Bayezid held by Timurlane
Murad’s son Bayezid I, who is known to history by the splendid appellation of ‘the Thunderbolt’, immediately succeeded the dead victor of Kosovo. Murad was the first Ottoman ruler to adopt the title of Sultan, a status confirmed solely by his military prestige, but Beyazid assumed the role in a new legal sense as the legitimate wielder of power in his domains. He was the most ambitious of the Ottoman leaders thus far. The confident Bayezid also diverged from the policy of his ancestors in his determination to wage war on rival Turkish principalities in Anatolia as vigorously as he did against infidels. He also alarmed an Italian trade delegation by boasting of his intention to conquer Hungary and Italy and to water his horse at the altar of St Peter’s in Rome.
Such far reaching plans required a secure base, so Bayezid I began his military career with a series of operations to confirm Ottoman influence and domination in Anatolia and the Balkans. The first was needed because of revolts occasioned by the news of the death of Murad I at Kosovo. Bayezid dealt with his rivals with great efficiency and annexed what remained of the ghazi beyliks of western Anatolia.
In the Balkans matters went slowly but steadily. Bosnia held out until 1391. Bulgaria fought on until 1393, aided by Sigismund of Hungary. His was a cynical intervention that ended rapidly when he withdrew the Hungarian Army to escape entrapment. Soon the final spark of Bulgarian independence had burned out and in 1395 Bayezid turned his attentions for the first time directly against the greatest prize that both awaited and taunted the growing Ottoman Empire: the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.
In the Balkans he established the Danube as the Empire’s northern frontier, provoking hostilities with the kingdom of Hungary. The rout of a Hungarian-led crusading army at Nicopolis in 1396 confirmed Bayezid as the dominant ruler south of the Danube.
In 1402, Timur-i Leng (Tamerlane) defeated Bayezid at Ankara, dismembering his empire in Anatolia and unleashing an eleven-year civil war between his sons. The disaster might have led to the end of the Ottomans. Instead, a hundred years later, the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of becoming a world power, while Timur’s empire had disappeared. Three factors probably favored the Ottoman recovery. First, the Ottomans had adopted the principle that Ottoman territory was indivisible. Bayezid’s sons fought to the death until a single ruler, Mehmed I (r. 1413– 1421), prevailed rather than divide the territory. Second, by the end of the fourteenth century the Ottomans had established, probably on Byzantine and Ilkhanid precedent, a system of registering fiscal and military obligations that allowed administrative continuity in times of political crisis. Third, rivalries among the enemies of the Ottomans prevented a major threat to the warring princes.