Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Ottoman Empire - Mehmet the Conqueror VI

Back in the Balkans
Mehmet had decided to leave Vlad Dracul alone in Wallachia as long as his tribute was paid. But in 1461 Dracul formed an anti-Ottoman alliance with King Matthias Corvinus[i], the new king of Hungary. Mehmet sent an envoy to lure Dracul to Istanbul, along with his arrears of tribute. But Dracul’s men put the envoy’s escort flight and had the envoy and the commander of his escort impaled on pikes.

Dracul then led an army into Bulgaria and ravaged Ottoman territory. In response Mehmet led an army of about 80,000 men into Wallachia where they found a forest of 20,000 corpses; Bulgarians and Ottomans impaled on stakes and crucified. Soon after crossing the Danube Mehmet’s army fought with Dracul and his men.
Dracul was driven into exile in Moldavia where his former ally imprisoned him. Matthias Corvinus later released Dracul, giving him one of Matthias’ cousins as a bride. Dracul was replaced as Voyvoda of Wallachia by his brother Radu, a former page of Mehmet’s. Mehmet returned to Adrianople in mid July 1462. Two years later Radu was expelled from his country by Stephen of Moldavia.
Naval Matters
Walls of Troy
The summer of 1462 was spent campaigning in Myteline, where Niccolo Gattilusio[ii], Lord of Lesbos, surrendered his fortress after a siege of fifteen days; one third of the citizens were taken into slavery[iii]. At the beginning of the campaign Mehmet visited the site of Troy, enquiring about the tombs of Ajax and Achilles. This campaign convinced Mehmet of the need for a strong navy;
‘He gave orders that, in addition to the existing ships, a large number of others should be speedily built and many sailors selected……and set aside for this work alone. He did this because he saw that sea power was a great thing.’[iv]
He also decided to build a pair of fortresses guarding the maritime approach to Istanbul from the Aegean. The project was managed by Yakup Pasha, admiral and governor of Gelibolu. Kiht ül-Bahirye on the European shore and Kalei Sultaniye[v] were constructed along with a larger harbour at Gelibolu to accommodate the ships being built at the Tersâne[vi] on the Golden Horn.
Interlude in Bosnia
Steven Tomasevic
Along with Mahmut Pasha Mehmet led an army into Bosnia in 1463 where King Stephen VII Tomasević had refused to pay tribute. Stephen believed that his alliance with Hungary, facilitated by the Pope, would protect him from the Ottomans’ wrath. Stephen’s letter to the Pope claimed that Mehmet posed a threat to Christianity;
‘His [Mehmet] insatiable lust for power knows no bounds. After me he will attack Hungary and the Venetian province of Dalmatia. By way of Krain[vii] and Istria he will go to Italy, which he wishes to subjugate. He often speaks of Rome and longs to go there.’[viii]
The winter of 1463-4 saw Mehmet crippled with gout, something which was to plague him for the rest of his life. His Jewish physician Maestro Iacopo managed to alleviate the condition sufficiently that Mehmet was able to lead his troops back into Bosnia.
King Stephen fled from town to town before the passage of the Ottoman army, finally landing in Jajce where he was brought before Mehmet. Stephen was beheaded as the Ottoman army rolled on, taking most of Hercegovina, whilst its duke Stephen Vučkić fled to Hungary.
War with the Venetians
Christoforo Moro
Venetian owned Dalmatia was now laid open to Turkish attacks and in November 1462 Őmer Bey, the Ottoman commander in Athens, launched an attack on the Venetian fortress at Naupactos[ix] but failed to take it. On April 3rd 1463 Isa Bey, the Turkish commander in the Peloponnese, took the Venetian fortress at Argos.
In May the Venetians agreed to support King Mathias Corvinus following his appeal for assistance. The Doge of Venice Christoforo Moro wrote to the city of Florence on 14th June requesting their aid in throwing off the infidels.
‘Impelled by his lusts and his inexorable hatred of the Catholic faith, the bitterest and fiercest enemy of the Christian name, the Prince of the Turks has carried his audacity so far that among the Princes of Christendom there is virtually none willing to oppose his designs.’[x]
Sigismondo Malatesta
Finally on 28th July 1463 the Venetians declared war on the Ottoman Empire; Sigismondo Malatesta[xi], Lord of Rimini, was in command of the Venetian land forces. This was basically a war for the control of the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
The Venetians took first blood in the war, retaking the fortress at Argos. On 3rd September the Venetians, attacked the citadel at Corinth but were seen off in a Turkish counter-attack. By the end of the month the Venetians had taken control of all the fortresses in the Morea.

