On the Road Again
Refreshed by his year out from conquering, Mehmet took to the campaign trail again in 1466. His army hit Albania, devastating the countryside while the Albanians fled to the mountains. Even there the Ottoman army pursued them, taking 20,000 prisoners and then laid siege to Kruje which was defended by Skanderbeg and the Venetians under Gian-Maria Contarini.
Mehmet left Balaban Bey to continue the siege while he organised the building of a fortress at Elbasan thirty miles to the south. This fortress would become the main base for any further campaigns in Albania. Mehmet then departed for Adrianople leaving 400 men to garrison the new fortress.
Late 1466 saw Skanderbeg make a hurried trip to Rome to beg aid from the pontiff, arriving on 12th December. The Mantuan ambassador reported;
|Ferrante of Naples|
‘The Lord Scanderbeg arrived here on Friday, and the households of the cardinals were sent out to meet him. He is a man of advanced age, past sixty; he has come with a few horses, a poor man. I understand he will seek aid.’[i]
In early January the Pope offered Skanderbeg the relatively miserly[ii] sum of 5,000 ducats[iii]. But he left Rome without any money at all, bar 200 ducats[iv] from a cardinal that he used to pay his bill at the inn, saying that it would be better to war on the church rather than the Turk.
The Pope then had a change of heart and gave Skanderbeg 2,300 ducats[v]. Skanderbeg received further monies from King Ferrante of Naples and he returned to Kruje where he killed Balaban, routed his forces and set off to besiege Elbasan.
Dark Times Indeed
With Mehmet’s attention diverted in Albania the Venetians, under the command of Vettore Capello, swept into the Aegean taking the islands of Imbros and Lemnos before besieging Patras[vi]. Őmer Bey, Mehmet’s commander in Greece, forced the Venetians to lift the siege and abort the campaign.
The Venetians sent Capello on a peace mission in December. Mehmet demanded the return of Imbros and Tenedos along with an annual tribute; all of which Capello refused. The peace mission may have been crippled by the machinations of Florentine and Genoese agents, eager to see their rivals drain their resources fighting the Ottomans.
Angered by the loss of his army besieging Kruje, Mehmet returned to Albania in 1467 devastating the countryside once again. Having unsuccessfully scoured the country for Skanderbeg, Mehmet returned to besiege Kruje. The siege was lifted in late summer but Skanderbeg was ill; he departed for Lezhȅ where he died in January after a short illness leaving Albania and his son to the protection of the Venetians.
The following year Mehmet campaigned in the south, his objective had been the new Mamluk Sultan Kaitbey. But his wrath was diverted to one of his vassals who failed to answer the call to arms; Pir Ahmet. The Ottoman troops overran Karaman;
‘Pir Ahmed fled to Taș-Ili. The Sultan took Kavel, Konya, the capital of the Karamanids, and Larende and gave responsibility for the administration of the province to Prince Mustafa………in the spring of 873  the Sultan remained in Istanbul and sent an army into Karaman to clean up the rebels.’[vii]
Then Mehmet dismissed Mahmut Pasha, replacing him as Grand Vizier with Ishak Pasha[viii].
All Roads Lead to Negroponte
The Venetians decided that now, while Mehmet’s attention was distracted elsewhere, was an ideal time to launch an expedition against the Turks. The Doge suggested to his Captain General of the Sea; Jacopo Loredan, that
‘Never, in everyone’s judgement, has there been a more promising and favourable period than at present for embarking upon an expedition against the Turk, the fierce enemy of our faith………..you must consider embarking upon such an expedition as you shall deem both honourable and expedient.’[ix]
In the summer of 1469 the Venetians were horrified to discover that Mehmet had massed a fleet at Gallipoli, along with an army of 80,000 and was planning a campaign aimed at ending Venetian power in the eastern Mediterranean. The two forces were to combine at the Venetian colony of Negroponte.
The Venetians attempted to rally support in Europe and were ignored; even so they were able to mass a navy, but it paled against the force that Mehmet had created. According to one of the Venetian captains Geronimo Longo;
‘At first I estimated it at 300 sail; now I would put it at 400. The whole sea appeared like a forest………they row magnificently, with a fast stroke; true, their galleys are less good than ours under the oar, but under sail and in every other aspect they are superior……..to confront so mighty a force, I consider that we shall need not less than a hundred good galleys.’[x]
By mid 1470 the Venetians could boast 53 galleys and numerous smaller boats to fend off the Ottoman fleet. The Venetian Senate appointed a new Captain-General of the Sea, Niccolo de Canale; an unfortunate choice as de Canale was;
‘A man of letters rather than a fighter, a learned man readier to read books than direct the affairs of the sea.’[xi]
The Fall of Negroponte
The Ottoman fleet sailed out of the Dardanelles on 3rd June 1470 as Mehmet led the army down from Thrace. The army attacked Imbros, Limnos and Skyros while shadowed by the vastly outnumbered Venetian fleet. The Ottoman fleet anchored off Negroponte on 15th June and the troops disembarked south of the fortress.
