More Trouble in the BalkansIn 1451 Durad Branković seized the Kruševac region, with the assistance of the Hungarians; Mehmet was determined to undermine Hungarian influence in the Balkans; but his first attempt ended in failure. The Pope, Calixtus III[i], called for another crusade against the Turks and set 1st March 1456 as the date for departure for;
‘All the Christian princes and peoples’[ii]
for a holy war. Calixtus was the owner of a slave who was allegedly one of Mehmet’s brothers; smuggled out of Adrianople when their father died. Bayazid Osman[iii] was baptised and the Pope planned to use his pawn in the event of a Christian victory over the infidel.
At a diet in Buda a Franciscan monk, Giovanni da Capistrano[iv] presented the Pope’s appeal and on 6th April the assembly decided to march against the Turks. The following day they received notice that the Ottomans were already on the warpath.
|Siege of Belgrade|
July 1456 saw the siege of Belgrade; Mehmet assembled a force of some 150,000 men and a flotilla of light vessels which sailed up the Danube. The heavy artillery was sailed up too, while the lighter guns were constructed on site, mostly by imported western labour. Upstream of the fortress Mehmet placed a boom of boats chained across the river, but Hunyadi’s boats were able to outsail the clumsy Turkish boats.
Following an unsuccessful assault on 21st July; the following day after a five hour battle Mehmet’s troops were routed, despite Mehmet taking part in the fighting. Large amounts of guns, ammunition and supplies fell to the jubilant defenders. Mehmet’s troops retreated; not long thereafter a plague swept over the lands, leaving Hunyadi as one of its victims.
Mehmet stayed in Adrianople while a new palace was built in Istanbul. During a break from campaigning and no doubt marshalling his resources following the Belgrade debacle, in 1457 Mehmet had his two young sons Bayezid and Mustafa circumcised. The ceremony took place before an assembly of foreign ambassadors and men of religious, legal and literary distinction from all over the Ottoman empire and was followed by four days of celebration.
Durad Branković died in May 1457 and his daughter Mara, fearful of her brother Lazar, fled to her stepson’s court[v]. Mehmet launched an expedition into Serbia in 1458 following the death of Lazar and the failure of a pro-Ottoman revolt. As Mehmet was campaigning in the Peloponnese, the expedition was led by Mahmut Pasha, whose brother had been taken prisoner during the revolt and handed over to the Hungarians. The Ottomans took a number of towns in an inconclusive campaign.
The following year saw another campaign in Serbia; Mehmet captured the town of Smederevo on 20th June 1459 and all the fortresses of northern Serbia surrendered to the invaders. By the end of the year all of Serbia was under Ottoman rule and some 200,000 Serbians were enslaved. Bosnia was taken in 1463 and northern Albania was finally subdued in 1469.
In 1454 the Ottoman fleet sailed into the Black Sea and compelled all the Genoese colonies and the Comnene kingdom of Trebizond and Moravia to pay tribute. Mehmet established the Danube as a border for his empire, refusing to allow any foreign state to establish a foothold in the Balkan peninsula below the Danube.
Another Crusade Against the Infidel
A fleet of sixteen galleys, commanded by Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan, sailed from Naples on 6th August 1456; the Pope hoped that this would be the first step in a campaign to recover Istanbul for Christendom. Trevisan captured Lemnos, Samothrace and Thasos in the northern Aegean. In the following August the crusaders defeated the Ottoman navy off Lesbos[vi] capturing twenty five Turkish ships. This did nothing but irritate Mehmet who soon retook the area.
August 1458 saw the death of Calixtus and the new Pope was consecrated Pius II on 3rd September. One of his first actions was to call for a fresh crusade against the infidel. The following year at a congress in Mantua the Emperor Frederick III and some of the German princes agreed to provide 32,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry for the crusade.
On 14th January 1460 Pius II declared a three year crusade against the Turks. He promised plenary indulgences for those who fought or supported those who did. He even promised to fight himself if his health permitted.
In 1458 Athens surrendered to an army led by Őmer Bey[vii] and Mehmet paid a visit to the city, admiring the Acropolis and treating the Athenians leniently; he confirmed their civil liberties and exemption from taxes and granted privileges to the Orthodox clergy. Mehmet’s journey home was delayed while he visited Negroponte[viii], paying close attention to the fortifications of the strongest Venetian fortress in the eastern Mediterranean.
