Centuries of warfare in Europe between the western and eastern worlds
It is difficult for many contemporary readers to imagine a time when the European and Christian world was constantly at threat from the huge invading armies of the East and the Islamic world. In 732 AD the Umayyad Moors were defeated in battle between Poitiers and Tours just 12 miles from Paris. However, the principal incursions of the ensuing 800 years came from the Ottoman Turkish empire, which fought to establish its grip on Europe well into the 18th century. For example, Eugene of Savoy, Marlborough’s famous military ally, first fought in those wars. This book, taken from Creasy’s more expansive work on the history of the Ottoman Empire, concentrates on the period from the first invasions of Europe by the Turks, to the period of imperial stagnation and the slow decline of Ottoman power. Within this pages are accounts of the sieges of Constantinople and the fall of Byzantium, the sieges of Vienna, the fall of Rhodes and the resistance of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the many other battles and conflicts fought across eastern Europe by the Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Serbs and others in order to hold the advancing crescent banner at bay. This is a fascinating account of the collision between the cultures and faiths of east and west that has been all but forgotten by those who were not on its perennial front line.
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The first war between the Ottoman sovereigns of Constantinople and the rulers of Egypt began in 1485, and was eminently disastrous for the Turks. Their armies were repeatedly beaten by the Mamelukes; and the spirit of revolt which had so long smouldered in Caramania, broke out and menaced open war. The Ottoman generals succeeded in reducing the Caramanians to subjection; but Bajazet, after five years of defeats by the Egyptians, concluded a peace with them, which left in their hands three fortresses which they had conquered. The wounded pride of the Sublime Porte was soothed by the pretext that the three fortresses were to be considered as given to endow the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, of which the Egyptian Sultan was protector.
As Bajazet advanced in years, the empire was again troubled with domestic dissension and civil war. He had made his sons and grandsons governors over provinces; and as the Sultan’s infirmities increased, his three surviving sons, Korkoud, Ahmed, and Selim, began to intrigue against each other with a view to secure the succession. Selim was the youngest of the three, but the ablest, and the least likely to be deterred by any scruples of remorse from cutting his way to the throne by the readiest path. He was governor of Trebisond. His martial habits and bold readiness with tongue and hand had made him the favourite of the troops; and he sought to aggrandise his influence by making incursions into the Circassian territory on his own account.
When the old and pacific Sultan remonstrated against these proceedings, Selim replied by demanding a Sanjak in Europe, so as to place him nearer to the central seat of government. He next asked permission to visit his father at Adrianople, to pay his filial respects; and, on this being refused, he crossed the Black Sea, and advanced to Adrianople with a retinue so numerous and well appointed, that it deserved the name of an army. The old Sultan, who was suffering under severe illness, joined the forces which some of his faithful followers had collected for his defence; but he wept bitterly on seeing the standards of Selim’s troops, and at the prospect of encountering his own child in battle.
In this mood, he was easily persuaded to negotiate by the Beyler-bey of Roumelia, who strove to avert the unnatural conflict, and acted as mediator between father and son. Selim received the European government of Semendra; and the Sultan promised not to abdicate in favour of his brother Ahmed, who was known to be the old man’s favourite child. While these events were passing in Europe, Asia Minor was troubled by the machinations of the other two princes, Korkoud and Ahmed, and still more by the hordes of brigands who, under the feeble sovereignty of Bajazet, long infested the kingdom, and at last formed a regular army in conjunction with the numerous devotees of the Shia sect, who at that time abounded in Asia Minor. They professed unbounded veneration for the great Shia Prince, the Persian ruler.
Shah Ismail: and the leader of this mixed force of ruffians and fanatics, took the name of Schah-Kouli, which means “Slave of the Schah;” but the Ottomans called him Scheytan-Kouli, which means “Slave of the Devil.” He defeated several detachments of the Sultan’s troops; and at last it was thought necessary to send the grand vizier against him. The Devil’s Slave resisted skilfully and desperately, and both he and the vizier at last perished in an obstinate battle which was fought near Sarimschaklik in August, 1511.
Selim took advantage of these disturbances as pretexts for his keeping an army together, to be ready for any emergencies of the State. At last he forcibly entered Adrianople, and assumed the rights of an independent sovereign. Some, however, of the Ottoman soldiery were yet averse to the dethronement of their old sovereign, and Bajazet marched upon Adrianople with a true though small army. Selim came out with his troops to meet him; and the old Sultan was with difficulty persuaded to give the order to engage his rebellious son.