The Crusade
The Doge burned with a militant fervour and was more than happy to link the fight with the crusade ordered by the Pope. Pius delivered the bull Ezechielis prophetae in support of the war on 22nd October 1463.
Francesco Sforza
The crusade itself was due to leave Ancona in the summer of 1464, but Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan upset the balance of power in Italy by taking Genoa, making it virtually impossible for any continental power to join the crusade. The Duke of Burgundy sent his apologies, he needed another year to prepare and Rome was short of money and preparations for the crusade barely started. The Burgundian envoy reported;
‘The dispositions were the poorest they had ever seen, and only two galleys were ready.’[xii]
When the Pope arrived in Ancona it was to find a penniless, footloose rabble who expected to be armed and fed. The Venetians refused to have anything to do with the armed dross of Europe. The Venetian naval support did not arrive in Ancona harbour until 12th August when 24 galleys sailed into the harbour.
They arrived too late for a by now reluctant Moro to meet the Pope, who was on his death bed. Pius II died of pneumonia two days later and the crusade died with him. An election saw the Venetian Pietro Barbo elected Pope Paul II.
Back on the March
Fortress at Zvornik
The Venetians besieged Mytilene and had already occupied Lemnos. Mahmut Pasha was sent with a fleet to relieve Mytilene and the Venetians withdrew when the news of the fleet was received. In the summer of 1464 Mehmet sent an army of 40,000 to relieve the Turkish garrison at Zvornik; he himself retired to Adrianople. The army cut down many of the retreating Hungarians.
Stephen Vučkić died in 1466 and his son Sigismund entered service with the Ottomans and became a Muslim and was known as Hersekzade Ahmet Pasha. He married one of Mehmet’s granddaughters.
On 16th May 1465 Pope Paul asked the Venetians to fund the Hungarians in their fight against the infidel. The Venetians replied asking to be excused;
‘Many and grave difficulties are arising which make it so hard for us that we cannot see how action can be taken on your wish.’[xiii]
Despite this setback Paul was determined to help the Hungarians and in 1456 alone gave them 80,000 ducats[xiv]. The Venetians were spending far more freely in their attempt to gain control over the seas and the annual expenditure of maintaining the Venetian navy and army amounted to 700,000 ducats[xv]. . A request from Skanderbeg in Croatia for support for his defence of Kruje had to be turned down.
The Venetians fight with Mehmet was complicated by a brush with the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt and it took several years of negotiations to resolve the matter peacefully. But 1465 found Mehmet worn out and needing to rest; he moved into the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
‘The Sultan himself was greatly exhausted and worn out in body and mind by his continuous and unremitting planning and care and indefatigable labours and dangers and trials, and he needed a time of respite and recuperation. For this reason he knew he needed to remain at home and rest himself and his army during the approaching summer.’[xvi]
Cerebral Pursuits
The summer of 1465 saw Mehmet improving his knowledge of geography as well as indulging an interest in philosophy. He had discovered Ptolemy’s Geographia, being particularly interested in the maps.
‘He also ran across, somewhere, the charts of Ptolemy, in which he set forth scientifically and philosophically the entire description and outline of the earth. But he wanted to have these…..brought together into one united whole as a single picture or representation… as to be more easily understood by the mind.’[xvii]
Mehmet enlisted the aid of George Amirourtzes of Trebizond[xviii] to create a huge wall map that included all of Ptolemy’s maps, so Mehmet could see at a glance how his empire was expanding.
Detail from Trapezuntios' translation of the Almagest
Mehmet used Amirourtzes’ son Mehmet Bey to translate many Greek manuscripts including the bible. Mehmet read Ptolemy’s Almagest on astronomy; his interest in astronomy was aided and abetted by George Trapezuntios who visited Istanbul in the winter of 1465[xix].
To further his understanding of astronomy Mehmet contacted Ali Qushji[xx] who joined him in Istanbul in 1472, presenting Mehmet with the mathematical treatise Muhammadiye that he had written on his journey. In 1473 Qushji wrote a book on astronomy for Mehmet; the Book of Conquest. This joined the many books and manuscripts that Mehmet was collecting in his scriptorium; he had over 120 from the library of Constantine the Great. Those who met Mehmet remarked on his interest in ancient history.

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

[i] Son of Hunyadi
[ii] Niccolo had murdered his brother Domenico and Mehmet used this as a pretext to invade
[iii] One third sent to live in Istanbul and the other third allowed to remain in Mytilene as Mehmet’s subjects
[iv] The Grand Turk - Freely
[v] A town called Canakkale has grown up around the tower
[vi] The naval shipyards
[vii] Now Carniola
[viii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[ix] On the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth
[x] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xi] A condottiere known as the Wolf of Rimini
[xii] A History of Venice - Norwich
[xiii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xiv] In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £57,370,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,576,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £25,500,000,000.00
[xv] In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £502,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £13,790,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £223,100,000,000.00
[xvi] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xvii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xviii] Cousin of Mahmut Pasha
[xix] He was arrested and imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo on his return to Rome
[xx] Former Chief Astronomer in Samarkand and then for Uzun Hasan of Tabriz

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