-1929), who, in paintings, films and photography, immortalised events on the Balkan front, including the retreat of the Serbian army and civilians in 1915-16 across the Albanian mountains to the safety of the Entente-controlled island of Corfu—the so-called Albanian Golgotha. Like Leon Trotsky, Tchernoff came to Serbia during the Balkan wars (1912-13) as a war correspondent for Russian newspapers. His images were exhibited in London, Paris and New York, to boost support for the Serbian war effort. This is an unsettling photograph of a Serb soldier eating the flesh of a dead horse. Serbian troops and civilians, who followed the horses that carried the little food and equipment that remained after years of fighting, fed not only on the flesh of the dead animals but also on horse manure. Tchernoff is remembered as the greatest eyewitness of Serbian suffering during the war.

Every month The Art Newspaper is publishing a work of art from the Great War and the story behind it from different sides of the conflict

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