At length Bajazet raised himself on the cushions of his litter, and called out to his army, “ My slaves, you who eat my bread, attack those traitors.” Ten thousand loyal soldiers at once raised the battle-cry of “ God is great,” and rushed upon the rebel ranks. Selim’s troops were broken by the charge, and fled in disorder; and Selim was indebted for his safety to the fleetness of his horse, called Karaboulut (the Black Cloud), and to the devotion of his friend Ferhad, who threw himself in a narrow pass between the flying prince and the foremost cavaliers of the pursuers. Selim fled to Akhioli on the Black Sea, where he embarked for the Crimea. The Khan of that peninsula was his father-in-law, and Selim was soon at the head of a new army of Tartar allies and Turkish malcontents, and in readiness to strike another blow for the throne.
Bajazet anxiously wished to make his second son, Ahmed, his successor; but neither this prince nor his elder brother Prince Korkoud, was popular with the Janissaries, who looked on Selim as the fit Padischah of the warlike House of Othman, and who considered the impiety of his attacks upon his own father to be far outweighed by the warlike energy and relentless vigour which he displayed Bajazet had secretly encouraged some warlike preparations of Ahmed in Asia; but the indignation of the soldiery of the capital against that prince compelled the old Sultan to disown his acts, and even to send a messenger to the Crimea to Selim, requiring him to march to the protection of the capital from Ahmed.
It was winter when Selim received the welcome summons; but he instantly assembled 3000 horsemen, half of whom were Tartars, and hastened round the north-western coast of the Euxine. Many of his followers perished by the severity of the cold, and the length and rapidity of their marches; but the indomitable Selim still pressed forward. He crossed the Dniester on the ice near Akerman, and, disregarding an injunction which the terrified Bajazet sent him to repair to his government at Semendra, he continued his progress towards the capital. When he was yet thirty miles from Constantinople, the aga of the Janissaries came to meet him; and he made his entry into the capital in almost royal state, with the viziers and other dignitaries of state in his train.
The old Sultan had amassed a large treasure during his reign; and he now sought to bribe his rebellious son back to obedience by an immediate donation of 300,000 ducats, and the promise of a yearly payment of 200,000 more. Selim regarded the offered treasure as an additional inducement to seize the throne, and refused all terms of compromise. Bajazet still occupied the royal palace, the serail; but on the 25th of April, 1612, the Janissaries, the Spahis, and the turbulent population of Constantinople assembled before the palace-gates, and demanded to see the Sultan. The gates of the serail were thrown open; and Bajazet received them, seated on his throne. He asked them what it was they desired, and the populace cried with one voice, “Our padishah is old and sickly, and we will that Selim shall be the Sultan.”
Twelve thousand Janissaries followed up the popular demand by shouting their formidable battle-cry; and the old Sultan, seeing the people and the army against him, yielded, and uttered the words:
I abdicate in favour of my son Selim. May God grant him a prosperous reign!
Shouts of joy pealed round the palace and through the city at this announcement. Selim now came forward and kissed his father’s hand with every semblance of respect. The old Sultan laid aside the emblems of sovereignty with the calm indifference of a philosopher, and asked his successor the favour of being allowed to retire to the city of Demotika, where he had been born. Selim escorted him to the gate of the capital, walking on foot by his father’s litter, and listening with apparent deference to the counsels which the old man gave him. But the dethroned Sultan never reached Demotika: he died at a little village on the road on the third day of his journey. His age, and his sufferings both of mind and body, sufficiently accounted for his death: but a rumour was widely spread that he had been poisoned by an emissary of his son. The savage character of Selim may be thought justly to have exposed him to suspicion; but there seems to have been no clear evidence of the horrible charge.
Bajazet’s feeble and inglorious reign was clouded by insurrection and military mutiny at its commencement and at its close. Nor were these the only scenes in which the insolent power of the soldiery, and the infirmity of Bajazet’s government were displayed. At one period during his reign the vice of drunkenness had become so common in Constantinople, that Bajazet published an edict threatening the punishment of death to all who were detected in using wine, and ordering all the public places, at which it had been sold, to be closed. But the Janissaries assembled, and breaking the taverns and wine stores open, forced their proprietors to resume their trade; and Bajazet, alarmed at the anger and threats of these perilous guardians of his throne, withdrew the obnoxious edict four days after it had been pronounced.
Had Bajazet been succeeded on the Turkish throne by princes of a character like his own, there seems little doubt that the decline of the Ottoman power would have been accelerated by many years. But the stern energy of Selim I., and the imperial genius of the great Solyman, not only gave to the Turkish Empire half a century of further conquest and augmented glory, but reinvigorated the whole system of government, so as long to delay the workings of corruption.