War broke out in the Morea in 1459 between the two Despots; Thomas, who called in papal forces, and Demetrios Palaeologus who supported the Ottomans. Mehmet decided to intervene; he was determined to leave no-one;
‘Among the Byzantine Greeks who could be named king.’[ix]
‘Marched straight into Mistra, where the Despot Lord Demetrius was……Demetrius had no alternative but to surrender to the sultan, who took possession of Mistra and imprisoned Demetrius.’[x]
Mehmet allowed Demetrios a pension and he was permitted to live in the palace at Adrianople[xi]. Demetrios’ daughter Helen entered Mehmet’s harem. Thomas fled to Rome where he was taken in as a pensioner of the Pope.
The Towers of Trebizond
|Seal of David Comnenos|
Having disposed of the Paleaologues Mehmet now turned his attention to the Comnene kingdom of Trebizond. The Emperor David was in alliance with Uzun Hassan, a Turcoman prince, against Ottoman rule. In 1461 Mehmet launched an expedition that captured Amastris[xii] ; two thirds of the population were taken into slavery in Istanbul. Then Sinope fell to him by negotiation.
The Ottomans marched into Uzun’s lands and Uzun and his men retreated eastwards. Uzun’s mother Sarai attended on Mehmet bearing gifts and agreed to a treaty whereby Uzun was bound not to aid the Comnenes. When Sarai asked Mehmet to not attack Trebizond he replied;
‘Mother the sword of Islam is in my hand.’[xiii]
The Turkish fleet, under Kasim Pasha, besieged Trebizond, but it was not until the army under the command of Mahmud Pasha[xiv], the Grand Vizier, appeared before the walls that David, who was no warrior, agreed to leave. The army’s delayed appearance was caused by the problems of marching through the Pontic Mountains.
‘We marched in great force and with great effort to Trebizond, not just the army, but the Sultan himself; first because of the distance; second because of the harassment of the people; third hunger; fourth because of the high and great mountains and, beside, wet and marshy places. And also rains fell every day so that the road was churned up as high as the horses’ bellies everywhere.’[xv]
Mehmet’s supply wagons got bogged down in the mud and the contents of the wagons were transferred to 800 camels that Mehmet had brought with the army to cover such an eventuality.
David and his family and court officials, his treasure and private possessions were shipped to Istanbul as the Ottomans marched into his city. Sarai was rewarded for her intercession with a pile of jewels. The citizens were enslaved as Mehmet returned to Adrianople to spend the winter.
Within two years David Comnene was back plotting with Uzun and was incarcerated within Mehmet’s new Prison of the Seven Towers, along with his family. And it was there a few months later that all the Comnenes were massacred. Mehmet now could now reign undisputed along almost all the Anatolian coastline of the Black Sea.
The Grand Turk – John Freely, I.B. Tauris and Co Ltd, 2009
The Janissaries – Godfrey Goodwin, Saqi Books 1994
Lords of the Horizons – Jason Goodwin, Henry Holt & Co 1998
The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1994
The Ottoman Empire – Lord Kinross, Folio Society 2003
A History of Venice – John Julius Norwich, Penguin Books 1982
The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1989
[ii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[iii] (also known as Calixtus Ottomanus and Turchetto), his seal bore the name "Bajsit Ottman Turcorum Emperor" and a crescent moon with four stars. He died in 1496
[iv] Later made a saint
[v] Lazar turned on his mother and she and Mara left for Istanbul in 1457. Mara was offered her own estate at Ježevo which became a haven for exiled Serbian nobles. Mara was allowed influence over the appointment of leaders of the Orthodox Church, the monastery at Mount Athos was in close proximity to Ježevo.
[vi] The island was retaken by the Ottomans in 1462
[viii] Now Chalkis
[ix] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[x] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xi] Later exiled and died as a monk in 1470
[xii] The last Genoese trading post on the Black Sea
[xiii] The Ottoman Empire - Kinross
[xiv] Promoted to replace Zagan Pasha, after distinguishing himself at the siege of Belgrade; Mahmud had followed Mehmet into temporary exile after Murad took back his throne
[xv] The Grand Turk - Freely