Serbian folks, the folk singers, gusle players, sung numerous heroic epic songs. The deeds of the heroes of olden times, when Serbia was a powerful free country, and the deeds of haiduks and uskoks (raiders), inspired the people in the times of servitude under the Ottomans. It was the national history conveyed orally, from generation to generation, a powerful impuls for the people to endure by telling stories about their best. Epic poems were sung for centuries, and in the 19th century Vuk Karadzic systematically recorded them. Vuk divided them into three collections, three epochs of the Serbian history and called them The Songs of the Olden Times, The Songs of the Mid Period and The Songs of the Recent Times.
The Songs of the Olden Times cover the Serbian mediaeval history from the Nemanja’s period to the last of despots. Many of the songs are just imaginary tales, so the collection is also called a non-historic cycle. Documented epic history starts with the period when the Serbian state was at its peak, followed by a speedy fall. Those are about Emperor Dušan, Uroš and the noblemen around them. This collection is also called the Pre-Kosovo Cycle. A separate collection sing about Kraljević Marko, the favourite Serbian hero. Then follow the collections about the events before, during and after the crucial point in Serbian history – the Battle of Kosovo. Those are the Kosovo and Post-Kosovo Cycles. The last ones in the Mid Period songs are those of the Haiduk and Uskok Cycles. The Recent Times songs comprise cycles about the liberation of Serbia and the liberation of Montenegro.
The word epic comes from a Greek verb, eipein – to tell, hence je ep, epos – a heroic song.
Tradition of singing song to the gusle instrument survived even today, mostly in Bosnia and Montenegro, but as a separate folkloric phenomenon, not generally accepted. Thus the heroes of the First and the Second World War were sung, as well as those participating in the recent Yugoslav wars.