The navy then created a bridge of boats from the mainland and half the army crossed to Euboea. Mehmet sent 2,000 cavalry to devastate the countryside while he offered the residents ten years grace from taxes. The bailo of the fortress Paolo Erizzo and the two co-captains of the fortress were offered positions in the Ottoman bureaucracy which was contemptuously dismissed.
Mehmet ordered the setting up of four batteries to assault the fortress and town. But even so the siege dragged on for several weeks; at least 14,000 of the Ottoman army died in the failed assaults[xii]. The Venetian navy failed to attack and Negroponte finally fell on 11th July. The battle changed nothing as far as the Venetian senate were concerned; the fight against the infidel would continue.
Peace Plans; War Plans
Mara Branković and her sister Catherine[xiii] contacted Mehmet in 1470 offering to act as intermediaries between the Porte and the Venetian Senate. Mehmet informed his stepmother that he would be prepared to meet an envoy from Venice to discuss terms. The Venetians informed the Pope of this development;
‘We understand very well that this is one of the usual cunning stunts of the Turk, in whom we believe that absolutely no trust should be placed, for he yearns for the destruction of our faith and religion….it has seemed best to us to play his own game of pretence and to go along with him.’[xiv]
The senate sent two envoys to Istanbul to meet with Mehmet; they were to suggest to Mehmet that each side keep what they currently held. The Venetian peace mission was a failure as neither party was prepared to accept the other’s terms.
A general defensive alliance between the states of Italy against the Turk was agreed in December 1470. Pope Paul died in July 1471 and the new Pope, Sixtus IV, called for a crusade against the infidel, sending out envoys calling for support for this latest crusade.
In 1470 the Anatolians took advantage of Mehmet’s preoccupation with Negroponte and fomented uprisings. Two separate uprisings were led by Pir Ahmet, attempting to recoup the lands lost to Mehmet, and his brother Kasim Bey who attacked Ankara and laid waste the surrounding countryside. Pir Ahmet was a client of Uzun Hasan, long one of Mehmet’s enemies.
Hasan entered into an alliance with the Venetians and they offered to mount a diversionary attack in the Mediterranean. Uzun Hasan declared to the Venetians that, having defeated the Shah of Persia and Abu Said at the battle of Qarabagh, that now;
‘No other obstacle remains, save the son of the Ottoman Turk, Mehmed Bey, and it is an easy thing to abase and eradicate his dominion and lordship.’[xv]
Mehmet appointed Davud Pasha as Sancak-bey of Ankara and sent Rum Mehmet Pasha, at the head of an army, to put down the rebellion. Rum Mehmet retook all of Karaman, north of the Taurus Mountains and then marched southwards to attack the Varsak Türkmen tribe[xvi] led by Uyuz Bey. The Varsak tribe ambushed Rum Mehmet’s army and he was forced to retreat at the end of the campaign season.
The 1471 campaigning season saw Mehmet send Ishak Pasha to Anatolia to renew the offensive against Pir Ahmet and his brother. Pir Ahmet was forced to flee, again taking refuge with Uzun Hasan. Meanwhile Kasim Bey evaded capture and continued the fight.
Rum Mehmet’s troops captured Alanya with the aid of the navy. Alanya gave the Ottomans control of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard as far as Silifke, still in the hands of the Karamanids. Silifke was taken by Prince Mustafa and Gedik Ahmed Pasha in the summer of 1472.
The crusaders assembled at Rhodes in June and then sailed for Antalya which they burned to the ground. The port of Smyrna was overcome by a crusading fleet on 13th September 1472 and burnt to the ground.
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] The Grand Turk - Freely
[ii] The Pope was worried by the instabilities in central Italy
[vi] In the northern Peloponnese
[vii] The Grand Turk - Freely
[viii] Replaced in his turn by Rum Mehmet Pasha in 1471
[ix] The Grand Turk - Freely
[x] A History of Venice - Norwich
[xii] Mostly expendable troops, not the Janissaries
[xiii] Who had joined Mara at her estate at Ježevo in 1469
[xiv] The Grand Turk - Freely
[xv] The Grand Turk - Freely